The Year Everything Important Happened



Film Scenario by Josephine Lovett of the William C. de Mille play “Classmates” for the 1924 film version starring Richard Barthelmess.

You can know a man by the stories he tells, even if he doesn’t want you to or says you can’t.  Pay attention and look closely, however, and you will learn his dreams and his fears, who his heroes are and what keeps him awake at night.  A writer reveals himself through his material, the good and the bad, what he decides is interesting or rejects as boring, the details he focuses on and the parts he leaves out; the characters he casts as villains and those you can pretty well guess he’d most like to sleep with, even if he never does.  I’ve worked for a writer or two and trust me, I know.

According to The Theatre (Vol. 4, #45, November 1904) William C. de Mille, older brother of the famous Cecil B., was working in 1904 on his play “Strongheart” for the actor Robert Edeson which opened in January of 1905 at the Hudson Theatre in New York; his play “Classmates” also starring Edeson would follow in 1907.  William Macauley, actor and producer, would take “Classmates” on the road in 1909 [see previous posts].  There would be more than one film version.

About these plays and others and what they reveal of the author, however, there will be more to come later.  For now, let’s widen the focus.  Let’s consider the context of the body of work left behind by this writer who also directed, did Hollywood as well as Broadway.  Let’s look at the bigger picture, the time, the world, the other players.

Which means another trip to another library.  And roses.  You should always have roses when you’re doing research.


Program (2)

“That was very, actor-ly,” I think/type.  I feel a fluttering as flattery hits its mark.  “Stella would be impressed.”

“Stella?” William replies in my head.

“An acting teacher.  My friend Rose’s teacher Stella Adler.  She was also an actress.  So is this how we’re going to work?” I ask, shifting the conversation to the matter at hand.  “You soliloquize, I type?” [see previous post].  I sense surprise at the question.  A perplexed tingling, a ruffle in the air.  “I’m asking,” I explain, “because I’m not sure where the story is headed.  Or, well, perhaps not headed.  What it’s about,” I hasten to add, “besides you.”

Death where is thy sting?” comes the reply, delivered with a certain huff and melodramatic flourish in the ether.

“Yes, that of course,” I answer.  “but people think I’m imagining things.  Imagining you.  We need more than that.  We need conflict.  A villain.”

The answer comes back so quickly I’m surprised.  “Really?” I say out loud, and before I can add, “You must be joking,” I have the distinct impression of the ghostly equivalent of ‘duh.’  Or, (sorry, I find I am being told to correct myself), the sense of a ‘I should have thought that much was already obvious.’  Then as if for emphasis, a book abruptly falls off the desk.  It is Jeanine Basinger’s Silent Stars, (Knopf, 1999) inscribed to me affectionately by the author in red ink because it was the only pen I had with me at the book signing in the lobby of the old CAA building but I digress and no, I didn’t bump it accidentally and no it was not balanced precariously and no, it could not just have slipped on its own; I’m almost getting used to these psychic signals.  I reach down and look at the page the volume has landed open to.

“Mary Pickford?” I ask. “Well, she was many things my dear but she was hardly a villain.”  There’s a shuddering of impatience in the air and I look again.  Slowly it dawns on me.

“Oh,” I say.  “Oh I see.  And in 1904 too,” I add, impressed.

I feel a satisfied nodding in the wings.  I have my work cut out for me now; I can see that.

And the story begins to take shape.

To be continued.

A Disembodied Voice


Oakwood Cemetery, Troy, New York, November 17, 2015.  Photo by Rose

1904 was a year of communication.  The Brazilian priest and scientist Landell de Moura obtained three patents for wireless technology: “The Wave Transmitter” (October 11, 1904), “The Wireless Telephone”, and the “Wireless Telegraph” (both dated November 22, 1904).  Jagadis Chunder Bose patented the coherer detector (semiconductor) on March 29, 1904, and the Marconi Wireless Telegraph Company was awarded the patent for a four-circuit wireless radio apparatus on June 28, 1904.  There were others,  of course, all contributing pieces of the system, parts of the communication/information highway.  In 1904 the world could speak at great distances, without wires, across oceans.

In 1904 William Macauley, actor, was touring the opera houses of the American Midwest.  Which is where I thought we would start this story.  Communication, however, involves at least two parties, and when at least one of those parties is an actor (an opinionated one, impatient) and the other is a writer (an uncertain one, possibly lazy), the process can become a little complicated.  Especially if one is speaking from another realm.  Or looking over the shoulder of the other, typing. Or not, apparently.

“Actors act,” (William ‘says’ and I type). “It’s that simple. Start there. That’s your story, no need to embellish.  You see us, hear us, inhabiting the bright other world beyond the blazing flames of the foot lights, the other world of luminous brightness, of breath, of life, of music and real language, up here on the stage, framed by a proscenium arch swagged by curtains that lift and reveal a world more real than the meaningless fumbling shapes and mumbling in the dark below.  Look at me, look at this more vivid creation parallel to your pale reality.   Now tables turned, the roles reversed, how do you like that, which is the fiction, which is the fact?  Tell me, I’ll play my part, of course.  It’s what actors do.

“Because that was my life, acting, my real life, what I did with those years.  Or if you insist, begin before that, fine, put in the part about hiding my face in my mother’s skirts on the dock if you will, 1876, a child, salt and fish in the air, tears, brine, fear, adventure (the images are coming too fast to keep up).  The shiny sheer slick black wall of the ship rising up mammoth overhead, impossible future, bidding adieu, forbidding on the other side of a swelling gulley of oily water waiting to churn and widen, the crowd around us men mostly, a few women, a rude dull crowd in black, in wool, me small with my face in mother’s skirts, pulling the thick cloth to me, the rich reassuring scent of vinegar and roses, wood smoke, bread, heartbreak, life.  Times would come when I stood on a stage in a strange town and remembered and could have embraced, did embrace the curtain between the real and the imagined, hanging velvet of sweat and sweet dust, buried my face, wrapped the heavy familiar folds around me, giant mother.  Lifted up by a boy in the wings, pulled up by a heavy rope hand, let the stars through the coy fringed swoop to the rich applause beyond, beckoning in the smoky light, the fluttering of hands and joy, the humanity and hope on the other side of the dream.

“Or start in Ireland in 1870, another century entirely, another between it and you in your present; not mine, I barely know it.  The place of my birth is an unknown land conjured by those who were doomed to remember it, their memories borrowed and stolen, a troubled tortured loyalty passed on to me as inheritance to be treasured, squandered, regretted: a curse, a legacy, a gift.  Northern Ireland is a poor woman crying out in pain in childbirth in the night, Ballymoney a dim dream of low life and low ceilings and damp stone, of moss and smoke in dark corners, straw, and a gut deep ache which is forever something that will feel like homesick or hunger or both.  County Antrim where the giant’s causeway of cobblestones spreads out in wet wind-whipped octagonal piles, reaching toward another shore, a place a father who frightened would take you, unnatural, your Disneyland can’t compete, blocks of stone spilled into the sea, begin there, or the pony cart to the train, the train itself, the dock, the departure, mother and sisters and brother and me, the youngest four, Da and the two older boys gone over ahead of us.

“They were strangers to me always afterward, the older family men in America, the ones who went before, you should understand that, Thomas the oldest and the first with a job in the mill, making a place for the rest of us to land, to leave, to come back to at the end.  I was the baby, a position with privileges but it came with duty too, people forget that, what the youngest child is for, the responsibility.  She was everything to me, Mother, and after her my dear Sister, less than a year between us, virtually twins.   Then Jane, five years older than us, Little Mother we called her, and tougher, more of a threat.  And John, older by a couple years, John the brother I loved the most, and then the strangers, my father and the older ones, Alex and Tom.

You type fast,” (he ‘observes,’ and I type).  “Start there.”

And so we begin.

Ghost Writer



Actors act but they also tell stories. Trust me, I’ve known a few actors; some of the stories they tell you are even true. The Greeks saw the stage as a place where ideas could be explored but as soon as you had a stage you had an audience, and once you had an audience it didn’t take long for actors to realize that a stage was a place where dreams could be made and reality improved upon.  Ideas and dreams, a tricky combination from then on.  No wonder Plato said we should ban artists.  He meant actors, but writers too.

So you start out in this world, in any endeavor, as anyone would, working with a ghost, by sticking to the facts.  Your actor William Macauley starred in a touring company production of “The Minister’s Son” (see previous posts) in 1904.  At different dates he did different shows, lived at different addresses in different cities.  Check the newspapers, the census records, refine your Google searches, be a sleuth.  If you’re lucky you have a dear friend like Rose to help.

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, September 3, 1912: “Among the passengers of the steamship Lapland which docked this morning from Liverpool was Frederick Macauley, a brother of William Macauley of the Greenpoint Players.  The brothers had not seen each other for fourteen years and immediately upon landing and passing baggage inspection Frederick journeyed to Brooklyn to see his brother William play the part of Suffers Thorne in ‘The Spendthrift.’

“This is a great find,” I tell Rose. “Except William didn’t have a brother Frederick.  Do you suppose it’s a mistake, or was it someone else and William just said it was his brother, or…”

“Look at the date,” Rose says abruptly, brushing aside my objections.  “1912.  Make it April not September and make it the Carpathia instead of the Lapland, bringing in the survivors from the Titanic.  William fights his way through the throng on the Brooklyn Bridge to be at the dock on 14th Street when his long lost sister disembarks and collapses in his arms.”

“Oh Rose,” I say.

“A little dramatic license can propel the narrative,” counters Rose, who is a trained actress after all with stories of her own, including a colorful period as a performer in a traveling Mexican circus (seriously, I’m not making that up).

“William said I should not embellish the truth or try and be scandalous, I’m supposed to just stick to the facts.”

“Oh please,” Rose retorts.  “You’ve handled actors before. Television actors. Tell him that. Besides, he’s not even here.”

“Well, he sort of is,” I explain.  “I hear him grumbling in the shadows.”

“Trust me,” says Rose.  “All actors lie.  Go with the Titanic-Sister angle.”

Getting to the Source


Detail, William Macauley ephemera, poster, stationery, coupon, theatrical date book

In 1904 everything happened, and the world was transformed.

The subway opened in New York City, October 27, 1904, marking the beginning of the end of an ecological disaster that threatened to bury the city, and all cities around the world. In 1900 London had 11,000 horse-pulled cabs and several thousand buses, each of which required 12 horses per day, a total of more than 50,000 horses. In New York in 1900 the population of 100,000 horses produced 2.5 million pounds of horse manure per day, which had to be swept up and disposed of, not to mention the carcases of dead horses which also had to be removed. (See FEE and Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 [New York: Oxford University Press, 1999]).  In 1898 the first international urban-planning conference met in New York and adjourned after three days instead of the scheduled ten, because none of the delegates could see any solution to the growing crisis posed by urban horses and their output.

Then 1904 and subways.  And then trains and cars and buses… and planes… and SUVs… and spaceships.

1904 was a pivotal year in the history of the world and William Macauley (1870 – 1952) was alive for it, a young man in the midst of of this remarkable time in which everything changed, not just in terms of the ways we got from one place to another but in how we lived and worked and dreamed and communicated, in the forms our entertainment took and the delivery and presentation of that entertainment.  He was a part of that radical transformation of the world, and this is his story, and also mine, and yours.  Our past, our present, and also our future.

He will be telling it soon enough; we’re still working on how that’s going to happen.  There are still details to be ironed out.  I feel a little bit like Ruth Montgomery.  Collaboration is a trickly thing.  I’ve worked with actors.  I know.

But before William takes the stage, as it were, let us give credit where credit is due, along with a heartfelt thanks, to our beloved friend Rose, without whom none of this would be happening.  For it was Rose, knowing my interest in all things 1904, who sent me a little theatrical diary she’d picked up one day in a shop near Troy, New York.  It was subsequently Rose who checked the census records, and Rose who yesterday visited Oakwood Cemetery in Troy and found the final resting place in this physical plane of our William Macauley, actor, producer, theatrical manager and company traveler, the subject of this unfolding drama and main character and co-author, maybe even ghost-writer, no pun intended.

Rose knows the world and she knows the world of the theater.  She knows how stories are born and how dreams come true.  She knows we all need inspiration and encouragement.  She knows from temperamental actors and struggling writers.  She knows how to be a true friend.  So thank you, my darling Rose, from both of us.

And also a very special thanks to my dear sister Barbara, who tracked down the history of the opera house in Escanaba Michigan, where William Macauley performed in 1904.



Writing paper and envelopes, engraved William Macauley in The Great American Play “Classmates,” with complimentary coupon for reserved seating.  Collection of the author.

“He’s talking really fast,” said Adela the medium, communicating with William Macauley the deceased.  “He’s distraught.  He says he was robbed.  That his -” she struggled to find a word.  “- his creative efforts were stolen?  What did he do when he was alive? Was he in the Mob?” Then she shook her head as if she’d just been interrupted by someone unseen or offstage.  “Sorry, he says it was like that, but he wants you to know he wasn’t really a gangster.  That’s my word.  My business (being a medium) is highly competitive so that’s how I’d describe what – what he meant by, you know, cutthroat.  What did he do?”

“He was an actor,” I replied.  “He managed a theatrical -”

“Got it, he just told me.  The world of the theater. Very competitive, I guess, being an actor.”

She wasn’t wrong about that and I said so.  I considered what I knew so far, that in 1904 William Macauley had a partner, W.B. Patton, who wrote and starred in the productions they toured the country with, William sometimes in the cast, sometimes not.  Later Patton is no longer part of the company.  Had there been a riff?  Was that the story?  I also knew that William had not originated the role of Duncan Irving in “Classmates” but had clearly been determined to make a name for himself by going on the road with the production.  He was a clever promoter of his own company and himself; he had the posters and stationery and comp tickets and advance reviews…  But he wasn’t the only young man who’d been drawn to the world of the stage and not the only one who’d played the part, or managed a theater company touring America.  Not the first actor with ambition and a dream to come out west, come to Hollywood.  I’d looked for him in the film and movie archives and found nothing.

“Was he famous?” the medium asked.  I said that was part of the story, part of what I was looking for.  “Right,” she said “I don’t recognize him.”  She paused as though listening to his version of the facts.  “He says he did alright for himself though.”

“Oh yes, of course,” I agreed.

“He says he was taken too soon,” the medium added.  “Before he could really achieve immortality.  Did he die young?”

“At the age of 82,” I replied and wondered in a sudden panic if perhaps she’d managed to contact the wrong person.  Young at heart, you might reasonably argue but hardly cut down in his prime.  She nodded.  “He looks old.”  She seemed to listen some more to someone on the other side, then shrugged.  “He says he felt he never got the fame he deserved.  Not that it matters over there though.”

I asked what she meant.

“Fame doesn’t count on the other side,” she explained.

It struck me that if this were so, the truly famous in this world were going to be in for an unpleasant surprise when they passed over.  My medium seemed to read my mind.  “Right,” she said.  “But that’s how it is.  Fame on the other side just isn’t that big a deal.”

A leveling of the playing field, as it were, I observed and she nodded again.

“Dead is dead.”

To be continued.

Telling a Life


WILLIAM MACAULEY in “Classmates,” by Wm C. de Mille, lobby poster, color lithograph circa 1910, mounted on board, printed by Erie Litho Co., Erie, Pennsylvania. Collection of the author

How do you tell a life? With the facts, of course, and with evidence, with dates and records and with the things left behind.  Ideally if you could you’d let the person who lived their life tell the tale, of course, and that I believe will be what happens, soon enough.  In the meantime, however, I’l do what Nancy Mitford (1904 – 1973) always did when she invited you to tea – give you a ‘pencil sketch’ in words of the other invited guests.  Or guest in this case: William Macauley (1870 – 1952):

In 1904, William was already on tour, as I’ve mentioned before (see the previous post), and “The Minister’s Son” was just one of the productions in which he appeared from Cairo, Illinois to Escanaba, Michigan, Galveston to Shreveport to Yazoo City. Meanwhile another Wlliam, William C. de Mille (father of Agnes, lesser known brother of Cecil B. DeMille who altered the capitalization) was writing plays for Broadway: “Strongheart” in 1904 and “Classmates” which opened in 1907, both starring Robert Edeson.  “Classmates” ran for 250 performances at the Hudson Theatre in New York. Then William Macauley bought the props, the sets and the costumes and took the show on the road.  Or rather, on the rails, which is how theater traveled in 1910.

“Savage realism” is how one reviewer described “Classmates,” the story of a love triangle gone horribly wrong, a bitter feud between hero and foe that begins at West Point and crosses continents, “penetrating the South African jungle, a thousand miles up the Amazon River,” before love conquers all and justice finally triumphs.  A very broad canvas, you might say but already an established hit in New York and for our William Macauley a chance for real stardom: his company owned the production, he was the star, he had stationery made with his name and the name of the show in gold.  “Classmates” was his shot at immortality.

William Macauley’s production was well received across the country as it toured from 1910 – 1911; its recreation of the life of a cadet at West Point was praised for its veracity and the gun battle scene in the Amazon jungle was so vividly enacted at least one female patron screamed and fainted during a performance.  And then?  A film version was made in 1914 but not with William.  Another  film version in 1924 starred Richard Barthelmess.   What happened?

As I said, you can tell a life with facts and evidence, or you can let the person whose life it is speak for himself.  So I went to a medium the other night and asked to talk to William.  Would he want to speak to me?  I couldn’t be sure.  “He doesn’t know me,” I explained timidly to the medium.  So why did I want to talk to him? she asked in reply.  Because I’ve been doing research, I explained, and our paths seemed to have crossed – here in the Valley (the medium Adela works at The Green Man on Lankershim, around the corner) and in Troy, New York where William lived with his mother and sister in 1893 and where he returned to die in 1952.  And other places.  And I have some things of his, I added.  The medium waved away further explaination.  “He knows you,” Adela declared with the confidence that apparently comes with the job.   “He knows who you are,” she said with that tone of voice that meant no convincing was needed.

And then William came through.  Loud and clear.

To be continued.

The Minister’s Son


Theatrical Date Book, Season 1903-1904 of William Macauley, with complimentary coupon and photograph of two unknown gentlemen, collection of the author.

Everything is connected.  The diary of an actor touring America is a key to that convergence, the quotidien record of the eternal, the day by day accounting of the everlasting pursuit of fame and fortune and fulfillment of the heart’s desire for love, for beauty, maybe even for truth.

Do you know how quickly the world changes?  How fast time sweeps away a way of life barely taken for granted before it is gone forever or altered beyond all recognition?  Once upon a time if a railroad stopped in a town in this country that town had an opera house – a nice name for a tavern unescorted ladies could enter with impunity but still, a place where you went to be entertained, amused, charmed, deceived, diverted, inspired by melodramas, comedy acts, minstrel and magic and variety shows performed by actors and artists and touring companies arriving by rail for one, maybe two performances before moving on to the next town, next railroad stop.  56 different shows in 1904 at the Chicago Opera House in Chicago Junction, Ohio, named for the junction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad with the Chicago Railroad (later the town changed its name to Willard, Ohio, after the president of the B&O).  Population in 1904, a little over 2000 souls.  William Macauley performed in W.B. Patton’s play “The Little Homestead” at the Chicago Opera House on April 4, 1904.  And in one hundred and thirty-nine other towns across the country in six months, between December and June of that year.

Today a few of those towns still have their opera houses, the buildings at any rate.  A few have grown in population (Willard, Ohio has around 6000 residents today, nearly a three-fold increase from 1904), and some have shrunk: Cairo, Illinois where Macauley performed two shows on February 20 and 21st, had a population in 1904 of over 12,000; now less than 3000 live there.  As for the railroads, Amtrak still connects some of the better known names on the map; the remaining lines are used now for transporting coal, cargo, toxic chemicals.

Melodrama to toxic chemicals; how far we’ve come.  But 1904 was the year everything important happened.  It was the beginning and it was also the end.  It was the time when the ordinary and the magical converged.

To be continued.



On September 18, 1904, James Joyce wrote the poem, ‘Bid Adieu,’ although it was probably a fair copy of the poem he’d written earlier, on a Becker’s tea-bag at his Aunt Josephine’s kitchen table.

How these things happen you only wonder later; a funny dream half-remembered, an offhand remark overheard, an exchange with a stranger you never see again, something you read somewhere and hope to remind yourself to go back to, and then long afterward you realize that was the point when everything began to change.  You didn’t notice at first, of course.  “It was always that way,” you say, even when you know it wasn’t.  “I always knew,” you tell yourself, or “I must have imagined it,” except that’s not true either.

You had an intuition; you were given a clue, an insight, a key.  But how to interpret it?  What does it mean? What does anything mean?  Surely everything can’t be code, a symbol, a formula, an answer, a solution that unlocks a problem, a door to somewhere else, a way out.

Gematria is the ancient study of number and letter values, Babylonian in origin, a process of finding correlations between words and numbers.  Hebrew letters have numerical value, you can translate words into numbers and back again.   1904, for example, has the numerical value of the words “The truth beneath the lies.” And also “Exquisite sapphires of the holy king,” and “V for vendetta.”

The surprise of being hit by a car the other day, a four-way stop in the hills above Hollywood, so unexpected.  Minding my business, on the way to work, then everything in a heartbeat is different.  Afterward I feel a little wobbly, dazed like being in a bubble of quiet in a very loud storm, I can’t remember my office number but I can see the package on my desk that has to go out as soon as possible.  People are talking around me, at my car window, telling me to breathe, to relax, and all I can think is, you are all being so kind, the world is full of kind people, I must remember this later.

A man in a homburg, a black topcoat, leans against a railing next to me in the snow on a winter night on a city street so long ago the place no longer exists, and I remember it like this morning.  A stranger who appears and disappears, the cold that burns your nose and drips at the back of your throat, your breath and his making auras of the street lamp light. You remember things he said but when you try to put words to the memory you get a number.  Or maybe it’s a date; for years you go with the idea of it being a date and you find it everywhere.  You make a point of it.  1904.  A whole year of potential significance.  Later you think, could it be something else?  Part of an address, coordinates to a place on a map, the four digit key to unlock the secret to everything.

The other day the man in the homburg stands at the intersection, on the side of the road.  Our eyes meet.  But my phone rings and I look down and ask who it is.  It’s a co-worker who says I don’t sound like myself at all, what’s wrong, what’s happened, where am I, and the moment passes, and I realize with a kind of faraway disappointment that when I look up again, he’ll be gone.

September 13, 1904


Time to get to work.

X says he has sex two or three times a day, he asks me if I think that’s unusual.  I tell him my friend Mario, who does this sort of thing for a living, sees up to 7 clients a day, upon the rare occasion 12, but that’s probably not quite the same, since after all it’s his profession and so not for pleasure although you have to wonder.  Mario has also told me Monday is often his busiest day, starting early in the morning.  One client even asked for a 7:30 AM appointment.  “Dude,” Mario says he told him, “seriously?  Not before breakfast and the gym.”

I don’t know how anyone finds the time.  Today, for example, I have reading to do for my book club (“A Little Life,” by Hanya Yanagihara, in which, speaking of sex, people have ghastly experiences or none at all, a very Victorian tale in that respect and hardly reading for pleasure, in case you were wondering), I have a lunch date with Al at noon, tea with Jamie at four, then I need to pop round to the Vedanta Temple for vespers and meditation and back again through the Cahuenga Pass and home and try to answer some of the correspondence that’s piled up in my in-box and tidy up for Esther who comes on Monday to clean and hide things so I spend the rest of the time until she comes again looking for everything she’s put away, like the coffee press and my shoes, and of course I have to prepare for the week ahead, and suddenly it’s Monday morning and oh dear lord where does the time go?

Today is the birthday of actresses Gladys George (September 13, 1904 – December 8, 1954) and Edwina Booth (September 13, 1904  – May 18, 1991) and Martin Luther King Jr.’s mother, Alberta Williams King (September 13, 1904 – June 30, 1974).    Gladys had a short career and four husbands; Edwina had an even shorter one, beginning and ending with “Trader Horn” (1931) during which she (and many of the crew) contracted malaria, one crew member was eaten by a crocodile and another killed by a charging rhino; and of course Alberta King was the mother of a great martyr, so you never know how much time you have or where your life is going to take you.

Yesterday I discovered they’re building a drive-thru Starbucks just a few blocks away from here on Laurel Canyon Blvd. I was thrilled. Of course I could easily walk to it but I love the option of not having to park if I don’t.  Like the drive-thru car wash and the drive-thru El Pollo Loco, next to the Yoga studio down the street.   Life is very full. Time to get to work.

« Older posts

© 2015 1904

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑