David Belasco

Definition

Theater

  • (David Valasco; 1854 - 1931) Flamboyant US actor-managerand playwright. Perhaps his greatest contribution to the US theaterwas his long successful fight (with Sarah Bernhardt and others) againstthe monopoly of the Theatrical Syndicate.

    Belasco's career began in San Francisco. In 1882 he movedto New York to become stage manager at the Madison Square Theatreand from 1885 to 1890 held the same position at the Lyceum. His ownplays included The Girl I Left Behind Me (1893), the CivilWar drama The Heart of Maryland (1895), Madame Butterfly(1900), and The Girl of the Golden West (1905); the lattertwo were turned into operas by Puccini. In 1902 he acquired the RepublicTheatre, renaming it the Belasco Theatre, and in 1907 built and openedthe Stuyvesant Theatre, which likewise became the Belasco Theatrein 1910.

    Belasco's productions blended melodrama with realism. He wasthe first to conceal footlights in the search for naturalism. ForThe Governor's Lady (1912) he built an exact replica of a restauranton stage. To recreate a cheap theatrical boarding-house, he went toone in New York and bought the entire interior, even the broken gasfixtures.

    He was equally famous for his experimental lighting. In hisproduction of The Darlings of the Gods one lighting effectlasted seven minutes. For The Girl of the Golden West he experimentedfor three months to get the exact colours of a California sunset overthe Sierra Nevada mountains.

    Belasco had many eccentricities and strong opinions. He carrieda briefcase inscribed in gold letters: 'The Play I Am Now Writing'.He banned brightly coloured flowers, especially red ones, from hisproductions because he felt they caused a distraction. During rehearsals,he could be a tyrant. "He tortured his actors," said criticBrooks Atkinson, "He stuck a pin in Frances Starr's beguilingbehind to make her scream dramatically." He also kept a cheapwatch always on hand to throw to the floor in front of the actorsand stamp on when frustrated.

    Once a playwright pestered Belasco at length to take his newplay, finally begging, "Isn't there some way you can put iton stage?" Belasco impatiently snapped, "Give me the script."He flipped it to an assistant and ordered: "Chop this up anduse it as the snowstorm tonight."

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