Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Corse Payton at the Court Square Theatre

Corse Payton arrived in Springfield, Mass. with his stock company in 1915 to play at the Court Square Theatre. He billed himself as “America’s Best Bad Actor.” Rather than keep the crowds away, this unlikely label seemed to attract them, if only out of curiosity.

Born in the 1860s, Payton was a Midwesterner who joined a traveling circus as a young man, and by 1900 had had enough touring through the country to settle down in Brooklyn and bought himself a theater and founded a stock company. Some future film stars got their start with Payton, including Mary Pickford, Ed Wynn, Fay Bainter, and Dorothy and Lillian Gish.

In August, 1915 at the Court Square Theatre, Corse Payton and his stock company, which included some of his relatives, like his brother, Claude, presented what the playbill labeled “the absorbing drama” called “Madame X.”

The teenaged girl who went to this performance at the Court Square Theatre wrote in pencil on top of the program “went with Agnes - cried a lot.”

Hopefully, the girls cried because it was such an absorbing drama, and not because Payton really was such a bad actor.

This photo of the Court Square Theatre here is from the Library of Congress, from the Detroit Publishing Company, taken sometime between 1900 and 1910.

The Court Square Theatre opened in 1892. Most of the theatre greats played here, the Barrymores, Helen Hayes, each in their season and generation. It was closed in 1955, demolished two years later.

Here is a shot of what remains of the Court Square block. For more on the Court Square Theatre, have a look at this blog post by Mark T. Alamed in his terrific “Exploring Western Mass” blog, and also here at Cinema Treasures for more history on the Court Square.

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