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Denman Thompson, The Old Homestead and The Sunshine of Paradise Alley

Denman Thompson (1833-1911) Author of the Old Homestead, which EJP, Neppie and Neppie's aunt went to see in the winter of 1890. Thompson had joined John Nickinson's   Royal Lyceum Theatre Company in Toronto in 1854.   He  played Uncle Tom in a production of Uncle Tom's Cabin with John Nickinson's at the Royal Lyceum Theatre in Toronto in Feb. 1857. Charlotte Nickinson played Eliza. Topsey was played by Virginia Nickinson.  Owen Marlowe, who married Virginia Nickinson in 1857 played Shelby.  Miss Phillips played Cassy.  Mary Shortt, family playbill collection

   Denman Thompson

Life of Denman Thompson  
In May, 1854, he was engaged by the veteran John Nickinson as a member of the stock company of the Royal Lyceum Theatre, Toronto, playing small Irish and negro character parts and dancing hornpipes. Highland flings and Irish reels between the pieces. These variety tid-bits of dancing and singing between the plays of the evening were very popular at this date, and the actor who was able to satisfy the taste of the time with even moderate success had an advantage with the public, which pleased the managerial heart and helped the player.

Thompson became a great favorite with the old managers and local theatre-goers in Toronto, and with the exception of one whole theatrical season, which was spent professionally in Chicago and New York State, and a few months abroad, he continued to make the Canadian city his home until 1868. It was here he married and where his three children, now living, were born. …He was always borrowing articles of stage dress, and it was a frequent remark that Thompson never owned a pair of “sand shoes” then required for fancy dancing, then popular between the pieces … The Manager, John Nickinson, was continually rebuking him for this personal neglect, but never changed him from the habit, and had many a hearty laugh over the blundering success of the popular player.

Robertson's Landmarks of Toronto, Vol 1 1894 reports that Thompson became a member of the Lyceum company in 1854 and "was cast for minor parts and used to dance a hornpipe between the acts. The one thing he was particularly distinguished for was an obstinate insistence on having his own way.  Once he was given a part which he refused to play. Mr. Nickinson said either he should play it or leave the theatre. "Colonel" -- they all called him Colonel-- "I can't play it and I shan't leave your theatre either" replied Thompson.  Before Nickinson had recovered from this audacious speech, the afterward famous Uncle Josh followed it with another. "Say Colonel, I want you to lend me five dollars."  "What do you want five dollars for?" asked Mr. Nickinson. "I want to get married." "Where's your bride? Let me see her." Thompson went away and presently returned with a blushing girl. Mr. Nickinson gave him the money and so the comedian embarked on the sea of matrimony with a capital of five dollars.

Old Homestead by Denman Thompson, was first produced in January 1887 and ran for 160 performances at the Academy of  Music from  Aug 30, 1888 - May 1891.  "'Certainly the most famous of all rural plays', [Odell]  it grew out of a vaudeville sketch.  Thompson also played the role of the New Hampshire farmer whose son had gone to New York and not been heard from for nearly a year.  Old schoolmate Henry Hopkins (now a New York millionaire) helped him discover the now derelict son and rehabilitate him.  Oxford Companion to American Theatre


Virginia Nickinson Marlowe was in the original cast as Mrs. Murdoch and her daughter Virginia as Miss Annie Hopkins.  Presumably Hattie and EJ Phillips saw both of them  when they went to that play.  

Church scene from the Old Homestead 

Denman Thompson and the Old Homestead  
http://www.oldhomesteadswanzey.com/home.htm/    http://www.wellswooster.com/tommies/denman/  

An April 15 1900 letter from EJ Phillips to Albert mentioned Virginia Nickinson Peters "
you are to have a play at the Casino [Theater] on Tuesday next in which Mrs. Charles Peters played in here [Philadelphia] at the Park a few weeks ago. Was born 1834. Guess she is with it still for the play belongs to Denman Thompson who was a member of your father's company for several years and he still is grateful for the kindnesses he received then from the "Governor" and has frequently given employment to members of the family who requested it -- since he has been a star-manager"

The Town of Swanzey NH produced The Old Homestead each July.  I went to what was supposed to be the final performance in  2016, but it seems to have been revived in 2017.  The scenery is from the original Broadway production, including Grace Church.  However the oxen no longer appear.   

   Swanzey NH 2016  

NY Times Denman Thompson Obituary April 15 1911 

Eliza Nickinson Peters (b.1834), married English comedian Charles Peters (1825-1870) in the fall of 1854. A 1905 article in Donohoe's magazine interviewed Mrs. Peters and said she had become a Catholic under the instruction of Jesuit Father Damen, while living in Yorkville New York. She went back to acting after the death of her husband and played a new England widow and Irishwoman in the 1870s and played similar roles in Boucicault's Shaughraun, various roles in the Irish village at the St, Louis World's Fair and the part of the Widow McNally in the Sunshine of Paradise Alley was written for her. [We have a letter from her on Sunshine of Paradise Alley stationery.]  this article says her mother Mary Ann Talbot was born in Limerick.  The article says only 3 children were still living.  

NY Times opening Sunshine of Paradise Alley May 10 1896  by Denman Thompson and George Ryer and included an "electrical snowstorm" Mrs. Peters toured in it into the early 20th century. But I haven't been able to find when she died. 

We have a mysterious April 12 1900 letter on Sunshine of Paradise Alley letterhead, which had been attached to one from Mrs. Peters to OS Hathaway,  Middletown  Theatre manager,  reading "Mrs. Peters who plays the widow (her creation) has asked me as a special favor, she has a brother there [where?], Nickinson, and I believe they don't speak as they pass by.  This is her way of showing him that she is still on earth."    An April 15 1900 letter from EJ Phillips mentioning her "Saw by [Middletown newspaper]  Mercury that you are to have a play at the Casino [Theater] on Tuesday next in which Mrs. Charles Peters played in here [Philadelphia] at the Park a few weeks ago. Was born 1834. Guess she is with it still for the play belongs to Denman Thompson who was a member of your father's company for several years and he still is grateful for the kindnesses he received then from the "Governor" and has frequently given employment to members of the family who requested it -- since he has been a star-manager. ... Strange how things come about.  I have not seen Mrs. Peters since she was married and that was in 1854, I think, and became a widow not later than 1866 & now you will see her after so many years.  She has a son Fred and a daughter, Maud, living, that is all I know of.  Both were on the stage.

Mrs. Charles Peters played the Widow McNally in the Sunshine of Paradise Alley.  Opened May 11, 1896, at Haverly’s 14th Street Theatre https://www.ibdb.com/Production/View/405216  The History of the New York Stage says the theatre closed June 13, 1896.



Dec 29, 1897 Evening Times Washington DC Sunshine of Paradise Alley at the Academy next week, with Mrs. Charles Peters as the Widow McNally. 



Indianapolis News 3 March 1901 https://newspapers.library.in.gov/cgi-bin/indiana?a=d&d=INN19010306-01.1.12 
Mrs. Charles Peters, who created the part of the old market woman, the Widow McNally, In Denman Thompson’s “The Sunshine of Paradise Alley,” will be seen In her original role at the Park Theater tomorrow. Mrs. Peters’ impersonation has the same excellences as the Uncle Josh of Mr. Thompson, the Rip of Mr. Jefferson and the Uncle Nat of Mr. Heme? Mrs. Peters was trained in the same company with Denman Thompson many years ago. She is a sister of Mrs. Charles Walcot, of the Frohman's Lyceum Theater Company. 



Indianapolis News 2 March 1901 https://newspapers.library.in.gov/cgi-bin/indiana?a=d&d=INN19010302-01.1.10  
'THE pleasant thing about Denman A Thompson and George W. Ryer’s "Sunshine of Paradise Alley,” which comes to the Park next Thursday, Friday and Saturday is the good nature of all the characters. The play begins with a representation of New York dock life in summer, and introduces persons known nearly everywhere because they have been figures for the descriptive writers on the dally papers of New York. The wharf rat, the poor drunkard, the tough boy, the kind-hearted Irishman, the drunken husband, the neglected children, the New York policeman and the providentially good girl, who converts wickedness into goodness, come to view. The Incidents move the sympathies and keep the Interest sustained throughout. All the old favorites of the cast. Mrs. Charles Peters. Phlla May, Helen Gurney, Grace Kimball. John Walsh, W. J. Sully, John 'J. Flynn, George P. Annand, Albert Brown and the Verdi ladles’ quartet will be seen In the parts they played when this comedy-drama was produced at English’s two seasons ago.



Cambridge Chronicle, MA 17 Jan 1903 at Keith’s Theatre Mrs. Chas. Peters who created the role … The play is cleverly conceived, has much witty dialogue, and numerous amusing situations. and in the hands of such competent actors, cannot help being a pronounced success. 



Cambridge Tribune Jan 27, 1903 mentioned Mrs. Charles Peters appearing in Augustus Thomas’ The Man Upstairs” comedietta at Keith’s Theatre http://cambridge.dlconsulting.com/cgi-bin/cambridge?a=d&d=Tribune19030117-01.2.57



YouTube Sunshine of Paradise Alley https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6TkQqChqEc



The Sunshine of Paradise Alley http://parlorsongs.com/issues/2005-5/thismonth/feature.php 
Music by John W. Bratton Words by Walter H. Ford Published 1895 by M. Whitmark & Sons



[Verse 1] There's a little side street such as often you meet,
Where the boys of a Sunday night rally,
Tho' it's not very wide, and it's dismal beside,
Yet they call the place Paradise Alley.



But a maiden so sweet, lives in that little street,
She's the daughter of widow McNally,
She has bright golden hair, and the boys all declare,

She's the sunshine of Paradise Alley.
Ev'ry Sunday down to her home we go,
All the boys and all the girls they love her so,
Always jolly, heart that is true I know,
She is the Sunshine of Paradise Alley. 

[Verse 2] When O'Brien's little lad had the fever so bad,
That no one would dare to go near him,
Then this dear girl so brave, said, 
"I think I can save, or at least I can comfort and cheer him,



Soon the youngster got well, 
and the neighbors all tell 
How the daughter of widow McNally,
Risked her life for a boy, and they hail her with joy,
As the sunshine of Paradise Alley.

[Verse 3] She's had offers to wed by the dozen, 'tis said,
Still she always refused them politely,
But of late she's been seen with young Tommy Killeen,
Going out for a promenade nightly,



We can all guess the rest, for the boy she loves best,
Will soon change her name from McNally,
Though he may change her name, she'll be known just the same,
As the sunshine of Paradise Alley.



Sunshine of Paradise Alley, Sheet music cover  Compose John W Bratton, Lyricist Walter H Ford, 1895 http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47de-1652-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99#/?uuid=683d7261-fecf-b26f-e040-e00a18065c80 This song also seems to have been part of Charles Hoyt’s Trip to Chinatown

Paradise Alley itself ran between the double tenement of Gotham Court also known as “Sweeney’s Shambles,” apparently one of the worst tenements in New York history (it was just off Cherry Street which runs parallel to the waterfront between the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges). “The Sunshine of Paradise Alley” was originally an 1886 Broadway play by Denman Thompson, as well as 
a popular vaudeville song. In the film, made 40 years later, a wealthy banker wants to tear down the tenements to build a factory but “Sunshine” O’Day, played by [Barbara] Bedford, uses her charms to persuade him to change his mind.  https://mubi.com/notebook/posts/movie-poster-of-the-week-sunshine-of-paradise-alley



Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh 
In The Iceman Cometh, O'Neill drew from his past in the low-grade saloons where he spent several years of his young manhood. At Harry Hope's saloon, the inhabitants feed on their dreams of a promise of tomorrow that will never be fulfilled. Yearly, on Hope's birthday, Hickey, a traveling salesman, comes to liven their doldrums with whiskey and good humor. This year, it is different, for Hickey sets out to cause each of the inhabitants of the bar to face the fact that his dream is a lie and that tomorrow will never come. The results are disastrous. … At the end, when Hickey's presence no longer threatens them, and as the booze regains some of the kick Hickey's reforms have taken from it, a flow of life stirs the "Bottom-of-the-Sea Rathskeller," and each of the bums be-gins his own song. In the staging, by no means should the cast be allowed to sing the same song so that they sound like a well-drilled college glee club. O'Neill's point is that the ability to sing again has restored the individual dream to each of the dreamers. That each has a personal song marks the reassertion of life after Hickey's at-tempt to render the bums empty and lifeless. Their singing is a wonderful theatrical moment, a cacophonous, drunken "Ode to Joy."  Harry begins by singing "The Sunshine of Paradise Alley," and at once the others come alive.   



An Avenue A artists enclave called Paradise Alley  
https://ephemeralnewyork.wordpress.com/2016/06/27/an-avenue-a-artists-enclave-called-paradise-alley/   This little East Village enclave consisted of several small tenement buildings sharing a courtyard on the hard-luck corner of Avenue A and East 11th Street.   Or maybe Paradise Alley was a truly heavenly place to live and work, especially for the painters and writers who made it an unofficial arts colony through the 1960s. … Built in the 1860s, the walk-up buildings here were home to the waves of German, Irish, and then Italian immigrants who settled in a neighborhood known by turns as Mackerelville, Kleindeutschland, and the northern end of the Lower East Side.

Denman Thompson, Thompson Family Researchers, Thompson Tidbits 
Life of Denman Thompson 1888 mentions John Nickinson http://books.google.com/books?id=QI0VAAAAYAAJ&dq=Henry+Denman+Thompson&source=gbs_navlinks_s  Thompson Denman, Old Homestead typescript Houghton Library, Harvard Theatre Collection TS 4478/152   

Broadway photographshttps://www.broadway.cas.sc.edu/content/denman-thompson Old Homestead photo, brief biographyy and Philadelphia obituary citation


 Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Denman_Thompson 

Last revised March 12, 2022

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