Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Armistice Day - Tremont Theater, Boston

On this day in 1918, the World War ended by armistice and mutual exhaustion. At Boston’s Tremont Theater, “Tiger Rose”, a melodrama by Willard Mack, produced by David Belasco played to audiences whose number we can only guess.

In late August, early September, a few cases of the mysterious influenza were noted among servicemen at the Chelsea Naval Hospital. Soon, civilians began catching the influenza, and dying. All aspects of daily life were suddenly overburdened with the inability to cope with the sickness. Educators, health care providers, the clergy, the police and fire departments suffered the loss of scores of workers, so that in the end, citizens were told to just quarantine themselves as a best measure of fighting the epidemic. In the last four months of that year, the end of the war, an event hoped and prayed for, seemed secondary to the 22,000 deaths in Massachusetts from the influenza.

One wonders how the theatre was able to cope when schools and churches were closed and the city seemingly locked itself down. The Tremont boasted itself The Safest Theatre in Boston, “Equipped with the celebrated Regan Water Curtains which are positive in their action. Also an Asbestos Curtain” so a program from that era proclaimed. Safe from fire, the theatre’s traditional enemy, but not from the flu.

“Tiger Rose” was about a French-Canadian spitfire, loved by all, particularly the villain of the piece, a Mountie played by the play’s author, Willard Mack. Lenore Ulric, who played Rose, later went on to star in the 1921 silent film.

Willard Mack eventually gave up acting to concentrate on his writing career. In another play he wrote, called “The Noose” in 1926, Willard Mack is perhaps best remembered for plucking a girl out of the chorus called Ruby Stevens. So impressed with her natural talent, he rewrote parts of the play to expand her role, and convinced her to change her name. So, Ruby Stevens became Barbara Stanwyck, and Barbara Stanwyck became a star, first on Broadway in “The Noose”, and then for the rest of her long career in film.

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