[Percival M. Stone,book collector; theatre history] Eight long and informative Letters (seven typed, one autograph) to W. P. Macqueen-Pope, foremost British theatre historian of the twentieth century.

Percival M. Stone, Book Collector [Harvard Theatre Collection and American and British theatre history.]
Publication details: 
12 Lexington Terrace, Waltham, Massachusetts. One from 1949, two from 1950, four from 1951, one from 1953
SKU: 23774

The book collector Percival M. Stone (1886-1965) of Waltham, Massachusetts, was a Harvard alumnus. He was an expert in the field of crime fiction, and in particular the 'Dr Thorndyke' stories of R. Austin Freeman. Stone edited an American collection of Freeman's stories, titled 'Dr Thorndyke's Crime File' (1941), to which he contributed the essay '5a King's Walk'. The eight long and informative letters in this collection reveal Stone's association with the Harvard Theatre Collection (whose curator William B. Van Lennep he describes as his 'friend'), his reminiscences of American and British theatres, his passion for and extensive knowledge of the American stage, and his appreciation of Macqueen-Pope's work. Stone describes the progress of his researches at Harvard towards the writing of a book on the Boston Square Theatre, and explains his desire to write a biography of the actor William Hooker Gillette, who, with his depiction of Sherlock Holmes, forms a bridge between Stone's interests.Other topics include: Philip Tongue; E. E. Clive and the Copley Players; the Boston Museum Stock Company; Forbes Robertson; C. Aubrey Smith; American variety; Julia Marlowe; Ralph Straus; Winthrop Ames; John Craig; Minsky's strip-tease; the decline of Vaudeville; B. F. Keith and Keith's Theatre; early Boston theatres; early movies in Boston; Savage's Theatre in Philadelphia; Sir George Dance; George Edwardes; Lily Elsie; Ivor Novello in Boston; his membership of the Baker Street Irregulars; the Players Club in New York; the music hall that Stone encountered on three visits to London; the promenading prostitutes at the Alhambra and in New York theatres; the room in which Edwin Booth died.The recipient of these letters W. P. Macqueen-Pope (1888-1960), known as 'Popie' (and hereafter MP), was the foremost British theatre historian of the twentieth century, a figure whose fame extended to radio and television. His entry in the Oxford DNB notes how, in the last fifteen years of his life, he 'turned author and produced an astonishing number of big volumes, at least one a year, about particular theatres and their history (among them Drury Lane, St James's, the Haymarket, and the Gaiety), about pantomime and the music-hall, about London's pleasure gardens, and about 'the good old times' generally. These volumes were enthusiastic and accurate rather than brilliantly descriptive or informative. He also wrote a substantial biography of his friend Ivor Novello (1951).'Eight long letters: seven typed and one (Item Two below) in autograph, making a total of 21 pp, 8vo: 17pp of which are typed, and 4pp in autograph. All eight letters are written from 12 Lexington Terrace, Waltham, Massachusetts. One from 1949, two from 1950, four from 1951, one from 1953. Seven signed 'P. M. Stone' and one 'P M Stone'. The typed letters are single-spaced (around 60 lines to the average page) and densely spaced, with a number of autograph interpolations. (Note that Stone spells 'theatre' in the English fashion.) On aged, discoloured paper, with chipping and flaking to edges, but with all texts complete, apart from the last letter, which has a small part torn away from the bottom left-hand corner of the first leaf, resulting in the loss of a small part of the start of the last six lines of the first page. With carbon copies of two of MP's typed replies (a total of 3pp, 8vo).Accompanying the eight letters and two carbons are a couple cuttings of newspaper articles: a short obituary of the actor Ernest Cossart, 23 January 1951; and a long appreciation of the 'Birthplace of U.S. Vaudeville', 'the old B. F. Keith's Theatre at 547 Washington street', which is to be 'razed', Boston Herald, 4 March 1951.ONE: 16 January 1949. 3pp, 8vo. Stone begins by thanking MP for his 'splendid letter with its vastly entertaining comments upon the LONDON theatre, past and present'. He praises MP's writing, lamenting that it has not been taken up by an 'enterprising N.Y. publisher. [...] Works of this type compiled with such scholarly, painstaking research, rarely appear'. He singles out 'the monumental 10 vol work by Odell', who is 'now round 80 years old; he hopes to bring this splendid record up to the nineties before his career closes'. A paragraph follows discussing the Theatre Magazine, before he comments that his friend 'Mr. Van Lennep, Curator of the Harvard Collection, greatly enjoyed reading your letter, and has made a copy of it for his archives. No doubt he was particlarly interested in your remarks concerning damage to London theatres due to enemy action. My friend Kent, by the way, did not touch more than lightly upon this phase of war damage, in his fascinating, but grim! study: LOST TREASURES OF LONDON (1946)'. He laments the loss of Garland's Hotel, 'close by the Haymarket stage door. Our stay there in 1920 as such a pleasant one, and I had cherished hopes of a return engagement there some day. He recalls other venues at which he stayed on previous visits to London: 'I recall my nerve in dropping in at the sumptuous Russell Sq. Hotel almost every evening, for a FREE wash and brush-up!. My hall bed room was in a private residence farther down the street. Ho hum; LONDON IN 1907: what spacious days they were!' He describes his 'long friendship with PHILIP TONGE who came out here in 1917 with his father, Ashton Tongue', noting that 'Phil looks me up whenever he reaches Boston' and sometimes in New York. A paragraph discusses the Copley Players in Boston and other repertory companies, with reference to 'Oaklahoma!' and 'Annie Get Your Gun'. He discusses the 'facets of the American theatrical world' which do not apply to 'the London scene', beginning with 'the deplorable and inane STAR system': 'Many outstanding productions were weakened through poor casting of the secondary parts (at least it seemed so to me, and to many others) while the STAR captured all of the glory and certainly in many instances went after it, rough shod!' He contrasts this with English productions, recalling 'PASSING OF THE THIRD FLOOR BACK with that great artist FORBES ROBERTSON. The play may have incorporated many technical defects (to the expert's mind) but when it appeared here - and I witnessed the play some half a dozen times, - it was superbly cast and Forbes Robertson played to capacity houses, coast to coast'. He discusses theatre books and then expresses his shock at the death of C. Aubrey Smith: 'what a grand old man he was; integrity in his profession was his motto, lived up to completely throughout his long distinguished career. Painstaking in every role he carried out, and beloved by thousands of theatre lovers here these past 50 years'. He is sending clippings and 'a card sketch of HOUGHTON LIBRARY at Harvard University. Here, in the basement archives the Harvard Theatre Collection is temporarily lodged; presently it is to be moved to the new Lamont Library, close by, where it will be displayed in more spacious suitable quarters'. He ends by mentioning works by MP that he has recommended ('highly, too') to Harvard. In an autograph postscript he asks for 'a nice photo of Aubrey Smith (not in character)' Accompanying the letter is a carbon (2pp, 8vo) of MP's long reply, dated 24 May 1949 from 359 Strand, WC2. Among other topics MP states that he is working on the reopening of the derelict Gaiety theatre with Lupino Lane, 'who has put far too much of his own money into this venture'. He also states that 'Things are not good over here. Whatever the Chancellor of the Exchequer may say, there is a real slump on. The shops are empty and until the purchase tax is removed (if it ever is) and income tax comes down (if it ever does), there is absolutely no money to spare. We feel the pinch in the Theatre and in the book world too. Sales have dropped badly but one has to go on.' MP has been 'working very hard and singlehanded', and has just heard - 'only a few minutes ago' - that his 'old secretary who has been ill for so long, has just died'. His office is in a 'property [which] is scheduled to come down', and he 'may move into Drury Lane Theatre, which address will of course always find me'. He ends with a paragraph of family news: he has had to take his grandchildren to the dentists although he has 'a horror of the teeth merchants'.TWO: 23 July 1950. 4pp, 8vo. ALS. In reference to London music hall, he recalls his 'visits (1904-1907-1912) to such famous houses as Palace - Alhambra - Tivoli - Coloseum during the period when Vaudeville (as it is here termed) reached perhaps its highest level, and [?] performances by those superb artists: Chevalier Lauder - Marie Lloyd - Little Tich (he was a One!) and innumerable others who rolled 'em in the aisles ... long, long ago!' He discusses the decline of American variety with the rise of television. He turns to William Hooker Gillette, 'a man of tremendous personal charm about whom many interesting stories - and legends! - have been woven. I believe I told you - at the time of his farewell in Boston 1929 (aged 76) he received (on his first entrance) the greatest ovation I have ever witnessed in the theatre. The entire house stood up and cheered.'THREE: 23 November 1950. 3pp, 8vo. He thanks him fulsomely for inscribed copies of two books, lamenting 'the sad breakdown of our own (formerly much vaunted) postal service'. He recalls, on a visit to Edwardian England, his 'friend Gibbs innocently rewarding the cab driver (from the landing stage to the hotel at Liverpool) with a HALF SOVEREIGN, which he believed to be SIXPENCE.' A mention of British newspapers in Harvard Library leads to a discussion of a proposed 'SHERLOCK HOLMES exhibition': 'I believe I told you that I am a member of the New York Sherlock Holmes Soc., known as BAKER STREET IRREGULARS and we also have Chapters established throughout the nation. [...] At one of these meetings in the early thirties WILLIAM GILLETTE was guest of honour. For he was, of course a notable SHERLOCKIAN figure and his characterization in the play was superb.' He assesses Julia Marlowe, whose 'passing brought sadness to all of us who remember her outstanding womanly charms and rare gifts as a Shakespearian actress. I attended the Sothern-Marlowe performances innumerable times in Boston where they were always received with great warmth and enthusiasm'. He asks whether the recently-deceased Ralph Straus was a friend of MP's: 'the other day I received an interesting catalogue devoted to his fine Library, - and issued by Frank Holling - some 20 items (inscribed) associated with R. AUSTIN FREEMAN's literary career, and ordered two or three of them since I have been an admirer of R. A. F. these past 20 years.'FOUR: 5 February 1951. 2pp, 8vo. He begins by responding to MP's personal news and again praising MP's writing, expressing satisfaction at adding to his collection of his works. 'I believe I informed you; I take pleasure in offering these books to HARVARD LIBRARY in return for several courtesies extended me each year through their circulation and research Depts.' He announces that he is himself 'engaged upon a historical record concerning the establishment and growth of a famous theatrical organization. One which I have had in mind for several years but only within the past few weeks have I actually started to prepare a frame-work for my proposed volume. I refer to the CASTLE SQUARE THEATRE, Boston which was erected in 1894.' He discusses the venue and his plans, opining that 'the period 1904-1907' was the 'high water mark' of the company's history. This leads to an assessment of the lessee-manager Winthrop Ames and his successor John Craig (with reference to his 'famous series of HARVARD PRIZE PLAYS'). He explains that he is carrying on his research '(in preparation for this undertaking) at the Harvard Theatre Collection for one finds there bound vols. of programs; souvenir booklets; a wonderful collection of newspaper clips relating to the careers of Castle Square actors, - innumerable photographs and many other items associated with earlier stage events in Boston. When gaps appear in the set of Program volumes I descend to the lower stacks and dig out the required information from their wonderful files of Boston Newspapers. All in all, it is by far the most fascinating, and at the same time most difficult problem of research I have engaged upon'. He concludes with a paragraph relating to the Boston Museum Stock Company.FIVE: 5 March 1951. 2pp, 8vo. He returns to his visit to the variety theatres of Edwardian London: 'I visited, I remember, ALHAMBRA; TIVOLI; PALACE and OXFORD, - am not certain if I ever attended a performance at the famed EMPIRE, but did on a later occasion (1920) visit the Coliseum of course and was duly impressed with its magnificent stage and auditorium. During these earlier visits to London expect I paid but slight attention! to the main feature at the Alhambra (which was NOT announced upon the programs) - by which I refer of course to the PROMENADES and the glittering array of young? (?) women who gathered there every evening to display their charms before one segment, at least, of the attending patrons.' He contrasts this with the way such matters were arranged in America, 'and particularly in New York', ending 'Even the renowned MINSKY and his battalions of Strip-tease artists no longer hold sway along Broadway (Except, of course, in the night Clubs.)' He notes that he was 'a frequent attendant at our own Music Halls during the period 1900-1920 though my first choice always was for the Legit. theatre of course.' He again refers to the decline of Vaudeville, 'due to the onward march and growing influence of the flicks'. Of Keith's Theatre he writes: 'it was even one of the sights to descend a spiral stairway and visit the boiler room where the coal bin was surrounded by gleaming brass rails; not a speck of dust visible anywhere, and wonder of wonders; the stoker was clad in WHITE TROUSERS. Here the first MOVIE was shown (in Boston anyway) May 16 1896.' He ends with a further discussion of his 'project'.SIX. 30 May 1951. 3pp, 8vo. In order to assist MP with his book on Ivor Novello, he gives an account of 'his all-too-few stage appearances in Boston'. He reports that he has 'been engaged recently in compiling a number of thumb nail outline sketches surrounding the careers of some twenty well known BOSTON theatres including the BOSTON THEATRE (1854); BOSTON MUSEUM (1846) where the renowned B. M. STOCK COMPANY florished [sic] up to 1895; HOLLIS STREET (1885) PARK THEATRE; TREMONT (opened Oct. 14 1889 with CHARLES WYNDHAM in DAVID GARRICK); HOWARD ATHENAEUM (now, alas, a BURLESQUE house!); old MUSIC HALL (1852); COLONIAL (1900); KEITH'S (1894) and several others of less importance.' He returns again to 'the father of Vaudeville' B. F. Keith, recalling his own 'youthful attendance there in the late nineties [...] It made me sad, indeed, to walk through Mason Street the other day, at rear of the OLD Keith theatre and gaze upon the spectacle of ruin and desolation as huge trucks backed in to take away plaster and rubble. There as a youngster I saw the GREAT HOUDINI some years ago; - the most popular star ever engaged by Keith and one who drew record breaking attendance at his Boston theatre. The last time I saw Houdini there, every seat sold and a few standees even allowed to come up on the stage! Those were indeed the days of the giants; what a long way we have descended!' There is more news of his 'BOSTON SQUARE THEATRE project', with reference to figures including William Warren, Ada Rehan, Augustin Day. A long reference to John Craig includes an account of his time at Savage's Theatre in Philadelphia. He reports that he is 'corresponding with 'MRS CRAIG (Mary Young) who resides in Hollywood. She is greatly interested in my project; my one embarrassment! being that it is apparently difficult to convince her (she was a very charming young woman at the Castle Sq) that I am undertaking a FULL LENGTH history of this theatre rather than a tribute limited, exclusively, to her distinguished husband'.SEVEN: 24 June 1951. 2pp, 8vo. He is grateful to MP for checking 'the JOHN CRAIG appearances at Lyceum. As aforesaid, I think you will find him recorded as a youthful member of the DALY company there during SUMMER of 1891, and again in 1893 (in support of THE Rehan)'. He again discusses his correspondence with Mrs Craig, with information on the couple's two sons. He explains his interest in the Lyceum Theatre, and again refers to William Gillette: 'He staged his farewell performances in Boston, as HOLMES, in 1930; one of the most impressive stage events I hold in my memory. He resided in Hadlym Conn. in his quaintly designed Castle and for his own amusement (largely) operated a Miniature railway through his spacious grounds. In a letter (1935) he invited me to call upon him but the opportunity, alas, did not materialize and he died two years later.' Item Seven is accompanied by a carbon (1p, 8vo) of a short typed letter from MP, dated 28 June 1951, in which he states: 'I saw Gilette play Sherlock Holmes and he was the best of all the people whom I have observed in that role. I had also the honour of meeting him.'EIGHT: 26 April 1953. 2pp, 8vo. He thanks MP for an inscribed copy of his latest book 'Shirtfronts and Sables'. 'On the very same day I received my other copy from Heffer, Cambridge and this is destined to be lodged, - as in case of the others, - with the famous HARVARD THEATRE COLLECTION, Cambridge. Dr. Van Lennep, the Director is vastly interested in these books and I am only too glad to contribute them in partial recognition, at least, of their many kind favors these past few years. These books are NOT for general circulation of course but the WIDENER LIBRARY, adjoining, frequently does order copies of your theatre books and these may be secured readily as they appear on the shelves. I think that WIDENER has practically all of your LONDON stage histories but will check on this presently.' He contrasts the 'SUPERB illustrations' in MP's book with 'the stupid policy indicated by many American publishers', bewailing an increase in book prices. He discusses MP's book, pointing out that 'few Americans [...] are aware of [the] prominent [positio]n in London stage history' of Sir George Dance (to whom MP had acted as secretary). After mentioning 'the GEORGE EDWARDES regime at Daly's Theatre' he continues: 'My own acquaintance with DALY's dates back to 1907 when I was privileged to witness the original production of MERRY WIDOW (with the divine LILY ELSIE) --- how I wish now I had preserved copy of the program! My own attendance was, I think, in late July (the Play had opened, I think on June 8th. '07) and the memories of this splendid production have never faded from my mind. I recall too, that as I proceeded that Summer through the provinces and later spent some time visiting resorts along the south coast, - practically every BAND opened its programm with a rendition of the famous WALTZ!' After mentioning a visit in 1920 to the Crystal Palace and Dulwich Galleries, he recalls a visit to 'the PLAYERS CLUB (Booth's former home where he died June 7 1893)', when he was 'conducted to the upper floor room (not generally opened) where he spent his last days. Everything there exactly as it appeared on DAY OF HIS DEATH, even to the open vol. of Mrs. Browning's poems on his desk.' After two years, and 'amid many interruptions', he is still working on his 'proposed History of the Castle Sq Theatre', and has also 'been engaged in preparing a tribute to WILLIAM GILLETTE (for the BAKER STREET JOURNAL)', which involved him in some researches. 'In my judgment he stands as one of the most lovable, distinguished actors America has ever produed and he achieved fame of course through his masterly portrayal of SHERLOCK HOLMES in 1899; The reviewers, next morning, suggested that the new Play had no lasting qualities. BUT GILLETTE revived it constantly for more than THIRTY YEARS and it stands as the foundation of his fortune. Later I hope to send you a copy of this Tribute; it is now my hope that some day I may undertake a full length BIOGRAPHY of GILLETTE, who died (aged 83) in 1937'.