Hearts of Oak

=====The Bishop of Broadway: the Life & Work of David Belasco by Craig Timberlake; Library Publishers, 1954=====

Despite its cordial reception Chums failed at the Baldwin and was withdrawn on September 21. A tour of western towns proved disastrous and November found the Hernes and Belasco stranded in Chicago, where the leading managers, Hooley and McVicker, declined to produce a drama that had about it such an aura of failure. Retitled Hearts of Oak, the play was finally put on November 17, at Hamlin's Theater and enjoyed its initial success. Observing its auspicious tour of Midwestern towns, Mr. Hooley overcame his previous reluctance and was happy to welcome Hearts of Oak to his theater for a return engagement in Chicago in March, 1880. Hamlin, slighted by his ungrateful tenants of lean November, elected to revive the original play, The Mariner's Compass under the title Hearts of Oak! In the lawsuit that followed the court declared that Leslie's drama, being British, could be played by anyone, but that Herne and Belasco held exclusive rights to the title Hearts of Oak. Had Hamlin's lawyer troubled to read The Mariner's Compass he would have found that "Hearts of Oak" was the title of a sailors' chorus lifted bodily by Belasco from the British production!

Herne had been shocked to discover the derivative nature of the play on which he had so generously collaborated. As an actor of considerable reputation involved in a distasteful lawsuit, he felt that injury had been caused needlessly by the younger Belasco's lack of candor. Belasco, on the other hand, regarded the incident as a measure of the real value of their play. Here were sown the seeds of disaffection that blossomed in the following month.

Advertised as a "powerful, realistic home drama" by James A. Herne , Hearts of Oak opened at New York's Fifth Avenue Theater on March 29. A program note acknowledged briefly the play's indebtedness to The Mariner's Compass. It was the first time such respect had been rendered Mr. Leslie's drama. According to The New York Times , Messrs Rice and Nunnemacher, who had leased the Fifth Avenue to present superior attractions to New York's theater-going public, had begun their work "somewhat awkwardly." The play was greeted with "polite derision" by the audience and the Times ' critic found it "a dull, long-winded, ultra-sentimental drama of a kind long deceased, and, we had hoped, not liable to resurrection." The dialogue was the "dreariest" and "silliest" that had been heard since the last resounding failure and the acting at no point rose above mediocrity. The Tribune, in the person of William Winter, who had probably never heard of David Belasco, found the play a patchwork of borrowed dramatic expedients and lamented the abuse of "real" objects on the stage (the cat, baby, real water, boiled potatoes, beans, etc.).

Herne was deemed a "phlegmatic and monotonous actor"; his wife, "obviously inexperienced" but "interesting."

These reviews did not improve the strained relations between Herne and Belasco, who was no doubt incensed over the removal of his name from the program. Business, which was bad enough, was further impaired by the indisposition of Herne and the appearance on several occasions of the unknown Belasco, hopelessly miscast, in the role of Terry Dennison. It was in all an unfortunate engagement, and a thoroughly dejected company moved on to the next stand. In Philadelphia, at Mrs. John Drew's Arch Street Theater, Hearts of Oak was billed once again as "Herne and Belasco's American Play in Six Tableaux." At the bottom of the program the audience could read the following notice: "The whole under the direction of Mr. David Belasco, late stage manager of the 'Baldwin Theatre,' San Francisco." Even this salve to Belasco's wounded pride proved ineffectual and the partnership was terminated in Philadelphia, Belasco selling his half interest in the play to Herne for $ 1500, a sum which, according to Winter, he did not collect until several years later. An unhappy penitent, he returned to Tom Maguire and the Baldwin.

Tom Maguire had returned to San Francisco in February, 1881. His financial distress was now a matter of common knowledge and the quidnuncs were prophesying his immediate eviction from the Baldwin. In March members of the theater orchestra staged a walkout to further their demands for payment of wages long overdue. Newspaper comment on the venerable Tom took on a prescient note of fatality. In June the Wasp and Examiner announced his dispossession -- somewhat prematurely it appeared. The old lion was not ready to accept this consignment to oblivion. His uneasy truce with Lucky Baldwin was strengthened by the presentation of Belasco new play, La Belle Russe, which was greeted enthusiastically on July 18. Great pains had been taken to insure the success of the production. Jeffreys-Lewis had been engaged as leading lady and Osmond Tearle and Gerald Eyre had been brought on from Wallack's Theater, New York, at the behest of director Belasco who had his eye on the future. The drama was announced as a work of French origin, and its authorship was not revealed until the initial verdict of approval had been rendered. Thereafter it was advertised as "The strongest play of modern times, 'La Belle Russe,' by D. Belasco , author of 'Hearts of Oak.'"

May Blossom was the rehash of an earlier Belasco adaptation, Sylvia's Lovers , which was in turn a variant of the plot of Hearts of Oak . The beautiful May Blossom, living in a little town on Chesapeake Bay, is loved by Richard Ashcroft and Steve Harland. She accepts the former, but before the marriage is consummated her would-be husband is arrested by Federal troops as a Confederate spy. Harland, friend and rival of Ashcroft, witnesses the latter's arrest and swears to tell May of his capture. In his love for the girl he betrays his friend. Convinced that Ashcroft will meet a spy's terrible end, Harland allows May to believe that her lover has drowned in the Bay. He then presses his own suit for her hand and a year later they are married. Two years later Ashcroft returns and demands his promised bride. Although May is deeply shocked at her husband's treachery, she refuses to leave him and the child she has borne him. Harland, in an agony of remorse, joins the Confederate Army and is absent from home for a period of six years, at the end of which time he returns, is reconciled to May and presumably lives happily and morally ever after in keeping with the policy of the Madison Square.

Hearts of Oak David Belasco and J. A. Herne Prod. by Rice and Nunnemacher Dir. by Belasco Fifth Ave. Mar. 29, 1980 c. 25