3/19 — The Tom Show (1)

  In 1876 a play review in The New York Times said with some amazement that Uncle Tom's Cabin "has again become the fashion." Just as the novel probably remained in print from the late 1850s through the major new edition that Houghton Mifflin brought out in 1888, there were probably few months between the Civil War and the mid-1870s that didn't include a production of the story on a stage somewhere in the U.S. But the popularity of Stowe's story came in waves, and the decade after the War ended seems to have been one of the deeper troughs in that pattern.
  On the other hand, what happened in the mid-1870s to the novel as a theatrical event is one of the most extraordinary success stories in the history of pop culture. That's when the "Tom Show" was born, and began its run of hundreds of thousands of performances across the country over at least the next 3 decades.
  What the "Tom Show" was, and what it shows us about American culture, is what we'll spend the next two weeks exploring. One way to appreciate the scale of the phenomenon is to look at the way it's displayed on the archives'
ITINERARIES PAGE. Start with the five maps under the link UTC on the American stage in the 1870s and then take at least a quick look through the table of Howards' UTC Performances, 1852 - 1887you don't have to spend too much time with this second item, but since the Howards performed play both before and after war, and as both a "moral reform drama" and a "Tom Show," these two pages are good ways to get overview. The rest of the readings for today's class are scripts of various versions of the play:

  • G. C. Howard's 1875 script
        This is the Aiken text, as "perfected" by the man who was the first Eva's father, the most famous Topsy's husband, &c. You'll recognize, and be able to skim, pieces of Aiken's original dramatization, but pay close attention to the changes Howard introduces.

  • G. P. Rowe's 1878 script
        This was written specifically for Jarrett & Palmer's production of the play. Read as much as you want, but read at least the following scenes: ACT I, SCENES 2 & 4; ACT III, SCENES 2 & 4; ACT IV, SCENES 2 & 3.

  • Promptbook, c. 1900
        The show this promptbook was prepared for uses the Aikens text, but turns it into 7 acts, and at the same time into a "Tom Show." Again, you can read it all if you want, but for class read at least these scenes: ACT VI, all, i.e. SCENES 1-3; ACT VII, SCENE 5.

  • Brady's 1901 script
        This was the $20,000 production that proved Uncle Tom's Cabin could keep its hold on the American imagination into the 20th century. Read at least ACT II, SCENE 3; ACT III, SCENE 2; ACT IV, SCENE 1; and ACT V, SCENE 3.

  • OPTIONAL: If you want more background on the story of Stowe's story onstage, here are three articles about that from inside the period:
        The Clipper's 1877 series on the "Early Days" of UTC:
                First Part
        Tom Shows (1925)
        Trouping with Uncle Tom (1928)

  • OPTIONAL: As I said in class one day, I've had almost no luck finding access to what African Americans thought about the dramatic versions of Stowe's novel. Here's the only account I've found — it comes at the end of Nat Love's chapter on growing up enslaved:
        Life of Nat Love (1907)

  • OPTIONAL: As you could see from the maps you started with, UTC was performed south of Mason-Dixon, though much less frequently than north of that line. If you're curious what "the South" thought about the play in its post bellum incarnations, here are some representative southern comments on it:
        [Need to combat UTC]   Confederate Veteran   (May 1893)
        [UTC Cancelled in Georgia]   Washington Post   (12 February 1895)
        UTC Objected to in Ky.   Confederate Veteran   (January 1902)
        Sam Sanford, the Original UT   Brooklyn Eagle   (1904)