Once there was a Litry Guy who would don his Undertaker’s Regalia and the White Satin Puff Tie and go out of an Afternoon to read a Paper to the Wimmen.
At every Tea Battle and Cookie Carnival he was hailed as the Big Hero.
A good many pulsating Dulcineas who didn’t know what “Iconoclast” meant, regarded him as an awful Iconoclast.
And cynical? Mercy!
When he stood up in a Front Room and Unfolded his MS., and swallowed the Peppermint Wafer and began to Bleat, no one in the World of Letters was safe.
He would wallop Dickens and jounce Kipling and even take a side-swipe at Luella Prentiss Budd, who was the Poetess Laureate for the Ward in which he lived.
Ever since his Stuff had been shot back by a Boston Editor with a Complimentary Note, he had billed himself as an Author and had been pointed out as such at more than one Chautauqua.
Consequently his Views on Recent Fiction carried much weight with the Carries.
He loved to pile the Fagots around a Best Seller and burn it to a Cinder, while the Girls past 30 years of Age sat in front of him and Shuddered.
As for the Drama, he could spread a New York Success on the marble-top Table and dissect it until nothing was left but the Motif, and then he would heave that into the Waste Basket, thereby leaving the Stage in America flat on its back.
And if you mentioned Georgie Cohan to him, the Foam would begin to fleck his Lips and he would go plumb Locoed.
After he had been sitting on the Fence for many years, booing those who tried to saw Wood, his Satellites began coaxing him to write something that would show up Charley Klein and Gus Thomas and all the other Four-Flushers who were raking in Royalties under False Pretenses.
They knew he was a Genius, because nothing pleased him.
He decided to start with something easy and dash off an Operetta.
Having sat through some of the Current Offerings, he noted that the Dialogue was unrelated to Real Literature and the Verses lacked Metrical Symmetry.
It would be a Pipe for a sure-enough Bard to sit down on a Rainy Afternoon and grind out something that might serve as a Model for Harry B. Smith.
So he had a Vase of Fresh Flowers put on his Desk every Day, and he would sit there, waiting for the Muse to keep her Date.
At the end of a Month he had it all planned to lay the First Scene in front of a Palace with a Forest on the Back Drop so as to get a lot of Atmosphere.
There was to be a Princess in the Thing, and a Picture of the long-lost Mother in the Locket and other New Stuff.
He put in Hours and Hours hand-embroidering the Verses.
When he made “Society” rhyme with “Propriety,” he thought he was getting to be Gilbertian.
While these Lyrics were still quivering, he would take them out and read them to his wife and the Hired Girl and the man who attended to the Furnace, and get their Impartial Judgment.
They agreed that it was Hot Gravy and too good for the Stage.
Encouraged by these heart-felt Encomiums, he would hike back to the Study, shoot himself in the Arm with a hypothetical Needle, and once more begin picking Grapes in Arcady.
When People came up to the House, not knowing that he had been taken down with anything, he would own up that he was working on a Mere Trifle, and then, after being sufficiently urged, he would give a Reading.
These Readings could have been headed off only by an Order of Court or calling out the State Guard.
Inasmuch as the large-size Carnegie Medal for Heroism is waiting for the Caller who has the immortal Rind to tell a poetical Pest that his output is Punk, the Author found himself smeared with Compliments after each of these parlor Try-Outs.
They kidded him into thinking that he had incubated a Whale.
When he had chewed up a Gross of Pencils and taken enough Tea to float the Imperator, the great Work was complete and ready to be launched with a loud Splash.
He began to inquire the Name of some prominent Theatre Blokie who was a keen Student of the Classics and a Person of super-refined Taste.
The man he sought had moved into the Poor House, so he compromised by expressing his typewritten Masterpiece to a Ringmaster whose name he had seen on the Three Sheets. It was marked, “Valuable Package.”
In a few months the hirelings of the Company and the Driver of the Wagon became well acquainted with the Large Envelope containing the only Hope of the present decadent Period.
Every time the Work came back to him with a brief printed Suggestion that any Male Adult not physically disabled could make $1.75 a day with a Shovel, the Author would appear at the Afternoon Club with another scathing arraignment of certain Commercial Aspects of the Modern Stage.
He saw that it was over their Heads.
It was too darned Dainty for a Flat-Head who spelt Art with a lower-case “a.”
Yet it was so drenched and saturated and surcharged with Merit that he resolved to have it done by Local Amateurs rather than see it lost to the World.
The Music was written by Genius No. 2, working in a Piano Store. He had been writing Great Music for years.
Whenever he heard anything catchy, he went home and wrote it.
He was very Temperamental. That is, he got soused on about three, and, while snooted, would deride Victor Herbert, thus proving that he was Brilliant, though Erratic.
He had a trunkful of Tunes that were too scholarly for the Ikeys who publish Popular Trash.
He fitted them on to the Libretto written by the Litry Guy.
When the two got together to run over the Book and Score, they were sure enthusiastic.
The Author said the Lines were the best he had ever heard, and the Composer said the Numbers were all Gems.
When the Home Talent bunch pulled the whole Affair before a mob of Personal Friends and a subsidized City Editor, it was a Night of Triumph for all concerned.
The trained and trusty Liars who, in every Community, wear Evening Clothes and stand around at Receptions, all crowded up to the Author and gave him the Cordial Mitt and boosted something scandalous.
He didn’t know that all of them Knocked after they got around the Dutch Lunch.
He went home, sobbing with Joy. That night he nominated himself for the Hall of Fame and put it to a Vote, and there was not one Dissenting Voice.
Every deluded Boob who can bat up Fungoes in his own Back Yard thinks he is qualified to break into a Major League and line out Two-Baggers.
There was no holding the inspired Librettist and the talented young Composer.
They knew that the eager Public in 48 States was waiting for the Best Thing since “Robin Hood.”
The Author went up to the City and found a Manager who had a Desk and a lot of Courage and a varied experience in risking other people’s Coin.
After the two Geniuses had mortgaged their Homes, the Impresario was enabled to get some Scenery built and rally a large Drove of Artists—most of them carrying Hand Bags.
During Rehearsals the brutal Stage Manager wanted to cut the Gizzard out of the Book and omit most of the sentimental Arias, but Mr. Words and Mr. Music emitted such shrieks of protest against the threatened Sacrilege that he allowed all the select home-made Guff to remain in the Script.
He thought it would serve them right.
When they gave the first Real Performance in a Dog Town on a drizzly evening in November, there was no Social Éclat to fill the sails. The House was mostly Paper and therefore very Missouri.
Also a full delegation from the Coffin-Trimmers’ Union with Cracked Ice in their Laps.
They did not owe any Money to the Author or have any Kinfolk in the Cast, so they sat back with their Hands under them and allowed the pretty little Opera to die like an Outcast.
The only Laugh in the Piece was when the Drop Curtain refused to work.
After the Show the Manager met them at an Oyster House and told them they had eased a Persimmon to him.
He said the whole Trick was a Bloomer. It was just as funny as a Wooden Leg. It needed much Pep and about two tons of Bokum.
Both Words and Music refused to countenance any radical Changes.
They said it would be another “Cavalleria” as soon as they could do it before an intelligent Audience of True-Lovers. The Ex-Minstrel Man said there wasn’t no such Animal as an intelligent Playgoer.
The Simp that pushed his Metal into the Box Office wanted Something Doing every minute and many Gals, otherwise it was back to the Store-House and a Card in the Clipper.
The Call on the Board read “Everybody at Ten,” but the brainy Writer and the versatile Composer were not included.
When they appeared at the Stage Door they were met by Props, who told them to get to a certain Place out of there.
Standing in the Alley, they could hear Wails of Anguish, and they knew that their Child was having the Vital Organs removed.
The celebrated Author of the Graveyard Rag had been summoned in haste. He was in charge of the Clinic—taking out the Grammar and putting in Gags.
The Duos and Ensembles were being dropped through the Trap Door to make way for recent Song Hits from the alcoholic Cabarets.
The Ax fell right on the powdered Neck of the beautiful Prima Donna, who had studied for Grand Opera, but never had been able to find an Orchestra that would fit her Voice.
Her Part was changed from a Princess to a Shop-Lifter and was assigned to Cissy St. Vitus, late of a Burlesque Bunch known as the Lady Bugs.
The Tenor was given the Hook, and his sentimental Rôle was entrusted to a Head-Spinner who had acquired his Dramatic Schooling with the Ringling Circus.
All of which comes under the head of whipping a Performance into Shape.
When the two Geniuses sat out in front they recognized nothing except the Scenery and Costumes.
Their idyllic Creation had been mangled into a roughhouse Riot, in which Disorderly Conduct alternated with the shameless Gyrations taught in San Francisco.
The last Act had been omitted altogether without affecting the coherency of the Story.
The Plot died just four minutes after the Ring-Up.
Although the Report showed 27 Encores and the Gate began to jump $80 a Night, both the intellectual Troubadour and the Student of Counter-Harmonies went to the Manager and cried on his Shoulder and said that their Beautiful Work had been ruined.
He called attention to the Chunk of Money tied up in Silk Tights and fireproof Borders.
When it came to a show-down between Dough and Art he didn’t propose to tear up his Meal Ticket.
If they would beat it and stay hid and leave the Artists fatten up their Scenes, probably the Bloomer could be converted into a Knock-Out.
While they were in the Sanitarium, the former Minstrel King and young Abie Fixit from the Music Foundry cut out the last vestiges of the Original Stuff and put in two Turns that had landed strong over the whole Orpheum Circuit.
The romantic Operetta now became known as Another One of Those Things.
It was eagerly discussed by Club Women and College Students.
Good seats down in the Observation Rows were not to be had except at the Hotel News Stand.
The Litry Guy and the Music-Maker came out of the Rest Cure to learn that they had registered a Hit and could get their names in “Who’s Who.”
With the Royalty Checks coming in from the eastern Centers of Culture they were enabled to buy four-cylinder Cars with which to go riding in lonesome Country Lanes, far from the sight of a Bill-Board.
When the Number Two Company came along presenting the Metropolitan Success in the One-Nighters, the reincarnated Gilbert and Sullivan packed up their Families and escaped to French Lick.
It was a Sell-Out, because all the Members of the Research Club wanted to see that new Dido called the Chicken Flop.
There was no knocking at the Dutch Lunches that night.
Every one said the Show was a Bird, but they thought it was up to the Author to resign from the Baptist Church. Moral: In elevating the Drama be sure to get it High enough, even if you have to make it a trifle Gamey.
The Uplifter and his Dandy Little Opus – Ade’s Fables