RUTH CHATTERTON: ON THE GREAT DIVIDE.

Part One, The Rainbow.

On March 11, 1912, a year before Mary Pickford left movies temporarily to resume her stage career in David Belasco’s A Good Little Devil, another young actress, born in the same year as Pickford, became a star on Broadway in The Rainbow, a new comedy-drama at the Liberty Theater on West 42nd Street.  Unlike Pickford, this actress began her professional career almost by chance, at 16.  And she would find stardom on the stage while still in her teens.  Her name was Ruth Chatterton.

Mary Pickford and Ruth Chatterton occupy opposite sides of a great divide in motion picture history.  Mary Pickford would play a key role in the creation and development of a new performance art form:  acting for motion pictures, “shadow-plays” without spoken dialog.  She became the first international movie star.  Pickford would reach heights of celebrity almost unimaginable for an artist or entertainer before motion pictures, but her movie career would end not long after the art of silent film was eclipsed by sound.

Ruth Chatterton became the first female movie star created by sound — the “talkies.”  But her film career ended barely a decade later, only a few years after Pickford’s.  Though she would return to acting sporadically, she turned to other pursuits including directing and producing for the stage, and she became a successful author, as did Pickford.  And she had one other interest Mary likely never considered in her wildest imagination — aviation.

Chatterton had become, in 1912, the stage star that Mary Pickford dreamt of becoming and would have been had she never set foot inside the Biograph studio on East 14th Street.  Chatterton became a star playing the kinds of stage roles, ingenues, that Pickford had just begun to play for David Belasco in The Warrens of Virginia and A Good Little Devil.  But in between those two stage productions, Pickford found and fell in love with acting for the camera and the entire process of motion picture production.  Chatterton remained onstage — a star for nearly two decades — before venturing into film at age 35 in 1928, ironically, in her sole silent film appearance.  But she had a style and voice tailor-made for the early talkies.

* * *

Ruth Chatterton was born in New York City, at 20 East 129th Street in Harlem, on Christmas Eve, 1892, the daughter of Walter Smith Chatterton and Lilian Reed Chatterton.  Ruth was the only surviving child of two born to Lilian and Walter during their marriage.

The birthplace of Ruth Chatterton, 20 East 129th Street, Harlem, New York City, is now a vacant lot behind a tree, between two houses, numbers 22 and 18, in varied stages of rehab. The remaining townhouses in this row, no. 24 to the far left (partly in view), and 16, 14 & 12 to the far right, are completely restored, most as multi-unit, walk-up apartments.  Among the restored townhouses directly across the street is a rental property owned by author Maya Angelou.  The site of Chatterton’s birthplace may be vacant, but hardly worthess:  it has a current assessed property value in excess of $130,000.  Its current owner purchased it in 2004 for $210,000.

Lilian Reed Chatterton and her parents, Andrew and Mary Reed, were Brooklyn natives who had moved to Manhattan and lived at the house on East 129th Street, along with Lilian’s sisters Ida and Miriam, at the time of the 1880 United States Census.  Now considered part of East Harlem, it is the first block east of Fifth Avenue, and in the 1880s it was home to the merchant class — in todays terms, a middle-to-upper-middle-class neighborhood.  In the same row of townhouses as the Reeds there lived a shipping merchant, a flower merchant, a merchant tailor, an artist and a physician.  Andrew Reed worked in the shipbuilding trade and listed his occupation as “shipwright.”

Lilian married Walter Smith Chatterton in 1891, the year before Ruth was born, but their marriage was brief — they separated around 1896.  Lilian then moved in with her parents, now living on Sedgwick Avenue in the Bronx, and Ruth appears to have been raised primarily by her mother and grandparents.  She attended school at Pelham in the Bronx.  She would tell later interviewers several stories, each slightly different, as to how she became fascinated by acting and the theater as a child.  But the genesis of her career as an actor can be traced with certainty to a trip to the nation’s capital where she had the opportunity to mingle with professional actors up close and in their actual habitat.

It was during a summer vacation to Washington, D.C. in 1909, visiting friends (and possibly relatives, the Reeds), that Ruth, 16, became entranced by the theater, having spent time backstage at the Columbia Theatre with a friend who was a member of the Columbia Players stock company.  Upon a dare from this friend, or another player, she went on stage as an extra in “the chorus” during a scene in a play — a stunt that didn’t go unnoticed.

A sampling of Washington DC amusements: Baseball, “free” motion pictures, song slides, vaudeville, and The Columbia Players (minus Ruth Chatterton) in The Adventures of Lady Ursula.  Chatterton would return from NY the following week to appear in “Cousin Kate.” Washington Post, July 31 1909.

In an interview three years later with the New York Times, Chatterton gave a brief account of her acting career to date.  She recalled that having had no prior experience as an actor, she was not looking for a position with the Columbia Players:

I was only sixteen years old then.  One afternoon the stage manager grabbed me as I was leaving the theater and said, ‘You’re the very girl I’m looking for to play Polly in Merely Mary Ann next week.’   ’Oh, but I can’t act,’ I said.  ‘That’s why I want you,’ he replied.  ‘Have you got the nerve to do it?’  ’Yes, if my mother will let me,’ I told him.”   “‘Why Be Afraid,’ Asks Ruth Chatterton,” The New York Times, March 17, 1912.

In an interview with the Chicago Daily Tribune a year after the Times article, she explained that a friend of her mother had seen her on stage in Washington.  When mother Lilian wrote to Ruth for an explanation, Ruth told her and asked her permisssion to take a job with the Columbia company.  Mother Lilian approved.

It was an ideal situation for the curious, young, would-be thespian Ruth Chatterton.  The Columbia Players were practically a Washington institution, one of the City’s oldest theater groups.  The Columbia company gave naturally talented neophytes, such as Ruth Chatterton, small but notable parts in popular productions, and the chance to work with experienced actors, semi-professional and professional, and well-known “guest” stars, such as Julia Dean. (Chatterton would later describe Miss Julia Dean as one of her favorite stage colleagues.  She was also one of Chatterton’s first mentors in the theater.)

The Columbia gave future stars of theater such as Helen Hayes, Ina Claire, Wilton Lackaye and Billie Burke their first opportunities to experience the highs and lows of working in a large and theater-literate city.  Moreover, it did so in an environment considerably less intimidating than New York.  Long after movies, then talkies, darkened many of the venues of live theater, especially in the mid-sized cities, the Columbia Theater and Players survived as a community theater, merging with the City’s Drama Guild to form the Washington Civic Theater, among only a handful that continued to present live theater on a regular basis in the City of Washington by the middle of the 20th century.

“Well, I did it, and they must have been satisfied because they asked me to play the second act Claudia in ‘The Prince Chap’ the next week. Miss Julia Dean . . . told me afterward that I had done very well. “

Following The Prince Chap was Cousin Kate, also starring Julia Dean, a play originally made famous in the U.S. during its 1903 run that starred Ethel Barrymore, and now being staged in Washington at the Columbia the first week of August, 1909.  It was this production that earned Ruth Chatterton her first mention in the press.

The Washington Post theater column made sure to mention that young Miss Chatterton, cast in Cousin Kate as “the charming Little Jane” had just returned from New York City where she had been “summoned” by Broadway producers interested in her.  The identity of the Broadway “producers” who “summoned” her to New York remains unknown.  Also not known is whether it was an interview or an audition, or in reality just a return visit to New York, her home town, between gigs in D.C.  However, it was impressive advertising not only for Ruth, but for Cousin Kate and the Columbia Players, especially considering that up until now she had only played in a couple of small parts earlier that summer.

I stayed in the company eighteen weeks and the last eight weeks I played the leading ingénue parts.”

Ruth Chatterton spent the remainder of the season with the Columbia Players and then returned to New York.  When she next returned to Washington, during the 1910 season, it was as a member of the Henry W. Savage stock company.

After that [i.e., the Columbia Players company] . . . I played a small bit in ‘Miss Patsy’ and the ingénue role in ‘The Great Name.”

She was now appearing in the Henry Savage road company production of Miss Patsy, a show that had its Broadway opening (without Ruth Chatterton in the cast) at the end of August, 1910 at the Nazimova Theater on 39th Street.  The Washington theater press welcomed back Ruth Chatterton in October as a returning “favorite of last summer’s Columbia stock company . . . a piquant ingenue.”

Washington D.C. must have felt like a second home to Chatterton, but it was by now merely a temporary stop in her rapidly developing career.  With Henry Savage she had joined a “serious” theatrical company.  That is, one serious about making money, not incubating young actors.  Savage scored numerous successes in the early decades of the 20th century with original dramas, comedies, musical comedies and farces, among many being Head Over Heels, The Merry Widow, Madame X and Tom Jones.

By succeeding in her small road-company role in Miss Patsy, Chatterton had earned a significant promotion.  She was cast in the role of  (what could be more appropriate for the 18-year-old?) the ingenue in Savage’s next production for the 1911 season, The Great NameThe Great Name was a romantic-comedy starring Henry Kolker, an esteemed actor making his first appearance since signing with the Savage company.  It was the story of the rivalry between two music composers, and their romantic interests and conflicts.

The Great Name began its road tour in the spring of 1911, reaching Indianapolis the first week of May.  It was met, without warning, by Producer Henry W. Savage himself, there to  “inspect” the play first-hand.  According to The Indianapolis Star, “He had been following press criticisms of his play on tour and ‘hopped a train and came out here.'”   He was there to see what corrections, if any, were needed — it was apparently not unusual for  him.  “He has been in Indianapolis before, on similar missions, having witnessed performances of The Merry Widow and Madame X in this City.”  After watching the play “intensely, . . at the close of the performance he mounted to the stage and greeted members of the cast, offering helpful criticisms.”  The man took his productions seriously — and personally.

Whatever helpful criticisms Henry Savage may have offered his company, the theater critic for The Indianapolis Star judged it a success, as is, in its first night in the city:  “‘The Great Name’ is the best new play Henry W. Savage has given Indianapolis this season. . . greatly superior in force and universal appeal.”  And star Henry Kolker was given special praise.

“[Compared to] those stars [who are] incompetent to fill the leading positions [even] before being promoted to stellar rank, . . With Mr. Kolker, it is different.  He is an actor.  It feels good to be able to use that term once more, conscientiously.  He is an actor, too, who acts to the people around him on the stage, and who doesn’t spend the greater part of his time begging the audience to please tell him with its kind applause what a great actor he is.  Such actors are rare nowadays.  Great things can be legitimately expected of Mr. Kolker.”

(And they came.  In addition to a stellar career on stage, Henry Kolker ventured into motion pictures beginning in 1914, directing nearly twenty silent films, including George Arliss in the lost silent film version of Disraeli (1921), and acting in another thirty.  His success continued in the sound era, primarily as a supporting or character actor in nearly 140 more films, including Mary Pickford’s first talkie, Coquette (1929), D. W. Griffith’s first sound film, Abraham Lincoln (1930), the Baron husband of Kay Francis’s bored Baroness in Jewel Robbery (1932, plus three later Kay Francis vehicles), Barbara Stanwyck’s pre-code classic, Baby Face (1932) and two films starring Ruth Chatterton, The Crash (1932) and Journal of a Crime (1934), as well as bit parts in many others into the mid 1940s.  Kolker died in Los Angeles in 1947 at 76.)

It would not be the last time Ruth Chatterton would find herself in the fortunate position of sharing the stage with an exceptional and generous male lead actor, and it is a reasonable conclusion that her early success was due not only to a natural talent for acting, but to her ability to learn rapidly from such actors.  She would soon find the opportunity to work with another actor, one who was also a respected producer and director of the stage, who would become a critically important mentor to her.

And what of the impression made upon the Indianapolis audience and press by young Miss Chatterton?

“Ruth Chatterton . . . is one of those refreshing novelties the big producers delight to spring upon an unsuspecting public.  She is the best surprise of this sort [in] a couple of seasons . . . Miss Chatterton has not yet learned how to act her role flawlessly, but she puts into it so much that is charmingly appealing that her artistic transgressions are forgiven if not forgotten.”

The Lyric Theater, 43rd St. entrance, New York, c.1903.  Built in 1903, the interior was gutted and rebuilt in 1997.  Only the two original facades on 42nd St and 43rd St. remain.  Among the many productions staged at The Lyric was the Irving Berlin-George S. Kaufman musical comedy, The Cocoanuts, starring The Marx Brothers, 1925-26, for nine months and 276 performances.

The Great Name would fine-tune on the road for another five months before reaching the Lyric Theatre on West 42nd near Seventh and Broadway on October 4, 1911.  Henry W. Savage could not have been disappointed.  It was a hit.  And though it was scheduled for only two weeks at the Lyric, (a new operetta by Victor Herbert was booked to follow it), it moved to the 39th Street Theater on October 16th to continue its Broadway run.

In its review of opening night, The New York Dramatic Mirror almost grudgingly conceded that the material and its performance “appeals to a large class of patrons . . . and [is] a diplomatic choice for the stellar debut of Mr. Kolker.”  However, none of the remaining cast received more than adequate notice from the Mirror‘s reviewer.  But what of the eighteen-year old making her debut on a Broadway stage?

“Ruth Chatterton is pretty, but her voice is excessively fragile.”

And that was it.  Ten words to sum up her debut on Broadway.  It was ironic indeed for an actress whose voice would become a key asset in her stage work and would one day make her the first female star of “talking” pictures.

* * *

As might be expected in the volatile world of live theater, occasionally, or more so, good ideas flop.  Joseph M. Gaites had become one of the premier producers primarily of musical comedy in only a handful of years (he was still in his thirties), including one of the longest-running, top drawing shows on Broadway during the 1911 season, the musical comedy, The Enchantress, starring Kitty Gordon.  The Enchantress was still running strong as ever, and headed on a national tour, when Gaites acquired the services of vaudeville comedienne, artist, future movie scenarist and screenwriter for Cecil B. DeMille and MGM,  Zelda Sears.  In one of many  projects Gaites had going simultaneously, he cast Sears in Standing Pat, a comedy about an independent career woman who becomes a politician (both exotic ideas at the time), written by Bayard Veiller (writer of the melodrama, The Primrose Path, who would go on to write The Trial of Mary Dugan and Within the Law), and staged by Fred G. Latham (who would become better known for his future direction of musical comedies and operettas, among them, Sweethearts, The Firefly, and Sitting Pretty).

Gaites also surrounded Zelda Sears with a capable supporting company, including Milton Sills and Ruth Chatterton, who had just completed her lengthy tour with The Great Name.  A farce in three acts, Standing Pat tells the story of a proto-liberated woman runnning for mayor of a Colorado town.  Her platform is no beer, no poker and no “mashers” (men who prey upon pretty young women — not her — but her sweet-sixteen sister, Ruth Chatterton).  She ultimately wins , “beer and the mashers are eliminated,” and Miss Chatterton’s honor is upheld.  Standing Pat was booked at the Olympic Theatre in Chicago the first three weeks of December, 1911,  And even though the holiday season was often a “dead” season as far as theater box office was concerned, success seemed likely.

Opening on December 3 to an enthusiastic first-night audience that included show business celebrities Mr. and Mrs.Tyrone Power, Sr., and Constance Collier, Standing Pat received a generally unfavorable reception from one of Chicago’s preeminent drama critics:

” . . in these [first] two acts, there is so much ineffective drool that one might doze comfortably were it not for the candy machines that make the Olympic theater chairs a place of torture to those who for one reason or another may not eat candy.  I trust that Mr. Bayard Veiller, who wrote the play, and Miss Zelda Sears, who is the star of it, are playing havoc with those first two acts.  They are not enticing.”  Percy Hammond, Chicago Daily Tribune, December 4, 1911.

Chatterton’s performance is not judged specifically, though Hammond adds, cryptically, “There are several expert performances in the play, and if it is rewritten soon enough, I may have an opportunity to tell about them later.”  It wasn’t.  And he wouldn’t have to.  It folded after little more than two weeks.  Correspondents to The New York Dramatic Mirror reported that Standing Pat left the Olympic “prematurely” to go on “tour.”  The show seems to have simply folded over the holiday season (I could find no record that Standing Pat played anywhere after leaving Chicago the week before Christmas).  Mr. Gaites and Miss Sears, and Messrs. Veiller and Latham, all well-established in their professional careers, moved on to better things.

Fortunately, too, for the young Miss Chatterton, something wonderful was just over the horizon.

 “And then Mr. Miller sent for me to play this role in Mr. Thomas’s beautiful play.”

“I want to tell you something funny about that.  Mr. Miller engaged me before he met me! Somebody told him about me, and he sent word for me to call him by phone.  When I got him on the wire he made me talk for a few minutes, and then said he had been studying my voice, that it was all right, and to report next morning for rehearsals.  That was the beginning, and it has all been like a heavenly dream since.

Henry Miller was as respected an actor/director/producer as anyone in American theater of the period.  He would produce, direct and star in The Rainbow with his own company.  One of Miller’s sons had seen Ruth Chatterton on stage and had recommended her to him for the part of Cynthia Sumner in The Rainbow.  Undoubtedly, Miller had read or heard of Ruth Chatterton’s “excessively fragile” voice as described almost six months earlier in the highly influential, if frequently flatulent New York Dramatic Mirror.

If Miller had any reservations about the “fragile” voice of Miss Chatterton, a simple telephone conversation — even with the audio quality of the telephone in 1912 — was all it took to resolve any such concerns about her voice.  But despite what she told The New York Times, she wasn’t hired until the two met face-to-face.  He summoned her to a meeting, which she described in a 1913 interview:

“When Mr. Miller asked me to come and see him I was simply quaking.  I was sure I never could play such a thing with such an actor.  But, do you know, when I saw him I was just perfectly at my ease.  I read the lines and all as naturally as could be.  When he told me that, if I was satisfied, we would sign the contract, I nearly dropped . . . but I wasn’t frightened anymore.  I was sure that I shouldn’t worry with Mr. Miller always near.  And I haven’t, either.  I adore  playing with him.”  Chicago Daily Tribune, February 23, 1913.

The Rainbow, written by A. E. Thomas, a well-known New York journalist, opened a week’s run in Washington’s Columbia Theater on March 4, 1912, after three weeks’ rehearsal, a first night (essentially a dress-rehearsal) in Atlantic City, and much anticipation in the Washington press.  The Rainbow was the story of a middle-aged man who long ago had left family behind to pursue self-indulgent, wordly interests — gambling, carousing and the like.  He is then introduced to his daughter — for the first time.  She is a beautiful, sensitive and intelligent girl who causes him reconsider his choices in life.  His difficulties in getting others to believe in him, however, brings the pathos that the play seems most noted for.

At its opening night in the capital, The Rainbow was generally well-received, though dragging in several spots (a subplot and two minor characters would be eliminated after the Broadway premiere), and subjected to some clumsy curtain work by the Columbia stage crew.  But it was the two lead performances, by Henry Miller and Ruth Chatterton that seemed to carry the show in a cast that appeared over-rehearsed and tight with opening-night nerves.  Post critic Ralph Graves was succinct in his assessment of Chatterton’s talent, her fortunate circumstances and her bright potential:

“If she succeeds in making every future characterization worthy of her Cynthia, this ‘rainbow’ will have proved a promise of rare artistic achievement and enormous popular success. With personal charm, magnetism, and a nature both sensitive and transparent, Miss Chatterton is a very lucky little woman to have been given the opportunity to reveal all these qualities in most congenial surroundings.”  Ralph Graves, The Washington Post, March 10, 1912.

The Liberty Theater, New York, c.1904

After one week in Washington as a warm-up, the production moved directly to New York City.  The New York Dramatic Mirror weighed in on The Rainbow, two days after its Broadway premiere at The Liberty Theatre, March 11:

“[The Rainbow is] the new offering by which A. E. Thomas proclaims himself still a promising playwright, with the promise still unfulfilled. After three acts of mild comedy and milder pathos, with a strong sweetening of sentiment, Cynthia brings down the curtain on the . . two erring parents reunited by their loving child.  It is disheartening to watch a well-built, well-written first act . . . drag itself into a mere repetition of worn-out situations . . Nothing but conventional ’roles’ delivering stagey speeches.  Henry Miller staged the play excellently and acted the part of Neil Sumner capably and rather heavily. Ruth Chatterton was Cynthia — not so appealing a young girl as the author gave her a chance to be, but sweet.”  The New York Dramatic Mirror, March 13, 1912.

He finished his review with one final barb of sarcasm:

“Some other gentlemen played cards and put on their coats in a lifelike manner in the first act.”  The New York Dramatic Mirror, March 13, 1912.

The New York Times, however, fairly gushed with enthusiasm and praise for the entire production, with a headline that called The Rainbow, “A Play of Rare Beauty,” and “Ruth Chatterton’s Hit:”

“To attempt to weave the charm of such a play as [The Rainbow] into the woof of a review is a good deal like trying to catch and fix the iridescent shimmer of the lovely thing from which it takes its name.  For this play, in its essence a simple story of paternal love, is so bedecked with the riches of a sensitive imagination, and a sense of humor put in words, that it rather eludes description.

“In a cast which was unusually capable from Mr. Miller down, Miss Chatterton . . . is that rara avis — if she will pardon the allusion — a natural ingenue . . . who knows how to express feeling and to radiate charm, she is so far without a trace of affectation.  May she long continue so.  They usually do not.  But Miss Chatterton, perhaps, is as real an actress as she seemed last night, in which case exceptional praise need not spoil her.”  The New York Times, March 12 ,1912.

In spite of its sour review of The Rainbow‘s opening on Broadway, The New York Dramatic Mirror later conceded in a tone quite similar to that of the Times:

“Ruth Chatterton . . scored one of the most immediate hits on theatrical record, and . . [is] one of the finds of the season. . . her contribution to its [The Rainbow’s] success is very considerable.  She unites the good points of ingénues with none of the affectations which young actresses are so prone to fall into.  Hers is a future of promise if she follows the precepts of artists older than she.”  New York Dramatic Mirror, April 3, 1912.

And the Dramatic Mirror’s “Matinee Girl” columnist expressed enthusiasm by putting an “old-fashioned-girl-becomes-overnight sensation” spin on the newfound success of Miss Chatterton:

“A call on Ruth Chatterton in that fortunate eighteen-year-old’s dressing room at the Liberty Theatre disclosed a half-dozen facts concerning the ingenue whom New York has acclaimed because she represents old-fashioned youth, not the youth of the Broadway education, but the youth of the fields and country lanes and the quiet places of life.”  New York Dramatic Mirror, April 3, 1912.

It was odd — even in 1912 — for a New York City native, a girl from East 129th Street, to be described as being “of the fields and country lanes and the quiet places,” but Ruth Chatterton was practically a Broadway immigrant, and not a prodigal child.  She was a New Yorker who worked her way onto a Broadway stage as an outsider — a teenager who three years before had never set foot on a public stage, who found her foothold in what was essentially “community theater” in the nation’s capital, not the capital of theater.  Now, still a teenager (she would turn twenty in December), she was a Broadway star.

“You know that line I have in the play, where I say, ‘I wonder if any other girl ever had a daddy like you?’  Well, that’s how I feel about Mr. Miller off the stage, because he’s really been a father to me.  I told you that he has taught me everything I know, and I want to add that, in spite of all the trouble I must have given him, he has never spoken an unkind word to me.  And when he told me in rehearsals to change the reading of a line, or some of the business, he always stopped to tell me the reason why it should be changed.  The only thing he does that I don’t like is making me take curtain calls. I don’t deserve them. The credit is entirely due to him, and he must know it.”

Ruth must have felt this from the beginning, the opening night in Washington, when a nervous evening culminated with her being thrust quite unexpectedly to the front of the stage by Henry Miller at the curtain call:

“At the close of the second act, the star showed an unusual degree of magnanimity in insisting upon Miss Chatterton making the curtain speech — a faltering “I thank you” — which Mr. Miller urged that she say again.  When the audience insisted upon [Miller] responding, he expressed [his] appreciation.”  Ralph Graves, The Washington Post, March 5, 1912.

At the Broadway premier’s curtain call, The New York Times noted that Henry Miller not only stepped forward with Chatterton to accept the audience’s applause, but that he also specifically acknowledged her importance in the success of his production:

“That the actor-manager recognized how far responsible for the success of the play one of them was, was evidenced by the graciousness of his action, when, in response to the many curtain calls, he came forward leading Miss Ruth Chatterton by the hand, announced that he would feel desperately lonely if she left him, and whimsically advised her not to expect a raise of salary on that account.”  The New York Times, March 12, 1912.

Henry Miller undoubtedly gave Ruth Chatterton that opportunity, that one “break” that made her a star.  His role in her career and in her future success is hard to overestimate.  He served as her mentor, and would continue to do so in the years immediately ahead of The Rainbow.  I think it is informed speculation for me to conclude that he also served as a much-needed father figure.  Her biological father seems to have been virtually invisible in her life (as well as in the historical record) after about 1898, when Walter and Lilian Chatterton were named co-defendants in a lawsuit by a contractor to recover unpaid bills, and Ruth was only five.  It was all the more important, therefore, that she have someone to fill those shoes, if only in her working life.

* * *

June 8, 1912, the final night of the theater season at the Liberty Theatre also saw the season’s final performance of The Rainbow on Broadway.  The show’s cast went on summer vacation, a well-deserved break, before the production would return to the stage in a national tour in the fall.  The Broadway run had been an unequivocal success.  The Rainbow was one of the biggest non-musical hits of the season, with thirteen weeks and 105 performances from March 11 to June 8, 1912.

It was a season punctuated by the April 15 loss of the Titanic in the North Atlantic before its scheduled arrival at the White Star Line’s Hudson River pier 54, a tragedy that took its toll on the City, and the Broadway theater community as well, the most notable being the loss of producer Henry B. Harris, who owned and operated four theaters in Manhattan, all of which had hits during the 1911-12 season (his wife, traveling with him, survived).  Dozens of memorial services and benefit events for the Titanic accident victims, survivors and their families were held in the theaters and churches of Manhattan’s Broadway theater district in the weeks following the tragedy.

It was also a season in which an unknown teenage actress,  after only two and a half years’ professional experience became a star on Broadway in only her second appearance on the Great White Way.  A young couple, obvious fans of the theater, and of Miss Ruth Chatterton in particular, named their first child “Cynthia Sumner,” after Miss Chatterton’s character in The Rainbow.  It was an event duly reported by the New York Dramatic Mirror’s “Matinee Girl,” complemented by a small photo lent to the columnist by Miss Chatterton.

The Rainbow would return to production in the fall of 1912, and it would occupy thoroughly and completely the life of Ruth Chatterton for almost another year and a half.  Then she would find herself in a new production that would be another and more important career milestone — and yet another career concordance with Mary Pickford.

* * *

SOURCES.

Periodicals and Newspapers:

Photoplay; The Indianapolis Star; The New York Dramatic Mirror; The New York Times; The Syracuse Herald; The Trenton (NJ) Times; The Washington Post.  (Digital sources for these publications are: Newspaper Archive at newspaperarchive.com; Historical newspapers and periodicals at Ancestry.com; Fulton History at fultonhistory.com (for The New York Dramatic Mirror); The New York Times (at nytimes.com archive); The Chicago Daily Tribune (chicago tribune archive at proquest, pqarchiver.com); The Internet Archive at archive.com (for Photoplay Magazine).

Public Records and Histories:

1880 United States Federal Census; 1900 U. S. Federal Census; 1910 U. S. Federal Census; U. S. Passport Applications, 1795-1925; New York Passenger Lists, 1820-1957; New York City Marriages, 1600s – 1800s; (all preceding public records via Ancestry.com);

Public property records for the City of New York, East Harlem real estate (from Blockhawk.com).  Maps and Street Views from Google Maps at maps.google.com.

Washington, city and capital. Washington, D.C.: U. S. Government Printing Office, 1937 (via Ancestry.com).

Photos (excluding reproductions from periodicals and public records cited above):

Henry Kolker, Wikipedia (at wikipedia.org); Julia Dean and Henry Miller, New York Public Library, Billy Rose Theater Collection (at digitalgallery.nypl.org).  The Lyric Theatre and The Liberty Theatre, Internet Broadway Database (at ibdb.com).  Ruth Chatterton, original White, NY portrait, 1912 from the author’s personal collection.

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About Gene Zonarich

I'm the King of the silent pictures -- I'm hidin' out 'til talkies blow over . . .
This entry was posted in American Theater History, Film History, Ruth Chatterton and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to RUTH CHATTERTON: ON THE GREAT DIVIDE.

  1. Fantastic information about one of my favorite actresses. Can’t wait to read part 2. Thank you; now on to Adele and Fred!

    • You’re welcome. Glad you liked it. It’s the first thing I’ve written based solely on original sources. Part 2 is in the works May take a couple more weeks. There’s very little reliable secondary source info out there on Ruth as it is, so more than most subjects that I’ve dealt with it requires researching the primary sources, which takes a little time, but the results, I think, are worth the effort. Thanks for your comments.

      • KatG says:

        I really enjoyed the article and am looking forward to part two. There are a large number of archived magazines on internet archive (free online) that should be useful but it may take some time to go through the material. I found many articles on Chatterton in Picture Play and Photoplay.

        The below link will pull up, Motion Picture Magazine, Picture Play, Motion Picture Daily, Motion Picture News, Photoplay, Moving Picture World, Army-Navy Screen, Movie Pictorial, FilmPlay, Pantomime, Movie Weekly, Screenland and Motography links.

        http://archive.org/search.php?query=Motion%20picture%20magazine

        • Thanks. In addition to parts two and three that were previously posted, I’m working on “part four.” I’m familiar with the internet archive; it’s a fantastic resource that I’ve used quite a bit already. For Ruth Chatterton’s stage career, I’ve relied mainly on the New York Dramatic Mirror archive at fultonhistory.com, plus various newspaper archives as well. Glad you enjoyed part one and hope you also like the remaining parts, also.

  2. Pingback: The Female’s Kiss: A Double Deco Night by matthew c. hoffman « Screen Deco

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