The Billboard
Doctor Judd
Cincinnati: 17 March 1906

How Uncle Tom’s Cabin Came To Be Dramatized

  ITwas only a short time after Harriet Beecher Stowe's famous story, Uncle Tom's Cabin was out, that it was seen to contain dramatic possibilities, and Charley Taylor, long connected with Purdy's National Theatre in Chatham street, New York, was among the first to grasp at them, and on August 24, 1852, produced the first version seen in New York. It was hastily written, a mere "catch-house" affair (as he afterward acknowledged), ignoring Topsy and Eva altogether. It was all Uncle Tom and George Harris. Meantime, the “Uncle Tom,” by which is meant the version that has kept the stage till the present day, grew into being at the Troy Museum under singular and interesting circumstances. George C. Howard was the manager of the theatre at the time and had been for a year or so. The play of the evening was Oliver Twist. In the adaptation of which was a child’s character, that of Little Dick, the sick pauper boy, who takes a tearful farewell of Oliver as he runs away from the poorhouse. Without any idea that she would be more than a "dummy," it was suggested that Little Cordelia, the manager’s four-year-old daughter, be dressed as Little Dick, and placed behind the paling for Oliver to talk to; but when at rehearsal, the mother, Mrs. G. C. Howard who was playing Oliver, caught the baby up and went through the scenes the little thing responded just in the proper place, "Dood by—tum again." "Well, now,”" said Mrs. Howard, "if she is going to do anything like that, better teach her the line." And, accordingly, during the day, in her mother's lap little Cordelia was taught the speeches of Little Dick. Night came; the fat baby face was skillfully painted to represent consumption, and duly clad in her brother's suit, and with a little spade in her hand, Cordelia Howard made her first appearance on any stage.


  On came the fugitive Oliver, while Cordelia, according to direction, dug vigorously at the pile of dirt dumped in the corner. "I'm running away, Dick," said Oliver. "Lunning away, is you?"replied the little chit. Then, with a full perception of the character, but with the most self-possessed oblivion of the written words, the child gave, in her own language, the sense of the scene.

  "I'll come back and see you some day, Dick," said Mrs. Howard, as Oliver.

  "It yont be no use, Olly, dear," sobbed the little actress, "when oo tum back, I yont be digging 'ittle graves. I'll be all dead an' in a 'ittle grave by myself." This, in a voice, trembling with feigned emotion, yet clear as a bell, and distinctly heard by every person in the building. Such a shower of tears as swept over that theatre! Actors and auditors were alike affected. The Oliver (naturally enough) broke down, but Cordelia’'s hit and her parents' fortunes were made from that very night.

  It was at once decided that such infantile emotional talent as this, must not be wasted, and Mr. Howard began looking about for some appropriate channel through which to present it to the public. The whole country was talking about the book, "Uncle Tom's Cabin," and thousands of eyes were being moistened at Eva's saint-like sayings. "The very part for our Cordelia," said George Howard, her father!

  George L. Alken, a cousin of the Howards, undertook the work of dramatization and with Mr. Howard's advice and assistance in less than a week it was a thing accomplished. It was produced in Troy, N. Y., September, 1852, and had the amazing run of one hundred nights. The play was cast in Troy, in part as follows: Eva, Cordelia Howard; Topsy, Mrs. George C. Howard; St. Clair, Mr. George C. Howard; George Harris, G. L. Alken; Phineas Fletcher, C. K. Fox; Gumption Cute, W. J. LeMoyne; Uncle Tom, G. C. Germore. From Troy the Howards went to Albany, N. Y., and on July 18, 1853, brought out the piece at Purdy’'s National Theatre, where it ran almost uninterruptedly until May 13, 1854.

  Mr. Howard was one of the first to introduce one play entertainments. That is, until the advent of Uncle Tom in New York, no evening at the theatre in those days was thought complete without an afterpiece, or a little ballet dancing. When Mr. Howard told the manger Uncle Tom must constitute the entire performance, he flouted the idea; said that he would have to shut up in a week. But Howard carried his point and the theatre didn't shut up. People came to the theatre by the hundreds who were never inside the doors before, and the Howards played Uncle Tom over three hundred times during that engagement.

  Some of these old-time players are still living. Cordelia Howard is now residing in Cambridge, Mass. Mrs. Howard, her mother, is still alive and a hearty old lady. W. J. LeMoyne is still acting. All the other members of the old company are dead. The death of George C. Howard occurred Jan. 18, 1887, and with it ended the theatrical career of the Howards in Uncle Tom.