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The following outline of the history of "Brown of Harvard" and the career of its author was written for the Crimson by a University graduate who was present at the memorable first night of 1906, and whose remembrance of that occasion was revived by the announcement that a twentieth anniversary presentation of the play would be given by the Dramatic Club.
The play "Brown of Harvard" which the Dramatic Club has chosen for its annual spring production on May 11, 12, 13, and 14, was first produced in 1906. It was written by Rida J. Young, a Radcliffe graduate who was then living and writing in New York. She was chiefly noted at the time for her knack of turning out clever, witty plays full of youthful sentiment and exuberance.
The play "Brown of Harvard" began its career with a successful run of several months on Broadway. The ambling good natured style, and the clever character delineations attracted the Gotham theatre-going public from the start.
Leaving New York the play started on an extended tour of several of the larger eastern cities. Among other places that the company stopped at were Yale and Princeton. In both of these colleges the piece was hailed not only as an excellent hit of entertainment, but also as a true picture of life at Harvard.
Finally the play was brought in Boston with much advance publicity, which emphasized the fact that Henry Woodriff was a Harvard man and that Harvard supers would appear in the Boston productions.
Harvard Students Caused Riot
Far from appeasing the wrath of the Harvard undergraduates, these and other advance notices about the play only stired them up the more. The story of the riot and subsequent disturbance in Boston is famous in Harvard history.
After the first night the Harvard element became less noticeable in the audience and the play enjoyed several weeks of uninterrupted popularity.
Several press articles in 1906 and 1907 contain interesting commentaries on the way the play was received at the time. The Theatre Magazine of April 1906 says: "The joyousness of exuberant youth has been happily dramatized by Rida Johnson Young in "Brown of Harvard," and unless outward signs should fail. Henry Woodruffs stellar career has started in with every indication of lasting favor. The play depicting undergraduate life at Cambridge has much to commend it for its fresh and accurate character drawing and the breezy naturalness of the dialogue. Like all pieces of its kind, the moving motive is the struggle for athletic supremacy. . . . "Brown of Harvard" will greatly please the younger set, nor will it to other than give pleasure to those of a more advanced age."
Press Describes Reception of Play
The New York Evening Post on February 27, 1906 says:
"Mrs. R. J. Young's "Brown of Harvard" which was performed last evening before a large body of spectators in the Princess Theatre, is chiefly interesting, perhaps, as an illustration of the female notion of what made university life is or ought to be."
The comment of the New York Herald of February 27, is as follows:
"The betrayal of a Radcliffe College girl by a Harvard student and the prominence given to the affair as the play developed clearly displeased a large proportion of the audience. Glimpses into typical student sanctums the ten and frolic of good fellowship the chat of the crew snatches of college songs the harmless flirtations of the town and campus these were the pleasant features of the piece"
The author Mrs. Rida Johnson Young conceived the idea of writing a play dealing with Harvard while she was still in Radcliffe. Her contact there with Harvard students and Harvard life gave her an ample opportunity to gather data for the play which she was contemplating. At the time she had no definitely formulated plan of writing for the theatre, but merely played with the idea of a drama on Harvard in the same way that other college students so often play with similar vague schemes.
Later, however, when she was in New York, deep in dramatic work, she recalled her former plan. At the time she started on this play, she had already one entitled "Lord Byron" produced, but it was not until "Brown of Harvard" came out that she scored her first real success.
One of her contemporaries, commenting on the reception of the play said:
"The reception of the play was remarkable; but in no city was it as remarkable as in Boston--the theatrical Mecca for the Cambridge students. The opening night is rapidly becoming historic; Harvard evidently had different ideas as to the truth of Mrs. Young's comedy. The students demonstrated their opinions with violent mass methods. But this local disturbance only served to make the play more widely known and gave it impetus for a long run elsewhere. It was a creditable success for anyone; for a young woman of 32 it was distinctly gratifying."
Author Famous for Other Shows
Although this was her first big hit, it was only one of man. She has had nine plays produced on Broadway, among them "Naughty Marietta," "Maytime," and "Little Old New York." The same qualities of lightness, clever humor, and deft characterizations, all of which contribute most to pure entertainment, have distinguished her later plays as they did "Brown of Harvard."
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