VAUGHAN GLASER ON STAGE IN TORONTO 1921-1934
Robert G. Lawrence
The American actor and stock-company manager Vaughan Glaser settled in Toronto to operate an extraordinarily popular repertory company at the Uptown and Victoria theatres, September 1921-June 1928, with occasional appearances later. His carefully chosen comedies, musicals, pantomimes, melodramas and infrequent serious dramas contributed significantly to the great vogue for stock theatre in Toronto before radio, talking films, and the Depression brought it to an end.
L'acteur américain et gérant de troupes résidentes, Vaughan Glaser, s'établit à Toronto entre septembre 1921 et juin 1928 et y anima une compagnie de répertoire particulièrement populaire, aux théâtres Uptown et Victoria. Son répertoire soigneusement choisi (comédies, comédies musicales, pantomimes, mélodrames et, plus rarement, pièces à caractère 'sérieux') contribua de façon significative à la grande vogue de théâtre de répertoire à Toronto, avant que la radio, le cinéma parlant et la Crise y aient mis fin.
When Vaughan Glaser began his long association with summer and winter stock performances in Toronto in 1921, weekly repertory theatre was no novelty in Canada. An extensive series of stock companies - principally American and English in roots and personnel - had been active from Halifax to Victoria since the turn of the century; few survived long, because the small population of most Canadian cities and the vigorous competition from moving pictures and from British and American touring companies, performing many of the same plays as the stock companies, inhibited the success of these local troupes.1
Vaughan Glaser brought to Toronto almost twenty years of very successful repertory experience in his native U.S.A. This background provided the impetus to make stock one of the most popular and profitable forms of theatre in Toronto during the 1920s for him and a dozen imitators. Collectively they gave the metropolis an enviable, ever-changing choice of plays. Because Glaser was both the most successful and the most enduring of the repertory-company managers, I shall examine in detail the circumstances of that popularity. The process will reveal much about the tastes of Toronto theatregoers during the decade.
The stock-company phenomenon was particularly vigorous in Toronto because, with a population of about 500,000 in the mid 1920s, it was capable of supporting as many as eleven playhouses, including three legitimate theatres (dominated by touring companies), four or five vaudeville/burlesque houses, and a varying number of repertory theatres.
Residents of Toronto had then many alternatives when considering an evening of theatre entertainment. For example, on Friday, 16 January 1925, they might have gone to the Royal Alexandra (offering Rose-Marie), the Princess (China Rose), the Grand Opera House (So This is London -produced by the Permanent Players; they belied their name by surviving only three weeks),2 [Loew's] Uptown (Charley's Aunt - produced for the fourth time by the Vaughan Glaser Players), the Comedy (What Every Woman Knows - the Cameron Matthews English Company), the Regent (Aladdin - George Vivian's production), Hart House The Mollusc), Loew's [Yonge Street] (movie and vaudeville), the Pantages (movie and vaudeville), the Empire (burlesque), the Madison (movie and vaudeville), and Shea's (vaudeville). Clearly, theatregoing was a strong habit in Toronto during the 1920s. In addition, the Tivoli, the Bloor, and [Shea's] Hippodrome offered movies downtown, and there were many suburban movie houses.
It is evident that Vaughan Glaser settled in Toronto at the right time. In October 1921 the Great War had been over for almost three years, and nearly everyone was anxious to put it out of mind, although a few war-time comedies survived on stage into this decade: Three Live Ghosts, The Luck of the Navy, Buddies, The Better 'Ole, and others. (The Dumbell variety shows of the early 1920s had wartime overtones, although soon the military themes were deleted, and the emphasis was on popular songs, dances, and skits.) Prosperity was widespread, the population was growing, and the number of skyscrapers was increasing. The city was served well by its tramcars and trains, and more and more people could afford cars (80,000 of them by 1928). Movies were an important part of the entertainment scene from about 1910, but did not seriously erode theatre audiences until the mid 1920s. Radio was a novelty until about 1927.
Vaughan Glaser, forty-eight years of age in 1921, had been a professional actor from 1892; he had been a part of Daniel Frohman's companies in New York and on tour for many years (including Winnipeg 26-27 March 1901). He was a member of the touring companies of Eugenie Blair 1901-02, Mrs. Patrick Campbell 1902-03, and Mrs. Minnie Maddern Fiske 1903-04. Glaser performed first in Toronto and other Ontario cities with Blair 10 February-1 March 1902 and later with Fiske 26 October-7 November 1903. He formed his first stock company in July 1903, and, after reorganizing it in March 1904, played very successfully for the next seventeen years in Cleveland (his home town), Rochester, Syracuse, Columbus, Detroit, and several other American cities. Glaser took this stock company to Toronto on four occasions between 15 February 1909 and 2 September 1911; as well, two of his satellite companies played in that city in October 1911 and March 1912.
Glaser was a very handsome man throughout his acting career. He first achieved the status of matinee idol as the dynamic hero in The Prisoner of Zenda (1900-04), and he continued to perform similar roles for the next thirty years. In 1902 Glaser briefly played the role of the hero in Romeo and Juliet with Eugenie Blair's company in Cleveland: 'He is a soulful-looking youth, with dreamy eyes, long curling hair and a stride so prepossessing that the crowds stand aghast as he strides along.' (Unidentified clipping, Vaughan Glaser Scrapbook)
Glaser's most notable early production was St. Elmo, which he opened in Columbus, Ohio, 9 August 1909; during the summer and winter of 1909-10 four Glaser-controlled companies were performing the play all over the eastern half of the U.S.A.3 In 1910-11, three Glaser troupes were performing St. Elmo and other plays; and in 1911-12, five were on the road. Ordinarily, however, he had only one company under his personal management.
St. Elmo, adapted for the stage by Vaughan Glaser and Willard Holcomb, was based on a best-selling novel of the same name by Augusta Wilson, first published in 1866, with many later editions. The book and the play, set in southern U.S.A., reveal popular North American tastes and perhaps aspirations: Edna Earl, a disadvantaged orphan, struggles to acquire an education and writes two feminist novels by the age of twenty-two, while rejecting repeatedly the marriage proposals of four men. St. Elmo Murray seems the least eligible of her suitors; he is a cruel, cynical, wealthy misogynist, but in time he reforms and becomes a minister of the gospel. Toronto audiences took moral and social reassurance from the happy ending to all five of Glaser's productions of St. Elmo in that city.
The following plays had been regularly in Glaser's repertoire before he established the Players in Toronto, where they continued to present them frequently: The Private Secretary, performed from 1903; When We Were Twenty-one, The Charity Ball, Charley's Aunt, and What Happened to Jones from 1904; Are You a Mason? and Old Heidelberg from 1905; All on Account of Eliza from 1906; Sherlock Holmes from 1907; Graustark from 1908; St. Elmo from 1909; The Man Between from 1910; and Uncle Tom's Cabin from 1912. Several of Glaser's choices, like Uncle Tom's Cabin (staged first in 1852), The Private Secretary (1883), The Old Homestead (1887), Charley's Aunt (1892), and Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (1903), were already old when the Glaser stock company first performed them.
This sampling of the titles of plays that Glaser kept in his repertoire for almost two decades reveals much about the loyalties and tastes of theatregoers in Canada and the U.S.A. Torontonians who went regularly to the Uptown and Victoria theatres during the 1920s cannot be accused of being any more conservative or sentimental than their counterparts elsewhere in North America. A cursory examination of Billboard or Variety will show that at the time dozens of other managers of stock companies, from Boston to San Francisco, and from San Antonio to Edmonton, were producing many of these plays. They were household names all over the continent, and Glaser's patrons would have been disappointed had he failed to offer them popular classics like Uncle Tom's Cabin (twice), Charley's Aunt (seven times), and Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (twice). Whatever Vaughan Glaser may have privately felt about old-fashioned plays - he left no diary behind - he and his company gave them the same lively, conscientious productions that the troupe contributed to modern comedies and dramas.
No plays, apart perhaps from some of the dramas of Shakespeare, rivalled Uncle Tom's Cabin in number of productions and presentations for almost one hundred years. Sentimental theatregoers wept over the pathetic careers of the black slave Uncle Tom and of Little Eva, and they thrilled to Eliza's wintry escape from the bloodhounds over the river. Glaser's advertisements for his 1925 presentation of the play were grandiose in the nineteenth-century manner: 'Mammoth, Spectacular Production ... Company of 40 ... Lavish Scenic Effects ... culminating in Gorgeous Transformation, Representing the flight of the Angels and Little Eva in the Realms of Glory.' (Globe, 11 April, 1925, p. 2)
The enthusiastic Globe review on the following Tuesday (p. 12) indicates that the staging lived up to the promises. Lawrence Mason and his young companion loved it all, as did capacity audiences; '... The references to Canada as the land of freedom and justice also afford a pleasant patriotic thrill.'
Brandon Thomas's Charley's Aunt can be depended on for laughs even today, and the Toronto reviews of the seven Glaser repetitions of the farce speak of large audiences in an uproar of laughter at the antics of Jack and Charley, Oxford undergraduates who enlist the aid of their friend Lord Fancourt Babberly to impersonate Charley's aunt from Brazil (Vaughan Glaser invariably took this role).
The sentimental comedy Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (the play was set in the Kentucky village of Cabbage Patch early in the twentieth century) was almost as popular in stock-company repertoires as Charley's Aunt. Mrs. Wiggs, the dogmatically optimistic mother of four children, cheerfully manages everyone's lives and love affairs. When Mrs. Wiggs opened on Broadway in 1904, The New York Times described it as 'a sub-rural melodrama' (4 September, p. 7).
Apart from these older plays that Glaser held in his repertoire for many years, he also produced in Toronto over one hundred Broadway plays and about a dozen London ones soon after they were released by their original producers.
One may measure Glaser's efficiency as a manager and his lasting popularity as a matinee idol by his having acted in weekly repertory in the Colonial Theater, Cleveland, without interruption 14 March 1904-13 May 1905 (sixty-one weeks); later in Rochester he played twelve consecutive seasons of summer stock 1910-21 and another in 1924; he reached the climax of his stock career in Toronto, where the Vaughan Glaser Players and the Vaughan Glaser English Players dominated the repertory stages through seven winters and three summers between 1921 and 1928.
The Glaser repertoires during those triumphal years were not significantly different from those of competing stock companies in Toronto: new and old popular comedies and musical comedies from Broadway, some hoary American melodramas, occasional hits from London, a few mystery/detective dramas, and - infrequently - serious plays. Glaser's exceptional popularity among aficionados of stock was based on his personal magnetism, on strong ensemble playing - many members of the troupe remained with it for years - and on audience affection for and loyalty to Glaser and his actors. Many patrons wrote to the Players; this letter came later in the 1926-27 season in Toronto:
I have returned from your first performance of Madame Sherry, and I'm thrilled beyond measure with the romance and beauty of it all.
All the flappers adore our leading man [Vaughan Glaser] and have decided to raid the theatres at every matinee. We will try to be as quiet as we can, but know that any hoots of ecstasy will be forgiven. Lois Landon is wonderful. We have all decided to be just like her (if we can find the leading man). She is surely an example of maidenly modesty, culture, and thrills. Antoinette
[Rochte] is usually a scream, and we could not do without the others to make the play lifelike.
I am very fond of the orchestra too and am so sorry that sometimes some of the older folks disturb the music with their talk and laughter.
ONE OF THE FLAPPERS
(The Vaughan Glaser Players Bulletin, V, 33, 25 April 1927)
When Vaughan Glaser leased Loew's Uptown Theatre, Toronto, built in 1920, he was regarded as foolhardy, because this 3,000-seat playhouse, at 764 Yonge Street just south of Bloor Street, was then considered to be isolated from the city's entertainment centre.4 (The theatre still functions as a movie house, Uptown 5.) The immediate popularity of the Vaughan Glaser Players justified the gamble. Glaser opened on 10 October 1921, with Smilin' Through, an intense new American romantic drama about a frustrated romance that had reverberations for half a century; Glaser would revive it four times.
Reviews in the daily newspapers and Saturday Night during the next seven months tell of many s.r.o. houses and the warm approval of critics. These two excerpts from reviews are like many other commendations: 'This production [of Peg o' my Heart rivals in details of setting and in acting the New York presentation' (Globe, 13 December 1921, p. 11);
The large audience received the players [in The House of a Thousand Candles], most of whom have won places in the hearts of the theatre's patrons, with generous and enthusiastic applause ... . Toronto has been ripening for an uptown stock company, and it would seem that the need has been filled, and well filled, at last. It was hard at first ... but it is evident that Toronto is prepared to support legitimate drama, well dressed and well played (Globe, 28 February 1922, p. 17).
As well, almost from the first the producer published the Vaughan Glaser Players Bulletin, given to patrons at the beginning of each show (a few copies are available in the Metropolitan Public Library, Toronto, and the Robarts Library, University of Toronto). It served both as a conventional programme and as a publicity vehicle; each issue, of four pages, had photos of members of the company, biographical notes about them, and excerpts of letters from hundreds of adoring fans.
The majority of the Glaser performers were American, several of whom came to Toronto with him from Rochester in the autumn of 1921 and remained the core of the company. Among them were Ruth Amos, Basil Loughrane, Elmer Buffham, Corinne Farrell, Charles Fletcher, Antoinette Rochte, Percy Haswell, and William F. Powell. Others were English in origin, some of whom settled in Toronto and performed with a variety of stock companies there. They included Anne Carew, Alison Bradshaw, Charles W. Emerson, Barry Jones, Lambert Larking, O.P. Heggie, Will Lloyd, Eugene Wellesley, Hugh Buckler, Cameron Matthews, and John Mood. The last three named later established their own stock companies (see footnote 22). Glaser employed a few native Canadian actors and actresses, notably May Bell Marks, Audrey Hart, Peggy Piggott, Catherine Proctor, Lois Landon, and Hal Thompson.
The first Glaser season in Toronto, 10 October 1921-24 June 1922, was gratifyingly successful. At the beginning of the second season, a reviewer in the Toronto Globe wrote of the 1921-22 offerings: 'Vaughan Glaser's plays have come to stand for something that discerning theatregoers are proud to have in their city' (29 August 1922, p. 21). Patrons enthusiastically supported old and new plays like Daddy Longlegs (17-22 October), St. Elmo (31 October-5 November), Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (28 November-3 December), Peg o' My Heart (12-17 December), Potash and Perlmutter (6-11 March 1922), The Passing of the Third Floor Back (20-25 March), Charley's Aunt (27 March-1 April), The Christian (10-15 April, Holy Week), Brewster's Millions (24-29 April), The Private Secretary (8-13 May), and Bunty Pulls the Strings (29 May-3 June).
These titles are representative of the thirty-seven plays that Glaser offered in this period, and they well illustrate the versatility of the company as well as the effort to appeal to a wide range of theatrical tastes in Toronto. The Players provided comedies, romantic dramas, and serious plays. The first-named category included Mrs. Wiggs, referred to above; Potash and Perlmutter, a lively depiction of Jewish life in the garment district of New York; and Brewster's Millions. The last, dating from 1907, has still an enduring popularity; it was a movie in 1985. The play concerns a young man who is frustrated in his efforts to spend $1,000,000 within a year, in order to inherit $7,000,000.
Among the popular romantic dramas were Peg o' My Heart, about a vivacious Irish waif taken into an aristocratic American home to be taught social graces, and Bunty Pulls the Strings, a lighthearted look at Scottish life and marital manipulation. Serious plays were rare in the Glaser repertory for 1921-22; however, these two were well received: The Passing of the Third Floor Back, which explored the impact of a Christlike stranger on an English rooming house; and The Christian, about a priest torn between duty and love. The producer was clearly not very innovative, evidently having conservative Toronto audiences in mind. They must have seen several items in this repertoire dozens of times.
Vaughan Glaser spent the summer of 1922 holidaying briefly and preparing for his second stock season in Toronto, 19 August 1922 - 2 June 1923. Attendance was even higher than in 1921 - 22. Patrons received good value for their investment of 25¢-75¢.5
The company opened with another old English comedy The Liars, first performed in London in 1897. It was followed by plays like Buddies (4-9 September), its first musical comedy, about the romantic adventures of Canadian soliders in France in 1919; Officer 666 (2-7 October), a thriller; Everywoman (16-21 October), a powerful morality play that had been a hit all over North America since its introduction in New York in 1911; Are You a Mason? (23-28 October), a farcical look at Masonry and its secret lore, popular in the U.S.A. since 1901; Oh Boy! (8-13 January 1923), an American musical comedy; A Message from Mars (19-24 February), an amusing fantasy, first staged in London in 1899, which was requested through a questionnaire by nine hundred patrons of the Uptown; and the pantomime Peter Pan (2-14 April), attended by 26,000 people during the first week. The producer had a clear sense of what Toronto theatregoers enjoyed, as evidenced by his repeating from the first season Charley's Aunt (28 August-2 September and again 30 April-5 May), Smilin' Through (9-14 October), Daddy Longlegs (6-11 November), St. Elmo (22-27 January), and Peg o' My Heart (29 May-2 June).
At Christmas time Glaser experimented with the company's first pantomime, Cinderella, requested by over two thousand patrons. With a cast of one hundred, it ran for three weeks (25 December 1922-6 January 1923 and 15-20 January). Thirty performances attracted over 65,000 customers (Bulletin, 11, 32, 25 April 1923). The Glaser Players Club existed only during the 1922-23 season; members were able to purchase books of theatre tickets at a discount and had a special members-only performance (Friday, 1 June) near the end of the season. Vaughan Glaser must have been a very busy man; besides overseeing every phase of seventy-two productions in the first two seasons (including five repeats), he performed in sixty-two plays (Bulletin, II, 36, 23 May 1923).6 The success of the Glaser Players during 1922-23 attracted lively competition. In early June 1923, three other stock companies were active in the city: Campbell-Duncan's, Cameron Matthews', and the Royal Players.
Several members of the company performed in summer stock, as the Vaughan Glaser Players, at the Orchestra Hall, Detroit, for a short period, 8 June-14 July 1923. Vaughan Glaser appeared briefly here and occasionally in Cleveland with the Fay Courtenay Company 4 June-1 September.7
The Vaughan Glaser Players opened their third season at the Uptown Theatre, Toronto, on 17 September 1923, competing again with the Cameron Matthews English Players (Regent Theatre, 3 September 1923-26 January 1924), and with the Maurice British Players (Princess Theatre and later the Comedy Theatre, 1 September 1923-26 January 1924, when these troupes joined forces).
The Glaser troupe gave its enthusiastic patrons the reassurance of familiarity by offering the mixture as before; several plays were new to the company (although not to Toronto), such as Polly with a Past (17-22 September), Why Men Leave Home (1-6 October), The Green Goddess (8-13 October; George Arliss made it famous 1921-24), Nearly Married (26 November-1 December; in Marie Tempest's repertoire in North America 1914-15), The Sign of the Cross (4-9 February 1924; an unusual choice for this company, offered only once; it was a part of Wilson Barrett's repertoire 1895-1904),8Lilac Time (7-12 April), and others.
The company relied too on plays that had already proved popular in its repertoire: Nothing but the Truth (15-20 October), A Pair of Sixes (29 October-3 November), Daddy Longlegs (12-17 November), Smilin' Through (24-29 March; both of these plays were offered for the third time), and Turn to the Right (25 February-1 March).
A second Christmas pantomime, Babes in the Wood, 25 December 1923-13 January 1924, was a huge success; directed by George Vivian, with a cast of one hundred, it had daily matinees and drew almost 100,000 people for thirty-four performances. The very profitable season concluded with a musical comedy Irene, 12-17 May.9
Almost immediately Vaughan Glaser and some of his Toronto team moved to Rochester, remaining until 30 August 1924. A few days later the company reopened at the Uptown for the fourth season. The American and English plays offered were similar to those of earlier winters; Glaser had obviously found a successful formula. On Tuesday, 28 October 1924, during the week's run of The Hottentot, the company celebrated its one thousandth performance in Toronto with a late-evening reception on the stage of the theatre.
Between 1 September 1924 and 13 June 1925 Glaser presented thirty-five plays (principally comedies and farces) new to the company: The Alarm Clock (1-6 September), It's a Boy (29 September-4 October), The Bat (6-11 October), A Butterfly on the Wheel (3-8 November; first presented by Lewis Waller in England 1911), Just Married (17-22 November), So This is London (19-24 January 1925), Nightie Night (23-28 February), Grumpy (2-7 March; popularized in England, North America, and Australasia by Cyril Maude 1913-18), The Girl from Child's (30 March-4 April), Uncle Tom's Cabin (13-18 April), A Fool There Was (25-30 May), and others.
The Vaughan Glaser Players included only four plays from earlier Toronto seasons: The Lion and the Mouse (20-25 October), Charley's Aunt (12-17 January 1925), The Cat and the Canary (26-31 January), and St. Elmo (6-11 April). As one might expect, the most popular production of the winter was the pantomime Mother Goose and the Gingerbread Man, 25 December 1924-10 January 1925. It was an expensive ($20,000), elaborate show that earned high attendance and enthusiastic reviews.
Vaughan Glaser had briefly two satellite companies, both in Hamilton, operating in conjunction with his Toronto operation. In April 1925 he took over the Temple Theatre from the Temple Players, a stock company that had occupied this house since October 1923. Members of this group and some of the Glaser Uptown company combined to perform plays from the Uptown repertoire like St. Elmo, The Gingham Girl, and A Fool There Was until 6 June 192 5. Glaser himself did not act with them. The Temple Stock Company resumed independent stage operations 8 June-18 July; on 7 September Glaser initiated a further stock season, at the Capitol Theatre, as the Vaughan Glaser Hamilton Players (including some of the Temple actors).
Glaser acted only in the opening production, The Best People, which he had transferred from its run in Toronto 31 August-5 September 1925. After Glaser's return to Toronto and the Uptown, the Hamilton company performed until early in 1926, offering sixteen productions.10
Reviews in the Hamilton Spectator occasionally referred to good attendance at the Capitol Theatre; however, on 2 January 1926, Glaser abruptly concluded the experiment. Soon a few members of the company began a stock season as the Gillan Players at the Savoy Theatre, Hamilton. Some Glaser actors remained here; others supplemented the Uptown company.
During the fifth season of the Vaughan Glaser Players, 31 August 1925-12 June 1926, at the Uptown, reviews in the Toronto Globe alluded almost every week to large or packed houses, although in the autumn they were competing with the Buckler and the Hampden players. The Glaser company presented popular plays, chiefly Broadway comedies, like The Best People (31 August-5 September), The Love of Su Shong (12-17 October), Very Good Eddie(19-24 October), Graustark (9-14 November), Tangerine (23-28 November), Three Wise Fools (14-19 December), Up in Mabel's Room (1-6 February 1926), Forty-five Minutes from Broadway (15-20 February), The Man Between (8-13 March), and Rip Van Winkle (5-10 April).
They revived seven plays from earlier seasons in Toronto: Brewster's Millions (5-10 October), he Man Who Came Back (26-31 October), Are You a Mason? (30 November-5 December), Charley's Aunt (11-16 January 1926; for the fifth time), Irene (26 April-1 May), The Charity Ball (3-8 May), and, to close the season, Smilin' Through (7-12 June, their fourth presentation of this play; the Hampden stock company had also offered it 5-10 October 1925). Babes in Toyland Glaser's fourth pantomime, 25 December 1925-9 January 1926, 'had an attendance record never before approached by this or any other local theatrical organization' (Toronto Globe, 4 January 1926, p. 11).
During the summer of 1926 Vaughan Glaser retained his interest in the Uptown Theatre, sponsoring summer stock there for the first time. Early advertisements announced: 'Vaughan Glaser Presents O.P. Heggie and his English Company.' Very soon the troupe became the Vaughan Glaser English Company, although Heggie continued to perform with it for a month.11 English stock organizations were already well received in Toronto (see footnote 22) as a result in part of the presence of thousands of English immigrants.12 The Vaughan Glaser English Players, as they were soon called, had in the group, 1926-28, several English-bom actors and actresses (named above), many of whom had performed in a variety of Toronto stock companies, including the earlier Glaser troupe. Others were American, although they frequently played English parts.
The repertoire between 14 June and 4 September 1926 consisted of English comedies like The Spoil of Kings, The Creaking Chair (a farcical mystery, set in Egypt, capitalizing on the Tutankhamen mania), Three Live Ghosts, Hobson's Choice, Too Many Husbands, Eliza Comes to Stay ('In spite of the heat, a wellfilled house'- Globe, 3 August 1926, p. 10), A Pair of Silk Stockings, and The Better 'Ole (this drama played to very large houses and was held over for a second week).13 Vaughan Glaser was not on stage during the summer.
Glaser's move in September 1926 from the Uptown Theatre to the smaller Victoria Theatre (91 Victoria Street; now demolished) hints at things to come. He was unable to negotiate a new lease with the Loew management, which wanted the Uptown for movies, now growing increasingly profitable (Billboard, 5 June 1926, p. 30). Although the Victoria held one thousand people fewer than the Uptown, it was rare for Globe reviews of Glaser presentations there to refer to full houses. During this sixth and last complete winter season the producer retained the name first used during the preceding summer, the Vaughan Glaser English Players, although the winter repertoire was considerably more American than English. Glaser was competing with the English Repertory Company 6 November 1926-7 May 1927.
Glaser's opening production on 6 September, Polly with a Past, drew large numbers of loyal fans, although he had opened the 1923 season with the same play. Other distinctively American plays followed: Little Old New York (4-9 October), The Girl from Child's (18-23 October, revived from the year before), The Old Homestead (8-13 November), Love 'Em and Leave 'Em (29 November-4 December), and Is Zat So? (14-19 February 1927), as well as remarkably ancient dramas like East Lynne (11-16 April; first produced in 1863), In Old Kentucky (4-9 April; 1893), and a Glaser revival of Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch (6-11 December; a full house on opening night). Only one notable English play appeared, Glaser's sixth presentation of Charley's Aunt (10-15 January), and he offered the second very successful production of Cinderella (25 December 1926-8 January 1927). The company also repeated It's a Boy (17-22 January), The Love of Su Shong (24-29 January), and The Nightcap (14-19 March).
The winter season closed with The Love Pirate, a non-Glaser production, almost wholly American, being tried out in Toronto (with a few Glaser performers) previous to a New York run. The termination of the season earlier than usual, on 14 May 1927, may have been prompted by Vaughan Glaser's marriage on 24 May in New York City to Lois Landon;14 however, the Vaughan Glaser English Players resumed repertory activities at the Victoria on 30 May, with both Glaser and Landon performing in The Alarm Clock (the Bulletin was not published in this period). Of the seven plays that followed, all except Pigs were revivals; only one was English in origins, the Forbes-Robertson hit of seventeen years earlier, The Passing of the Third Floor Back. This short summer season ended on 16 July.15
Perhaps because the stock company was less profitable than hitherto, Vaughan Glaser did not return to the stage in the autumn of 1927; rather, advertisements for the Victoria Theatre read: 'Vaughan Glaser Introduces The Malcolm Fassett Players.' (Fassett was the manager of a well known American stock company.) Between 19 September 1927 and 7 January 1928 this company, which included a few former Glaser actors, presented a series of American comedies and mysteries (only Buddies and Twin Beds had been in the Glaser repertoire), with, at Christmas time, Little Lord Fauntleroy and Pantomime Attractions.
For reasons unknown, the Malcolm Fassett Players were replaced at the Victoria by the Vaughan Glaser Players on 16 January 1928 ('English' had disappeared). Almost all of Glaser's earlier actors returned, to offer, until 19 May, the familiar mixture of old and new comedies. During the sixteen-week season, eight plays were new to this company, among them The Silent Witness, The Only Girl, Spooks, and Old Heidelberg, a play that Glaser had performed regularly in the U.S.A. 1905-17; the remaining eight plays were revivals, such as Up in Mabel's Room, Nightie Night, Uncle Tom's Cabin, and St. Elmo.
The next Glaser summer season followed immediately after the conclusion of the winter period, the two distinguished from one another only by a reversion to the identification 'The Vaughan Glaser English Players,' the composition of the company remaining almost the same.
Although all of the plays performed were new to the company, this truncated season, 21 May-9 June 1928, must have quickly disappointed the producer and the performers. They began with a new English comedy Lass o' Laughter (21-26 and 28 May, held over to Monday 'by popular demand'); it was succeeded by an American comedy They Knew Wlhat They Wanted. Another English play, The Faithful Heart, was offered next, and the season abruptly concluded on 16 June with Dinner is Served.16
Vaughan Glaser now largely retired from theatrical activity, perhaps because he had amassed a substantial capital, was tired of the strain of repertory production and performance, or had developed new interests. In the autumn of 1928 three stock companies at least briefly filled the gap that Glaser's retirement had left (see footnote 22); of these only the Empire Theatre Company continued for three later winters. With his young family, Glaser continued to live in Toronto, actively occupied 1929-32 as president of the Vaughan Glaser Radio Company. He invested a large sum of money in a Toronto radio station (not identified), which proved to be unprofitable.
Vaughan Glaser briefly acted on three different stages in Toronto subsequent to June 1928. In November 1930 he and a few of his former colleagues revived the Vaughan Glaser Players to present in weekly rep at the Royal Alexandra Theatre two of his earlier productions, The Alarm Clock (the third revival of this play) and Mary's Other Husband. The experiment was unsuccessful.
A similar revival of the Players, 25 December 1931-190 March 1932,17 as Toronto approached the nadir of the Depression, was no more profitable, although, loyal Glaser fans filled the Victoria Theatre during several evenings.18 Six of the Glaser productions were revivals of earlier offerings: Smilin' Through, St. Elmo (Glaser's fifth production of both plays in Toronto),19 It's a Boy, A Girl from Child's (both for the third time), Charley's Aunt (seventh), and The Bat. Among the new productions were If Winter Comes and A Modern Virgin.
In January 1934 Glaser was briefly on stage (without the Players) at Shea's, Toronto, in The Valiant, a one-act play, along with vaudeville acts and the movie Bed of Roses. Subsequently he performed on Broadway stages: Cross-town, 17-20 March 1937; Many Mansions, 27 October 1937-12 March 1938; and What a Life, 13 April-8 July 1939. He settled in California, where he appeared in several films, notably What a Life, 1939, and Arsenic and Old Lace, 1944. He died 26 November 1958, aged eighty-six.
Vaughan Glaser's long career may be conveniently summarized in three divisions: his life as an actor and a manager, principally in the U.S.A., 1892-1921; the years in Toronto, 1921-1937, most of them spent directing the Vaughan Glaser Players and the Vaughan Glaser English Players; and the final phase of his life in the U.S.A.
The second period has been of greatest interest here, the years during which Glaser made important contributions to the theatrical life of Toronto. No other theatre producer offered there so many plays of such high quality and varied character. Between 1921 and 1932 (with the gaps noted above) Glaser's players performed 277 weeks - during those years only fourteen plays were carried over beyond the usual six days; the Glaser troupes gave Toronto 216 different plays, almost all of them successful. Even during the depressed winter of 1932 attendance remained high, but with admission to the Victoria Theatre at only 25¢-$1.00, the season was unprofitable.
The preceding pages indicate the substantial burden that presenting a different play almost every week during theatre seasons for several years must have been for Vaughan Glaser. The producer's duties were alleviated somewhat by his having staged many of the popular Toronto plais before he came to that city, notably Charley's Aunt,20 Smilin' Through,21 and St. Elmo.
Other Glaser comedies and farces that Toronto theatregoers particularly enjoyed were Daddy Longlegs, Nothing But the Truth, Are You a Mason?, The Girl from Child's, and The Alarm Clock - each presented three times (for the usual week, in three different seasons) between 1921 and 1932.
Reviewers repeatedly commended Glaser's wide range in his choices of plays and his skill in maintaining high standards of acting and production in the companies. This excerpt from a long, appreciative review of What Happened to Mary is typical of many other evaluations:
Those to whose lot it falls to witness a long series of stock company productions can not fail to be impressed by the amazing versatility of the [Vaughan Glaser] Players. To step from high comedy or farce to sombre tragedy or flamboyant melodrama and back again, week in and week out, calls for quite remarkable adjustments. (Globe, 4 April 1922, p. 18; the critic was probably Lawrence Mason)
Sentimental romances, such as St. Elmo, Smilin' Through, and Uncle Tom's Cabin had their enthusiasts, and for them the Glaser organization presented as well Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch, Peg o' My Heart, The Shepherd of the Hills, Graustark, and East is West - each of these five performed for two weeks, in different seasons. A few serious dramas held the Glaser stages briefly; they included The Dawn of Tomorrow, Abraham Lincoln, The Sign of the Cross, East Lynne, The Silent Witness, and The Passing of the Third Floor Back. Only the last two had runs of two weeks. The Vaughan Glaser Players presented at least a dozen thrillers during their years in Toronto: Sherlock Holmes, The Thirteenth Chair, Spooks, and others. The Bat and The Cat and the Canary were brought back a second time.
The reviews suggest that the Glaser musical comedies were well received; perhaps, however, the costs of production and the demands on the company limited the number presented. Torontonians could have seen at the Uptown or the Victoria Irene, Very Good Eddie (both offered twice), Oh Boy!, Tangerine, and The Fascinating Widow. The four extremely successful Christmas pantomimes produced by the Glaser company have been referred to above, as have other popular plays offered between 1921 and 1932. They represent a very impressive total.
During those years Vaughan Glaser's success in summer and winter stock in Toronto stimulated several imitators and rivals, many of these efforts being very shortlived. Their production of plays both similar to and different from those of Glaser's players provided the city with great variety in popular dramatic entertainment for over a decade.22
Vaughan Glaser, the right man at the right time, was a significant contributor to the vogue of professional repertory theatre in Toronto for seven years; unfortunately, by 1928 enthusiasm for live theatre was declining, as the result of alternative sources of popular entertainment: the movies (with sound from 1927), vaudeville, radio, cars, bridge, golf, a growing interest in sports among participants and spectators, daylight saving time (in Ontario regularly from 1923), Sunnyside amusement park (The Merrymakers provided enjoyable entertainment each summer 1926-33), and, after the stock-market crash, the inability of the theatre to compete for citizens' limited funds for non-compulsory expenditures - by 1932 seats for adults in a Toronto movie house cost 25¢-60¢; seats in most theatres were 25¢-$1.00; attendance at the Royal Alexandra cost 50¢-$2.00.
A reviewer in Saturday Night, 22 November 1932, p. 6, wrote, 'For a number of years Vaughan Glaser and his players made the Uptown an institution for those who liked popular plays breezily staged. But all things change and none so rapidly as things theatrical, and the Vaughan Glaser Players became only a memory... .'23
1 Among the most enduring of stock companies in Canada outside of Toronto
were the Marks family, principally centred in Ontario, with tour., in other
Canadian provinces and the USA, 1871-c. 1925; the Allen Players (leading
lady Verna Felton), western Canada and the USA, 1907-c. 1927; the Permanent
Players, Winnipeg, 1910-26; the Majestic Players, Halifax, 1918-25; the
Orpheum Players, Montreal, 1919-25; the Empress Players, principally Vancouver, 191722; the Glossop-Harris English Repertory Company, Halifax and Saint John, 1925 and 1928; and the British Guild Players, western Canada, 1929-34.
Return to article
2 In 1924 So This is London had been offered in Toronto by an American touring company in February, and twice, in May and July, by the Metropolitan Players (another American troupe); it would be featured again by the Glaser players (19-24 January 1925) and by Hugh Buckler's company (10-15 August 1925).
Return to article
3 'Vaughan Glaser, actor-manager, moved into the new Colonial Theatre [Cleveland] to become one of the great matinee idols of stock days. Fay Courtenay was his leading lady, and together they followed the new trend of abandoning standard dramas for Broadway successes as soon as they became available. Glaser was responsible for the dramatization of Augusta Evans' novel St. Elmo, but he may be forgiven for that, since it caught on with stock followers like wildfire.' HARLOWE R. HOYT, Town Hall Tonight (Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1955), p 8
Return to article
4 The Uptown, the largest theatre in Toronto during the 1920's, had many competitors: the Regent (2,200 seats), the Victoria (2,000), the Princess (1,800), the Grand Opera House (1,750), Loew's Yonge Street, now called the Elgin (1,600), Loew's Winter Garden (1,600), the Empire (1,600), and the Royal Alexandra (1,525).
Return to article
5 Admission to the Royal Alexandra Theatre was ordinarily 50C-$2.50.
Return to article
6 A few business reports of the Vaughan Glaser Players are among the papers of George R. Keppie, general manager of the Uptown, the Empire, and later the Victoria theatres, in the Thomas Fisher Rare Book Library, University of Toronto; the most recent surviving financial report indicates that the profits in this second season to 26 May 1923 were $15,159.63.
Return to article
7 She had been the leading lady with Glaser's American company 1905-21.
Return to article
It is difficult to understand the tremendous popularity enjoyed by this drama ... so much clap-trap, of an unparalleled sentimentality and cheapness ... a typical actor's play, written with theatrical effectiveness in mind and nothing else, full of the cheapest sort of tricks and a curious quality of windy rhetoric ... . I cannot understand any grown man or woman truly enjoying it ... and yet the stout gentleman, who sat just behind me the other evening, was obviously enjoying himself thoroughly and the two ladies with him wept copiously at all the passages of more than ordinary pathos and were unquestionably having a perfectly lovely time ... . The majority of the audience found the piece a very satisfactory entertainment ... . I could not help being impressed with the very excellent production given it y Mr. Glaser, a r better one than any intrinsic merit in the play itself warranted. (Unidentified clipping, Vaughan Glaser scrapbook, c. 5 February 1924)
9 The anonymous editor of the Bulletin looked back (111, 32, 12 May 1924) over three winter seasons and reported an average weekly attendance (ordinarily there were eight performances a week) of 16,000 people.
Return to article
10 The Hamilton company produced nine new shows during this period; with a clear sense of practicality, Glaser would later use five of them in Toronto (The Broken Wing, In Love with Love, 7he Love of Su Shong, The First Year, and Silence). The remaining seven shows seen in Hamilton were brought from the Uptown, three being immediate transfers from the Toronto base (The Best People, Very Good Eddie, and Graustark). Glaser's Christmas show in Hamilton, Mother Goose and the Gingerbread Man (25 December 1925-2 January 1926), had been the feature of his Toronto Christmas season the year before. This
Hamilton season was an economical venture in the sense that only four plays
out of the sixteen were never offered previously or subsequently: The
Demi-Virgin, Tarnish, The Easy Mark and The Brat.
Return to article
11 O.P. Heggie, 1879-1936, a native of Australia; an actor in England
(1906-12) and USA (1912-36); with the Glaser company and the English Repertory
Company in Toronto 1926.
Return to article
12 In 1931, 81% of the population of Toronto (over 600,000) was British
in origin [JAMES LEMON, Toronto Since 1918 (Toronto, 1955), p 50]
Return to article
13 Of the eleven productions during the summer, only one (So This
is London) was a revival from the earlier Glaser repertoire.
Return to article
14 A native of Toronto (born c. 1904-died 1960), she began her professional
career there in 1919 as a talented interpretative dancer and singer; she
acted in Glaser's troupe and other stock companies intermittently between
1921 and 1925. Between December 1925 and May 1926 Landon was a member of
the Harry Bond Players in Schenactady, NY. She returned to the Glaser companies
until they closed in June 1928. The Glasers had two children; subsequently
Lois Landon appeared on stage only infrequently.
Return to article
15 In April 1927 Glaser planned a stock-company season of fifteen grand
operas in the Victoria Theatre (Globe, 26 April 1927, p 10); nothing
came of the idea.
Return to article
16 'The summer is a sad season for the theatres at any time, but this
year the bottom seems to have fallen out of things completely in Toronto.
Why, nobody seems to know... .' HAL FRANK, Saturday Night, 23 June
1928, p 6
Return to article
17 Toronto newspapers carried no advertisements for A Girl from Child's,
the final play in the run, 14-19(?) March 1932; however, the Star and the Telegram reviewed it favorably Tuesday 15 March; the last listing in the Globe is 16 March.
Return to article
18 Between September and December 1931, Cameron Matthews had attempted,
with limited success, to revive his stock company at the Empire.
Return to article
19 Vaughan Glaser performed the role of St. Elmo one thousand times.
'... Sure technique, marvellous voice, and sombre satanic figure ... .'
Toronto Daily Star, 19 January 1932, p 20.
Return to article
20 After the first Glaser presentation of Charley's Aunt in Toronto,
27 March-1 April 1922, the company had 1,200 requests for a repeat (Billboard
10 June 1922, p 24); it obliged on 28 August 1922 and subsequently.
Return to article
21 Although Hart House and the Royal Alexandra Theatre presented Canadian
plays during the 1920's, Vaughan Glaser, alert to what his audience most
wanted, did not. The nearest he may have come was through the seven presentations
of Smilin' Through. This play, first staged in New York, 30 December
1919, had, according to several sources, a Canadian author, Allan Langdon
Martin (New York Times, 31 December 1919, p 5; New York Dramatic
Mirror, 15 January 1920, p 51; Toronto Globe, 18 March 1922,
p 16; Montreal Star, 1 April 1922, p 22); however, The National
Union Catalogue; Pre-1956 Imprints (Chicago, 197.4), Vol 364, p 308,
lists Allan Langdon Martin as a pseudonym for Jane Cowl (an American actress
who starred in Smilin' Through for several years and wrote Lilac
Time) and Jane Murfin (an American playwright).
Return to article
22 A few other popular stock companies preceded Glaser's arrival in
Toronto; this summary of repertory activity there illustrates primarily
the burgeoning of this form of dramatic entertainment 1923-29: Royal Alexandra
Players 30 September 1907-1 February 1908; Royal Alexandra English Players
10 February-25 April 1908; Percy Haswell Stock Company 6 June-27 August
1910; 5 June-19 August 1911; 20 May-31 August 1912; 26 May-30 August 1913;
2 June-29 August 1914; 1 March-12 June 1915; Jessie Bonstelle Players (leading
man Edward H. Robins) 12 May-26 July 1913; 11 May-8 August 1914; Edward
H. Robins Players 21 June-28 August 1915; 1 May-26 August 1916; 30 April-25
August 1917; 8 April-24 August 1918; 12 May-20 September 1919; 10 May-21
August 1920; 9 May-3 September 1921; 1 May-26 August 1922; Trans-Canada
English Players 14 March-16 April 1921; William A. Grew's Special Company
6-18 June 1921; Cameron Matthews English Players 12 February-2 June 1923;
3 September 1923-26 January 1924; collaborated with Maurice British Players
28 January-8 March 1924; these companies became the English Players 10
March-17 May 1924; name changed to the Comedy Players 19 May-28 June 1924;
H. Campbell-Duncan Players 21 May-16 June 1923; Royal Players (managed
by Norval Keedwell) 4 June-25 August 1923; Maurice British Players 1 September
1923-26 January 1924 (and see above under Matthews); Metropolitan Players
19 May-9 August 1924; Cameron Matthews English Players 1 January-18 April
1925; Permanent Players 12-31 January 1925 (not the Regina nor the Winnipeg
stock companies with the same name); George Vivian's Musical Comedy Company
23 February-7 March 1925; Charles Hampden's British Players 11 May-6 June;
7 September-21 November 1925; Hugh Buckler Company 1 July-15 August; 5
September-24 October 1925; English Repertory Company (managed by John Mood;
sometimes referred to as the Theatre Guild of Canada) 6 November 1926-7
May 1927; Empire Theatre Company (and variant names) 19 September 1927-9
June 1928; 3 September 1928-14 May 1929; 2 September 1929-10 May 1930;
29 August18 April 1931; 14 November 1932-14 January 1933; Charles L. Wagner
Producing Company 28 May-16 June 1928; Savoy-Victoria Musical Comedy Company
15 September-17 November 1928; Victoria Players 19 November 1928-25 May
1929; Lyric Musical Comedy Company 3-22 June 1929; Cameron Matthews English
Players 21 September-12 December 1931; 19 September-29 October 1932; Toronto
Repertory Theatre Company (managed by Cameron Matthews) 25 December 1934-5
January 1935; New York Professional Players 13 April-16 May 1936; Cameron
Matthews Canadian Players 11-12 June 1936.
Return to article
23 I am grateful for assistance to Heather McCallum and the staff of
the Theatre Department, Metropolitan Public Library, Toronto; to Richard
Plant, Dianne O'Neill, Harriett Ball Edey, Deirdre Jackson, and especially
to Lois Glaser Shields and Vaughan Glaser Jr., the daughter and son of
the subject of this paper. Both provided recollections of their parents
and allowed me to study family scrapbooks, photographs, and memorabilia.
Return to article