thumbnail of Heritage of American humor ; The playhouse in a new reality
Hide -
This transcript was received from a third party and/or generated by a computer. Its accuracy has not been verified. If this transcript has significant errors that should be corrected, let us know, so we can add it to FIX IT+.
The heritage of American humor. We have many sources of worthwhile laughter all influence our outlook on life from the early days comes a unique heritage for the 20th century American. Heritage enhanced by being shared. The University of North Dakota broadcasting service presents 15 dramatized essays on the American humor found in newspapers books and anthologies old and new. From these the 20th century American can obtain a perspective on the intelligences attitudes styles and sensibilities of the American outlook as it concerns himself and his world neighbors. The heritage of American humor is produced by the University of North Dakota under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio Center in cooperation with the National Association of educational broadcasters. The writer narrator is Professor Joseph F. Smeal of the University of North Dakota Department of English program by the playhouse in a new
reality show. Today's programme. Concerns the playhouse in a new reality. But when we ask where and when Americans have laughed we must admit that many many of them have laughed when they found themselves at the Playhouse. Perhaps most Americans before 19:00 laughed when they were reading their newspapers. But nevertheless many still were finding their laughter at the Playhouse. The newspapers were especially the new world's seabed of humor. But we should not forget that the playhouse for thousands of years had been the seed bed of humor in the Old World. The newspapers were peculiarly adapted to the ways of the new world and indeed the newspapers as we know them were well-nigh an innovation of the new world. On the other hand the theatre was not adapted to the ways of early America.
It had to adapt itself and our program deals with some aspects of its adaptation to a new reality in America. The Chief new factor that the playhouse faced in the New World was the changing place of women in American culture a playhouse for thousands of years had been thought of as the school for manners and manners concerned women in a special way. But in the new world manners were changing and moreover the new American woman was serious about her role as the schoolmarm of the West as a civilize or of the new world. The maker of its manners as we shall see. She meant a great deal in the new reality of the playhouse. Consider the import of the following statement about the relation of the playhouse to
schooling in the Americas. It is the voice of a minister on a lecture tour much like one that Emerson might have taken. The minister is addressing an audience chiefly composed of ladies in the late 1850. Dear lady and gentleman. What is the meaning of what we produce here this evening which is something to be seated every lecture of all our country what it means the fact that the play I was is almost forsaken beauty and fashion and then a place to be been throwing these holes of science and literature where they patiently listen to what would once have been called a dry lecture. What is this phenomenon but evidence of the onward progress all men and all the eight play houses seem to look at that day as the matured man forsakes nursery and playground some of the
time has come out when mankind putting away try all these things i did i a great job in the pursuit of knowledge that man has forsaken the god. The show is at the playhouse for the all of the you know what. There you have him. Of one thing women of the new world thought they might do with the old world's playhouses they would convert them into school houses. And in fact with deadly seriousness some American women set about making a home in the school. They only habitations for the American men. But other American women saw other possibilities for the playhouses of the new word and to help us realize some of the ease we have with us here today. I missed the first actress. I missed second actress. Mr One actor would you. I don't see her that way and her relations to the playhouse I mean the American woman
I mean she doesn't want to teach you know she's the new woman and she wants to play house to reflect her new possibilities back to her. That's why we asked you three here today. There's a puzzling new personality for women lurking in the corners of the comedies of the playhouse in its new American reality. And we want to work them out here today. The new personality for women takes in both the flirt and the prude of old England's comedies but goes beyond them into a new Independence where American women may sometimes feel hesitant and breathless and a little puzzled with themselves. But where as we shall see they smile and tease and laugh. To illustrate this hesitant laughter we turn to Mrs. Richie's comedy of the 1850s called fashion. The second actress Gertrude please and Mr. one. Well you do Colonel Howard. He's the noble cowboy early version.
Simple strong and somewhat tongue tied in the presence of the fair sex. Sometimes he's called Colonel manly. And Miss first. When you set the stage for us for the second scene of the second act of Mrs. Richie's comedy fashion. Takes place in a townhouse and Mr. Tiffany who is ruining her newly rich husband in a deadly serious effort to become a leader of fashion and to marry off her daughter who is a mark of a flirt to an impostor a French count. And I like Mrs. Richie for that or I suspect it is the French aristocrat after their revolution who has most trouble with the American woman. More specifically the scene takes place in the Labrador conservatory where the exotic hothouse flowers of fashion grow there we find our heroine great with governess in the Tiffany house. She is attired in white with a white
rose in her hair. And is watching the flowers. CURNOW Howards fans know. I am afraid to lead a sad life here amongst the flowers amongst the thistles with which Mrs. Tiffany surround you that you never harm me but this frigid atmosphere of fashion must be very uncongenial to you accustomed to the pleasant companionship of your kind friends in Switzerland Surely you must regret this cold exchange. Do you think so. You suppose that I could possibly prefer a ramble in a Swiss Valley to Broadway's dust. A reef of scented wildflowers to a bouquet of these sickly exhaust. The odor of new mown hay to the heated air of this crowded conservatory. Or can you imagine that I could enjoy the quiet conversation of my gin even friends to the edifying chit chat of Mrs Tiffany's drawing room. He must then think me destitute of space who have a merry
spirit to make fun of your grievances. I have my mania as someone wise says all mankind have. And mine is a love of independence in Switzerland by water supplied by two kind old maiden ladies upon whom I know not that I have any claim. I found I had abilities and I desired to use them. I came here. My own request for here I am no longer dependent I want to do this if any would try to believe me I appreciate the confidence you repose in me confidence. Truly Colonel Howard the confidence is entirely yours in supposing that I can find that which I have no reason to conceal. You know that this is different only receives visitors on reception day and she's not therefore prepared to see you. The fact I made some mistake in admitting you and they did was not Mrs. Tiffany enormous. Tiffany whom I came to see it it was I was a conservatory perhaps. I will leave you to examine the flowers that grow to it. Listen to me. Only I could say it is good.
Yes. I go to church. I must I must indeed you must. It's different he would be pleased to hear. Preach preach to me. That would take you to the range be right here. True. And. It is not an important scene of Mrs. Richie's play that second scene of the second act but in it to Mrs. Richie the actor author is seems to have been elaborating a new personality for women a personality that is expressed as sensually phrase for here
I am no longer dependent. And the elaborating is done in the midst of a hesitant laughter. Truly we women are quite in comprehensible. The incomprehensibility the humor of the new personality for women being elaborated in the playhouses turns about the manner in which the American woman was to conduct herself. She could tease and laugh hesitantly at herself as we have just seen her do in the Ritchie comedy or in contrast. She could pretend to more decision force and intelligence than perhaps she really felt. To illustrate this side of the new personality we do a little declamation for Mariah J Macintoshes book called woman in America. Imagine that you were attending the May Day ceremonies at a girls academy in the 1850s. The academy's a little playhouse is hung with bunting and festoons of ivy and filled with girls and
parents. One when you start this and then we'll give a sentimental fanfare for you first actress. One you are the principal of the Academy introducing the speaker of the day. And now ladies and gentleman I know that all the fine friends of the school will be very pleased to have a declamation but I missed but I approved on the subject. All woman's best today. Miss Mariah week. Ladies and gentleman. As a nation independent self-reliant and moving onward with the calmness marking not just confidence in our powers we have acted in a deep down have conviction of the truth and usefulness of our
political principles. But in our social life we have had no principle. We have been served our imitators the aims of every family on the apologists for every vice to which Europe give sanction. But when Springs this difference between our political and our social life is it not from the fact that American women those who preside over our social life have neither understood their present position nor the future to which they are tending to must it be thus. Is there not a word for American women to. Our destiny upon them to accomplish. May not we of the women of America mold our social life by our intelligent conviction into our once grand a simple yet long. Within the new American reality the playhouses were changing contrasts were being worked out in them that lead to much humor between women who would feel life by intelligent conviction in two forms at
once grandly simple yet lofty and women who laughed hesitantly to find themselves quite incomprehensible to themselves and at the same time other contrasts affecting humor between an academic stage more often used for lectures and Commencement Day pageants than for plays and a professional stage used for vaudeville acts opéra comedies and spectacles were also developing the professional stage was moving toward its concentration and standardise ation in New York City in the academic stage toward the decentralized grassroots richness that we know in it today. These contrasts began early early in our culture. And to give us a taste of them in all their complexity we now do a scene from Royal Tyler's play called The contrast. This second actress will you do Charlotte please. And this first will you do like Tisha. And can we have some
sentimental music for the contrast is one between flirts without sentiment and prudes with it started at the end of your third speech Miss second please. Undertake one third of this is to bring more in one week than the real you and her sentimental friends can do by. Sentiment till their hairs are grey. I won't argue with you you always outtalk me. Let's change the subject. It is whispered that if Mariah gives her hand to Mr. Dimple it will be with out her heart though the giving of the heart is the least of laughable considerations in the marriage of a girl of spirit. I should like to hear what the dear little piece has got into her. Why you or Mr. Cornelius van Dam. Really did think to soften the name a bit while he was in England with the most intimate friend of Mariah's. So there are folk proposed to me. The young folks were
accordingly introduced and told they must love one another and at that time I really believe Mariah thought she was right. Not being there Billy went to England to see the world and rub off a little of the American Rust during his absence Mariah like a good girl to keep herself constant to her known Drew lovey avoided company and betook herself to books. But alas her love was destroyed by the very means she took to preserve a. Home. Owner with the unlikely young boy who found its way to her study patients shocked. You're his so runs to books. No indeed. But as her taste improved the contrast was so striking betwixt the good sense of her books and the flimsiness of Billy's love letters that she discovered she had without thinking engaged her hand without her heart. And then the whole transaction managed by the old folks appeared so unsentimental and looked so much like bargaining for a bale of goods that she found she ought to have rejected even the man of her choice.
If we were imposed upon and that was what happened upon Mr. Dimple to return from him. She spoke of him with respect abroad and with contempt in her room and she found that he was changed to a flippant palate polite bow. But if my grandma is so apt at conjuring up these sentimental objections for I don't she discard him at once. She thinks we were too sacred. Besides her father is ever telling her how she will thereby make him happy. Mighty pretty story. And so you would make me believe that the sensible morale you would give up gambling men. And the accomplished travel difficult as a husband. For the absurd do you miss reason that she despises inept whores him who chips does if a lady is not privileged to spend a man's fortune in his care it be called by his name and call him her. Throughout the year when she wants money without loving and respecting the great he creature the girl you are a prude I don't see what I would do. I only intimate How I suppose Mariah wishes to act.
No no one thinks much sentiment. If Mariah breaks or wishes to break with Mr dimple then depend upon it she has something of a man in her eye. No woman really discards one lover. Until she is sure of another. In royal Taylor's play in Charlotte in the two show whom you've just heard gossiping are types almost as old as theatre. They are stage flirts gay and pleasant but always always with a man's money in their eye and behind their wit and they judgment on the subject of their gossip to be another theatrical type from the old country's playhouses namely a soft submissive sentimental all enduring prude. Nevertheless in the contrast between the typical flirt and the typical prude one senses the presence of a new woman who values her independence who reads
books. Who wants to more social forms and work at her task of shaping the manners of Americans. And one could almost say that hints of this new woman were present in the American theater from its earliest beginnings. I have here for example a bit of theatre news from as long ago as seven hundred fifty two. It concerns the actions of a Cherokee Indian Empress attending a colonial performance of Shakespeare's Othello. Mr 1 Would you read it for us please. Williamsburg Virginia November 17th 1752. The Emperor of the Cherokee Nation with his Empress and their son the young prince attended by several of his warriors and great men were received at the palace by his owner the governor on Thursday the ninth instant. And where that evening entertained at the playhouse with the tragedy of author all which gave them great surprise as did the fighting with naked swords upon the state which occasioned the Empress to order some about her to go on the stage
and prevent their killing one another. So even as early as 1752 a relation between humor the playhouse and the new woman was sensed in America the American woman was even then about the civilizing of her world was teaching her men manners. But he is not a fair KING No. First don't say that a Cherokee Emperor was not an American woman. Imagine her as the great imprudence of the Cherokee Nation matriarch of their hunting domain the storehouse of their corn. Imagine her at six feet tall and weighing three hundred pounds with seven strands of alligator claws around her neck. Imagine her in Colonial Williamsburg calling her attendance to stop that stage fight red clay she would say bear claw stone hook get up there and stop them before they injure themselves. But let us return again to the 19th century for our last exploration of the relations between humor playhouses and the new woman. Our
next scene is the second scene from the fourth act of a play written by a secretary of the Navy and called the book it's are Americans in England. In the scene James Kirk Paulding shows us a small garden house in England where we see Jane Warfield an American heiress. She is in England to visit her sister. She is single and she has been beset by a series of those fortune hunters that characterize the manners of old England for a new American playhouses. There is Mr. obsolete and antiquarian. There's a spruce banker. I did watch two lord a collector of rare books an Army major who gambles and a retired admiral who drinks. But there is also a true Yankee lad visiting England and smitten with Jane were a few. Jane is alone talking to herself in the garden house and Henry tutor the Yankee lad finds her there.
Second actress please do Miss Warfield role and one will you do a Henry tutor please. Surely there's something in the very air of this island that makes one. When I was in the sprightly land of liberty I used to get about like a lamb and if I was missed for a half hour no one thought I you know. But here I'm around. My feet are tired and my tongue. So that I'm talking to myself is well for you. Yes here in the garden house. Good day to you miss me. Through her I'm rejoiced to see you. Do you know I was actually talking to myself for lack of better company. My sister has just set off from London to meet her husband supposed to be a second self Miss Warfield and continue the conversation.
No sir that would be worse than making you my confessor at one. You are too young to be trusted with early secrets and too indulgent for I should pardon every sin but that of falling in love except with a person of my choice. Oh I suppose you choose Mr obsolete the antiquarian. Oh no he's not the man you'd be rivals with the money the spruce banker. No no you'd be rivaled by his townhouse. Sir Christopher. Oh no then you'll be rivaled by a unique edition of Ben Johnson. Before say confront drinking and debauchery the major KNOW is true love is the lady of the gaming tables. You are very hard to please. What say you to the admiral. Ms Warfield. I can't imagine you are sailing with him. Ask for me my list. Is exhausted. I can think of no other. And yet there is another who if he dared name himself would offer you his name. Who did he dare to hope would lay his heart at your feet and beg you not to trample on it.
One who the almost a stranger to you would rely of course I know more. Where is this going to go IPO to me. Barefoot even to the snowy summit. You are right here. I don't see how I thought it would have to be an invisible. I never yet saw such a man naked. They look at me I cannot see Him not. He's flown away for the spirit your true flesh and blood I promise you but Miss Warfield pray now do be serious for once. May I ask how long according to your best knowledge and belief we two have known each other. I believe it is for a very few days is it not. Where hearts are pure. An hour's acquaintance is equal to an age of hypocritical contest. Who shall deceive the other what if we haven't known each other long. I mean to live single and study the virtues of your sex. But out of curiosity only a charming Miss Warfield for once be
serious though it was the innocent affected gayety that first caught my heart. Yet there was a time when spite in this is levity and laughter cruel. How good sir. Seriously then thou art a bold rash man and I love strangers as we are unknowing whether like flint and steel We may strike out consuming fires by meeting ignorant whether our tastes and habits mingle in the sweet accord so necessary to happiness. Surely you cannot be serious. When you bought the bar which Oh I understand. Be sure me but I can take a hint. I can live to be gay and with an hour afterwards. Well madam has to wounded the true boys a true and are you. Tis over now. A mere frankness common with me at times. I'll swallow my feelings though they are alive Cohen's farewell madam. It is
all over now. Do you ever listen to me sir. I have a heart as warm as the house but lately I have been plagued by a swarm of flies in the shape of lovers who came to my way men without hearts or you who have no feelings but selfish ones. Who are. Wrong about our sex to keep themselves with both our own mourn together to you and I were fortunate. To thank you for what you are. I have opposed a bitter wish and on feelings go on for they deserve them. You would not have I think. We cannot pretend here to represent all the rich variety of the old country's tradition of humor in the playhouse. Here we have explored in our search through the rich variety of American humor. But one small theme the relation of the new American woman to the playhouse as a school for manners. But we have tried to give
some idea of that theme as it was presented in the great theater that is to say the theatre that embraces all the uses to which a stage can be put. We have heard the theme in lectures in declamations in bits of theatrical news and in scenes from comedies which all are ways of using the great theatre. The scenes from Royal Tylers contrast from pollings book Tales and from Mrs. Richie's fashion may be found in the common anthologies of American drama. The Cherokee Empress the declamation from Mariah McIntosh and the lecture from Berne APS lectures on the sphere and duties of woman are from the collection of national craft. We hope that you have enjoyed them. Today's voices belong to Barbara Lee Dorothy Olson Myron Curry production by Scott price technical
operations by Donald word. We invite you to listen next week to the heritage of American humor a series of 15 dramatized essays written and narrated by Professor Joseph AP's meal of the University of North Dakota Department of English. He offers you a perspective on the relationship between the American humor found in newspapers books or anthologies and the American outlook traced from Colonial to recent times. The heritage of American humor is produced and recorded by the University of North Dakota broadcasting service under a grant from the National Educational Television and Radio Center. It's being distributed by the National Association of educational broadcast. This is the end I eat the radio network. I am.
Us. I am. Us.
Heritage of American humor
The playhouse in a new reality
Producing Organization
University of North Dakota
KFJM (Radio Station : Grand Forks, N.D.)
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
If you have more information about this item than what is given here, or if you have concerns about this record, we want to know! Contact us, indicating the AAPB ID (cpb-aacip/500-251fnx44).
Episode Description
This program talks about the influence that theater had on early American humor.
Series Description
Dramatic essays on the history and nature of American humor. Written by J.F.S. Smeall, assistant professor of English at the University of North Dakota and editor of the North Dakota Quarterly.
Media type
Embed Code
Copy and paste this HTML to include AAPB content on your blog or webpage.
Actor: Lee, Barbara
Actor: Olson, Dorothy
Actor: Curry, Myron
Narrator: Smeall, J.F.S.
Producing Organization: University of North Dakota
Producing Organization: KFJM (Radio Station : Grand Forks, N.D.)
Production Manager: Bryce, E. Scott
Writer: Smeall, J. F. S.
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 61-4-5 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:27
If you have a copy of this asset and would like us to add it to our catalog, please contact us.
Chicago: “Heritage of American humor ; The playhouse in a new reality,” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed July 25, 2024,
MLA: “Heritage of American humor ; The playhouse in a new reality.” University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. July 25, 2024. <>.
APA: Heritage of American humor ; The playhouse in a new reality. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from