Wednesday, September 24, 2014


Her Own Way opened at the Garrick Theatre on Broadway in September 1903, and moved to the New Amsterdam Theatre and the Savoy Theatre, closing in December after 107 performances.

 It starred Maxine Elliott as the strong, virtuous and beautiful Georgiana. It was a part that Clyde Fitch probably wrote expressly for her. “Maxine Elliott, known as ‘Venus de Milo with arms,’ was the most sensationally beautiful woman on Broadway,” writes New York theatre critic and historian Brooks Atkinson. “It grieved many of her admirers that she had no talent for acting.”

 But Clyde Fitch had apparently assessed her strengths as well as weaknesses when she performed in his 1899 historical drama, Nathan Hale. In Georgiana he created a character for her that she understood, and that she could play. For the first time, Atkinson writes, “she looked like an actress. She was grateful. Even in rehearsals, she said, she knew what she was doing.”

 Elliott, who starred in another Fitch play (Her Great Match) in 1905, went on to become a Broadway star and one of the first women producers. She retired from the Broadway stage in 1920.

British-born Charles Cherry, who played her love interest (Richard Coleman) reunited with Elliott in Her Great Match in 1905. His Broadway career began in 1899 and ended in 1923 with a starring role in Somerset Maugham’s The Camel’s Back. 

The role of businessman Sam Coast, Richard’s ruthless rival for Georgiana’s affections, was played by Arthur Byron. He’d played in Fitch’s 1902 drama The Stubbornness of Geraldine (the first to take place entirely on an ocean liner) and apparently left Her Own Way shortly before it closed to star in another Fitch play, Major Andre.

 Byron had a long and distinguished Broadway career (1894-1939) playing drama, comedy, musical comedy and classics. In the 30s he played Polonius in Hamlet and the Inquisitor in Shaw’s Saint Joan.

 But the unlikely hit of the play was Georgie Lawrence, playing Miss Belle Shindle, the hairdresser. This was the first Broadway character to speak the peculiar slang of East Side New York. She was so popular that Fitch wrote a play in which everyone spoke in the East Side vernacular.

Why did Humboldt State select  Her Own Way as its first production? Perhaps the only connection playwright Fitch had with northern California was that the dining room of his elegant five-story Manhattan townhouse was made of redwood. But the key might have been the play’s strong female lead and the required cast that included six women and three children (cast from pupils at the Normal Training School.) While there were 63 female students at Humboldt that spring, the five men in the cast constituted a third of Humboldt’s initial male enrollment.

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