The Group Theatreâ€”that enterprising and youthful theatrical group that is almost completely Jewish in complexion â€” has followed its Pulitzer prize-winning play of last season, “Men in White,” with “Gold Eagle Guy.” And in the process of introducing an unknown to Broadway, it has made him a figure of no small dimensions. Melvin Levy, author of “Gold Eagle Guy,” is following in the footsteps of the Group’s new playwright of last year, the youthful Sidney Kingsley. And while “Gold Eagle Guy,” now at the Belasco Theatre, may, or may not, win the Pulitzer Prize, it certainly has revealed Mr. Levy as a sensitive, and theatre-wise playwright, most emphatically one of the happier discoveries of the present theatrical season.
The author of three novels and innumerable newspaper and magazine articles, Mr. Levy has written a play that dashes boldly through forty years of West Coast history. Concerning itself with an ever-changing personnel of characters, it revolves principally about an Empire Builder who added the Seven Seas to Uncle Sam’s newly acquired West Coast. The “Gold Eagle Guy” of Mr. Levy’s is a blustering, bombastic and unscrupulous shipping magnate. Some have identified him as the head of a well known steamship line, but whether this is true or not, his composite character bears some resemblance to the noted shipping king.
PASSING FOR HISTORY
But to return to Mr. Levy. He is a big, quiet, gentle-voiced young man, with a genuine passion for American history and a profound knowledge of it. He was born in Salt Lake City, lived for a time in Colorado, and finally settled in Seattle. He attended the University of Washington, received a Master’s Degree there and eventually became a member of the faculty, teaching English composition.
The life of a college professor was not entirely to his taste, however, and when he finished his first novel, “Matrix,” he packed his suitcase and set out on a tramping trip which ended in New York; three days later after his arrival he sold the novel, packed the suitcase again and set forth on a trip which carried him to Maine, where he lived two weeks with a band of gypsiesâ€”to St. Paul, where he was beaten and robbed by a thug in an alleyâ€”to Chicagoâ€”to San Franciscoâ€”and eventually to Hollywood where, through an accident, he worked for six weeks as a scenario writer. In 1927, his second novel, “Wedding,” appeared. In New York again, he organized the New York Committee for the Defense of Political Prisoners and ran it for two years until it became a power in our national life.
The Pacific Coast still possessed his mind. He wrote a third book called “The Last Pioneers,” and a member of the Group read it, decided that here was a subject for an exciting play, spoke to Levy about it, and told the Group directors, sent for him and suggested that he write a play about the development of the West.
“I had never written a play before,” says Melvin Levy. “I had a series of long talks with the Group directors which ended with my writing ‘Gold Eagle Guy.’”
The chronicle drama that Melvin Levy wrote of the pioneer West, and of one of its chief characters, is rich in the color of its time. As a dramatist, Levy captured both the idion and the attitude of mind of those days when fortunes were built overnight and great robbers could be great men. “Gold Eagle Guy” is robust and rowdy; it is that strange mixture that is both picturesque and repugnant and while it is romantic in its materials, it is cynical in its author’s omniscience.