| In 1930-31 a number of ARTICLES appeared announcing that "the Tom Show was dead." This wasn't true. In 1933 New York's Players' Club staged a major revival, which was soon touring the country, and I have evidence of productions of the Tom Show in small town America as late as the 1950s. But it is true enough to have given me an end date for the UTC archive, and true enough to raise the question of what cultural forces determine unpopularity as well as popularity.|
The Tom Show succumbed to a number of factors, including the rise of the motion picture. Beginning in the 1910s, many of the "opera houses" that Tommers played in were converting to "movie theaters" — if you're interested in this process you can begin to study it in the 1915 PAPERS OF THE HARMOUNT COMPANY, a small Ohio-based, family-run UTC Company that struggled to compete with the new technology of the movies. And in their early years the American movie industry made extensive use of Stowe's story, as we'll see.
But there's also good reason to think that within a couple decades after the 20th century began, UTC lost much of its ideological status. The original readers of the novel and audiences at the plays laughed as well as cried, but they were laughing with Stowe's or Aiken's or Conway's comic characters and scenes. Blackface minstrelsy mounted burlesques of UTC almost as quickly as the melodramatic versions took the stage, but those were enacted in the context that made Shakespeare and just about every other well-known text fodder for burlesque. At some point, however, UTC itself became laughable — at least to a large segment of American culture. By the 1920s, in a different "post-war" environment than the 1870s, the most popular versions of the story were closer to farce than tragedy. That's the topic for today's class.
This short playlet may be the first version to make a joke about Eva's ascension — it wouldn't be the last. If you want to see 3 other burlesques, from 1874 - 1922, CLICK HERE. If you'd like to see how movies made fun of Eva's ascension, check out UNCLE TOM'S GAL (a silent from 1925), the Little Rascals' UNCLE TOM'S UNCLE (also silent, 1926) and Abbot and Costello's NAUGHTY NINETIES (1945). You'll have to scroll a ways down the page for this last clip, and you'll want to be on a good internet connection for all of them.
This is the most popular, and most interesting, of the Twenties' re-presentations of Stowe's story. Actually the Duncans enacted Topsy (Rosetta Duncan) and Eva (Vivian) for long after the 1920s ended — they were still playing those parts in nightclubs in Illinois in the 1950s, when I was growing up nearby (though my parents never took me to any nightclubs, so I missed my only chance to connect firsthand with the story we're trying to tell in the archive). You heard them in the parts on two songs a couple weeks ago. For today's class I'm asking you to look at excerpts from both the Duncans' long-running theatrical version of Topsy and Eva, and clips from their much less successful 1927 movie, also called Topsy and Eva. Start by reading the Duncans homepage off the link above, then read the following items relating to the play:
Charlotte Cushing's script (1923) read Act I
Theatrical Program (Chicago, 1924)
Play Review San Francisco Examiner 9 July 1923
Play Review Chicago Daily News 31 December 1923
Publicity Article Liberty Magazine 26 July 1924
Play Review Theatre Magazine March 1925
Play Review Boston Globe 12 May 1925
Eliza's Dancing Boston Advertiser 12 May 1925
Play Article Rocky Mountain News 1 April 1926
Play Program (1942)
Play Review Los Angeles Times (28 October 1942)
The full-length movie the sisters made in 1927 was a mistake that the popularity of their live performances as Stowe's characters tempted them to make. But bad art, even bad entertainment, can be a good source of cultural history. So read the T & E homepage at the link above, then making sure you're on a fast internet connection, watch the clips from the movie at
then read the following items:
Opening Night Program (16 June 1927)
Play|Movie Review Los Angeles Examiner (17 June 1927)
Play|Movie Review Variety (22 June 1927)
Play|Movie Review New York Tribune (9 August 1927)