Avery Hopwood

H.L. Mencken

Baltimore Evening Sun/December 6, 1910

Avery Hopwood, who made the stage version of “Seven Days,” on view at Ford’s Opera House this week, is a native of Cleveland, and his thirtieth birthday is still ahead of him. Hopwood began playmaking while still a college boy in the University of Michigan and his very first play, a comedy called “Clothes,” got him to the metropolitan stage and won him the favorable notice of the critics.

His First Play Was “Clothes”

Not that “Clothes” was a masterpiece, sprung full-blown from the head of youth. As a matter of fact the original manuscript showed not a few evidences of the author’s inexperience, and William A. Brady, who bought it for the use of Grace George, employed Channing Pollock to delete those evidences in an artistic manner. But the general structure of the drama remained unchanged by that process, the principal incidents remained unchanged and the characters remained unchanged. It was, in brief, one of the most remarkable first plays ever produced in America. Hopwood at the very start of his career seemed to have a firm grip upon all the essentials of successful playmaking. It was only in the details of his play that his lack of practical training was visible.

That was in 1906 or thereabout. Since then Hopwood has written or had a hand in five other plays, the latest of which, a comedy called “Nobody’s Widow,” was recently presented at Ford’s by Blanche Bates, and is now enjoying a very prosperous run in New York, where it is one of the few genuine successes of the season. “This Man and That Woman,” a serious drama written for Carlotta Nillson, was produced in Philadelphia in February, 1909, and got to New York soon afterward. A political play called “Graft” had seen the light a year or so before. Then came “Seven Days,” a dramatic version of a novel by Mary Roberts Rinehart, called “When a Man Marries.” It was produced at the Astor Theatre in New York on November 10, 1909. “Judy Forgot,” a musical piece, with melodies by Silvio Hein, completes the list. It is significant that all six of Hopwood’s plays are still bringing royalties to his till. “Seven Days,” “Nobody’s Widow” and “Judy Forgot” are being played in the first-class houses, and the others are done frequently by the stock companies.

This Woman And That Man

The most ambitious of the Hopwood plays is probably “This Woman and That Man.” Its theme suggests, after a fashion, that of William Vaughn Moody’s “The Great Divide,” though here the drama is played out, not into the soul of the woman, but in that of the man. The name of this man is Norris Townsend, and he is the son of a wealthy New Yorker. Thekla Muller, a governess employed to look after his married sister’s children, succumbs to him, a mere incident in the life of so gay a young fellow, and he departs for Europe without giving the matter a second thought. He is brought home by the news that distressing consequences are impending.

He and his father proceed to discuss the situation frankly. Neither man seems to be aware that any moral question is involved. The elder man, disgusted that such an affair should have been carried on beneath his roof, is only eager that the scandal be kept from the women of the family. The younger man is willing to embrace any plan that will get the wailing governess out of his sight. Finally it is agreed that she shall be paid enough money to see her though her troubles and that her child shall be lodged in safe hands and its proper rearing provided for.

Alas, for the plans of mice and men! The half-crazed Thekla, when the plan is unfolded to her, refuses absolutely to agree to it. She gave herself to Norris, she says, because she loved him, and she now demands that he marry her, not only as a measure of justice to her, but for the good of the child. When he refuses she calmly produces a revolver and informs him that the sole alternative is a double tragedy. The curtain falls upon this dramatic encounter.

The Tie That Binds

At the opening of the next act it is apparent that the marriage has taken place. Six or seven years have elapsed. Thekla, with her young son, is living in a remote country town, teaching school. Suddenly her husband enters. He has been searching for her for a long while. He wants a divorce and is willing to make ample provision for Thekla if she will agree to it. While they are talking it over the child comes in. Norris, overcome in the presence of his little son, now undergoes a change. The good in him begins to crop up; the call of the blood sounds in his ears. The upshot is that he demands the boy and offers to take Thekla too. When she refuses to come with it he announces that he will stay in the village.

The third act sees the three united in the Townsend home. Thekla is defiant and Norris is indifferent, but gradually the child draws them together. Norris, in brief, falls in love with his wife. The tie binding them is too firm to be broken. Putting the past behind them they face the future securely. As the curtain falls there are happiness and peace.

Hopwood is a tall, blonde, smooth-shaven, loose jointed young man, who looks even younger than he really is. He spent a week in Baltimore recently, during the engagement of “Nobody’s Widow,” and while here he submitted gracefully to a cross-examination regarding his methods of work.

“I cannot make a claim,” he said, “to any inborn impulse toward dramatic writing. When I was a student at college the desire to put pen to paper came over me and I chose the drama as my medium, not because it appealed to me more than other forms, but because it held out better promise of a good return. My first play was ‘Clothes.’ When I sent it to New York there were no other manuscripts in my trunk. By great good fortune it gained an adequate production and before long I was writing plays to order.

“Since then I have been working hard and steadily. Writing plays demands concentration, industry, patience. It is a matter of slow building up, of careful polishing, of unsentimental revision. Very often I yearned for the greater ease and spaciousness of the novel. I have half decided, in fact, to put away playwriting for a while and devote myself to a novel. Ideas bob up which are not suitable for the stage. I may go to Europe soon, rest a bit and then give book writing a trial. But in the course of time no doubt I’ll come back to the theatre. Say what you will against it, it at least pays good wages.”

(Source: University of North Texas, Microfilm Collection) 

The works of H.L. Mencken and other American journalists are now freely available at The Archive of American Journalism. Visit our bookstore for single-volume collections–-ideal for research, reference use or casual reading.