Volume 0084

a review by
Robert B. Zeuschner
This review first appeared in the
Burroughs Bulletin #31 - Summer, 1997.
It is reprinted here with the author's permission.

Shortly before 8 pm on Saturday evening, May 3rd, I handed my ticket to the ticket collector at the Palmdale Playhouse (the city of Palmdale is located about forty miles north of Hollywood) and walked into the main door of the playhouse. I was handed a copy of the program. The Playbill read “The World Premiere of YOU LUCKY GIRL!”, and I must confess that this was an event which I never thought I would see. It was the very first production of ERB’s only play, and ran for just two weekends: April 25, 26, 27, and May 2, 3, and 4, 1997.

The play was set in the year 1927, and the sets and clothing of the production were appropriate to the period. The music played during the intermissions was also mostly instrumentals from the period prior to the Great Depression.

As all good ERB fans know, the manuscript for “You Lucky Girl!” was originally written for ERB’s only daughter, Joan, to further her career aspirations on the stage. However, she was married about a year after this play was finished, and it was put away in the family safe and completely forgotten until it was discovered at ERB, Inc. in 1962 by Henry Hardy Heins. Later this year, Donald M. Grant is scheduled to publish the text, but this is a play, and the best way to see a play is to listen to the words with the appropriate voices, and see it enacted with sets, costumes and hair styles from the late 1920s, and all the other tiny details which belong to that era and add a touch of verisimilitude.

The Palmdale Playhouse seats a little over 300 people, and I would guess that there were about 270 in attendance. I think that there were only the four of us who were fans; the rest were ordinary folks who came for a fun evening, and they were not disappointed. There were two intermissions, and I listened carefully to the remarks of people standing in the lobby. The attendees all enjoyed it and several discussions were sparked about how such things have changed when it comes to women seeking their own careers. I did not overhear a single negative comment.

The lobby of the playhouse had numerous ERB-related items displayed on tables and on lobby cards, with donations from George McWhorter and the Burroughs Memorial Collection at the University of Louisville, some things from Roy and Dela White’s extensive collection, and from Danton Burroughs. There were photographs of the young Joan Burroughs and the Burroughs family, some ERB books, stage contracts, period costumes and jewelry, and more. Another poster board displayed at least a half-dozen favorable reviews of the play.

The play was shepherded from inception to completion by Hugh Munro Neely, a documentary filmmaker, musician, actor, and stage director. In addition, he is a life-long fan of Edgar Rice Burroughs and has wanted to do this play since he first read about it in the 1970s. After the play ended, Mr. Neely kindly invited the small group of Burroughs fans (four of us) backstage. We talked for at least twenty minutes, with Mr. Neely answering our questions about the text and the production. He told us that there were very few changes in the play we saw. Fewer than a half-dozen lines had been deleted or changed. Mr. Neely remarked that in the original script, ERB had provided very extensive and detailed stage directions, and he had tried to follow those as closely as was practical. We were also given a tour of the backstage area and the set, and noticed many details not visible from the seats. For example, there was a red G&D ERB book on the bookshelf, and on the piano were actual framed Burroughs family pictures, including a photo of Ed and Emma, and their three young children, and another framed photo of Joan Burroughs at about age 20. The music on the piano was also from the 1920s.

As to the story, it is a romance and a melodrama in three acts. The plot of the script was vintage Edgar Rice Burroughs. It felt like ERB’s more “realistic” stories, which is to say, it was a little like The Girl From Hollywood (but without the grimness), a little like “The Efficiency Expert,” combined with “women’s liberation” and a noble character, where true love wins out over all in the end. Doesn’t that sound like typical ERB? All of us in the audience who knew the details of ERB’s life felt that there were many references to the Burroughs family. The two heroines were the same age as Joan Burroughs, and were best friends. The father of the family had a bit of Ed himself, and I can imagine the elder brother to be Hully or John Coleman, and perhaps Ed again.

The characters in the play and the actors who portrayed them:

William Mason, the father of the Mason family, played by Steve Willis
Bill Mason, the son, played by L. Michael Wells
Ann Mason, the daughter who loves the stage, played by Tiffany Krusey
Corrie West, the best friend of Anne Mason, played by Jenna White
Frank West, elder brother of Corrie West, played by David Kingsley
Clyde C. Barton, a promoter for a light opera company,
                        played by Sheldon Moskowitz
Jud Perkins, the local police constable,
                        played by the director, Hugh Munro Neely
Hazel Jones, an attractive divorcee, played by Caryl Money
Tracy Lord, the fiancé of Anne Mason, played by William L. Smith
Phil Mattis, the supercilious fiancé of Corrie West, played by Chuck Linn
Katie, the maid at the Lord residence, played by Patricia Martini

A Very Brief Synopsis of the Story
A talented young woman, Anne Mason, wants to act on the stage, but her fiancé, Tracy Lord, is opposed to it. Anne’s best friend, Corrie West is interested in a career singing, but her wealthy and overbearing fiancé absolutely forbids it. After a bank robbery, an innocent man is falsely accused, and love is temporarily frustrated. At the end, each girl finds true love and a career in show business beckons.

The Setting in Three Acts

Act I
Scene 1:
Location: Home of William Mason, in the small town of Millidge, a town in the American Midwest.
Time: 6 o’clock on a summer evening, 1927.
The characters are all introduced and the family situation and tensions are all elucidated. The act opens with young Bill Mason (about 21 years old) on stage, followed by his father, William Mason. His daughter, Anne Mason, arrives late because she has been rehearsing a stage play. Corrie West appears, and it is obvious that Bill Mason cares for her, but is not financially successful enough in his auto business to tell her how he feels. Meanwhile, Corrie has become engaged to the son of the town’s bank president.

Scene 2
Location: Same.
Time: Midnight, same summer evening, 1927.
The bank has been robbed and we know that the wrong man was arrested. The house is dark. A strange figure enters and puts something on the couch. A minute later Bill Mason arrives. Then Jud Perkins, the town constable, arrives and arrests Bill for bank robbery.

Act II
Location: Same.
Time: Around 1 am, one hour later, summer evening, 1927.
The heroine declares her love for the thief, and he rejects her. Anne Mason’s fiancé forbids her to go on stage, and Anne agrees. Corrie West’s fiancé forbids Corrie, and Corrie breaks the engagement. Corrie finds out that Bill was arrested for bank robbery, and says to Bill that she would stick by the man she loved even if he was guilty. Bill rejects her outpouring of affection, wounding Corrie deeply.

Location: Home of Mr. and Mrs. Tracy Lord
Time: Three years later, 1930
The hero is threatened with prison. We discover that Bill Mason was not prosecuted for robbery, but the charge still hangs over his head. He is threatened with black mail, but refuses to give in. The marriage of Tracy and Anne is facing serious problems, but at the end of the act, Bill winds up with the girl he loves, financial success, and the two lucky girls have their careers on the stage after all.

* * * * * * *

How was the quality of the production? I thought it was well done community theater, and I imagine it would have looked and sounded very much the same if it had been produced in 1927. I do not know whether ERB imagined that his daughter Joan would play the role of Anne Mason, who gives up the theater for marriage, or the role of Corrie West, who succeeds in the theater but not in love (until the end). I am guessing that the two girls were a composite of Joan’s character. I am sure that ERB had met theatrical producers promoting stardom for lovely young ladies, and I have no doubt that the character of the producer was a composite drawn from real life. It might be fun to try to psychoanalyze the play, and look for clues in the play to supply information about the personal life of the Burroughs family. For example, the mother of the Mason family did not appear as a character. Was this reflecting Ed’s relationship with Emma at this time, which we know had deteriorated? According to Eddie Gilbert, ERB had met Eddie for the first time at the home of Florence Gilbert in early 1927. Was she possibly in his mind as the vivacious and beautiful Corrie West? The Burroughs family knew many other young film actresses including Rochelle Hudson. I wonder who served as the model in ERB’s mind?

I was very happy to be able to see the play in person. Wouldn’t it have been great if it could have been a touring company, visiting the hometowns of everyone who belongs to the Burroughs Bibliophiles? Perhaps one day the videotape of the production (commissioned by ERB, Inc. for archival purposes, and shown at the Newton, Iowa 1997 Dum-Dum) might be available for those who missed the premiere. I hope so! The play’s director, Hugh Neely did us all a great favor by promoting the production of this play, and then actually bringing it into existence. On behalf of all of us, thank you Hugh!

...Bob Zeuschner

Bob with original J. Allen St. John


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