It's called 'His Mother's Heart,' and it's about a young man in college
who gets in with a lot of free-thinkers and boozers and everything, but
in the end his mother's influence----"
Juanita Haydock broke in with a derisive, "Oh rats, Raymie! Can the
mother's influence! I say let's give something with some class to it.
I bet we could get the rights to 'The Girl from Kankakee,' and that's a
real show. It ran for eleven months in New York!"
Carol's was the only vote cast against "The Girl from Kankakee."
She disliked "The Girl from Kankakee" even more than she had expected.
charge of forgery. She became secretary to a New York millionaire and
social counselor to his wife; and after a well-conceived speech on the
discomfort of having money, she married his son.
lead. She let Juanita have it. Juanita kissed her and in the exuberant
manner of a new star presented to the executive committee her theory,
"What we want in a play is humor and pep. There's where American
playwrights put it all over these darn old European glooms."
As selected by Carol and confirmed by the committee, the persons of the
His wife. . . . . . . . . Miss Vida Sherwin
His son . . . . . . . . . Dr. Harvey Dillon
His business rival. . . . . . . Raymond T. Wutherspoon
Friend of Mrs. Grimm . . . . . . Miss Ella Stowbody
The girl from Kankakee . . . . . Mrs. Harold C. Haydock
Her brother. . . . . . . . Dr. Terence Gould
Her mother . . . . . . . . Mrs. David Dyer
Stenographer . . . . . . . . Miss Rita Simons
Office-boy . . . . . . . . Miss Myrtle Cass
Maid in the Grimms' home . . . . Mrs. W. P. Kennicott
Direction of Mrs. Kennicott
look old enough to be Juanita's mother, even if Juanita is eight months
older than I am, but I don't know as I care to have everybody noticing
you because you have such a darling complexion, and you know with powder
and a white wig, anybody looks twice her age, and I want the mother to
be sweet, no matter who else is."
conspiracy of jealousy that she had been given a small part, alternated
between lofty amusement and Christian patience.
Carol hinted that the play would be improved by cutting, but as every
actor except Vida and Guy and herself wailed at the loss of a single
line, she was defeated. She told herself that, after all, a great deal
could be done with direction and settings.
schoolmate, Percy Bresnahan, president of the Velvet Motor Company
of Boston. Bresnahan sent a check for a hundred dollars; Sam added
twenty-five and brought the fund to Carol, fondly crying, "There!
That'll give you a start for putting the thing across swell!"
She rented the second floor of the city hall for two months. All through
the spring the association thrilled to its own talent in that dismal
room. They cleared out the bunting, ballot-boxes, handbills, legless
chairs. They attacked the stage. It was a simple-minded stage. It was
raised above the floor, and it did have a movable curtain, painted with
the advertisement of a druggist dead these ten years, but otherwise
it might not have been recognized as a stage. There were two
dressing-rooms, one for men, one for women, on either side. The
dressing-room doors were also the stage-entrances, opening from the
house, and many a citizen of Gopher Prairie had for his first glimpse of
romance the bare shoulders of the leading woman.
There were three sets of scenery: a woodland, a Poor Interior, and a
Rich Interior, the last also useful for railway stations, offices, and
as a background for the Swedish Quartette from Chicago. There were three
gradations of lighting: full on, half on, and entirely off.
house." Once, strolling companies had used it for performances of "The
Two Orphans," and "Nellie the Beautiful Cloak Model," and "Othello" with
specialties between acts, but now the motion-pictures had ousted the
Carol intended to be furiously modern in constructing the office-set,
the drawing-room for Mr. Grimm, and the Humble Home near Kankakee.
It was the first time that any one in Gopher Prairie had been so
revolutionary as to use enclosed scenes with continuous side-walls. The
rooms in the op'ra house sets had separate wing-pieces for sides, which
simplified dramaturgy, as the villain could always get out of the hero's
way by walking out through the wall.
The inhabitants of the Humble Home were supposed to be amiable and
intelligent. Carol planned for them a simple set with warm color. She
could see the beginning of the play: all dark save the high settles and
the solid wooden table between them, which were to be illuminated by a
ray from offstage. The high light was a polished copper pot filled with
primroses. Less clearly she sketched the Grimm drawing-room as a series
of cool high white arches.
As to how she was to produce these effects she had no notion.
She discovered that, despite the enthusiastic young writers, the
drama was not half so native and close to the soil as motor cars and
telephones. She discovered that simple arts require sophisticated
training. She discovered that to produce one perfect stage-picture would
be as difficult as to turn all of Gopher Prairie into a Georgian garden.
She read all she could find regarding staging, she bought paint and
light wood; she borrowed furniture and drapes unscrupulously; she made
Kennicott turn carpenter. She collided with the problem of lighting.
Against the protest of Kennicott and Vida she mortgaged the association
by sending to Minneapolis for a baby spotlight, a strip light, a dimming
device, and blue and amber bulbs; and with the gloating rapture of
a born painter first turned loose among colors, she spent absorbed
evenings in grouping, dimming-painting with lights.
flats could be lashed together to form a wall; they hung crocus-yellow
curtains at the windows; they blacked the sheet-iron stove; they put on
aprons and swept. The rest of the association dropped into the theater
every evening, and were literary and superior. They had borrowed
Carol's manuals of play-production and had become extremely stagey in
Juanita Haydock, Rita Simons, and Raymie Wutherspoon sat on a sawhorse,
watching Carol try to get the right position for a picture on the wall
in the first scene.
"I don't want to hand myself anything but I believe I'll give a swell
performance in this first act," confided Juanita. "I wish Carol wasn't
so bossy though. She doesn't understand clothes. I want to wear, oh,
a dandy dress I have--all scarlet--and I said to her, 'When I enter
wouldn't it knock their eyes out if I just stood there at the door in
this straight scarlet thing?' But she wouldn't let me."
carpentering and everything that she can't see the picture as a whole.
Now I thought it would be lovely if we had an office-scene like the one
in 'Little, But Oh My!' Because I SAW that, in Duluth. But she simply
wouldn't listen at all."
Juanita sighed, "I wanted to give one speech like Ethel Barrymore would,
if she was in a play like this. (Harry and I heard her one time in
Minneapolis--we had dandy seats, in the orchestra--I just know I could
imitate her.) Carol didn't pay any attention to my suggestion. I don't
want to criticize but I guess Ethel knows more about acting than Carol
"Say, do you think Carol has the right dope about using a strip light
behind the fireplace in the second act? I told her I thought we ought to
use a bunch," offered Raymie. "And I suggested it would be lovely if we
used a cyclorama outside the window in the first act, and what do you
think she said? 'Yes, and it would be lovely to have Eleanora Duse play
the lead,' she said, 'and aside from the fact that it's evening in the
first act, you're a great technician,' she said. I must say I think she
was pretty sarcastic. I've been reading up, and I know I could build a
cyclorama, if she didn't want to run everything."
be L. U. E., not L. 3 E.," from Juanita.
their sudden knowledge, so long as they let her make pictures. It was at
rehearsals that the quarrrels broke. No one understood that rehearsals
were as real engagements as bridge-games or sociables at the Episcopal
Church. They gaily came in half an hour late, or they vociferously came
in ten minutes early, and they were so hurt that they whispered about
resigning when Carol protested. They telephoned, "I don't think I'd
better come out; afraid the dampness might start my toothache," or
"Guess can't make it tonight; Dave wants me to sit in on a poker game."
When, after a month of labor, as many as nine-elevenths of the cast were
often present at a rehearsal; when most of them had learned their parts
and some of them spoke like human beings, Carol had a new shock in the
realization that Guy Pollock and herself were very bad actors, and that
Raymie Wutherspoon was a surprisingly good one. For all her visions
she could not control her voice, and she was bored by the fiftieth
repetition of her few lines as maid. Guy pulled his soft mustache,
looked self-conscious, and turned Mr. Grimm into a limp dummy. But
Raymie, as the villain, had no repressions. The tilt of his head was
full of character; his drawl was admirably vicious.
rehearsal during which Guy stopped looking abashed.
getting sick of them?" they complained. They began to skylark; to play
with the sacred lights; to giggle when Carol was trying to make the
sentimental Myrtle Cass into a humorous office-boy; to act everything
but "The Girl from Kankakee." After loafing through his proper part
Dr. Terry Gould had great applause for his burlesque of "Hamlet." Even
Raymie lost his simple faith, and tried to show that he could do a
We've simply got to get down to work."
After all, we're doing this play principally for the fun of it, and if
we have fun out of a lot of monkey-shines, why then----"
"You said one time that folks in G. P. didn't get enough fun out of
life. And now we are having a circus, you want us to stop!"
difference between looking at the comic page and looking at Manet. I
want fun out of this, of course. Only----I don't think it would be
less fun, but more, to produce as perfect a play as we can." She was
curiously exalted; her voice was strained; she stared not at the company
but at the grotesques scrawled on the backs of wing-pieces by forgotten
stage-hands. "I wonder if you can understand the 'fun' of making a
beautiful thing, the pride and satisfaction of it, and the holiness!"
is not good form to be holy except at a church, between ten-thirty and
twelve on Sunday.
"But if we want to do it, we've got to work; we must have
this mad woman. They backed off and tried to rehearse. Carol did not
hear Juanita, in front, protesting to Maud Dyer, "If she calls it fun
and holiness to sweat over her darned old play--well, I don't!"
Carol attended the only professional play which came to Gopher Prairie
canvas." The hard-working actors doubled in brass, and took tickets;
and between acts sang about the moon in June, and sold Dr. Wintergreen's
Surefire Tonic for Ills of the Heart, Lungs, Kidneys, and Bowels. They
presented "Sunbonnet Nell: A Dramatic Comedy of the Ozarks," with J.
Witherbee Boothby wringing the soul by his resonant "Yuh ain't done
right by mah little gal, Mr. City Man, but yer a-goin' to find that back
in these-yere hills there's honest folks and good shots!"
beard and long rifle; stamped their feet in the dust at the spectacle
of his heroism; shouted when the comedian aped the City Lady's use of a
lorgnon by looking through a doughnut stuck on a fork; wept visibly over
Mr. Boothby's Little Gal Nell, who was also Mr. Boothby's legal wife
Pearl, and when the curtain went down, listened respectfully to Mr.
Boothby's lecture on Dr. Wintergreen's Tonic as a cure for tape-worms,
which he illustrated by horrible pallid objects curled in bottles of
Carol shook her head. "Juanita is right. I'm a fool. Holiness of the
drama! Bernard Shaw! The only trouble with 'The Girl from Kankakee' is
that it's too subtle for Gopher Prairie!"
She sought faith in spacious banal phrases, taken from books: "the
instinctive nobility of simple souls," "need only the opportunity, to
appreciate fine things," and "sturdy exponents of democracy." But these
optimisms did not sound so loud as the laughter of the audience at the
funny-man's line, "Yes, by heckelum, I'm a smart fella." She wanted to
give up the play, the dramatic association, the town. As she came out
of the tent and walked with Kennicott down the dusty spring street, she
peered at this straggling wooden village and felt that she could not
possibly stay here through all of tomorrow.
It was Miles Bjornstam who gave her strength--he and the fact that every
seat for "The Girl from Kankakee" had been sold.
the back steps. Once when Carol appeared he grumbled, "Hope you're going
to give this burg one good show. If you don't, reckon nobody ever will."
It was the great night; it was the night of the play. The two
Snafflin the barber, who was as much a professional as Ella, having once
gone on in a mob scene at a stock-company performance in Minneapolis,
was making them up, and showing his scorn for amateurs with, "Stand
still! For the love o' Mike, how do you expect me to get your eyelids
dark if you keep a-wigglin'?" The actors were beseeching, "Hey, Del, put
some red in my nostrils--you put some in Rita's--gee, you didn't hardly
do anything to my face."
sniffed the scent of grease-paint, every minute they ran out to peep
through the hole in the curtain, they came back to inspect their wigs
and costumes, they read on the whitewashed walls of the dressing-rooms
the pencil inscriptions: "The Flora Flanders Comedy Company," and "This
is a bum theater," and felt that they were companions of these vanished
Carol, smart in maid's uniform, coaxed the temporary stage-hands to
finish setting the first act, wailed at Kennicott, the electrician, "Now
for heaven's sake remember the change in cue for the ambers in Act Two,"
slipped out to ask Dave Dyer, the ticket-taker, if he could get some
more chairs, warned the frightened Myrtle Cass to be sure to upset the
waste-basket when John Grimm called, "Here you, Reddy."
and every one behind the magic line of the proscenic arch was frightened
into paralysis. Carol wavered to the hole in the curtain. There were so
many people out there, staring so hard----
He really wanted to see the play! It was a good omen. Who could tell?
Perhaps this evening would convert Gopher Prairie to conscious beauty.
She darted into the women's dressing-room, roused Maud Dyer from her
fainting panic, pushed her to the wings, and ordered the curtain up.
catching--this time. Then she realized that Kennicott had forgotten to
turn off the houselights. Some one out front was giggling.
She galloped round to the left wing, herself pulled the switch, looked
so ferociously at Kennicott that he quaked, and fled back.
And with that instant Carol realized that it was a bad play abominably
Encouraging them with lying smiles, she watched her work go to pieces.
The settings seemed flimsy, the lighting commonplace. She watched
Guy Pollock stammer and twist his mustache when he should have been a
bullying magnate; Vida Sherwin, as Grimm's timid wife, chatter at the
audience as though they were her class in high-school English; Juanita,
in the leading role, defy Mr. Grimm as though she were repeating a list
of things she had to buy at the grocery this morning; Ella Stowbody
remark "I'd like a cup of tea" as though she were reciting "Curfew Shall
Not Ring Tonight"; and Dr. Gould, making love to Rita Simons, squeak,
her relatives, then so much agitated by the remarks of Cy Bogart, in the
back row, in reference to her wearing trousers, that she could hardly
be got off the stage. Only Raymie was so unsociable as to devote himself
entirely to acting.
That she was right in her opinion of the play Carol was certain when
Miles Bjornstam went out after the first act, and did not come back.
Between the second and third acts she called the company together,
separate. Whether we're doing well or badly tonight, it is a beginning.
But will we take it as merely a beginning? How many of you will pledge
yourselves to start in with me, right away, tomorrow, and plan for
another play, to be given in September?"
They stared at her; they nodded at Juanita's protest: "I think
one's enough for a while. It's going elegant tonight, but another
play----Seems to me it'll be time enough to talk about that next fall.
Carol! I hope you don't mean to hint and suggest we're not doing fine
tonight? I'm sure the applause shows the audience think it's just
Then Carol knew how completely she had failed.
Howland the grocer, "Well, I think the folks did splendid; just as good
as professionals. But I don't care much for these plays. What I like is
a good movie, with auto accidents and hold-ups, and some git to it, and
not all this talky-talk."
Then Carol knew how certain she was to fail again.
She wearily did not blame them, company nor audience. Herself she blamed
for trying to carve intaglios in good wholesome jack-pine.
on.' But I can't!"
such fine account of themselves in difficult roles of this well-known
New York stage play. Guy Pollock as the old millionaire could not have
been bettered for his fine impersonation of the gruff old millionaire;
Mrs. Harry Haydock as the young lady from the West who so easily showed
the New York four-flushers where they got off was a vision of loveliness
and with fine stage presence. Miss Vida Sherwin the ever popular teacher
in our high school pleased as Mrs. Grimm, Dr. Gould was well suited in
the role of young lover--girls you better look out, remember the doc is a
bachelor. The local Four Hundred also report that he is a great hand at
shaking the light fantastic tootsies in the dance. As the stenographer
Rita Simons was pretty as a picture, and Miss Ella Stowbody's long and
intensive study of the drama and kindred arts in Eastern schools was
seen in the fine finish of her part.
on whose capable shoulders fell the burden of directing.
"So kindly," Carol mused, "so well meant, so neighborly--and so
confoundedly untrue. Is it really my failure, or theirs?"
was hysterical to condemn Gopher Prairie because it did not foam over
the drama. Its justification was in its service as a market-town for
farmers. How bravely and generously it did its work, forwarding the
bread of the world, feeding and healing the farmers!
Then, on the corner below her husband's office, she heard a farmer
pay us a decent price for our potatoes, even though folks in the cities
were howling for 'em. So we says, well, we'll get a truck and ship 'em
right down to Minneapolis. But the commission merchants there were in
cahoots with the local shipper here; they said they wouldn't pay us
a cent more than he would, not even if they was nearer to the market.
Well, we found we could get higher prices in Chicago, but when we tried