Tales from a Scenic Artist and Scholar. Part 329 – Traveling through the country is so thrilling…

Part 329: Traveling through the country is so thrilling…

“…standing out in front on opening nights. Smiling as you watch the theater filling, and there’s your billing out there in lights”

Thomas G. Moses painted numerous productions during 1895 that included “Ben-Hur,” Alexander Salvini’s “Hamlet,” John Griffith’s “Richard III” and “Faust,” the world premier of “Mystery of Agnes Page” with Mary Wainwright, some scenery for Joe Jefferson to pad out his “Rip Van Winkle” production, a road show of “Said Pasha” for Jules Murray, and several good scenes for Mme. Modjeska for a play called “Mistress Betty.” Moses wrote that in addition to these productions, he also completed a “dozen smaller shows.” Keep in mind that these were just shows that he highlighted in his typed manuscript and in addition to those already mentioned in earlier installments, such as the outdoor spectacle of “The Storming of Vicksburg.” In addition to touring shows and Chicago projects, Moses and his crew also painted several stock scenery collections for theaters across the country.

Here are just a few snippets concerning some of the productions listed above as it hints at the personalities Moses was directly working with as he created the scenery. Of “Ben-Hur,” Moses wrote, that it “kept the crew busy at the old Waverly Theatre.” This likely was the pantomime version created for his hometown of Sterling, Illinois, that year.

His scenery for “Hamlet” would be some of the last that the well-known Italian actor Alexander Salvini would perform in front of in America. Alexander was the son of Tomas Salvini, another famed Italian actor. But the end of 1896, Alexander Salvini died from “consumption of the bowels” in Florence, Italy.

Alexander Salvini pictured in “Hamlet,” Chicago Tribune, 26 April, 1896, page 24
Advertisement for “The Mystery of Agnes Page” and “Hamlet,” both shows with scenery created by Thomas G. Moses in 1895.

John Griffith performed in Collie Cibber’s version of “Richard III.” Moses wrote that the production was “quite elaborate.” The Nebraska State Journal reported, “It will be staged complete, even to the minutest detail, the scenery having been painted by that eminent artesian, Mr. Thomas Moses, of Chicago from historical drawings” (17 August 1896, page 8). Other newspapers advertised “Richard III” as “the grandest scenic production ever given of the play” (Scranton Tribune. 13 November 1896, page 7).

John Griffith, “The Courier (15 August, 1895, page 3)”

Moses also painted the scenery for another Griffith production -Henry Irving’s version of “Faust.” Griffith played the role of Mephisto. The Butte Daily Post reported, “It takes a 60 foot car to carry the scenery, calcium and electric effects. The scenery is painted by Mr. Thomas Moses of Chicago, from a photograph of the original scenery painted for the Lyceum theatre of London, by Mr. Carven” (18 May 1895, page 8). In Washington, the Seattle Post-Intelligencer confirmed the replication of the an entire set, publishing, “The scenery of the production is especially fine. It was painted by Tom Moses from photographs of the original scenery in the Lyceum theater, London” (The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 4 May 1895, page 6).

Advertisement for “Richard III” and “Faust,” both productions painted by Thomas G. Moses and his crew in 1895.

Moses painted the settings for another touring show managed by Jules Murray -“Said Pasha.” This show toured with “Amorita,” and featured the Calhoun Opera Company. The two productions traveled with “forty-five people and a carload of scenery” painted by Moses and his crew (Weekly Journal Miner, 20 March 1895, page 3).

Moses also designed and painted the scenery for the production of “Mistress Betty; or the Career of Betty Singleton.” This was a play by Clyde Fitch starring the Polish actress Helena Modjeska (Helene Modrzejewski) that was never really successful on tour. It retold the tragic tale of an eighteenth-century London actress who married and alcoholic and is driven mad by his preference for another woman. It opened on October 15 at the Garrick Theatre in New York before going out on tour. Over the years, Moses created the scenery for many of Mojeska’s productions as she took quite a liking to him.

Advertisement for Helena Modjeska in “Mistress Betty.” Buffalo Commercial (29 Oct 1895, page 9)
Helena Modjeska

In addition to all of the touring shows and everything else going on at the Waverly during 1895, Moses designed and painted the settings for the world premiere of “The Mystery of Agnes Page” at the Schiller. It was an incredibly busy year for Moses. Miss Wainwright played the title role in this four-act production by A. E. Lancaster and Nathaniel Hartwig.

Marie Wainwright’s show painted by Thomas G. Moses. St. Louis Post Dispatch (19 April 1896, page 25 Moses)
Illustration of Mary Wainwright in “The Mystery of Agnes Page” Chicago Tribune (12 April 1896 page 42)

The Chicago Tribune advertised, “Special Scenery by Thos. G. Moses” for “The Mystery of Agnes Page” (5 April 1896, page 43). The painted settings depicted locations in both Virginia and New Orleans, La., “just prior to the rebellion.” The story hinges on the discovery that the heroine, Agnes Page, is of Ethiopian descent. She struggles with the decision of whether or not to reveal this secret to her lover as she is currently perceived as white. There are lots of surprises and twists in the plot as Agnes realizes her true parentage. The Inter Ocean reported, “The well-known scenic artist Thomas G. Moses has been employed during the past three weeks on the play” (5 April 1896, page 45). Another article noted, “The management is to be heartily praised for the admirable manner in which this new play was staged, the scenery being quite true to the South” (8 April 1896, page 7).

All of the above-mentioned productions advertised that Thomas Moses created the scenery. By 1895, his work was well known and included in advertisements to promote the productions.

To be continued…

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