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George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion

George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion opened in July 1937 at the Theatre of the Four Seasons in Roslyn, New York. The play, staged by Charles Hopkins, was part of the Four Seasons’ repertory, which included Diff’rent by Eugene O’Neill, Coriolanus by William Shakespeare (1564–1616), and Captain Jinx of the Horse Marines by Clyde Fitch (1865–1909). Also included in the lineup was Ernest Toller’s No More Peace, a sardonic fantasy set in Heaven and on Earth complete with a telephone line to Hell, which had premiered in London a year prior to its Roslyn opening, indicative of the FTP’s interest in new and noteworthy theater. While the FTP generally focused on bringing high-quality theater at an affordable price to those who might not have the opportunity to view such productions, the quality of its performances also drew affluent patrons, such as those shown here, who most likely could have afforded a trip to a Broadway theater.

Scene from Pygmalion, 1937. Photograph. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (053.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0053

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Federal Theatre Patrons

George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion opened in July 1937 at the Theatre of the Four Seasons in Roslyn, New York. The play, staged by Charles Hopkins, was part of the Four Seasons’ repertory, which included Diff’rent by Eugene O’Neill, Coriolanus by William Shakespeare (1564–1616), and Captain Jinx of the Horse Marines by Clyde Fitch (1865–1909). Also included in the lineup was Ernest Toller’s No More Peace, a sardonic fantasy set in Heaven and on Earth complete with a telephone line to Hell, which had premiered in London a year prior to its Roslyn opening, indicative of the FTP’s interest in new and noteworthy theater. While the FTP generally focused on bringing high-quality theater at an affordable price to those who might not have the opportunity to view such productions, the quality of its performances also drew affluent patrons, such as those shown here, who most likely could have afforded a trip to a Broadway theater.

Theatre of the Four Seasons theater goers, July 30, 1937. Photograph. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (055.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0055

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Arthur Miller and the Federal Theatre Project

In 1936, while still in college, Arthur Miller (1915–2005) penned his first play, No Villian, which won the prestigious Hopwood Prize. The following year, Miller created a rewrite of the play entitled They Too Arise, which earned him a $1,250 prize from New York’s Theatre Guild. Miller submitted the script to the FTP for consideration, and the play readers’ reports were almost wholly negative: “an unbearably dull play” states the play reader report shown here. The FTP gave one performance of the play on October 23, 1937, at a Jewish Community Center in Detroit. In 1938, after graduating from college, Miller joined the FTP as a writer of radio plays and scripts. He stayed with the program until it came to its end, in spite of a more lucrative job offer from Twentieth Century-Fox in Hollywood.

Arthur Miller. They Too Arise, 1937. Typescript. Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (050.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0050

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“An unbearably dull play”

In 1936, while still in college, Arthur Miller (1915–2005) penned his first play, No Villian, which won the prestigious Hopwood Prize. The following year, Miller created a rewrite of the play entitled They Too Arise, which earned him a $1,250 prize from New York’s Theatre Guild. Miller submitted the script to the FTP for consideration, and the play readers’ reports were almost wholly negative: “an unbearably dull play” states the play reader report shown here. The FTP gave one performance of the play on October 23, 1937, at a Jewish Community Center in Detroit. In 1938, after graduating from college, Miller joined the FTP as a writer of radio plays and scripts. He stayed with the program until it came to its end, in spite of a more lucrative job offer from Twentieth Century-Fox in Hollywood.

John Rimassa. Play reader report, 1937. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (052.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0052

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Eugene O’Neill and the Federal Theatre Project

Eugene O’Neill (1888–1953) is said to have been particularly taken with a puppet production of his The Emperor Jones in Los Angeles staged by Ralph Chessé, head of the FTP’s Marionette Unit. He was so impressed with the production, as well as with the scope of the FTP’s nationwide program, that he released his plays to the project at a royalty rate of fifty dollars per week. As a result, 14 of his plays, totaling 658 performances, were performed in 27 cities and towns. Ah, Wilderness! was his most popular FTP play, with productions staged in nine cities, which toured to twenty urban and rural locations.

Marquee for Ah Wilderness! Rialto Theatre, Des Moines, Iowa, 1937. Photograph. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (060.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0060

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Ah Wilderness! Actors on Stage

Eugene O’Neill (1888–1953) is said to have been particularly taken with a puppet production of his The Emperor Jones in Los Angeles staged by Ralph Chessé, head of the FTP’s Marionette Unit. He was so impressed with the production, as well as with the scope of the FTP’s nationwide program, that he released his plays to the project at a royalty rate of fifty dollars per week. As a result, 14 of his plays, totaling 658 performances, were performed in 27 cities and towns. Ah, Wilderness! was his most popular FTP play, with productions staged in nine cities, which toured to twenty urban and rural locations.

Scene from Ah Wilderness! 1937. Photograph. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (061.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0061

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The Cradle Will Rock

The Cradle Will Rock is one of the most famous of the Federal Theatre Project productions. Its fame is based as much on the circumstances having to do with its aborted FTP opening as with the play itself, now considered an American music theater classic. The young Marc Blitzstein (1905–1964) wrote and composed the music for Cradle, which was one of the four FTP productions directed by the even-younger Orson Welles. Its subject was the power of labor unions to achieve positive ends for their members through use of the strike. It was scheduled to open on June 16, 1937, but an administrative order issued on June 12 dictated that any production scheduled to open before July 1 was to be postponed. The production never formally opened but made a last minute—now legendary—move to a non-FTP theater, the audience in tow. Blitzstein played a piano and intended to enact all roles, only to be joined by cast members who acted their roles from their seats in the theater auditorium. The production has since been revived and was the basis for the same-named film by Tim Robbins in 1999.

Rehearsal for The Cradle Will Rock, 1937. Photograph. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (066.00.00)
Digital ID # ftp0066

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It Can’t Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis

Sinclair Lewis (1885–1951), the first American writer to win the Nobel Prize in Literature, chose the Federal Theatre Project to stage It Can’t Happen Here—in spite of commercial offers from Broadway—because of the widespread national audience that would view his play. On October 27, 1936, twenty-two separate productions of the play opened simultaneously in eighteen cities. A Negro Unit performed the play in Seattle, there was a Yiddish version in New York City, and a production in Spanish in Tampa, Florida. After the initial opening, nine units toured the play, and nearly 500 thousand people saw It Can’t Happen Here during its run.

It Can’t Happen Here, 1936. Silkscreen poster. Federal Theatre Project Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (076.00.00)
Digital I D

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