The Washington Post
Unsigned Reprint
Washington, D.C.: 29 October 1899


How It Is that the Play Has Managed to Live So Long.

  From Ainslee's Magazine.

  Can any farce-comedy or even any play that "comes out right" boast of such eternal popularity as "Uncle Tom's Cabin," which is not even well made? Does any of them last more than three years? "Uncle Tom's Cabin" has been running since 1852. The political problem on which it was founded has been settled for more than thirty-five years, yet the play goes on. Consider how many see it during the year. This particular company shows from Kentucky to Canada, from Minneapolis in the West to St. John's, Halifax, in the East, sometimes in barns, sometimes in great theaters, but always to big business on the average. In Bar Harbor, Me., the hall had only four rows of broken church pews in it, and the manager had to get together planks and boxes to seat the people on. It rained pitchforks, and yet a little more than $600 came in at the box-office. That was because the people had nothing else to go to, you will say. At Springfield, Mass., the management cleared—cleared, mind you—in two performances in one day a trifle less than $800. During the eight months of the season an average of 1,600 persons a day patronize this company's production; in the four months of the tenting season the average attendance is about 950. Assume that these figures are correct—and they cannot be far out of the way—and a little figuring will show that in the year 426,400 people attend the performance. The proprietor has two companies. Say that No. 2 does very poorly, and shows to only about 150,000 people in the course of the year.

  There is a rival company which the proprietor admits does as much business as his. Those three together will make a million people, or one in every seventy-two in the population of the United States that sees "Uncle Tom's Cabin" during the year. But there are four to eight other rivals, sneered at by such a first-class show as the one here described, which must do some business or they would not be able to keep on the road. Allow that altogether they show to 500,000 persons. That is a million and a half. Allow two feet to each person thus standing in line for "Uncle Tom's Cabin," the line would be 587 miles long.

  In the winter season this show carries sixty people, whose salaries, big and little, will average $15 a week. St. Clair, who must be a good all-round man, "neat dresser and double in brass," is worth from $40 to $45 a week. You can get Toms for $8, but this particular Tom is a colored man (realism, you see), and is considered very good. He gets $25 a week. Topsy No. 1 gets $25 and Topsy No. 2 $10. Summer salaries are 20 per cent, smaller. The show is run then less to make money than to keep the people together and to make the live stock earn board money. They eat just as much idle as employed. The large choruses are let go, and the scenery stored. Consequently the summer show keeps as far away from the scene of its winter triumphs as possible.