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Madison Square Theatre Company

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Mr. A.M. Palmer having become manager of the Madison Square Theatre reengaged for the Fall season 1885 at this theatre, where I first appeared as “Lydia” in “Saints & Sinners”. I was now in my 10th season under Mr. Palmer’s management. An excellent proof of his amicability and my appreciation thereof. He is a warm friend to the theatrical profession. To his increasing efforts and sound judgment are due its thanks for the present state of the “Actors’ Fund of America”. Under his management I hope to finish my career upon the [music?] stage.  EJ Phillips handwritten autobiography for AM Palmer, now in the Harvard Theatre Collection

It was 'the remarkable Madison Square Company' according to Lewis C. Strang, 'rather than the plays that were given, which brought such reputation to the house"  more on Palmer and the Madison Square Company

"The Madison Square Theatre Stock Company's short heyday paralleled a sharp decline in American stock companies and the concurrent ascendancy of the combination house system. Palmer believed that his Union Square troupe's 1877 tour 'was the precursor of all the noted expeditions ... since then...to the Pacific Coast (Boston Sunday Herald May 9, 1880) and M.B. Leavitt also affirmed Palmer as 'one of the first to institute the system of long summer tours for stock companies'." [Odell?]

The theatre, built in 1877 after a fire destroyed the previous theatre on the site, (the south side of 24th Street, between Broadway and Sixth Avenue) was rebuilt by Steele MacKaye in 1879 "as one of the earliest "intimate" playhouses and renamed the Madison Square Theatre.  It was demolished in 1908.  

The task of organizing, designing and superintending the building of the Madison Square Theatre and the Lyceum Theatre, New York, was the labor, almost alone, of MacKaye. To both tasks he brought his inventive faculty, idealism, and spirit of innovation, manifest in his double stage, elevated orchestra, folding theatre chairs, oxygenating and cooling plants, the first "professional matinee," souvenir programs, an "honest" mechanical doorkeeper, an automatic prompter, flame proof curtains, etc. …  Two of his closest friends were Thomas Edison and Oscar Wilde. Edison said in a letter to MacKaye’s son, “He was possessed of great imaginative power, together with an abnormal energy, ever seeking new worlds to conquer.” It was Wilde who told him, “You and I can conquer the world, why not, let’s do it.”  Buffalo's Steele MacKaye, the "Father of Modern Acting" Buffalo History Gazette June 2011


More on Steele MacKaye and his Madison Square Theatre

Madison Square Theatre and floor plan

"AM Palmer was in control at the Madison Square Theatre, which also had changed its policy, and to the fine company he organised for that little jewel of a theatre JH Stoddart, Mrs. Phillips and Maud Harrison betook themselves for 1885- 1886, there to remain till Palmer also bowed before the utter changes of the '90's.

Odell gives useful summaries of each season. From the wreckage of the Union Square company Palmer enlisted the lovely Maud Harrison...and JH Stoddart...[for a revival of Sealed Instructions]...Members of the original cast remaining were Frederic Robinson, WJ LeMoyne,  Walden Ramsay, Harry Hogan, Annie Russell and Lena Langdon.  What a joy to be a boyish lover of the drama...Yet I remember that, to my surprise, the usually beautifully gowned Mrs. [Agnes] Booth and Miss Harrison wore dresses of a former era; perhaps they were unwilling to buy new clothes for what could be but a brief run for a play not new." [Odell]

The 1885 Madison Square season had opened in Oct. with Sealed Instructions, a success from the previous season. 

On Nov 7th 1885 "[AM] Palmer presented, under the direction of the author Henry Arthur Jones' fine play Saints and Sinners

A cooperative benefit for the Actors' Fund was held in Feb. 1886, with productions at Daly's (said by Odell to have had the original idea) and Wallacks and Palmers.   

And Engaged, by WS Gilbert  had "entered the regular bills on Feb 23rd. ...Not for anything conceivable would I give up my memory of that priceless performance, the women of the cast being as near perfection as anything on the stage can be. " wrote Odell.

Gilbert's "pathetic verse drama Broken Hearts was produced on March 30th with Bronson Howard's Old Love Letters. The season ended with a few weeks of Our Society, since Richard Mansfield was bringing Prince Karl to New York for the summer.  During the summer ladies in the audience were served gratis with ices from Maillard's, just a few steps from the theatre, at the corner of Broadway and 24th Street.  Old-time memories cause us to wonder if there has ever been ice cream so rich and delicious as that of Maillard, wondrous caterer for connoisseurs.

Held by the Enemy had been produced from Aug- Oct. 1886.  After closing for a week the theater reopened on Nov. 1st "with one of the greatest triumphs in the history of the New York stage. This was Sir Charles Young's very ingenious social drama "Jim the Penman" dealing with the life of a forger who mingled with the "best" people and was finally identified by his wife, who realized that it was he who had separated her from an earlier lover, whom she meets years later, and who gives her the letters apparently written by her which had caused him to leave her and, indeed, England.

Palmer had also announced a series of special matinees for new plays by American authors. These included William Dean Howells' Foregone Conclusion, Brander Matthews' Margery's Lovers and Fair Fame, Clinton Stuart's adaption of Dumas' Denise.

The Palmer season closed on May 28th, 1887 and Richard Mansfield opened on May 30th in Prince Karl.

The 1887 season opened Oct. 3 with Jim the Penman, and on Nov 10  The Martyr was produced. Elaine, which had appeared at an author's matinee the previous season was put in the regular bill in Dec. In mid January 1888 Heart of Hearts  (Henry Arthur Jones' "improbably romantic drama"  Though Palmer's season "had not been enthralling. On April 2nd, he met success, financial and artistic with Robert Buchanan's adaption of Daudet, which he called Partners.

Durham writes that "the Madison Square phase of Palmer's career effectually terminated with the 1887-1888 season. In Oct. 1888 Wallack having died in the preceding month, Palmer became proprietor of  Wallack's theatre and began to devote a major share of his attention to that new enterprise.

The Fall 1888 season began with a revival of Partners (Nov 14, 1888). Captain Swift was produced on Dec. 4th "the story of an Australian bushranger, who comes to London, accepts an invitation to the country home of Mr. Seabrook, a blind doddering old gentleman and finds that Mrs. Seabrook is his mother. Captain Swift ran for more than 150 performances, closing on May 4, 1889

The fall season of 1889 opened with Aunt Jack "a jolly non-intellectual absurdity ... including Agnes Booth in a big plumed hat singing "If you want to know the time, ask a policeman." Aunt Jack ran until April 26, 1891 -- "public taste that year ran to Hoyt farces and rural drama like the Old Homestead

The 1890 season began with ES Willard, who brought a number of new plays by Henry Arthur Jones from London, including the Middleman, Judah and Wealth

Palmer was "unfortunate in his farewell season (1890-1891) at the Madison Square; he could not, until the very end, find a play his public liked."  The season began Oct. 30th with A Pair of Spectacles and added in November Old Love Letters with Agnes Booth and Louis MassenAnnie Russell was ill and unable to act. Marie Burroughs was playing with ES Willard at Palmer's Theatre and Maurice Barrymore was in Reckless Temple by Augustus Thomas. Esther Sandraz, Sunlight and Shadow, Social Fiction and the Pharisee were not successes.  Augustus Thomas's Alabama was the only bright light in a dismal season.

AM Palmer in 1891-1892 "established his fine company at Palmer's Theatre (late Wallack's), and the house he had made so delightful a feature in the lives of intelligent playgoers was relegated to the amusing trivialities of the farces of Charles. H. Hoyt."  On Sept. 15, 1891 the Madison Square  became Hoyt's Madison Square Theatre, playing a Trip to Chinatown.

I did wonder if the Victorian plays could have been quite as bad as they seem now -- and the lack of success in reviving the few that have been tried in recent years does seem to indicate their limitations.  Jones is one of the playwrights labelled practitioners (along with Sardou and Pinero) of the "well-made play", a phrase first used in a complimentary sense in the early 19th century, but which quickly took on a pejorative sense, and was used ironically of plays in which the action develops artificially, characters are subordinate to the plot, and a series of contrived climaxes creates suspense.  But Gilbert's Engaged was a more encouraging experience. 

Madison Square Theatre
Stanford White's Madison Square Theatre 1890

Hoyt's Theater, 24th St. (Fifth and Madison)  In 1865, the Christy Minstrels converted an illegal stock exchange (adjacent to the Fifth Avenue Hotel) into a theatre. Later, Augustin Daly managed it from 1869 to 1873, when it burned down, only to be rebuilt in 1877. Steele MacKaye renovated it and renamed it the Madison Square in 1879, and it boasted a number of theatrical innovations, including gas lights, folding chairs, and a primitive version of air-conditioning. It was razed in 1908 and replaced by an office building.  IBDB Internet Broadway Data Base  http://www.ibdb.com/venue.asp?ID=1248  Lists plays 1869-1906

Palmer's Theatre

next: New York 1890s

Henry Arthur Jones  http://www.theatrehistory.com/british/jones001.html
Henry Arthur Jones: The Earnest Victorian:
Monologue from Jones' The  Goal http://www.monologuearchive.com/j/jones_henry_001.html
Jackson, Russell,  Plays by Henry Arthur Jones, New York : Cambridge University Press, 1982.
Mendelsohn, Joyce, Touring the Flatiron: Walks in Four Historic Neighborhoods, New York Landmarks Conservancy, 1998 http://www.e-guana.net/organizations.php3?orgid=79&typeID=650&action=printContentItem&itemID=5119&templateID=923&sortField=alpha&... 
New York Times Theater Reviews, New York: New York Times, 1975. Vol. 1. 1870-1885, Vol. 2 1886-1895, 
Odell, George Clinton Densmore,  Annals of the New York Stage, New York : Columbia University Press, 1927

Towse, John Ranken, Sixty Years of the Theater, New York Funk & Wagnalls 1916  http://archive.org/details/sixtyyearstheat01towsgoog has a  chapter on the Madison Square Theatre Company

The Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center (New York) has Madison Square "scrapbooks, clippings, playbills and so on", Union Square "scrapbooks, clippings, playbills, photographs and so on" and a clipping folder on the Olympic Theatre, as does the Museum of the City of New York.

Last revised Jan 5,  2019
1885 4   spring New York NY Madison Square Sealed Inistructions Saints and Sinners EJP Joined Madison Square Co 
1885 8 19   New York NY Fifth Avenue Theatre Mikado New York Premiere
1885 10 6   New York NY Union Square Artist's Daughter
1885 11 7 to Feb 87 New York NY Madison Square Saints & Sinners
1885 12 5   New York NY Madison Square Saints & Sinners program
1886 2 7   New York NY MadSq Dalys wallacks Engaged Actors Fund benefit 
1886 2 7   New York NY     EJP 475 Fourth Ave flat lease expires in May
1886 2 10   New York NY American Opera Co Hattie Nickinson and Josie Dollman went to Merry Wsives of windsor opera
1886 2 17   New York NY   Grants tomb took Josie Dolman to see -- this was a temporary tomb took 12 years to build current monument
1886 2 24   New York NY Madison Square Engaged "big success"
1886 2     New York NY Madison Square Saints & Sinners closed to a big house
1886 3 12   New York NY Steinway Hall Cowboy Pianist AO Babel Hattie Dr and MRs Dr Nagle and Mrs Kirby go to hear
1886 3 29   New York NY Madison square Engaged ends run
1886 3 29   New York NY   Sarony's pictures not yet delivered from
1886 4 2   New York NY   Mr Barney McAuley funderal yesteray.Catholic Church 16th St 
1886 4 19 2 weeks New York NY Madison Square Our Society  
1886 5 17   New York NY   George Wood died born 1823
1886 9 30 to 1887 New York NY Palmers Mad Square Martyr AR Cazauran adapt Sullivan Edwards
1886 10 6 from June New York NY   Returned from travel west
1886 10 14   New York NY   EJP  to 39 West 12th st across froom where Alice Zavistowski Webb used  to live 
1886 10 28   New York NY   Bartholdi day Statue of Liberty dedicated
1886 11 1 ran 6 years New York NY Madison Square Jim the Penman Lady Dunscombe
1886 11 19   New York NY Madison Square Foregone Conclusion
1886 12 2   New York NY Madison Square Jim the Penman "business big  guess the play will run all season seats sold as far in advanced as 7th Jan
1887 1 9   New York NY   What we are going to do about money I do not know…beside myself no money for dresses someone else in my place
1887 1 10 to Jun 4 New York NY 14th St Theatre Old Homestead Mrs Owen Marlowe Mrs Murdoch Annie Hopkins Denman Thompson Josh Whitcomb  
1887 1 11 never reg bills New York NY Madison Square Margery's Lovers
1887 1 16 2 1/2 months New York NY Madison Square Heart of Hearts  
1887 1 21   New York NY Madison Square If bus keeps up we may remain in NY May postponing Jim the P in Boston until Fall idle during June
1887 1 21   New York NY Madison Square Social Scandal by P Robertson of SF expect to rehearse next week
1887 1 23   New York NY   Refrigerator sent to Mrs Dolman bureau and machine chair to W 12th St
1887 1 28   New York NY Madison Square Jim the Penman no diminution in attendance photos taken at Saronys
1887 2 7   New York NY Madison Square Jim the Penman 100th performance with satin program souvenir
1887 2 9   New York NY Madison Square Strange rumors growing AMP is to give up theatre we do not go to Cal or anywhere else
1887 2 13   New York NY   Joe Howard's allged fight with Pulitzer
1887 2 18   New York NY Madison Square Do not go to California so many attractions going to SF hope to go in 1888
1887 2 18   New York NY 14th St Theatre Old Homestead with Den Thompson and School for Scandal Wallacks Hattie to see
1887 2 28   New York NY Madison Square Our Society Margery's Lovers play in London in August latest news about bus
1887 3 30 v bad play New York NY Madison Square Social Scandal  
1887 5 1   New York NY Madison Square Jim the Penman closed Apr 30 SRO Our Society  am afraid will not draw as well
1887 5 12   New York NY Union Square Deacons Daughter Annie Pixley in Aunty Zavy took Mrs Morrison to see
1887 5 25   New York NY Madison Square Fair Fame  
1887 10 4   New York NY Madison Square Opened last night to big house
1887 10 13 2 wseeks New York NY Madison Square Martyr "has not caught on"
1887 11 17   New York NY Madison Square Martyr new first act for next Monday whether play improves to be found out change nt worse or better for me
1887 11 20   New York NY   Thanksgiving Nov 24 invited to Miss Cowell's
1887 11   to 1899 New York NY Lyceum Theatre Walcots to Daniel Frohman's company  Lyceum Theatre New York The Wife  
1887 12 1   New York NY Madison Square Heart of Hearts presume new play will be
1887 12 2   New York NY Madison Square $1.61 in my pocketbook to last until next Wed the more I work the poorer I get do not have much of a good time either
1887 ?   4 weeks New York NY Madison Square Our Society revival
1888 1 11   New York NY Madison Square Heart of Hearts new play Jan 16
1888 2 5   New York NY May Robson goes to Frohman's Lyceum increase $410/week 
1888 2 27   New York NY Broadway Theatre Tosca with Fanny davenport 
1888 3 11   New York NY Madison Square Partners rehearsals began
1888 3 13 3 11-14 New York NY Madison Square Heart of Hearts Blizzard of 1888
1888 3 23   New York NY Madison Square Had to spend $90 for new play Hart of Hearts "awful the expenses for wardrobe this season"
1888 3 26   New York NY Madison Square Heart of Hearts program
1888 4 2 1 month New York NY Madison Square Partners Easter Monday
1888 4 18   New York NY Madison Square rehears Jim next week
1888 7 22   New York NY Wallacks Theatre AMP Palmer takes over.  Lester Wallack died Sept 6
1888 11 9   New York NY   on the go picking out dresses for Capt Swift
1888 11 21   New York NY Madison Square Partners not a success papers to contrary hope Capt Swift may be easy pleasant part
1888 12 3 all season New York NY Madison Square Captain Swift  
1888 12 31   New York NY   Players Club opened
1889 1 13 New York NY Madison Square Captain Swift two big houses yesterday Capt Swift doing very well for us met Clinton Stuart talked plays hour
1889 2 3 New York NY Madison Square Captain Swift still flourishing
1889 2 14 New York NY Dalys Actors Fund benefit Madison Square Engaged 2nd act 
1889 4 29 to May 1 New York NY   Centennial of George Washington's Inauguration
1889 5 4 New York NY Madison Square season ends  
1889 8 27   New York NY Grand Opera house Captain Swift opened last night to a big house
1889 10 17   New york NY   $100 to Albert for setting up housekeeping
1889 11 19   New York NY Lyceum Theatre Charity Ball Mrs WalcottCamilla de Peyster Mrs Whiggen Mrs Van Buren  
1889 11 24   New York NY Madison Square summons for the reading of a new comedy
1890 1 3   New York NY   La Grippe every complaint now called Dr Nagle told me 222 deaths reported in 24 hours not all La Gripps
1890 1 6   New York NY Madison Square Pillars of Society heard Fri to be put into rehearsal this week and I to be in it
1890 2 6   New York NY Park Theatre Gilbert & Sulivan's Gondoliers to see
1890 2 20   New York NY Star Theatre Senator The Neppie sees in New York with WJ Crame Georgie Drew Barrymore
1890 2 26   New York NY   Wealth  
1890 3 6 1 perf? New York NY Madison Square Pillars of Society by Ibsen
1890 3 13   New York NY Madison Square Jin the Penhman Capt Swift Saints & Sinner need to renovate dresses for
1890 4 17   New York NY   photographers 2 days, dentist 3 times, dressmakers
1890 4 23   New York NY Players Club Shakespeare's birthday Ladies Day at the Players Club
1890 5 13   New York NY   Nellie Wetherill [actress] died  buried st George Church EJP read about in Boston  
1890 6 4   New York NY Madison Square rehearsals for trip west Saints & Sinners Captain Swift
1890 7 10   New York NY   5As Actors Amateur Athletic Assoc of America tender to AE Nickerson Club Hse privileges 2 weeks

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