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‘spring Song’ Bella Spewack’s Fond Farewell to East Side

“My farewell salute to the East Side, the East Side that is passing….” that is how Bella Spewack describes her new play, “Spring Song,” which Max Gordon is presenting at the Morosco Theatre. It is a sentimental memory on the part of an East Side Jewish girl who likes to think of herself as a “hard boiled and sophisticated gal.” It is a recess from years of writing Broadway plays and Hollywood scenarios in the staccato, clipped, heavily gagged technique of the new theatre.

For “Spring Song” is Bella Spewack’s play. It is her play despite the fact that husband Sam had a hand in whipping it into shape; despite the fact that his name appears on the playbills as co-author of the play. “Spring Song” is one of those productions known on Broadway as an author’s play, that is, a play of which an author is more than ordinarily fond.

PRONOUN “WE” SLIPS OUT

As Bella Spewack was talking about the play in the suite she and her husband occupy at the Hotel Gotham, as she was telling us that this play was one in which “we don’t use a gag, a play in which the humor springs from the characters,” she stumbled over the plural personal pronoun. She had done this before, and we already knew that “Spring Song” was her play.

“Well, it’s my play,” she apologized. “Sam was a great help in polishing it….”

“Yes, it’s Bella’s play. All I did was to help round a few difficult corners.”

And now, with her husband’s sanctum for use of the singular personal pronoun, Bella Spewack went on:

“These are the Jews I remember from the East Side in which I grew up. Those Jews that I am happier to forget, I left out of the play.”

EAST SIDE AFFECTION UNIQUE

And so it was. When we saw the play shortly after talking with the Spewacks, we couldn’t help thinking of Bella’s remark: “Nowhere in the world can you find such affection as on the East Side.”

The mother of the play, superbly done by the Yiddish actress, Helen Zelinskaya, could have been the mother of many of us Jews who were watching the show. And the Florrie Solomon, who had an affair with her sister’s fiance, might have been anybody’s sister as she was delineated by the Spewacks and portrayed by Francine Larrimore.

The play that Bella Spewack created out of her love for the East Side is slightly reminiscent of Elmer Rice’s “Street Scene,” a saga of New York’s west side. It is a play of character, rather than of plot. Its weakest moment is in the first scene of the third act when its characters must cease being sketched to go on with the story. But certainly Bella Spewack achieved what she set out to do, portray some of the people she used to know when she played on the streets of New York.

BORN OF OLD SHORT STORIES

The play, Mrs. Spewack explained, was born in two short stories she wrote when she was still in her teens and was earning $12 a week working for the Yorkville Home News. They were the stories she had to write, stories that wouldn’t give her peace until she set them on paper. From Sarah Reznick came the character of the mother of “Spring Song”; from “East Side Idyl,” finally published under the title, “Yetta’s Folly,” came the character of Florrie.

The play itself was written several years ago. After knocking about various theatrical managers’ offices, it received several tryout performances on the Summer circuit.

“I thought every manager in New York had seen the script,” the authoress related. “But then, when Guthrie McClintic, husband and manager of Katherine Cornell, saw the play he told us how he had enjoyed it and how he would have liked to produce it himself. ‘Well, then, you’re the only manager in New York who didn’t see it, I told him.

PLAY FOR MISS CORNELL

“Mr. McClintic, incidentally, told us that he would like to have us submit a play to him for possible use by Miss Cornell in 1936, her schedule being filled until then.”

“Spring Song,” which is now in the process of “building,” a theatrical term that means picking up in business by virtue of word-of-mouth advertising, was rewritten many times by the Spewacks because of Bella’s determination to get it produced. Her husband calls it “an expensive luxury,” for it is unlikely that whatever royalties it may earn will equal what might have been made by the Spewacks had they remained in Hollywood where they turned out the stories for such screen hits as “Clear All Wires,” which they adapted from their own hit play; “The Solitaire Man,” “The Cat and the Fiddle,” “The Nuisance” and other pictures. Soon to be released are “Repeal” and “Gambling,” George M. Cohan’s first screen effort for which the Spewacks wrote the movie adaptation from Cohan’s own story.

PLAY WELL LIKED

But, success or not, Mrs. Spewack is satisfied with her play. Audiences like it. Nathan Straus, unknown to the Spewacks, sent them a letter congratulating them on the effort. David Sarnoff went so far as to call them up to utter his approval of the production. Abraham Cahan, editor of the Forward, called the play “a powerful {SPAN}dr##a{/SPAN} of life on the East Side.” And a little Jewish telephone girl apologized to Mrs. Spewack for troubling her but she “just had to tell her how much she liked it….”

So Bella Spewack is satisfied; she painted a true picture of the East Side she loves. Now she can return, with full heart, to the business of earning a living writing about hard boiled gals of questionable, if any, virtue and of wisecracking newspaper guys whose every other word is a gag.

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