MARK TWAIN HAULED UP
A SUIT OVER "THE PRINCE AND THE PAUPER."
E. H. HOUSE SAYS HE WAS AUTHORIZED BY TWAIN TO PREPARE THE PLAY AND THAT HIS IDEAS WERE STOLEN.
The story of "The Prince and the Pauper" is not fully told on the stage of the Broadway Theatre. Some of the omissions will be supplied today in the court of Common Pleas in arguments for an injunction to restrain the further production of the play until the rights of Edward H. House can be judicially determined
Romance and picturesque effects may not figure in the presentation of the court case, which promises, nevertheless, a narrative of pathetic interest, and which will deal with real life in a fashion not devoid of dramatic force. As set forth in the complaint it is a story of a playwright, dependent on his pen for a livelihood, robbed of his ideas, which are his stock in business, and of his labor, by the prosperous author and owner of the book on which the play is based. From this standpoint the case appeals all the more to public sympathy from the fact that for years Mr. House has been an invalid and his opportunities are curtailed by his inability to get outdoors to compete with other writers on even terms.
Like the majority of writers, Mr. House has not had occasion to cultivate commercial habits. Mark Twain, whom he makes the principal defendant in the preliminary proceedings, as will be done also in the suit to follow, is well known to be a conspicuous exception to this rule of business carelessness among literary men. The case in brief was told last week, when the application for an injunction came up for argument, and when both sides agreed to an adjournment.
Mr. House in his complain swore that he had agreed to dramatize the book, Mr. Clemens (Mark Twain) having offered him one-half or two-thirds the profits of the play for his services. When he had substantially finished the work of dramatization, and was only waiting for a suitable person in whom the characters of the Prince and the Pauper could be united, Mr. Clemens brought out the play in its present from, Abby Sage Richardson having dramatized it for him.
To this statement Mr. Clemens opposes a general denial in the form of an affidavit. He admits having consulted with Mr. House, but declares that he never made any sort of agreement with him. Mr. House submits extracts of letters that passed between the two to show the contrary.
On Dec. 17, 1886, Mr. House says he received from Mr. Clemens, in reply to a reminder of a former suggestion that the book contained a powerful dramatic subject, a letter in which Mr. Clemens wrote: "... reminded me that you had spoken of 'The Prince and The Pauper' for the stage. That would be nice, but I can't dramatize it. The reason I say this is because I did dramatize it and made a bad botch of it. But you could do it, and if you will for one-half or two-thirds of the proceeds I wish you would. Shan't I send you the book?" Previous to this letter, Mr. House says he was assured by Mr. Clemens that the dramatization of "The Gilded Age," known on the stage as "Colonel Sellers," had yielded $150,000. Both Mr. House and Mr. Clemens believed that "The Prince and the Pauper" could be made still more profitable.
On Dec. 24, 1886, in reply to the above, Mr. House wrote: "As regards 'The Prince and the Pauper,' I should be well pleased to undertake the dramatization of it....I shall be glad if you will send me a copy of the book....According to my remembrance of the book, the most taking arrangement would be to give both characters to the same performer, using a silent double in positions where they must for a moment appear together. If there is anywhere about a girl like what Lotta was twenty years ago, or Bijou Heron fifteen years ago, she might fill the duplicate part."
In the book the Prince and the Pauper are not the same person. The idea of having the same person play both parts is claimed to have had its origin in the letter above quoted as well as the idea of the "silent double." Both of these ideas are utilized in Mrs. Richardson's dramatization, although the contract to write the play was not made by her until two years afterward. Mr. House avers that there was further appropriation of his ideas, extending over a good part of the play. Mark Twain says he never gave Mrs. Richardson his own or any one else's ideas about what the play should be.
On Dec. 26, 1886, Mr. House received a letter from Mr. Clemens saying that two copies of the book had been forwarded to him. Soon afterward Mr. Clemens came to New York. It was agreed, Mr. House says, that he should go ahead and should visit Mr. Clemens in Hartford in May, 1887. They were there to put the play in shape. It was to be offered for the stage at a suitable opportunity, and Mr. Clemens and Mr. House were to divide the proceeds.
Mr. House says he wrote several letters to Mr. Clemens in April, 1887, about the play. May 7 he wrote:
"A few nights ago the complete scheme of the play developed with an effectiveness that I had not expected to arrive at so soon. The mere writing of the scenes and acts ought not now to occupy a great deal of time. But it may take a mighty long time to find the right person to fill the double part....I would rather have it put off two or three years than let it be intrusted to incompetent hands....I can't tell you, my dear Mark, what a comforting thing it is to have this piece of good fortune in prospect. It takes a load of care away from me, as you can well imagine."
The visit to Hartford began soon after this and lasted six weeks. June 13, 1887, the whole of Act I., with the position of the actors, the arrangement of stage scenery and all details were read to Mr. Clemens. Mr. House says that as the reading proceeded, Mr. Clemens expressed his approval in energetic and enthusiastic terms, exclaiming at intervals: "That's a play." "I see that on the stage." "I should like to take hold and help."
Mr. Clemens had to go away about this time to be gone three months. It was agreed and arranged, Mr. House claims, that within this period he should finish the play. He did so. The play as completed, he says, embodied the novelties he had suggested, which appear in Mrs. Richardson's work, and which, as he wrote to Mr. Clemens on Aug. 29, 1887, make the play "entirely different from the incidents of the book."
The position of Mark Twain in the matter, as shown by the extracts from the above quotations, his affidavit of last week, and other papers in the case, appears to be as follows:
Letter. Dec. 17, 1886: "You could do it, and if you will for one-half or two-thirds of the proceeds, I wish you would. Shan't I send you the book?"
Affidavit. January, 1890: "Some time in the year 1886, I suggested to the plaintiff, Edward H. House, the dramatization of 'The Prince and the Pauper.' "
Letter. Dec. 26, 1886: "I've ordered a couple of P. & Ps. sent to you."
At Clemens's house on hearing Act I.: "That's a play!" "I see that on the stage." "I should like to take hold and help.
From the affidavit: "At my house subsequently there was an understanding that he might take hold and see what work he could do, but there was no agreement that I should have to do any of the work, or that he should have the exclusive right to dramatize. It was simply experimental. He began to write something in the way of a skeleton and bring it to me to fill up."
From Mr. House's letter of Aug. 29, 1887: "This morning I had the
satisfaction of seeing the whole five acts completed before me, with the
single exception of the closing of Act V....
(Affidavit.) That two weeks thereafter the deponent verbally stated to Clemens that it was ready."
Clemens's affidavit: "I have not refused to consent to the production of the plaintiff's play, if any has been written by him, as the plaintiff has never asked me to consult in relation thereto....So far as I knew or know, the play was never completed."
Mr. House says that, knowing Twain to be a busy man and impatient of details, he tried to find some one who could bring out the play, keeping Twain generally informed, but not annoying him with particulars, which he knew Twain abhorred. He associated Chandos Fulton with himself in trying to place the play. The urgency of the matter grew, because an annuity which Mr. House enjoyed was to be terminated n the present year, and he would need an income to take its place. About the time Mr. Fulton took hold, paragraphs began to appear in the newspapers to the effect that Mark Twain was dramatizing some of his books. These paragraphs proved embarrassing. Mr. House wrote to Mr. Clemens to ask about them. He got no reply until after he had written several times. He excused Twain's delay, he says, because he knew him to be habitually neglectful of letter writing, and assumed that he was busy with his various money-making schemes. When the reply did come it was a startler. It bore the date Feb. 26, 1890, and was as follows:
"I gather the idea from your letter that you would have undertaken the dramatization of that book. Well, that would have been joyful news to me about the middle of December, when I gladly took the first offer that came and made a contract. I remembered that you started once to map out the framework for me to fill in, and I suggested to this lady that possibly you would collaborate with her, but she thought she could do the work alone. However, I never thought of such a thing as your being willing to undertake the dramatization itself - I mean the whole thing. I will look in when I come down."
That letter forced an issue. It opened before the patient and long-waiting invalid a dismal prospect in place of the happy one on which he had been counting. Twain had been growing rich, while the poor writer, now confined closely to his room and with the last term of the his slender annuity nearly at hand, had no resources except in his pen. To see months of labor thrown away at such a time was about as serious a thing as could happen. This situation threatened to present an actual case of prince and pauper, with none of the stage gloss or romance to relieve it.
Senator Eugene S. Ives has taken up Mr. House's application for an injunction, and will argue it today. Howe & Hummel appear for the defendants, Mr. Clemens, Mrs. Richardson, and Manager Frohman.
Related articles concerning the Prince and Pauper:
Articles from The New York Times
21, 1890 - ELSIE LESLIE [review of opening of "The Prince and
A YANKEE IN
THE CRUSADING JOURNALIST
EDWARD H. HOUSE
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