The Dowager’s Diary – Week One Hundred and One

January 19-31,1917

Ettie, the eternal side-kick was Kate Shippen Roosevelt’s younger sister.  She was one of four unmarried Shippen spinsters and was often mentioned in her sister’s diary tagging along to the theater; attending interesting lectures at exclusive women’s clubs; listening to concerts and enjoying leisurely luncheons.

6. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, maxine elliott in dressing room, 1909, burr mcintosh monthly

Maxim Elliott, the manager of Maxim Elliott’s Theater

January 19, 1917 found the sisters going to Maxim Elliott’s Theater at 109 West 39th Street to see Gertrude Kingston in George Bernard Shaw’s “Great Catherine.” According to Kate Roosevelt it was “A capital bill. Gertrude Kingston was especially good. We went to her dressing room for a few moments after the play to see her.”

The one act play, written by George Bernard Shaw especially for the actress was officially titled, “Great Catherine: Whom Glory Still Adores,” told the story of a prim Irish visitor to the court of the sexually uninhibited Catherine the Great of Russia. Given the plot line, I was a bit surprised that the equally prim and proper, Kate Roosevelt and her still single, elderly sister, Ettie found the play “capital” and not vulgar.

2. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, globe theater, cigarette trading card, 1910

The Globe Theater

Putting aside their privileged prudishness, I suppose the siblings enjoyed going backstage. After all, being the widow of President Theodore Roosevelt’s late cousin, Hilborne Roosevelt, did have its perks and opened lots of doors for the widow, especially those to the dressing rooms of famous Broadway Stars. It seemed the word for the week was “capital.” On January 20, when Kate went to see Laurette Taylor in “Harp of Life” she gushed, “capitally done.” The play was staged at the Globe Theater.

In addition to seeing a “capital” play, “capitally done,” Kate Roosevelt had a front row seat in a first class Broadway theater. The Globe Theater had opened just seven years prior to rave reviews. According to the New York Times, Streetscapes Column written by Christopher Gray in 1998, “The theater, now called the Lunt-Fontanne at 205 West 46thStreet has a strange asphalt-encrusted framework on the roof. That peculiar remnant, a sliding roof that remains unique in Broadway history, is left over from the opening of the theater, built in 1910, by the producer, Charles Dillingham.”

3. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, gertrude kingston, actress,, public domain

Gertrude Kingston

A drama critic for the New York Evening Sun in the 1890s, Dillingham re-invented himself at the turn-of-the-twentieth century as a powerful theater producer. In deference to his new status, in 1909 Dillingham began work on a theater and headquarters on West 46thStreet he would name the Globe, using building elements that evoked Shakespeare’s open-air playhouse in London.

The façade of the Globe was encased in the Italian Renaissance style of architecture developed by Carrere & Hasting who were also working on the design of the New York Public Library at 42nd Street and Fifth Avenue and other elaborate commissions at the same time.  One of their most beautiful designs is a white limestone mansion built to resemble the Petit Trianon in Paris, for the copper-mining millionaire, Murry Guggenheim in Long Branch, New Jersey, not far from where I live. It is now the Guggenheim Library at Monmouth University.

5. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, guggenheim estate, monmouth univeisity, close up

The Guggenheim Library at Monmouth University

The architectural firm was sought-after by millionaires, businesses, governments and philanthropists alike who wanted to build stone structures that looked centuries old.

Inside the theater’s second-floor balcony, originally open to patrons during intermission, rose a series of pilasters bracketing classical figures and masks representing drama and topped by a projecting tile roof.

The 1,192 seat Globe Theater opened on January 10, 1910 with two balconies and an unusual proscenium, a stage enclosure set-off by a frame-like border on all sides. According to Gray’s column, “The interior, especially near the stage, was richly ornamented, with a color scheme of ivory, gold and rose. The New York Sun noted that the theater even had seats for fat men and a spotlight station in the dome.  Other theaters mounted spotlights in the audience areas.”

Individual vents under most seats were fed by a chamber where air could be heated by steam and cooled by ice and the Sun reported in 1910 that the Globe had something not yet seen in an American theater: “a sliding roof, which will open the house to the starlight and keep the theater open longer in hot weather.” The roof had two levels, with an opening at the ceiling and one at the roof level 20 feet above.

The first production staged at the Globe was a musical called “The Old Town.” The Sun’s drama critic found the production disappointing, except for the stage theatrics of the star, Fred Stone, which included tightrope walking, acrobatic falls, dancing through a lariat and pistol juggling. I could only imagine what the Roosevelt Family’s own personal theater critic, Kate, would have had to say about such an energetic offering.

4. photo, kate shippen roosevelt, george bernard shaw

George Bernard Shaw

Apparently, Carrere & Hastings’ design achieved what it was intended to do, to look like it had been there for years and to last as long.  The Globe’s interior was intact until 1957 when it was purchased by a syndicate, re-decorated and re-opened in 1958 as the Lunt-Fontanne Theater.  The first production was “The Visit” starring Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne in their farewell Broadway performance.

In 1959 Mary Martin starred there in Roger and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music and in February, 2017 Glenn Close will reprise her role of the aging actress, Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard there.

Although Dillingham’s 1910 sliding roof does not open anymore, its mechanics are still in place waiting in the wings right in the middle of Times Square to grind the gears that will part the panels and once again shine moon-light on stars on stage.

It was a winter evening in 1917 when Kate Roosevelt sat in the audience, so I am sure there was no open roof to marvel at, but she most likely appreciated snuggling into her heated velvet seat and enjoying the charming atmosphere presented at the Globe Theater’s presentation of the Harp of Life, written by J. Hartley Manners for his wife, the illustrious actress, Laurette Taylor.

Sharon Hazard’s Dowager’s Diary appears on Thursday.

Photo One:
J. Hartley Manners and his wife, Laurette Taylor
Bain News Service, 1910

Photo Two:
Maxim Elliott, the manager of Maxim Elliott’s Theater
Burr Monthly Magazine

Photo Three:
The Globe Theater
From a cigarette trading card, 1910

Photo Four:
The actress, Gertrude Kingston

Photo Five:
The Guggenheim Library at Monmouth University
Monmouth University

Photo Six:
George Bernard Shaw