Tuesday, December 24, 2019

A Musical Bubble in Two Bottles: The History of Mamzelle Champagne - Part I

A guest posting by Eric Shanower

Madison Square Garden

Edgar Allan Woolf’s name is known to Oz fans as one of the more than dozen writers who contributed to the script of Metro Goldwyn Mayer’s 1939 motion picture version of The Wizard of Oz. Woolf’s screen credit appears in the opening minutes of the movie, along with those of Noel Langley and Woolf’s scripting partner Florence Ryerson. MGM’s The Wizard of Oz came near the end of Woolf’s career. He died from falling downstairs in 1943, four years after the movie was released. But before The Wizard of Oz, Edgar Allan Woolf had a long career writing for both motion pictures and the stage, a career that started off with a bang.

Three bangs, actually—since Harry Kendall Thaw fired three bullets into Stanford White—two into White’s head, one into his shoulder—during the opening night of Mamzelle Champagne, the first professionally produced stage script written by Edgar Allan Woolf.

Edgar Allan Woolf as a young man.

Before writing scripts and immediately after graduating from Columbia University in 1901, Woolf had tried his hand as an actor with some success.  He appeared in shows such as Miranda of the Balcony starring celebrated actress Minnie Maddern Fiske, The Starbucks by Opie Read, Lady Berinthia’s Secret with Sarah Cowell Le Moyne, a stock company production of The Prisoner of Zenda, and The Sorceress with Mrs. Patrick Campbell.

But a script he wrote for a musical comedy titled The Mischief Maker seemingly set Woolf on his way to a script writing career.

Woolf wrote The Mischief Maker in 1901 in collaboration with fellow Columbia University grads Arthur G. Hays (lyrics) and Clarence J. Penney (music). In April 1903 The Mischief Maker saw the light of day as Columbia’s Varsity Show. The Varsity Show is an annual theatrical production performed by Columbia undergraduates. Established in 1894 initially as a fundraiser for the university’s sports program (thus the “varsity” of the title), it’s the university’s oldest performing arts tradition and is still going strong today.

Eminent theatre critic Burns Mantle later claimed to have a letter from Woolf explaining that The Mischief Maker evolved into Woolf’s first professional show, the musical farce Mamzelle Champagne. What “evolved” means in this context is unclear; The Mischief Maker was set on the planet Venus and Mamzelle Champagne was set at Maxim’s restaurant in Paris, so the two shows evidently bear little resemblance. The primary continuity between them seems to have been the impetus provided by the Varsity Show production to propel Woolf into professional scripting.

A scene from Mamzelle Champagne. Viola De Costa in the title role is fourth from left.

Mamzelle Champagne premiered on June 18, 1906, at the Savoy Theatre in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Woolf wrote the script and lyrics. Cassius M. Freeborn, recently musical conductor for the actress Edna May (who first appeared on stage in an 1884 production of Charles Reade's Dora with L. Frank Baum), supplied the music and conducted the orchestra. Henry Pincus produced and Lionel E. Lawrence directed. The cast was as follows:

Fuller Spice – Ned Nye, replaced by Harry Short
Gustavus Hicks, a rich plumber – Edwin “Eddie” Fowler
Jack McAllister – Arthur Stanford
Henri La Tour – Alfred Hudson, Jr.
Mamzelle Champagne (La Folaire) – Viola De Costa
Violet Stuyvesant – Maude Earle
Diana Hicks – Sylvia Starr
Bessie Lonely – Ida Crispi
Mabel Chatterton – Maude Fulton
Siebelle – Alberta Davis
Percy Yale, an art student – Harry Hudson
Walter Harvard, an art student – Frank McCullough
Phillip Cornell, an art student – Fred J. Ozab
Martin Brown, an art student – Fred Woodward
Prince Towne, an art student – Walter Lehmann
George Carlisle, an art student – Walter Pascal
Head Waiter at Maxim’s – Edward Giles
Burglar – Fred J. Ozab
Gendarme – James E. Ludwig
Pansy Lovejoy, one of the Big Six – Alice Chase
Diana Armour, one of the Big Six – Jennie Andrietta
Myrtle Granger, one of the Big Six – Edna Hixon
Winnie Darling, one of the Big Six – Alice Robinson
Mazie Royler, one of the Big Six – May Rollins
Dolly Lakefront, one of the Big Six – Elfia White
Iona Lott – Sadie Etherton
Tiny Timmyon – Inez Marcelle

Mamzelle Champagne also had a chorus claimed to number fifty people, mostly girls—including chorus girl Grace LaRue—but that number is suspect. Publicity for musicals routinely inflated chorus sizes. Nevertheless, Mamzelle Champagne likely boasted a large chorus. Outside the regular September-to-May theatrical season, many chorus girls would have looked for employment in a summer show.

Maude Earle, in the role of Violet Stuyvesant. The better-known musical comedy actress Virginia Earle was her sister.

Like the show’s writer Edgar Allan Woolf, actor Fred Woodward also had an Oz connection. Woodward had spent the previous three theatrical seasons in the second touring company of the smash musical extravaganza The Wizard of Oz, produced for the stage by Fred Hamlin. Woodward initially held minor roles in Wizard—a Kansas farmhand and one of the Wizard’s wisemen—but eventually took over the principal part of the Cowardly Lion. He joined the cast of Mamzelle Champagne for the 1906 summer season, playing one of the art students named for an Ivy League university, Martin Brown.

Fred Woodward (born Frederick James Warrington in 1882) with his costume for his most celebrated role, Hank the Mule. In the fall of 1906, when the regular theatrical season resumed, Woodward joined the number one Wizard company and spent that season playing Imogene the Frolicsome Heifer to favorable reviews. After The Wizard of Oz, Woodward continued his career as an animal actor. He played Hank the Mule in the entire 1913-14 run of The Tik-Tok Man of Oz, a role he played internationally (with short interruptions, such as his appearances as the Woozy and a human in L. Frank Baum’s Oz Film Manufacturing Co. productions) for the rest of his career into the 1950s.

The show’s tagline, “a musical bubble in two bottles,” humorously signaled its status as ephemeral summer entertainment, too light for the main theatrical season. It consisted of two acts, called the “first pop” and the “second pop.” The thin plot of Mamzelle Champagne follows Fuller Spice, an American theatrical agent, in his search for a theatrical novelty with which to startle New York. Attended by his six faithful show girls, Spice’s Big Six, he arrives by airship at Maxim’s in Paris, where he encounters a wide variety of people who play tricks upon him.

Spice’s Big Six.

Having failed in his quest, he decides to return to New York. But when he purchases a giant bottle of champagne to take back, the bottle explodes. Fuller Spice finds his novelty emerging from it: Mamzelle Champagne. The love interest in the show centers on an affair between two young Americans, Jack McAllister and Mabel Chatterton, who give vent to their passion in frequent bursts of song.

The eighteen musical numbers included “I’m Searching for a Novelty,” “Moonlight, You and I,” “Could I Fascinate You?” “The Land of Golden Dreams,” “Lovers’ Lane,” “Gloriana,” “The Tale of the Tadpole and the Frog,” “Peter Pan,” “Never Again,” “Atmosphere,” “A Cottage to Let, Down Lovers’ Lane,” and “I Could Love a Million Girls.”

A popular ensemble in Mamzelle Champagne.

After a week in Atlantic City, where the Atlantic City Review called it “bright,” Mamzelle Champagne next moved to New York City, where it opened on the evening of Monday, June 25, 1906, on the Madison Square Garden roof. Publicity heralded the show as “the latest musical success” and the “best, brightest, breeziest show in town.”

Newspaper advertisement for opening night of Mamzelle Champagne on the Madison Square Garden roof.

Madison Square Garden, where Mamzelle Champagne made its Broadway debut, was the second structure of that name. It opened in 1890, taking up the complete block northeast of the intersection of Fifth Avenue and Broadway at 23rd Street in Manhattan. J. P. Morgan, Andrew Carnegie, P. T. Barnum, Darius Mills, James Stillman and W. W. Astor financed the three million dollar construction. Stanford White of McKim, Mead, and White, the preeminent architectural firm of the day, designed the structure in a Beaux Arts style with Moorish details. It contained the largest exhibition hall in the world at the time, a 1200-seat theatre, a 1500-seat concert hall, New York City’s largest restaurant, and a roof garden theatre open to the sky.

Madison Square Garden overlooking Madison Square Park.

In the days before widespread air conditioning, hot summer weather could make sitting through a stage production intolerable. Late night productions in roof garden theatres open to the breezes were a solution to providing summer entertainment after the regular theatre season had closed. New York City boasted several roof garden theatres. The one on Madison Square Garden was the largest and most elaborate. It occupied the roof’s front corner at 26th Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan, overlooking Madison Square. Flowers, shrubs, ornamental arches, and colored electric lights decorated the open-air space large enough to seat 800 comfortably and more if necessary.

The Roof Garden theatre on Madison Square Garden.

Above the roof garden, a tower rose thirty-two stories high, the city’s second tallest building in 1906. High atop the tower revolved a nude statue of the goddess Diana—scandalous at the time—by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens. Stanford White, the master designer of Madison Square Garden, maintained an apartment high in the tower.

Stanford White, eminent architect and lover of under-age chorus girls, circa 1905.

White also had another Manhattan residence, an opulent retreat where in November 1902 the 48-year-old architect deflowered the 17-year-old artists’ model and Florodora chorus girl Evelyn Nesbit. Later the discovery of this incident so enraged Harry Thaw, who’d married Evelyn Nesbit on April 4, 1905, that Thaw shot Stanford White on the roof garden one hot summer night as the first New York City performance of Mamzelle Champagne neared its closing strains.

To be continued
To read Part II click here
Copyright © 2019 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved. 
Originally published in the OzCon International 2019 Program Book.

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