ARTISTIC SUCCESS WITH BOX-OFFICE FAILURE DOES NOT APPEAL TO COHAN
Says Achievement of Foreigners on Stage Is Due Entirely to Ability--"The Day of the Good Actor Is Coming Back"--Big Demand for Musical Shows
"Some producers can afford to put on a box-office failure just because it's an artistic success, but I haven't reached that stage yet," said George M. Cohan to a CRIMSON reporter yesterday afternoon between acts of "The Song and Dance man", in the title role of which he is appearing at the Selwyn Theatre. "It costs money to operate in the show business, and you've got to give the public what it wants. If the public expects one thing from me, I'd be foolish to experiment with another. I am ready to turn to something new, however, any time I am convinced it will be profitable.
"Do I think there is a great popular demand for foreign productions? To a certain extent, yes, but not, I believe, so much because they are foreign as because they are high-grade. Of course, there will always be fad-hunters who are after something out of the ordinary, but they form a small part of the theatre-going public. Eleanora Duse has been a tremendous attraction. So have the Moscow Players and the ChauveSouris. Translations from the French and Russian have been very popular. Is it because they are foreign? I don't think so. Last year I practically concluded arrangements with the elder Guitry to appear in this country, not because he is a Frenchman, but because I think he is the greatest actor in the world. He would be more of a sensation here than Eleanora Duse. I had the New Amsterdam Theatre already engaged. He was going to bring his own company and put on his own plays. At the last moment, the whole thing fell through. His son, Sacha Guitry, persuaded him to stay in France.
"Why would Guitry be so popular here? Because the American public demands a high standard of acting. Belasco fills his theatres because he always stages a finished production. The day of the good actor is coming back stronger than ever. There has been a great change in the last three or four years. People are reading a better class of book. I don't mean heavy literature. I mean light literature of a better sort. Naturally they want to see better plays and better acting. A play like "Anna Christie" would be three times as popular now as it was when it was first produced. New York offers today the best field for first-class drama in the world.
"I still find a big demand for musical shows of the 'Mary' type. I took a long chance with 'Mary' type. I took a long chance with 'Mary', and it brought people to the theatre who hadn't been for years. It created a popular demand. 'The O'Brien Girl', 'Nellie Kelly', and 'Rosie O'Reilly' followed up that demand. The big fault with musical shows is that after a long run the actors become puppets. They just go through the motions. I remember how I felt after I had played 102 weeks in 'Little Johnny Jones'. The very sound of the overture made me sick. I used to say 'My God, have I got to go through with this again!' That is what I am trying to avoid in my new shows, because it is bound to be noticed by the audience, and as I said before, it's the box-office that reveals a show's success."