Rapprochement: The Workers' Musical of the Deep Depression, 1933-1935
The Workers' Laboratory Theatre and the Prolet-Buehne assumed joint editorship of Workers Theatre magazine in 1931. The magazine called for a national conference and Spartakiade to be held in New York in April 1932; fifty-three troupes from around the country sent delegates to this conference and many presented plays. The delegates voted to form a new association, the League of Workers' Theatres, which assumed the editorship of the magazine. [Please note: clicking on an endnote in the text will take you to the referenced note. To return to your spot, click your browser's "Back" button.] The workers' theatre movement then became centralized with more open channels of communication and gradually became less zealously pro-Communist and more vehemently anti-fascist. This second period, between 1933 and 1935, was the most active for American workers' theatres.
But there was a gradual shift away from agit-prop toward more conventional forms of theatre. The Theatre Union, formed in 1933, was the first truly professional workers' theatre trying to be competitive with commercial theatre at low prices. Its editorial board included four young playwrights--Michael Blankfort, Albert Maltz, Paul Peters, and George Sklar--along with others; it was specifically not an agitprop theatre but a united front theatre organized to produce plays that militant workers and middle-class sympathizers could support. While refusing to be identified with the Communist party or with the League of Workers' Theatres, the members of the board made little effort to conceal their Communist sympathies. Perhaps most successful at reaching its intended audience, it used the Broadway promotion methods of theatre parties and subscription tickets to cater to large union audiences. The Theatre Union was not the only left-wing theatre to attempt full-length plays, however. Earlier in 1932, Nathaniel Buchwald of the Artef had attempted to defend the Artef's use of full-length plays produced in an orthodox manner: they can be useful, he claimed, but usually the resources of workers' theatres become drained by such activity; the Artef's work proves to many that art and propaganda can go hand in hand.
This trend toward commercial, "bourgeois" theatre was apparently filling a need, as Workers Theatre announced in 1933 that it would change its name the next year to New Theatre to signify its developing role as a mouthpiece for all "new theatres"--not only left-wing theatres, but also bourgeois art theatres that were recognized as having something valid to say to society. Furthermore, by the summer of 1933, the national executive committee of the League of Workers' Theatres suggested a policy change that would end sectarianism at least enough to make the working-class view acceptable to those "new theatres." The success of that change may be seen in the second national League of Workers' Theatres conference in Chicago in April of 1934, which 1500 people from 400 groups attended. However, only thirty affiliated groups had paid their dues by June 1934, and many groups had yet no permanent theatres.
By 1935, after the League of Workers' Theatres had been renamed the New Theatre League, it began appealing more to liberal and middle-class views, and it helped to lead church, college, and labor union groups. Furthermore, numerous theatres around the country moved into stationary quarters and toward professional status: Los Angeles's Rebel Players, the New Theatre of Hollywood, the Workers Theatre of Chicago, the New Theatre Union of Detroit, the Boston New Theatre Players, the Philadelphia New Theatre, the Contemporary Theatre of Los Angeles, the New Theatre of Washington, D.C., the Red Dust Players of Oklahoma, the Repertory Group of Chicago, the Theatre Alliance of Hollywood, Detroit's Contemporary Theatre, the Los Angeles Contemporary Theatre, the Workers' Dramatic Society of Gary, Indiana, the Chicago Blue Blouses, the Washington New Theatre Group, the New Theatre Union of Detroit, and the New Haven Unity Theatre.
Even before the League of Workers' Theatres changed its name to the New Theatre League, the title of its publication, Workers Theatre magazine, was changed to New Theatre for the September-October issue of 1933, which then resumed publication under that name beginning in January 1934. That year, New Theatre and the League of Workers' Theatres held "New Theatre Nights," presenting a variety of one-act proletarian plays. Its first New Theatre Night was in May 1934, and in January of 1935, the soon-to-be-called New Theatre League presented Clifford Odets's Waiting for Lefty, which became the darling of the workers' theatre movement. But by then, the "Popular Front" policy, which would not be formally announced by the International Union of Workers' Theatres until August 1935, had already begun affecting the workers' theatre movement. The "popular front" policy called for cooperation with liberal democracies to fight fascism around the world. The policies of the Third International (Comintern) Communist Party were shifting.
The Workers' Laboratory Theatre formed its Shock Troupe in 1934, which still performed agit-prop theatre; but the Neue Theater Gruppe (a continuation of the Prolet-Buehne) began scaling down its use of agitprop in favor of anti-fascist "political cabaret." The workers' theatre movement was gradually placing a greater premium on plays with stronger dramatic structure than agit-prop. According to an appeal for scripts in the September 1934 issue of New Theatre, "cliché and mechanical statement" no longer belongs in workers' theatre." Whereas the "prevailing monotony" seems to assume that workers have no life outside of the workplace, the editorial continues, "this theatre calls for characters that breathe, in situations that are real." A growing discontent had been brewing about the content and form of most agit-prop plays. In the U.S.S.R., Soviet policy toward art and literature changed in 1932 when the Russian Association of Proletarian Writers was liquidated and the Union of Soviet Writers was formed. This new organization advocated Socialist Realism, a type of literature requiring works of high artistic significance dealing with the heroic struggle of the proletariat and of the victory of socialism. The gradual movement toward socialist realism had already begun in the U.S. before information about Soviet doctrine crossed the seas. American workers' theatres had already decided to reconsider realism as a valuable means to persuade and agitate, in part because of the weak dramatic structure of most agit-prop plays. By 1935 agit-prop disappeared from New York's theatres and gradually from the New Theatre League's affiliates around the country.
In this second period of the workers' theatre movement, the shift in attitude concerning the proper form and the proper policy of workers' theatre was led in part by a change in Comintern policy, in part by American leftists' increased perception of a fascist totalitarian threat coming from Europe, and in part by the perceived failure of workers' theatre to find a large audience. The workers' theatre movement had been until then urging a workers' revolution, but changed its policy to a fierce anti-fascism. Its production styles changed also, from "agit-prop" to "socialist realism." The workers' musical was little appreciated by audiences of workers, by workers' theatres themselves, and by those in commercial theatre, until workers' theatres attempted to adopt techniques of the commercial theatre. In an attempt to reach a larger audience committed not so much to Communist doctrine as to broader leftist concerns, the workers' theatre movement began to adopt techniques of the mainstream theatre. Spokesman Ben Blake in 1934 indicated the workers' theatre's shift in attitude about the musical form: he noted that the Broadway musical had become increasingly social in topic and would "soon blossom into positive reactionary force against the labor movement"; in an earlier review of Broadway's Let 'Em Eat Cake he claimed that the revolutionary theatre could learn much from that musical's propaganda techniques.
With Workers Theatre magazine changing its name to New Theatre in 1933, its political focus to the popular front, and its artistic focus to socialist realism, workers' theatre became more interested in the techniques of the bourgeois theatre. This included interest in the musical as a form useful for propaganda, if only because the bourgeois theatre had had such success with it. Stephen Karnot, one of the directors of the Workers' Laboratory Theatre, suggested that the revue was more flexible and vaudeville more popular as means of political expression, since they were familiar to Americans. The revue and musical comedy were good for broad surveys of political figures and issues, but not as effective as straight plays for the expression of intense psychological conflicts of individuals. Calls for scripts in both 1933 and 1934 also suggest that the workers' theatre had recognized the importance of the musical: in 1933, Workers Theatre offered literature about Marxism and Russia as its prize for the best short theatre piece, including drama, vaudeville, revue, and musical comedy; by 1934, New Theatre's contest offered fifty dollars for the winning script, and specifically included vaudeville and musicals as types of plays desired.
A few workers' theatres dallied with musicals. For instance, the Yugoslav Players did "We are the Builders," a play with music; the San Francisco Blue Blouses performed "The Blunders and Follies of 1933," a successful musical revue; the Jack London Theatre of Newark had a variety of skits and songs in its repertoire; and Al Saxe urged workers' theatres to emulate the Workers' Laboratory Theatre's use of bourgeois forms--such as the musical skit--as they take theatre to the workers. However, the musical form was not used as much as some would have liked. For instance, Harry Elion said that the performances given by various groups at 1933's Spartakiade had a notable lack of music, made more obvious by one group's strongly musical performance, and that the performance of Sell-Out by the Workers' Laboratory Theatre would have been "tremendously more effective with music." Similarly, Oscar Saul reviewed the New Theatre Night held by the John Reed Club of Philadelphia in 1934, and suggested that they round out their repertory with more variety of things like musical political satires. The call became stronger by 1935: Mark Marvin, an editor of New Theatre, claimed that some of the failure of mobile workers' theatres to gain popularity came from their inability to assimilate native vaudeville, folk lore, and humor, "abased as it is." He noted attempts to use native vaudeville and humor in Charity, House of Agriculture (a skit and song that came from Worlds Fair), and Parade, but insisted that more is needed. And Jerome Moross, who had written music for Parade, sponsored by the Theatre Guild in 1935, claimed that the musical theatre can be "an invaluable bulwark against fascism" because it attracts larger audiences than straight dramas, and that the musical revue should be returned to the workers. However, he notes, Charity and Strike Me Red (a musical for children by Henry Alan Potamkin) were both immature, being "too occupied with re-creating a workers' musical theatre to rise above well-worn formulae."
Despite calls for workers' musicals, response was nonetheless slim. For instance, the Theatre Union did no musicals at all, rejecting Parade in favor of Brecht's Mother, even though Parade had been written by members of the Theatre Union; the Group Theatre did only one musical, Johnny Johnson, and that was not until 1936; and the Theatre Collective, an offshoot of the Workers' Laboratory Theatre established to produce agitational drama on a non-profit basis in New York but outside of the Broadway circle, did only three productions from 1932 to 1934, none of which was a musical. Therefore, few scripts to musicals of the workers' theatre movement exist from this period; I have access to only three. I have some lyrics to songs from Worlds Fair that were printed in New Theatre magazine, a song and some secondary information about Who's Got the Baloney, and for Parade I possess a photocopy of a script found at Lincoln Center, as well as programs and other secondary information.
Production History and Analysis
The Workers' Musical of the Deep Depression, 1932-1935
July 30, 1933
Various authors and composers, performed by the Workers' Laboratory Theatre for the Daily Worker picnic at Pleasant Bay Park.
The script for this show does not exist. I have partially reconstructed this show, based on contemporaneous secondary sources, principally from an article in New Theatre magazine.
The September-October 1933 issue of New Theatre contains an article by Betty Weinstein called "World Fair," the last three pages of which contain some lyrics from Worlds Fair. Weinstein said that the show was performed by the Theatre of Action of the Workers' Laboratory Theatre, and it was a "tremendous improvement" over the crude "political side-show" of the previous year, which had been "rigged up in one week" but was nonetheless "something new in workers' entertainment and propaganda." The 1933 show, however, was planned months in advance, primarily by committees in the troupe, she noted, and rehearsals lasted for two weeks before the presentation. Worlds Fair featured a big brass band, a large tent, a clown, a "freakishly dressed person in a college cap," and barkers; picnickers were assailed to enter the big tent for only ten cents to see the Greatest Show on Earth. Once inside, the audience was treated to a number of skits and songs characterized by satiric cartoon-like characters, mocking lyrics, and rousing militancy.
Nathaniel Buchwald, in the January 1934 issue of New Theatre, said that the comedy and the staging of this show and of Who's Got the Baloney were enhanced by satire and broad comedy: they "have in them something of the native brand of popular theatre, the wise-crack, the doggerel rhyme, the current rage in slangy expression and the knock-about farce and horseplay." These "lowbrow" forms are framed in familiar and racy forms, such as the show booth with the barker, the harmony quartet, the line chorus, the "small-time" vocal solo "with all its mannerisms and absurdity." Borrowing tunes from the Farmer Grey variety and from Gilbert and Sullivan, he commented, the librettists fit both the rhythmic pattern of the music and the political message. Buchwald saw excerpts from the show performed by the Theatre of Action under the auspices of the Theatre Club of the Workers' Laboratory Theatre at City College; he referred to the NRA skit as "House of Cards." The show was probably performed a number of times: the last issue of Workers Theatre noted that the show was to be performed at Daily Worker picnics beginning July 30.
As a reflection of and stimulus to the leftist movement in general, Worlds Fair assumed a hard-line Communist stance in its satire of the National Recovery Administration (NRA), an act passed in June 1933 attempting to create a partnership among business, labor, consumers, and government to attack problems of the depression. The leftist movement regarded the NRA as an ineffective emergency measure, and it soon ended up becoming a failure--prices increased more rapidly than wages, for instance--and the act was found unconstitutional by the Supreme Court in 1935. However valuable an attempt the NRA was, the Communist left during this part of the thirties regarded Roosevelt and his New Deal as social fascist and refused to grant that the program may have had some validity. The skit entitled "The Rogues Gallery" shows characters singing about the part they played in the formation of the NRA; in the background was a large money bag on which was painted the bodies of Labor Secretary Frances Perkins (the nation's first female cabinet member), socialist Norman Thomas, labor leader Bill Green, and NRA director General Hugh S. Johnson (who also designed the NRA's Blue Eagle symbol), with holes cut out for the heads and arms of the performers. The "House of Culture" skit ridiculed the American press, education, and bourgeois life-styles. And of course unemployment and the power of mass action through Unemployed Councils shines through the "House of Industry" skit, which depicted the collusion between industry bosses and police as workers are denied jobs. The workers demand to have jobs, claiming that they are the ones who do all the work for the goods that capitalists enjoy; they reopen the closed factory and manage it themselves--"for Service not for Profit." Weinstein notes that the audience actually participated in this skit; even though some people were planted in the audience to yell wise-cracks at the bosses, many audience members hurled their own epithets.
The longest skit included a number of songs. "House of Morgan" opened at the stock exchange with J.P. Morgan and his company manipulating it from above. Performers describe the stock market crash and capitalists' response to it. New York's Mayor O'Brien and the bankers sing of how they will survive the crash by reducing relief benefits and collecting more taxes. Roosevelt and his Brain Trust come up with the Agricultural Adjustment Act (AAA) to deal with the crisis. The AAA, passed in May 1933, was an object of ridicule satirized in "Song of the Brain Trust" in the "House of Morgan" skit and also in "Song of the Landowners and Bankers" in the final skit, "House of Agriculture." Roosevelt's Brain Trust, the group of people he gathered around him to help solve the nation's economic troubles, had chanced upon a plan that workers felt was counter-productive: farmers killed their stock and plowed up their crops instead of marketing them. To the tune of "Old MacDonald," the performers remind the audience of the violence that had often been perpetrated against workers who defied New Deal measures. This finale is directly agitprop, calling for the audience to join together to crush their oppressors. Weinstein claims that this conclusion to the show brought rounds of applause from the audience.
As a reflection of and stimulus to the workers' theatre movement, Worlds Fair responded to two calls at once--for agitational mobile theatre and for stationary theatre using techniques from the mainstream theatre, such as the musical. The appearance of the skits in the first issue of the newly-named New Theatre magazine suggests that the publication, while now assuming "a broader conception of the revolutionary workers' theatre as the historical successor of the bourgeois theatre" and hoping to appeal not only to workers' theatres but to all "new theatres" that are developing, was still dedicated to using theatre in the revolutionary class struggle. Worlds Fair was highly touted by writers in New Theatre magazine as an important step in assimilating native American forms--such as the musical comedy and satire--into workers' theatre productions. Not only did Buchwald feel that the show was an important step in abandoning the "barren" clichés of agit-prop, but Al Saxe also advocated that other theatres follow the lead of Worlds Fair. Worlds Fair helped both the workers' theatre and the mainstream theatre realize the potential for politically-oriented musical entertainment: experiments would be made soon with the musical form in the workers' theatre, and the Theatre Guild would, within two years, attempt to use the left-wing musical revue form on Broadway with Parade.
Worlds Fair is organized both thematically and ritualistically. The skits and songs each relate to concerns of the left-wing during the thirties: poverty, unemployment, capitalist oppression and dominance, the violence aimed at those who defy the bosses, the ineffectiveness of New Deal measures such as the AAA and the NRA, the "Brain Trust" of Roosevelt's administration, the economic "reforms" of New York's Mayor O'Brien, and the "bread and circuses" approach demonstrated by Congress's repeal of prohibition. The production apparently aroused members of the audience to join in the action--hurling epithets at the boss and jeering the capitalists--and to praise the show with much applause.
The characters in Worlds Fair are all stereotypes, from J.P. Morgan sitting on top of the stock exchange, to the bankers, to O'Brien, to Roosevelt and his scheme to find out who owns the brains that will run the country. Even the farmers and workers are stereotyped, but in a way that could increase the confidence and esteem of the worker audience: defiant and resolved to stand up for their rights against all odds, the proletarians in the show are prepared for violence, determined, and righteous.
The setting of Worlds Fair seems to be unimportant, except for the fact that Mayor O'Brien of New York City is ridiculed. Had the show been performed anywhere else (I have no indication that the show was performed any place else by any other groups), the reference to O'Brien would likely have been changed. Otherwise, the setting is non-specific: all the other events depicted in the show were occurring all around the United States--labor strife, farmer struggles, higher taxes, lower wages--and not just in New York. The finale of the show ensures that all segments of American working society are addressed: "For workers in cities and ships and farms/ Together will crush you all."
As it reflects elements of a social movement, Worlds Fair attempts to encourage group participation by satirical ridicule and vilification of capitalist enemies who are depicted as both powerful and vulnerable. The capitalists, with Roosevelt and his brain trust and his bankers and his big business interests, have the power of force behind them--blackjacks and gas attacks--but the workers will no longer be intimidated into subservience. The call for mass action appears again in this show; the only way for the workers to defeat their enemies is through unified action. The type of propaganda in Worlds Fair is primarily agitative, with its purpose to accuse and to censure. Revolutionary protest seemed to be the most pervasive, individuality inappropriate if the workers were to succeed.
Worlds Fair reconstructs history and current events for the audience in order to establish a sense of workers' purpose and power, thus encouraging a feeling of communitas in the audience. The symbols of capitalism--Roosevelt, O'Brien, Morgan, and all the bankers--contrast with the symbols of justice--the farmers and workers--who will prevail in the end, the show seems to say. Worlds Fair fulfilled a stabilizing and revitalizing function for the workers movement, allowing them to feel that they could overcome capitalist oppression if they united in mass action.
The lyrics to Worlds Fair are predominantly humorous, with a biting satire pointed at the bourgeoisie and capitalist regime in the United States. Topical in subject, the lyrics deal with matters affecting all the members of the audience--the repeal of prohibition, hasty and ill-conceived New Deal reforms, capitalist dominance, political corruption--using tunes that the audience is already familiar with.
Broad in scope and outlining many complaints the workers' movement had with American society, Worlds Fair would be one of the first steps that the Workers' Laboratory Theatre would take to develop the workers' musical; in their next musical show, performed on the streets of New York, their focus would be on one particular person--Fiorello La Guardia--rather than taking pot shots at every leftist gripe, as Worlds Fair appears to have done.
Who's Got the Baloney?
Book and lyrics by Jack Shapiro; music by Ruth Burke
The script for this show does not exist. I have partially reconstructed this show, based on contemporaneous secondary sources, and from an interview of Earl Robinson.
Performed by the Workers' Laboratory Theatre, Who's Got the Baloney? ridiculed the New York municipal elections; the playlet revealed candidates from the major parties "as chips off the same political block" in a show that Jay Williams felt was closer to the kind of thing, as was Charity, that American audiences enjoyed more than simple agitprop. The play's name was changed to La Guardia's Got the Baloney after La Guardia's election as mayor. The few available lyrics to Who's Got the Baloney? can be found in Appendix II.
Buchwald saw the show at a presentation under the auspices of the New York section of the League of Workers' Theatres at the New School for Social Research. He complained that the socialist candidate, Solomon, was given the same kinds of words to say as O'Brien, McKee, and La Guardia, the other major party candidates, and "if anything does distinguish the Socialist party politicians from their bourgeois colleagues, it is their lingo." Buchwald's criticism suggested the splits in leftist response when radical theatre lumped socialists with other mainstream political parties, all of whom have "inadequate" responses to the crisis as they sing together:
In our little voting machine
We go up, up, up like a feather.
In our little voting machine
We will all be elected together.
Buchwald also complained that the political stance of the show was not clear enough: in order to illustrate literally the workers' refusal to "take the baloney," the writers used "an altogether illogical device of the sausage being passed from one candidate to the other until it reaches the balking workers' candidate." But these flaws aside, Who's Got the Baloney? was politically effective and highly entertaining, according to Buchwald; the Workers' Laboratory Theatre has recognized the value and acquired the ability of presenting its plays in the vernacular and in an entertaining manner.
Earl Robinson says that the version before the election, called Who's Got the Baloney?, was basically no different from the show after the election, La Guardia's Got the Baloney, and that the show "was more of a complete musical review" than Charity, containing songs and skits satirizing politics, particularly La Guardia. "This was before La Guardia was known as a liberal mayor" whom the left wing eventually accepted, "but at that time we weren't accepting anybody." Robinson thinks a song called "I'm No Communist," written by Jack Shapiro and Ruth Burke, "would grace any musical about that period": it has La Guardia defending himself against attacks the other actors make, who play various city people and "accuse him of being a red because they saw him shaking hands with Benjamin of the Unemployed Council, who was a known Communist." The song combines Italian opera, Gilbert and Sullivan-like patter, and jazz, and has La Guardia sing of how his Fusion Party--which was organized by La Guardia to go between the Republicans and Democrats and which he calls "a snare, a delusion"--will help him get elected. Once elected, he sings, things will be the same: "the rich will get the interest/ And the poor will get the tax."
In his recent autobiography, Elia Kazan mentions the "successful and lively short play about La Guardia," in which the mayor was "enthusiastically praised" by the Theatre of Action. He saw the show again some time later, "and there had been a complete turnaround." La Guardia was now being attacked by ridicule: he recalls the line, "What is Fusion, a snare and a delusion," and he notes that the Theatre of Action had previously backed the Fusion party. "This switch had happened, as far as I knew, without a collective reconsideration. All political decisions were in the hands of three actors" of the Workers' Laboratory Theatre. He found out that the change was due to the new position of the Communist party regarding La Guardia, and had been ordered by V. J. Jerome, the party's artistic guide. The Theatre of Action had simply followed orders, according to Kazan: "I didn't think much of the intelligence of the actor members of this organization, but I had thought their spirits independent." His attitude cooled toward the organization and he went back uptown. However, Robinson thinks that Kazan is mistaken about the show changing its view of La Guardia: the Communists, and the Workers' Laboratory Theatre/Shock Troupe, had always been against La Guardia, he says, and the party continued to be so until the end of World War Two.
As a reflection of and stimulus to the leftist movement in general, Who's Got the Baloney?, followed and encouraged the lumping together of all non-Communist candidates. The socialist candidate was no better than any other major party candidate, and even La Guardia's attempts to fuse the Republicans and Democrats was seen as a move to deceive the voters, a typically duplicitous act of the "bourgeoisie." La Guardia's attempts to disconnect himself from anything Communist is also shown as a desperate act by someone fearful of political fallout.
As a reflection of and stimulus to the workers' theatre movement, the show marks a change from the playlet with a song or two to the "complete musical revue" that Robinson says it was. Bourgeois techniques were now being used full-force to satirize bourgeois attitudes. The apparent success of the show (Buchwald claims that a large audience enthusiastically received the show he saw), with its use of the vernacular, incorporation of song, and political satire, may have encouraged the workers' theatre to experiment more with the musical form.
Who's Got The Baloney? is organized thematically and ritualistically, rather than causally. With hardly any plot at all, the show forms a condemnation of La Guardia and of those who trust him. While Robinson calls it a full-blown musical revue, the information I have about the show does not demonstrate that characteristic. The major theme of the show seems to have been to condemn La Guardia as a social fascist: he attempts to woo the Communists but is unwilling to have his name connected with them; he is willing to appropriate Communist suggestions as long as he does not have to fraternize with Communists.
The characters are all stereotypes, in keeping with the early workers' theatre's belief that messages should be simple to understand. The major candidates all seem to be representative of some major group (none of them Communist), and no individual characters demonstrate any particular characteristics.
The setting of Who's Got The Baloney? must by necessity be New York City since La Guardia is the ridiculed candidate. Perhaps groups in other cities could have performed the show with the characters and candidates changed to reflect that city's politics, but I have found no indication that the show was performed any place other than in New York City.
Who's Got the Baloney? uses vaudeville and slapstick rather than detailed characterization--presentational acting techniques are used rather than representational ones. No attempts are made to impersonate the real people the performers portray; that would defeat the purpose of the ridicule and the intent of the show.
As exemplifying characteristics of a social movement, Who's Got the Baloney? constructs the enemy as both powerful and conquerable. By characterizing the enemy--La Guardia and other social fascists--as unconcerned and greedy, the show argues for group participation. A sense of urgency can be seen in the fact that this show was performed about an election: the performers wanted to vilify La Guardia by painting a clear picture of him as a social fascist, thus counteracting his attempts to make the Fusion party seem compatible with leftist goals.
The propaganda in Who's Got the Baloney? was agitational--to censure La Guardia and accuse him of lying to the people, and to exhort the audience members to vote against him. Collective protest, but within the present political system, was the suggested form of action. This show--and others centering around elections--were of a type used often during political campaigns. The requirements of the moment--to elect a candidate, or at least to keep particular opponents from winning--becomes the immediate and direct purpose of the show.
The ritual aspects of the show attempt to establish a spirit of communitas by reconstructing recent events and political actions. Stabilization and revitalization come from the burlesque of the hated candidates. The symbol of the baloney is certainly not a new one, but its use as a political symbol places a different perspective on the events in the play and on the meaning of the symbol, showing any non-Communist candidate as foolish.
The lyrics to Who's Got the Baloney? appear satirical and humorous if the serious undertones of dismay and of fearful duplicity are ignored. The lyrics stress political and social concerns, they refer to recent events and people, and they mark the distinctions between the Communist candidate and all the others.
Who's Got the Baloney? extended the use of serious political satire in musical entertainments, which a show such as Of Thee I Sing used so mildly. However, despite whatever influence the show may have had on the leftist or mainstream theatre, little evidence of it appears until Parade in 1935.
May 20, 1935
Paul Peters and George Sklar, with additional material by Frank Gabrielson, David Lesan, and Emanuel Eisenberg; music by Jerome Moross.
Various copies of the typed manuscript, which was copyrighted in 1935 by Paul Peters, can be found at the Theatre Collection of the New York City Public Library at Lincoln Center.
Parade was originally put together by the Theatre Union, as one of the only worthy scripts meeting the criteria established by the Union to the press: comedies of working-class life, vaudeville and revue material, and plays on professional classes, farmers, and fascism. The last offering and the shortest run (only forty-four performances) of the Theatre Guild's 1934-35 season, it opened on May 20 shortly after the close of the last season before the Comintern declared the policy of the Popular Front. The basic material was by George Sklar and Paul Peters, and comedy writers Frank Gabrielson, David Lesan, and Kyle Crichton provided some sketches. Most of the music was by Jerome Moross, but the show also contained Blitzstein's "Send in the Militia," which grew out of a song he had written for the Theatre of Action to hear, and other material by various writers.
Most critics and audiences doubted its worthiness, and Parade was generally disliked. Goldstein suggests that the show may have been better done by a group with the same leftist convictions, rather than by the Theatre Guild. Twenty-eight items, most of them characterized by Goldstein as unimaginative blackout scenes, spoofed many subjects: under an American Hitler, all Americans try to make themselves over as Indians; a college graduate seeks a job in a department store; a princess of Imperial Russia capitalizes on her past by giving an illustrated lecture of her flight from the Bolsheviks; a bomb-throwing Communist is in league with Moscow, as depicted by right-wing newspapers.
Goldstein claims that it was not until the latter half of the thirties that the workers' theatre had musicals "firmly rooted in the issues and problems" of the period, but that Parade was an exception to the rule. The exception must have taught the Guild a lesson, as Reynolds says Parade was the last social drama the Guild produced. Coming in 1935, it topped the list of Guild-produced failures in the medium of leftist social drama. The guild became reluctant to produce revolutionary or proletarian plays because they were too dull for audiences.
Al Saxe directed the revue, which Williams says compares well with other revues of the period and still contains effective comedy. But it did not have the right audience in the Theatre Guild, nor did it have a producer with the same convictions. As a "satirical revue" that had no story, Parade was not protected by the Dramatists' Guild arrangement that playwrights have absolute control over the text of the play or book to a musical; the producers could eliminate or substitute numbers. And cut they did. The producers in Boston, Simonson and Moeller, chopped and cut as the revue reached the opening. In early May 1935, Parade opened in Boston. Governor Fuller, an audience member of the first night who had also been a judge in the Sacco and Vanzetti case, walked out after the line in Newsboy, "Have you heard about Sacco and Vanzetti?" George Sklar says that "35 other Brahmins" also walked out. Newsboy was deleted the next day, and soon more was removed if it seemed too politically dangerous; cuts occurred nightly, even though only two-thirds of the original material for the show had been used in the opening performance. According to Sklar later, "The stuff they took out in Boston would have made a whole other show." For instance, the Guild found the play too radical and cut Lynchtown and other scenes, according to Taylor. The last straw for Sklar and Peters was apparently when the song, "Letter to the President," sung by Avis Andrews and danced by Miriam Blecher, was cut. Sklar said that if that number were cut, "we'd repudiate the show and picket it." Simonson, one of the producers, wanted to be calm about it, but Sklar and Peters walked out; Simonson called them later and told them that the number could remain in the show.
Parade opened May 20, 1935 in New York to a subscription audience. There were some walkouts, as there had been in Boston. Williams says that Jimmy Savo was funny but clearly did not understand the social comment: at the dress rehearsal, he was to come out singing Eisenberg's song, "My Feet are Firmly Planted on the Ground," as a befuddled liberal reading the New Republic, but came out instead with a Saturday Evening Post. When the director complained, Savo said, "It's a magazine, isn't it?"
Jerome Moross, composer of most of the music for Parade, claimed afterward that the revue had tried to raise the revolutionary revue form to professionalism but did not succeed. He raised a number of concerns. First, neither the musical comedy, that has a story with singing and dancing, nor the revue, that has vaudeville sketches and acts, are well-suited for the expression of a unified political and social point of view. The musical comedy and musical revue are deeply rooted in America as indigenous forms stemming from vaudeville and burlesque, but their isolation from the American people has been a chief cause for the backward quality of musical theatre in America. Without the influence of the workers' theatre, American musicals have become nothing but smart, sophisticated, and vulgar. Second, the revolutionary musical should combine the musical comedy and the revue by "telling an important story in swift-moving five-minute blackouts, revue fashion." The form should be skeletal, heightened by lighting, partly because "the speed of the form requires constant attention to achieve its maximum effect." The future workers' musical should be "a swift and vital form rising above flippancies, the music being more than Tin Pan Alley, the lyrics achieving the worth of a Gilbert or a Brecht, the sketches using the blackout technic [sic] not for bathroom humor, but for terse dramatic punches." Finally, said Moross, the musical is an important part of native culture and should be returned "to the working class, from whose vaudeville and minstrel show entertainments it came."
Himelstein claims that after 1935 the Theatre Guild did not offer anything as "politically daring" as Parade, "that Marxist revue." Before The Cradle Will Rock, "music was limited largely to a sprinkling of songs in such presentations as Brecht's Mother and the Theatre Guild's Parade, or to such accompaniment as the living newspaper utilized." "The lyrics lacked the sparkle of Harold Rome's lines, and the sketches lacked both the precise bite and the good humor of the Labor Stage revue." Neither the left-wing nor the mainstream press praised the show; rather, they condemned it, although for different reasons. For instance, both Buchwald in Daily Worker and the editors of New Theatre felt that the Guild had diluted the show in deference to its bourgeois subscription audience: calling the production a "hodge-podge," New Theatre felt it the fault of the Guild to keep the show from going on as originally written, and urged workers' theatre groups to attempt the musical revue form.
The mainstream press was unanimous in its condemnation of Parade, but not for the same reasons. Everyone loved comedian Jimmy Savo, but most felt that the show was too strident and uncompromising. For instance, Brooks Atkinson of the New York Times said that the show was "neither fish, flesh, foul, red herring nor Jimmy Savo," in part because "the [Theatre] Guild's heart is not in it"; Robert Garland of the World-Telegram called it "neither fact, fancy nor good red propaganda," but nevertheless a step in the right direction for the Broadway stage to represent the "hundred million, the ninety percent"; Gilbert W. Gabriel of the New York American said Parade was "neither fish nor fowl nor even good red Goering." Similarly, John Anderson of the Evening Journal wrote that the show was "a soapbox musical, mostly Communistic. . . . long, dull, and monotonous, ill-natured and generally lacking in a sense of humor." John Mason Brown of the Evening Post called it "an error in judgment and showmanship" that "is just about as merry as are the words to `The International,'" and Richard Lockridge claimed that the sketches and lyrics for Parade were "honorable, idealistic and singularly lacking in the light-minded and bourgeois quality of wit." Percy Hammond described the show as having "little gaiety, and less beauty," and Variety felt that the authors were "too bitter with their satire, and make too frequent references to the depression."
New Theatre magazine reprinted three skits from Parade in its issue of June 1935, "in the belief that New Theatre groups everywhere will and should attempt the revue form." Calling Parade "the first major attempt to put the realities of the American scene into the most American of theatre forms," the show comes from its creators' realization "that there are thousands of people best reached by vaudeville and revue sketches and by popular songs." The show was "altered by concessions to the Theatre Guild's opinion of its audience," and that is the major reason why critics are panning the show. That Parade seems to lack unity, according to New Theatre, is not so much the fault of the writers, but rather of the Guild "to really let the revue go on as originally written--as a left review."
The show was modified many times between its Boston tryout and its closing in New York, so there really is no one single version of Parade. The version of Parade presented on May 20, 1935, opening night at the Guild Theatre in New York, had changed from the version presented for the pre-Broadway run in Boston, and would be changed again for later presentations during its Broadway run. Programs from four performances of Parade between its May 6 Boston tryout to its June 3 performance, two weeks into the Broadway run, indicate that the order of numbers was frequently rearranged and that the following numbers were dropped: "The Last Jackass," "Decadence," "Smartset" (dropped from the May 27 production), "Selling Sex," "Letter to the President," "College Daze," and "The Plague." Lynchtown had been dropped before the Boston tryout and Newsboy was dropped after it. "Boys in Blue" was added May 27, "Join Our Ranks" was added to the May 27 program (it had previously been listed as the finale), and "I'm All Washed Up on Love," presented in Boston, was dropped from the Broadway opening, then added again by June 3. I will first discuss the available skits and songs in the order they are presented on the program from the May 20, opening night performance, then I will examine those from other versions.
The first scene in Parade is "The Police Station," by Peters and Sklar (also called "Tic-Tac-Toe"), which establishes both the premise of the play and the mood and style. The entire revue centers around an illegal parade that the police try to stop. Each scene then focuses on an aspect of life during the parade. The mood of vindictive satire is clearly established during this scene, as two policemen ignore a ringing telephone, the escape of a famous gangster, victims of a robbery and of a rape, and machine gun fire, while playing a game of tic-tac-toe. When they hear that the whole country is parading through the streets, they sound the alarm, believing that "reds are at the bottom of this!" Policemen rush in from all sides of the stage and down the aisles and from the boxes, all preparing for a riot. Police Commissioner O'Brien enters and leads them off to find the marchers, all of them raising their arms in a Nazi salute and yelling, "Heil O'Brien!" (1-6).
Music strikes up on a street corner and paraders enter the stage singing the opening song, "On Parade," which characterizes the vitality of workers uniting in action:
Here we go, America
Is on parade--
Come on along.
We're the guys who make the wheels go round
We're the guys who really run this town
We build the houses, we pave the streets,
We plough the ground and grow the wheat--WE DO!
We're the engineer and the crew,
We do all the work there is to do,
We're the hundred million, we're the ninety percent,
So come on, Buddy, show your sentiment--
And March! (7)
While the opening scene and song establish the basic premise for the show--the police will spend the evening looking for the marchers--the rest of Parade consists of a series of scenes depicting and satirizing various elements of American life as seen through leftist eyes. After some policemen telephone headquarters from Hackensack, searching vainly for the parade, the set to "The Last Jackass" rolls on stage--a battered old farm house, with cardboard cotton at the front of the stage.
"The Last Jackass" parodies the destructive actions resulting from the Agricultural Adjustment Act, which encouraged farmers to destroy crops in order to raise prices. Government men from the AAA enter to help Farmer and Mrs. Brown by destroying their crops. When Brown is handed a gun to shoot his mule, as part of his duty, he shoots the AAA men instead (30-36).
"I'm Telling You, Louie" depicts the plight of the poor and homeless during the Depression and addresses many of the problems the leftist movement saw with American capitalist society. Louie and Mazie have been sleeping on the ground under newspapers; when they awake at daybreak, they sing of their problems making a living, because "the poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting fat" (78-79).
After a specialty dance (this was, after all, a musical review produced by the Theatre Guild, and a specialty dance was a requisite component), came a mimed scene called "The Crisis" showing the frantic attempts of a Mr. Puffle, who has declared that full production will be maintained at his factory during a strike. He tries to work all the machinery himself, getting humorously tangled up in it and getting grease on his hands. He realizes that he is unable to maintain production without his workers, so he joins them on the picket line (3, 2).
The next scene was "Selling Sex," apparently containing a song with lyrics by Kyle Crichton, which had been performed in Boston and for the Broadway opening but had been dropped by May 27. I have been unable to find a printed version of this scene. "The Dead Cow," by Alan Baxter and Harold Johnsrud, comes next. A parody of Hearst newspapers and the view they paint of the United States and the U.S.S.R., the scene takes place in a room that is empty save for a "gnawed plain table, and an ungnawed antique what-not." After the family rejoices that they do not live in "Rooshia," men from the Hearst-owned New York Journal bring them a cow, only to remove it after they have taken a picture of the "starving Russian family."
I have been unable to find a copy of the next skit, "Decadence," which had not been performed in Boston and had been dropped by May 27. The next sketch consists of a song, "Life Could be so Beautiful," that describes the plight of poor and tired workers as they try to find some happiness and some hope for the future during the troubled times of the Depression:
Life could be so beautiful,
Life could be grand for all,
If just a few didn't own everything
And most of us nothing at all.
. . . . .
Somehow I feel it's just a raw deal,
More than a man can stand.
A sensuous dance begins around them, which builds up to a street scene of a breadline, and the song ends with a cry of militancy:
Raise up your fist, it's time to resist
Time to build a new world. (37-41)
Marc Blitzstein contributed a song to Parade, which in the Broadway production was sung by Eve Arden as a club woman who is not so liberal as she thinks. "Send for the Militia," which Sherr calls "a kind of singing monolog," ridicules American liberal thinking about such issues as socialism, poverty, birth control, and labor strikes; the woman has only one answer for all those problems:
Send for the Militia, the Army, the Navy
Quick bring out the Boy Scouts, ev'ry Captain, ev'ry Ace,
The country's on the brink of disaster,
We better have the troops around us in case.
The next sketch, "College Daze," by Gabrielson and Lesan, mocks American higher education, with its emphasis on sports, on military training, and on condemnation of Marxism (2, 36-42). "You Ain't So Hot," with lyrics by Peters and Sklar, is the song in the next scene, which deals with the resentment that a "colored maid" feels about her mistress:
You may live on top of the pile,
There's nothing you ain't got.
You may live in the swellest style,
But sister, you ain't so hot.
"Sugar Cane" is the next scene, a dance in which West Indian cane cutters overpower their overseer (67). "Hot Dog" follows immediately after. A pantomime written by Peters and Sklar and performed by Jimmy Savo, "Hot Dog" shows the "lone pathetic little figure" left behind by the paraders, who in hilarious but touching vaudeville style tries to get something to eat. He grabs but drops a hot chestnut from a vendor's stand; tries to lick a boy's ice cream cone; orders a hot dog with the works, only to have the vendor take it back when he cannot pay for it; and finally manages to slip a sausage into his pocket, only to have other sausages trail along behind him. The vendor calls the police, who enter and beat the man. The police each take a sausage, and everyone exits, except the man, who is left sitting on the curb with an empty stomach.
The next skit, "Our Store" by Turner Bullock, ridicules the tendency of employers to hire only those with college degrees, even if they have no experience or competence for the job. One of the complaints that the workers' movement had with the capitalist establishment was that in times of high unemployment, only the highly educated were seriously considered for jobs, despite lack of experience.
The last scene in act one, "The Tabloid Reds," with lyrics by Peters and Sklar, is a condemnation of the capitalist press and its depiction of Communists as violent and depraved sociopaths. Three men and three women, all of them (even the women) with "bushy beards and streaming hair," sing of how much they love to destroy things and people, discuss sabotaging public property, receive their orders from Moscow on the phone, and attack innocent capitalists on the street. The scene, and the first act, ends with the explosion that the capitalist press would expect of them (42-46).
The second act opens with a spotlight coming up on the dancers for "Fear in My Heart" (also called "Dancing on the Mall" in the typescript). In the mall of a public park. couples dance slowly, while the boy sings to the girl. The other dancers gradually encroach on the space of the couple, "destroying what slight privacy they have had. The dance grows into a dizzy climax of desire and despair, recedes, and then leaves our boy and girl alone in the pool of light while the dancers re-occupy the shadows." The song the boy sings to the girl reflects the uneasiness of the Depression:
. . . . .
But even when I hold you
I'm troubled by so many things,
Thinking of tomorrow
And all of the suffering and worry it brings.
But how can I surrender
To love and romance,
To music and dance,
When tomorrow is the fear in my heart. (28)
"My Feet are Firmly Planted on the Ground" is the next scene, which occurs after a man enters wearing only a barrel bearing a placard that says, "I am living in this barrel because of the oversupply of apartment houses." With lyrics by Emanuel Eisenberg, the song parodies attitudes of liberals.
With laudable sense
I straddle the fence--
. . . . .
When some confirmed belittler
Cries "Terrorist" at Hitler,
Or points to the N.R.A. as quite unsound.
. . . . .
My feet are firmly planted on the ground.
We just should live and let live
(The way the liberal set live):
The only road to take
Is the middle point of view.
. . . . .
But if you'll use your head, you'll
Admit Il Duce's schedule
Of punctual trains makes up for all disgrace.
He totters, falls to the ground, and breaks his neck (20-23).
"The Happy Family," by Gabrielson and Lesan, shows how family relationships would develop "with its individual members behaving as nations do." Using terms familiar in international diplomacy, the family settles disputes by compromising and bowing to each other, signing a paper agreeing to "nonaggression. . . and everlasting peace at our breakfast table," divvying up the absent father's portion of breakfast, honoring "boundary" lines determining each person's space at the table, and negotiating a "peace conference" when arguments erupt. Aimed at mocking the state of international relations, the sketch shows how ineffective such behavior can be in arriving at viable solutions to conflict (2, 22-28).
"Marry the Family" (or "Marry Me" in the version I have), with lyrics by Michael Blankfort (although the Boston program credits Grace Walters with the lyrics), has a girl singing to her fiancé about some of the problems the Depression will bring to their marriage:
You gotta marry my family.
. . . . .
All of our kin and their kids have moved in--
. . . . .
You gotta sleep with my family.
"Home of the Brave," by Frank Gabrielson and David Lesan, parodies Hitler's insistence on purifying Germany for the Aryan race by showing what might happen if all Americans tried to be pure Americans--American Indians. John Smith gets in trouble for refusing to stand for the national anthem ("By the Waters of the Minnetonka"), for his penchant for foreign foods such as Irish potatoes, spaghetti and sauerkraut, for the books he reads (such as The Life of Buffalo Bill, which his wife calls "vicious pilgrim propaganda"), and for lighting his pipe with a cigaret lighter (69-77).
"I'm an International Orphan," with lyrics by Peters and Sklar, has a disheveled and soiled woman representing Peace, with a broken palm leaf in one hand and a dove with a broken neck in the other, sing of her problems in the world today:
Who the hell wants peace these days?
I might as well be dead.
I'm just a cosmic nuisance, nobody loves me at all.
If they dont stop shooting those noisy things,
I'm going to break right down and bawl.
She mentions Japan and its hari-kari, the civil war in Spain, and violence in Bolivia, and in an alternate verse mentions Mussolini kicking her out of Abyssinia, the Axis agreement made in neutral Switzerland, and Hitler's desire for war.
"The Free Clinic," by Frank Gabrielson and David Lesan, condemns the incompetence, lack of consideration, and condescension of workers in free clinics and, by implication, the entire concept of capitalist charity. In the middle of an operation, the doctors and nurses put down their operating instruments and leave for the day when the five o' clock whistle blows (2, 86-96).
The next song, "Letter to the President," was cut in Boston but then reinstated because of protests by Sklar and Peters, its lyricists; two weeks into the Broadway run, the song had been again cut from the show. A black woman from Mississippi, whose three-year-old brother recently died of starvation, sings of her disappointment with Roosevelt and his administration:
Oh, Mr. President, we giving you warning,
That this is what we swore,
"We just ain't going to stand for it
To starve to death no more!" (18-19)
I have been unable to find any version of the next skit, "The Plague," by Gabrielson and Lesan. The scene that follows is the "Prologue to Bourgeois Parade," sung by Earl Oxford, in which he tells of the best people in town, many from the Stock Exchange, gathering for a celebration during the month of October:
And that which happened thereupon,
Was very very odd.
I have been unable to find the scene that follows, "Bourgeois Processional," but three reviewers mentioned the piece. Variety calls the scene "another slap at capital, this time at the stock market." John Anderson mentions the "witty costumes on the `Down with the Stock Exchange' sketch," and Richard Lockridge suggests that it was difficult to differentiate between "the bourgeois revue number in which the adagio dancer has the whip and threatens the chorus girls" (this appears to be his description of "Bourgeois Processional") and other "symbolic dances showing the workers rising against a man with a whip" (Lockridge appears to be referring to "Sugar Cane").
"My Flight from the Soviets," by Peters, Sklar, and Kyle Crichton, presents the Princess Maria O. Tchichornya in a lecture about how she escaped from Soviet Russia, complete with slides and filmstrips. The Princess, played with a heavy accent by Eve Arden in a performance that won praise from a number of reviewers, tells of her flight from the Soviets, all the time clicking a signal in her hand to change the image on the film screen. This scene mocks phoney and actual relatives of Russian royalty who condemn the Russian revolution and claim to have escaped from Russian dictatorship. The slides and filmstrips she uses to show the events of her escape are all humorously incongruous and include a picture of Sokolow's Little King, a crown with a lighted firecracker under it, a cow grazing in a pasture, the Keystone Cops, a Princeton-Harvard scoreboard, and, finally, a photograph of her husband Boris with a sign behind him that says, "My Wife's Left the Country--Hooray! Hooray!" (51-55).
"Bon Voyage" (also titled, "Don't Tell Us You're Going--Thank Heaven!" in the typescript), with lyrics by Crichton, has an octette and a reporter singing goodbye and good riddance to three men of which the workers' movement was critical. General Hugh S. Johnson had in 1934 resigned as head of the N.R.A. because of public criticism of the program; Huey Long, the "Kingfish" from Louisiana, proposed his "share-the-wealth" plan to end the Depression and would be assassinated on September 19, 1935; and Father Charles E. Coughlin, the Catholic radio priest, promoted pro-fascist causes.
The finale of Parade consists of the marchers coming on stage, singing, "You've marched along with us,/ We've shown what condition the country's in. . . ," while headlines on the screen show the America of the day--with pictures of breadlines, the rich dancing elegantly, soldiers firing on strikers, a lynching, and a soapbox speaker who proclaims that the masses will soon control the country (80-81).
There were, as I pointed out, other versions of Parade. Some sketches and songs either appeared in versions of the show other than the Broadway opening, or were never performed in the show at all.
"I'm All Washed Up On Love," by Kay Swift and Albert Silverman, had been presented as part of Parade for the Boston run, was dropped from the Broadway opening, but by June 3 had been added again. A male and female cat discuss the possibilities of lovemaking in a world that does not reward those with children--unless the children are special:
If I thought that I could be on Easy Street like Mrs. Dionne,
I'd say, "O.K.," but until that day,
I'm all washed up on love.
Compared with me her glory fades,
I could give her cards and spades.
I gave birth to an even six,
But did I get my picture in the paper? Nix!
"Boys in Blue" (also called "I Love the Boys in Blue" in the typescript) was added to Parade by May 27, the second week of the run. Called "an interlude for Jimmy Savo," the song may have been written after the opening of the show and specifically for Savo (as "Hot Dog" had apparently been, because of the fact that Savo's name was used in the directions for that skit, as well). Sherr suggests that the song ended the "Hot Dog" scene, and in fact, the programs beginning May 27 show "Boys in Blue" following "Hot Dog":
I love the boys in blue,
And I love their horses too,
. . . . .
A cop has a great big stick
And he's got the cutest trick,
Of swinging it this way, and swinging it that,
Get in it's way and it knocks you flat.
But you ought to remember when you come to,
That's only his way of protecting you.
The following sketches appear only in the typescripts of the Parade and, as far as I can tell from the programs I have examined, were never performed in the show. "The Joneses," by Peters and Sklar, shows two families named Jones, one poor and one rich, saying exactly the same words but in sharply contrasting circumstances. For instance, both Mr. Jones tell their wives, "No luck. Couldn't land a thing today": the rich Mr. Jones holds up fishing equipment while the poor Mr. Jones holds the want ads. The rich Mr. Jones wants his rent from the poor Mr. Jones, who cannot pay. Both Mr. Jones call the mayor for assistance: the poor Mr. Jones is arrested by the police and his furniture and family evicted; the police leave the rich Mr. Jones alone (24-26).
In "Wild Boys of the Road," by Peters and Sklar (the typescript puts this scene immediately following "The Tabloid Reds," although the scene was apparently never performed as part of Parade), ten boys and two girls are seated around a lantern, on the floor, on boxes or kegs, or leaning against the side of the gondola. They sing of the plight of the Depression's homeless: "a million homeless kids,/ Roaming footloose over the land./. . . Christ, you might as well be dead./ And whether you live or whether you die/ Nobody seems to care." Two of the juveniles then explain their personal situations to the audience (47-50).
"Aunt Molly Jackson's Coal Mining Blues," which apparently was not performed in any of the versions for which I have programs, is a lament by a coal-miner's wife's about what a lonely and sad place this town is, "where pity and starvation is pictured on every face." She exhorts all coal-miners and all "friends and comrades" not to put up with such dangerous work "till you get a living price" (56). Aunt Molly Jackson was a figure familiar to the audience as a leader to organize coal miners in eastern Kentucky during the thirties.
"Our Daily Press," another skit that does not appear to have been performed in any of the versions of Parade, involves a man from the Times ("All the News that's Fit to Print," says a sign over his head), the Daily News ("New York's Picture Newspaper"), and the Journal-American, a Hearst paper ("A Paper for People who Think"). They sing of their jobs as newspaper reporters and editors:
Our motto is: "BE IMPARTIAL AND FAIR"
So we print the truth whenever we dare.
. . . . .
May what our headlines state
Help us to circulate
From shore to shore!
They all report about happenings in Union Square, and each slants what he sees to match the editorial policy of his paper. They end the scene by singing the following to the tune of "Yankee Doodle":
Times and Tabloid keep it up!
Times and Tabloid Dandy.
Mind ye print the honest truth
And never propagandy! (58-66)
Another song that does not appear to have been performed with Parade in any of its performances is "Snow From Heaven." On a beach in Florida, a dowager, two debutantes, and a "comic little man in a flaming bathing jersey," sing about how much employment a New York snowstorm must be generating:
But I'm overjoyed
For the un-employed
. . . . .
Snow means shovels, don't you see?
Shovels are made by machinery.
. . . . .
Machinery has to be run by man,
Means means jobs and wages again,
Once you get wages, everything's jake--
--And all this comes from a little snow flake! (2, 19-21)
The plot of Parade, loose as it is, attempts to give an excuse for the songs and skits that comprise it. The plot--involving the policemen who try to arrest the paraders--sets the anti-capitalist, anti-red-baiting tone of the show and acts as a background for the other material. The thematic structure derives primarily from the various elements, aided by the thin thread of a story line.
The characters in the various skits are either confused liberals, poor and downtrodden workers or common folk, or anti-Communist conservatives. The only characters who are not mocked or burlesqued are the ones for whom the audience is to have sympathy--the poor, the worker, the oppressed.
Parade's skits take place in different parts of America--a farm, the home of "any John Smith," "anywhere in the U.S.A, 1935"--and even on a tropical island. While the parade itself and the plot occur in New York City, the show attempts to address problems all over the country.
The performance techniques of the skits vary from realistic to presentational, from comic to dramatic, from talk-singing to dancing. Some of the songs seem introspective, insofar as revolutionary social theatre can be introspective ("Fear in my Heart," for instance), while other songs or skits are presentational comic routines.
Parade is not without its attempts to unify the audience through satire. As a document of a social movement, Parade tried to vilify its enemies--liberals and conservatives--by portraying them as all-powerful citizens of the mainstream whom the leftists must and will conquer. Although attempts were being made to unify leftists with liberals in a united front (the popular front policy was being encouraged), the workers' theatre movement had become more institutionalized but had not yet reached its full rapprochement with capitalist society by the time Parade came around. The writers of the show attempted to include as many Americans as possible in their struggle, and to introduce a spirit of communitas by emphasizing that unity, but the show tended to repel audiences rather than attract them.
The propaganda in Parade is of varying types. Its major purpose seems to have been to depict the current state of liberalism and American capitalism and to censure those who do not swing far enough to the left. While the propaganda in Parade may at first seem agitational, its real purpose, sought in vain, was to integrate existing attitudes of its audience with views of the left wing. Not advocating revolution but demonstration, not violence but a parade, not illegal but legal means (although the police chase the paraders because they do not have a permit to march), the propagandist theme of Parade encourages social and political reform within the framework of the existing system. The propaganda in Parade thus constitutes social, not collective or revolutionary, protest.
Parade serves a ritual function by reconstructing the concept of the liberal as the duped, yet not-quite-innocent enemy from within that will destroy the hopes of the movement if not recognized and purged from the ranks. Unfortunately, the show's attempt to achieve a feeling of communitas does not seem to have succeeded, in part because the ritual is reinforced by the contradictory notion that the liberal is to be inducted into the ranks. The Popular Front policy would not be formally announced until August 1935, but the Soviets had begun moderating their militant tactics as early as 1933, and the impact of the new Soviet line could be seen in artistic and political activity in the United States even during 1934 and 1935.
By 1936, the Popular Front policy had been announced, and workers' theatres, whether because of the policy change or not, became more involved with wooing the middle-class liberal and lumpenproletarian in order to fight against fascism. That change in focus made workers' theatres more versatile in subject matter and form, incorporating more techniques of the mainstream theatre into their productions; however, the attempt at rapprochement with the less militant wage-earners and with those less dedicated to left-wing causes led the workers' theatre movement to reach its peak in the middle part of the decade and, with its focus now on working with others of differing political philosophies in order to combat fascism, to become assimilated, or institutionalized, into the mainstream of American society. The workers' theatre movement had its greatest popular and politically effective successes from 1936 to 1937, managing to become a legitimate force in American theatre; after 1937, the workers' theatre declined, its politics and practices having been incorporated in many productions of the Federal Theatre Project and even in the commercial stage.
While the workers' musicals of the mid-Depression, from 1933 to 1935, were characterized by vindictiveness, bitterness, and condemnation of the non-Communist liberal in America, during the next period of the decade the workers' theatre would expand and gain some respectability in the world of American theatre, and then gradually decline. No longer would the workers' theatre be seen as an aberration, but as a legitimate participant in American theatre. No longer would its message be as strident and demanding as in the earlier parts of the decade, but modified to accommodate a more heterogeneous audience. And no longer would its methods or its messages be a surprise; the mainstream theatre would now provide the same service in a less controversial manner. The workers' theatre could never seem to keep up. Chapters Four and Five describe the musicals of that last period of the thirties, continuing into the forties, in an attempt to examine how their propagandistic and ritualistic aspects changed because of the new stature of the social movement.
Cosgrove, "Cabaret and Counter-Culture," 54, says that John Bonn headed the Neue Theater Gruppe after the Prolet-Buehne disbanded; Friedman, in "The Prolet-Buehne," 784, notes that the Prolet-Buehne and the Neue Theater Gruppe were both thought of as the Prolet-Buehne by former Prolet-Buehne member Fritz Hoffman, even after the Prolet-Buehne's demise.
"Send us Scripts," New Theatre 1, no. 8 (September 1934): 26; italics are the author's. Although I found no author listed in the magazine article, both Gassner and Goldstein presume it is Herbert Kline, the magazine's new editor.
Betty Weinstein, "World Fair," New Theatre (September-October 1933): 14-17. This issue has no volume or number; as the first issue of New Theatre, it appears that the editors had not decided to continue with the numbering of Workers Theatre or to begin numbering anew.
An advertisement announcing the show with its new name as part of "a premiere of revolutionary drama" to be presented on March 24 appeared in New Theatre 3, no. 4 (March 1934): 23; Robinson says the name of the show was changed after La Guardia's election; Himelstein, 14, says that Who's Got the Baloney?, La Guardia's Got the Baloney, and Fat Fiorello, all aimed at destroying La Guardia's political career, belonged to the Workers' Laboratory Theatre's repertory of some eighty-three "skits."
Brooks Atkinson, "The Play: Jimmy Savo and Parade Introduce the Theatre Guild to Revelry," New York Times, 21 May 1935; Robert Garland, "Parade Makes Bow at Guild Theatre," New York World-Telegram, 21 May 1935; Gilbert W. Gabriel, New York American, 21 May 1935; from clippings file, New York City Public Library at Lincoln Center.
Paul Peters and George Sklar, Parade, typescript, New York City Public Library at Lincoln Center. Two typescripts and some varied scenes and songs can be found on microfilm under the name of Moross, J., Parade, A Political Revue, call number [N.P]. Page numbers in parentheses refer to the typewritten manuscript on microfilm; the first eighty-two pages of the microfilm copy are numbered sequentially, but some subsequent pages are numbered and some are not. Those subsequent pages that are numbered I will refer to as version 2, and will cite in the text by version and page number (for instance, [version] 2, [page] 5). Other material from the microfilm that is not paginated and other material not found on microfilm I will cite in footnotes.
Alan Baxter and Harold Johnsrud, "The Dead Cow," New Theatre 2, no. 6 (June 1935): 8-9; this article also contains a photograph of the skit. This same version can be found at Lincoln Center under the call number MWEZ + n.c. 17368, pp. 1-3.
Turner Bullock, "Our Store," from Parade, Lincoln Center, file MWEZ + 17368, 1-5; the part of the college-educated job applicant was apparently played by Eve Arden, according to Variety, 22 May 1935.
This skit also appears in New Theatre 2, no. 6 (June 1935): 5, together with a photograph of the scene; this scene is printed in its entirety in New Theatre, but with some changes in the lyrics, a second section is not labeled "Tabloid Reds--2" as it is in the manuscript, and a third verse in the song does not appear in the magazine.
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