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Critical Moments

April 10, 1934
See Original Daily Bulletin From This Date

Last night at the well-upholstered and comfortable Majestic Theatre S. M. Chartock presented as the second in a series of Gilbert and Sullivan revivals the ever popular “Pirates of Penzance.” Judging by the reaction of the audience there has been no discernible change of opinion about this band of reasonable and amusing buccaneers.

The same cast of players who performed “The Mikado” last week again supply the entertainment. Large, imposing, strong – voiced Herbert Waterous plays the pirate chief. William Danforth, as suave as ever, is sergeant of police, and the pirate apprentice is the good-looking Roy Cropper. Vera Ross is the piratical maid-of-all-work, and little Vivian Hart is the lovely Mabel, General Stanley’s daughter. The res of the cast, including the very fine chorus, demonstrates the old truth that if you give a group of actors a play they really like the audience becomes easily infected with the enthusiasm that comes across the footlights.


“Pirates of Penzance” is the only Gilbert and Sullivan piece that had its premiere in America and the reason for this seemingly strange procedure is an extremely mundane one. Gilbert and Sullivan had arrived, theatrically speaking, some time before. “Pinafore” had made a huge success in London, but it was playing in America without the consent or gain of the authors. The copyright laws permitted its reproduction so long as a version was in print. Gilbert and Sullivan came to America and announced that they were here to show America how one of their works should be done, but the real reason was to protect “The Pirates of Penzance” which had not yet been completed. To protect their rights it was necessary that the premiere be held in this country. When they landed, “Pirates of Penzance” was in outline; not even, as Sullivan later confessed to friends, had one full act been completed. The Englishmen went to work in a small New York hotel and finished it. On New Year’s eve, 1870, at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, it had its premiere with Sullivan himself conducting the orchestra. Its success was instantaneous and it enjoyed a long and profitable run. A few months later it was produced in London, where it achieved a run of 400 performances. Sullivan always believed that “Penzance” was one of his best efforts.

All the venerable Gilbert and Sullivan fans will of course compare the present rendition of “Pirates of Penzance” with the thirty or forty others they have seen. They will sigh for the good old days and with shaking of heads and clucking of tongues will totter to their seats prepared for the worst. But before ten bars of music have been played they will brighten up, sit back and enjoy themselves thoroughly.


In the old and ghostly atmosphere of the Criterion Theatre tonight, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer will show “Viva Villa,” to the public for the first time, starring Wallace Beery and written by Ben Hecht. About the picture itself more will be written anon, but at this moment it is the author Ben Hecht who should get the spotlight. He has been complaining that move authors get nothing but a fortun for their work, but actually the one-time terror of the headline hunters has softened up. In a recent interview he said:

“I work in pictures for deliberate monetary reasons. Besides, I wasn’t born to be a playwright. The cinems form is comfortable and rambling like the novel. The films are much more remunerative and place less responsibility on a writer than any other form.

“I never could understand why authors are always yowling against Hollywood. It’s the only institution that hasn’t treated them like galley slaves. As pale, undernourished, tottering Bohemians they work for an editor who gives them just barely enough to last them a week. Then Hollywood comes along and pays them fabulous money, and they’re always complaining. I don’t understand it.

“I get the same in a week for film work as I used to get in six years for any Other form of writing. Back in the old Chicago News days I worked for $40 a week and those old Chicago editors would call me in and tell me I wasn’t worth a nickel and would probably fire me in the morning. Now I get two to four thousand a week, the boss says how are you and do you like your work, and I take umbrage and quit on him.”


Mr. Hecht accompanied the ill-fated “Viva Villa!” expedition into Mexico and is inclined to believe that the enterprise was not as tragic as Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer would have the world believe. The film lost in the airplane crash amounted only to 20,000 feet, or one-tenth of the total footage photographed below the Rio Grande.

He found the Mexicans pleasant but excitable, particularly on the subject of their beloved Pancho Villa.

“They’re very changeable. One day they think Villa was a rat, a cheap bandit and a blot on the Mexican character. Then they go home and talk it over with their wives and are sore the next day because we show him in the picture without shoes.

“One of the big scenes was an attack on the town of Torreon. We looked up the old Villa generals, gave them back their old Villa uniforms and hired them for the scene. They were very grateful. Most of them were reduced to selling pencils, lottery tickets and pulque.”

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