Charles Frohman: Manager and Man

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Charles Frohman:

By James M. Barrie

The man who never broke his word. There was a great deal more to him, but every one in any land who has had dealings with Charles Frohman will sign that.

I would rather say a word of the qualities that to his friends were his great adornment than about his colossal enterprises or the energy with which he heaved them into being; his energy that was like a force of nature, so that if he had ever "retired" from the work he loved (a thing incredible) companies might have been formed, in the land so skilful at turning energy to practical account, for exploiting the vitality of this Niagara of a man. They could have lit a city with it.

He loved his schemes. They were a succession of many-colored romances to him, and were issued to the world not without the accompaniment of the drum, but you would never find him saying anything of himself. He pushed them in front of him, always taking care that they were big enough to hide him. When they were able to stand alone he stole out in the dark to have a look at them, and then if unobserved his bosom swelled. I have never known any one more modest and no one quite so shy. Many actors have played for him for years and never spoken to him, have perhaps seen him dart up a side street because they were approaching. They may not have known that it was sheer shyness, but it was. I have seen him ordered out of his own theater by subordinates who did not know him, and he went cheerfully away. "Good men, these; they know their business," was all his comment. Afterward he was shy of going back lest they should apologize.

At one time he had several theaters here and was renting others, the while he had I know not how many in America; he was not always sure how many himself. Latterly the great competition at home left him no time to look after more than one in London. But only one anywhere seemed a little absurd to him. He once contemplated having a few theaters in Paris, but on discovering that French law forbids your having more than one he gave up the scheme in disgust.

A sense of humor sat with him through every vicissitude like a faithful consort.

"How is it going?" a French author cabled to him on the first night of a new play.

"It has gone," he genially cabled back.

Of a Scotch play of my own that he was about to produce in New York, I asked him what the Scotch would be like.

"You wouldn't know it was Scotch," he replied, "but the American public will know."

He was very dogged. I had only one quarrel with him, but it lasted all the sixteen years I knew him. He wanted me to be a playwright and I wanted to be a novelist. All those years I fought him on that. He always won, but not because of his doggedness; only because he was so lovable that one had to do as he wanted. He also threatened, if I stopped, to reproduce the old plays and print my name in large electric letters over the entrance of the theater.

A very distinguished actress under his management wanted to produce a play of mine of which he had no high opinion....