Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar: Acquiring the Fort Scott Scenery Collection for the Minnesota Masonic Heritage Center. Part 191 – The Sandstorm Scene for the “The Garden of Allah” by Gates & Morange

Part 191: The Sandstorm Scene for the “The Garden of Allah” by Gates & Morange

I encountered a wonderful historical article while researching Edward A. Morange. It was posted in a blog about costumes, history, and social ephemera, called “Miss Daffodil Digresses.”

“Staging a Sandstorm” by Wendell Phillips Dodge (1912) explores onsite research for Gates & Morange’s “The Garden of Allah” designs. The stage version of Robert Hichens’ drama, “The Garden of Allah,” opened at the Century Theatre in 1912. To stage the sandstorm in “spirit and in truth,” George C. Tyler, of the firm of Liebler and Company, went into the heart of the great Sahara Desert, accompanied by Hugh Ford, general stage director, and Edward A. Morange, of the firm of Gates and Morange, scenic artists. The article provides some interesting descriptions for nineteenth-century sandstorm effects on stage.

The Century Theatre.

Here is a small excerpt as it is just delightful to read. I will post the full article in its entirety at www.drypigment.net

The Theatre, Volume 15, 1912

“The question now was how to transfer the real, living sandstorm to the stage of the Century Theatre. Stage sandstorms date back more than twenty years, when one was introduced in Fanny Davenport’s production of “Gismonda.” This sandstorm, naturally, was very crude, since in those days there was no such thing as light effects nor stage mechanism. The players themselves created the sandstorm by tossing handsful of Fuller’s earth over their heads to the accompaniment of the rubbing of sandpaper in the wings to give the suggestion of wind blowing. Belasco put over the first realistic sandstorm in “Under Two Flags,” causing Fuller’s earth to be blown through funnel-like machines from the wings, while at the same time stereopticon cloud storm effects were played on gauze drops. Mr. Belasco also introduced the now famous bending palm to stage sandstorms, to convey the idea of motion. Once when “Under Two Flags” was produced in San Francisco the local stage manager told the property man to get something that could be blown across the stage, to be used in the sandstorm scene. There was not time for a scene rehearsal, but the property man connected a “blower” made out of a soap box with the ventilating system, and as the cue was given, tossed heaps of flour into the box to be blown over the stage. The play ended right there, with scenery and everything covered as if a blizzard had struck the place! It required weeks to get the flour off of the scenery, to which it stuck and hardened. Last year Frederic Thompson introduced a sandstorm in a scene showing the Western Bad Lands, sawdust being blown from the wings. But the sawdust scattered everywhere, even into the orchestra.”

Ah, the trials and failures of show business. “The Garden of Allah” would use cornmeal for their sandstorm scene.

Souvenir book from the production designed by Gates & Morange in 1912.

I did locate another article New York Times on July 13, 1911 (page 9) called “Return From The Desert.” It was titled “Ford and Morange Visited Scenes of ‘The Garden of Allah.’”

Here is the article: “Hugh Ford, general stage director for Liebler & Co., and Edward Morange, scenic artist for the same firm, returned to New York yesterday on the Minnetonka, after spending some time in the Desert of Sahara with George C. Tyler, general manager of the firm. They, with Mr. Tyler, made a trip to visit the scenes of Robert Hichins story, “The Garden of Allah,” a dramatization of which is to be the first Liebler production next season at the Century Theatre. The party made its headquarter at Biskra, the Beni-Mora of the novel, and made many expeditions into the desert. Several Arabs were engaged to come to America to take part in the production. After leaving Algiers Mr. Ford and Mr. Morange visited Berlin to obtain material for “The Affair in the Barracks,” an adaptation of “Barrackenpluft,” which is to be another Leibler production next year. While in Paris the party spent several days in consultation with Mme. Simone, who will begin her first American tour next Fall, appearing in English in Louis N. Parker’s adaptation of Rostand’s “The Lady of Dreams.”

A Scene from the Gates & Morange design for “Garden of Allah.”
A Scene from the Gates & Morange design for “Garden of Allah.”
A Scene from the Gates & Morange design for “Garden of Allah.”

Finally, the scenic designs for “The Garden of Allah” (Sketch of North African Expedition), 1912, are located in the Gates and Morange Collection (Billy Rose Division) of the New York Public Library. The designs for the production include a color sketch on stock depicting an exterior scene with camels.

To be continued…

Here is Mrs. Daffodil’s link: https://mrsdaffodildigresses.wordpress.com She has covered several interesting topics, including “How to Make Stage Thunder and Lighting: 1829-1900” and “The Great Grampus Bath-house Tragedy: 1875.” According to the site, it is a blog where “you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.”

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