| Rosetta and Vivian Duncan were well-known vaudeville stars in 1923 when they
asked Catherine Chisholm Cushing to write a musical for them "Based on 'Uncle
Tom's Cabin.'" Cushing used Stowe's characters, but drastically rewrote the
story. As you can see from the script available below, what plot the piece has depends mainly on the romantic relationship
between George Shelby and an added character named Marietta, and on the misunderstandings between Mrs. Shelby and Augustine St. Clare, whom the script turns into her former beau.
The show was essentially an occasion for singing, dancing and comic turns by the
Sisters, especially Rosetta "in half-nudity and burnt-cork" as Topsy.
The play was very popular. After engagements in Los Angeles and San Francisco, it ran for 47 weeks in Chicago, played on Broadway for about four months, then went on the road for a national tour through 1926. In 1927 the Duncans combined the stage show with an 80-minute movie (on which D. W. Griffith did some of the directing). They "revived" the show twice in the 30s, with new songs, again in 1942, and apparently kept coming before America as Topsy and Eva well into the 1950s.
Besides the text, images, programs and reviews accessible below, you can also hear the original Duncan recordings from the show in the SONGS section of the archive, and explore the Duncans' 1927 film version of the story in MOVIES SECTION. For more on the Duncan Sisters, see JOHN SULLIVAN'S INTERPRETIVE EXHIBIT in the site's INTERPRET MODE.
All images on this page
Courtesy John Sullivan