The Literary Digest
Unsigned Article
New York: 14 February 1931

Shed a Tear for the Passing of Long Suffering "Uncle Tom"

  NO more parades where the comic antics of funny Topsy, who just growed, mirth-provoking Lawyer Marks, and grotesque Miss Ophelia, fetch loud guffaws from the American public.

  Little Eva ascends no more. The ice on which Eliza crossed the river has melted away. Uncle Tom's pious reflections are stilled.

  Perhaps you haven't noticed it. Perhaps so far it has made no change in your daily life.

  But don't be fooled. Life will bever be the same again. An era in American history has ended.

  Read The Theatre Guild Magazine and weep at the news presented there by Elizabeth Corbett. The longest theatrical run in American history has come to an end—"a run half as long as American history itself."

  For the first time since the premiere in 1853, we are told, "there is now not a single company anywhere playing 'Uncle Tom's Cabin.' The five-year run of 'Abie's Irish Rose' is supposed to have established a record. But 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' beat that record by just seventy-two years."

  In making its record, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" engaged the the services of many a stage celebrity, we learn. Mary Pickford and Fay Templeton played Little Eva, Lotta Crabtree was a famous Topsy in her day, and David Belasco trod the boards as Uncle Tom himself.

  "Uncle Tom's Cabin" can be played again, of course, but it will not be the same. Such a performance would be only a revival, and not a part of the regular run.

  THE one ray of sunshine is shed by the Miami News, which suggests the possibility that Miss Corbett has perhaps overlooked some "Tom show" carrying on.

  "Uncle Tom's Cabin" began as propaganda, says The News in a review of the play's place in American life, "but it became a classic after the episode of our national history which first gave it impetus was a closed chapter."

  It gave the people what they wanted, Helen Welshimer tells us in her comments, syndicated by Newspaper Enterprise Association.

  There was something happening, this writer continues. There was "something for which they could fight. When they wept, it was because a real wrong had been committed, and when they laughed, it was because the humor was strong and clear."

  "Uncle Tomming" (as acting in a "Tom show" was called) was a profession in itself, Miss Corbett tells us as we return to her account in The Theater Guild Magazine:

  An actor did not sandwich a season of "Uncle Tom's Cabin" between a season


of "While the World Sleeps" and a season of "Nellie the Beautiful Cloak Model."

  The outsider would have been wrong.

  You were an "Uncle Tommer," or you weren't.

  An "Uncle Tommer" was born in the business. He was usually the child of another "Uncle Tommer." By the time he could walk they could use him in the show. By they time he was old enough to learn a part, he had a part, or two or three parts. The cast was large, and the company was never so big as the cast.

  Thanks to the way the story moved, an actor could double a part that appeared early with a part that appeared late. Even Eva often doubled, appearing in the First Act as Eliza's child, Little Harry.

  Topsy is a fat part: the droll and ignorant little darky, with her monkey tricks and her faked confessions—"You told me to 'fess and I couldn't think o' nothin' else to 'fess"—her famous "Never was born, I just growed," and her refrain, "I'se so wicked," gives a chance to any actress who has anything in her to act with.

  A young woman played Eliza, usually doubling with Cassy. If she she was not good enough, or pretty enough, to play Eliza, she might double Marie, Little Eva's mama, with the quadroon Emmeline, whom Legree buys when he buys Uncle Tom. As she grew older she could double Aunt Chloe, Uncle Tom's wife, with Miss Ophelia.

  Uncle Tom stood at the peak of the pyramid; and a veteran "Uncle Tommer" could go on playing Uncle Tom until he died. Indeed, the older he got, the better, so long as his voice stayed sonorous and he could take his falls properly.