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Jim the Penman

[The] "drama about an attractive forger, who is eventually unmasked by a wife he has deceived, was presented [in New York]...within months of its London premiere, and became what Odell called 'one of the greatest triumphs in the history of the New York stage'...The play was revived regularly for thirty years" [Oxford]  The "powerful melodrama of London Society" ran steadily for six months. 

"Jim the Penman" was James Townsend Saward, a working barrister who also led a check forging ring in London in the 1850s. But "Jim the Penman" was also the title of "one of the greatest triumphs in the history of the New York stage," a society drama by Charles L. Young. Young's version of Saward's career imagined "Jim" as part of an international forgery ring, a man of outward respectability who forged letters to marry under false pretenses. The play ran in New York in 1886-87, and was running in Boston at the time of Ninger's arrest. Quote above from George C. D. Odell, Annals of the New York Stage v. 13 (NY 1942) 217. Thanks to Jay Cook for this reference. On Saward see George Dilnot ed., The Trial of Jim the Penman (London 1930); and Charles L. Young, Jim the Penman: a Romance of Modern Society (NY 1912). http://chnm.gmu.edu/courses/magic/saloon/money/Ninger_fn.html

"By common consent the stars of the evening [according to the NY Times]  were Agnes Booth" [as the wife who had been courted by Jim with forged letters] and E.M. Holland [as the "sly seemingly blasé, but effective detective"].  EJ Phillips played Lady Dunscombe..

The NY Times review of this production of Jim the Penman called it a "well knit, forcible and absorbingly interesting play by Sir Charles Young which has held the stage at the Haymarket Theatre in  London for the best part of a year".  The was the first  New York performance, though the company had tried it out during the summer on the West Coast trip.  Oct or Nov. 1886

Closing act of Jim the Penman at the Park Theatre, Boston

The Playgoer's Yearbook, May 1887. Thanks to Howard Rosenberg for the picture.

Chicago, July 5, 1886 Well, [Herbert] Kelcey and [AM] Palmer are having a good time by telegraph.  Mr. Palmer having cast Mr. [Frederic] Robinson for Jim the Penman and Mr. Kelcey not only refused to play a part named Percival that he is cast for, but demands the part of "Jim".  Mr. Palmer telegraphed this morning that he would not change the cast.  So Kelcey and wife will leave they say.  I am only afraid I will be put in the part Mrs. Kelcey was to have played, as the part is of a woman of not less than 40 and the mother of the "parts"  that Mr. [Walden] Ramsey and Maud [Harrison] play.

Chicago, July 9, 1886 I feel quite relieved having no rehearsals.  Those in the cast of Jim the Penman are rehearsing until late in the afternoon of everyday except Wed & Sat. .. Mr. [Herbert] Kelcey claimed the part of Jim the Penman - He refused the part of Percival for which he was cast and demanded Jim or he would leave the theatre!!  Well there was a great time telegraphing between him and Palmer, and between Wallack and Kelcey.  I do not know how they compromised, but Kelcey plays the part of Percival.  But I am told he leaves Palmer and goes to Wallack next season. 

Chicago, July 21, 1886   I went to see Jim the Penman on Monday night.  It is a very strong, well written play and was, with the exception of the two leading parts, well played.  Miss [Caroline] Hill and Mr. [Frederic] Robinson failed to bring out all the heart & soul of the two characters of Jim the Penman and his wife. 

San Francisco, Aug. 10, 1886 Jim the Penman drew a large house last night - but it is the uncertainty of business that makes the managers so undecided about the fifth week of our stay.  You know my two previous visits here, we played seven weeks and six weeks.  Now they are afraid to risk five - with a larger and I think better Co than we had before. 

Previous letters mention the play but EJ Phillips does not seem to have been in Jim the Penman until Bartholdi Day (Oct. 28, 1886) when she mentions needing to get  "shoes, stockings, flowers, bonnet, gloves &c &c to Jim the Penman"

EJ Phillips photo -- probably in Jim the Penman

N Y Novr 2nd 1886 Well I guess Jim, the Penman made a hit last night and will be good for a long run.  I have little to do and it is easy.  Hope we shall get 3 or 4 months out of it. [It ran for six months and was frequently revived after that.]  Mrs. [Agnes] Booth wore some very fine dresses and played the part of Mrs. Ralston very well.  Do not know what our next agony will be - there is still talk of extra Matinees to try plays.  They are inaugurating the system today at Wallack's by producing a play called "Jack" [by Mrs. Harry Becket]. 

New York, Nov 4, 1886 Guess the play is good for a hundred nights run.  I have little to do, and therefore do it well.

New York, Dec 2, 1886 Business big for Jim the Penman -- guess the play will run all season.  Seats are now sold as far in advance as the 7th of January.  

New York Feby 6th 87 I was impressed you could have that Photo mounted.  I guess it will fade, will it not?  I have not yet seen any of them mounted but I have heard they are out, and are printed on satin for the Souvenir for the 100th performance [of Jim the Penman] which takes place tomorrow night.  If I can get you one, I will. 

There is a report that we do not go to  California, and if every-thing is true that I have heard, I am likely to have a great many weeks of idleness this summer.  However I hope it may not be quite so bad as I have been told have no money for a vacation and it will be hard times if we do not have a summer season.  I guess we shall go to Boston in May -- but even that is not definitely settled. 

Mrs. [Agnes] Booth was very ill last night during performance.  Had Hysteria after the 3rd and last Acts.  Her screams were dreadful.  And after the last Act she became so rigid I thought she was dying.  Doctor Robertson was with her all the Evening.  

The 100th performance of Jim the Penman filled the theatre "to capacity in spite of wind, rain and ice in the streets...The play is apparently at the zenith of its popularity."  NY Times (Feb 8 1887)

New York Feby 13th /87 The latest news I heard was that we go to Boston in May, Chicago in June, and are idle during July, August & part of Septr.  Whether this will be changed or not, I of course cannot tell, nor indeed do I think that AM P[almer] himself can at present. All we can do is to be saving and ready for the worst that may happen.  I hope your business will increase, and so enable you to tide over whatever idle time I may have during the summer. 

I have the satin programme all ready for posting, but thought I would wait until Valentines day was over before mailing it.  I have enclosed the Herald's report of Joe Howard's alleged fight with Pulitzer.  And my portrait from last Sunday's  "urnal"

We were rehearsing a new play the beginning of last week, but it was so unsatisfactory that the "parts" were called in and they are making alterations and we are to rehearse it on Tuesday.  No decrease in the business for Jim the Penman.  Yesterday Matinee said to be the largest receipts for any Matinee in that theatre, and last night the sign "Standing Room Only" was put out before the doors were opened.  I do not think we shall have to change the bill this season.  And I think Jim will be good for four weeks in Boston.  

Presumably this is the Morning Journal founded in 1882 and edited by Albert Pulitzer.  "It became gradually a wealthy, popular, distinctive newspaper" (Kings NYC).

The Madison Square Company's trip to Washington DC for an Actors' Fund Benefit performance of Jim the Penman received extensive press coverage. 

Jim the Penman closed on April 30th 1886 and Our Society was revived on May 2nd for a four week run. [Odell?]

Chicago, June 9, 1887  I shall not get salary for this week until next Wednesday.  I have about enough to pay my week's board which will be due on Saturday.  I had to buy things for Jim the Penman, among others a parasol.  I used one belonging to Maud [Harrison] during the "run" in New York.  I was wrong to do it, for it has cost me more in humiliation & presents than a parasol would have cost in the beginning, and at that I have had to buy one.  But I didn't have the money to buy one when we began the season in Novr.   

I am afraid Jim will not prove as big a draw as the management hoped for.  There was quite a fall off last night, and the matinee was not good.  However the day was very hot, and strong indications of a storm would perhaps prevent many from coming.   Jim may be kept on three weeks.  They wanted to run it four.

Philadelphia, Aug. 29, 1887  I had a letter from Maud [Harrison] from Manchester-by-the-Sea.  She told me we were to open on the 5th with Jim the Penman, 2nd week Elaine to be followed by the Martyr and Mrs. Booth has gone to New York to see AMP[almer] about it, as she did not want to play the part in Boston before playing it in New York.  I hope she will be successful.  

Jim is to be played here in the "Arch" [Street Theatre, Philadelphia] next Monday.  Mr. Holliday will be with the party.  Joe Whiting as "Jim" & Ada Dyas as "Mrs. Ralston" and Mr. [H.M.] Pitt for his old part of "Percival"  This will give us rehearsals as the cast must be changed considerably.  So I might be called to Boston sooner than I expect. 

Boston, Sept. 7, 1887 AM Palmer was all smiles, the house being good and fair prospects at the box office.  We are to open Jim [the Penman] in New York.  I am tired of the play. And I suppose we shall be required to find new dresses for the opening of a new season and that I do not like - especially as two or three other plays calling for lots of dresses are to be produced.  ... I have one that I had made for the part in Chicago and have not worn.  The others I have been wearing in Jim and they are nearly worn out.  So will have to get some new ones.  And where! and oh, where will the new ones come from! 

Boston, Sept. 15, 1887 We play Jim next week and if Mrs. [Agnes] Booth is well enough of her cold we shall play it the last week.  Business is big. 

Boston, Oct 1, 1887  I am now going to theatre for Matinee.  We could keep on playing Jim [the Penman] here for another four weeks to big business.  The business seems to increase with every week.  The musicians had to give up their seats last night and go under the stage.  Some are prognosticating that it will run again all this season at Mad[ison] Sq'[uar]e [Theatre]. 

Mr. Palmer "opened his autumn and winter season in the Madison Square Theatre [with Jim the Penman] without ostentation. Every seat was filled and every inch of standing room was occupied.  Mr. Robinson, Mr. [HM] Pitt Mr. [Louis] Massen, Mr. [Walden] Ramsey, Mr. [CP] Flockton, Mr. [William] Davidge, Mrs. Phillips, and Miss [May] Robson treated the characters with consummate skill.  Sir Charles Young died happy in the success of his drama, but not realizing the extent of his triumph."  NY Times (Oct 4, 1887) 

New York, Jan 14, 1888 Members of the Company who are not in Heart of Hearts are now rehearsing Jim the Penman in Newark, Williamsburg [Brooklyn] and dear knows where else.  [Charles] Coghlan plays "Jim".  [Alessandro] Salvini, [Walden] Ramsey & [William] Davidge are amongst the men & the ladies Mrs. Agnes B[ooth], Maud [Harrison], [May] Robson.  I have not heard who plays my part.  But it does not matter much, the part is so bad.  This is my last night of vacation.  Monday night go to work.  

New York, Apr. 18, 1888 I expect we shall rehearse Jim next week, as we open with it in Boston  next Wed'day.  Today bought trunk for the trip -- $22, gloves for Jim and Partners $6.90.  A pretty big hole in salary.

Boston, 1888 Next week I have a rest.  Elaine will be played, to be followed by Jim for the rest of the engagement, which ends 2nd of June.  Then I shall be eleven weeks without salary, even if I go to California.  At present I feel that doubtful. 

One thing, if I was able to say "no" I, for one would not go.  The plays with the exception of Jim are weak, and the ladies who are to go are weaker.  The ladies are Misses [Marie] Burroughs, [May] Brookyn, [Kate] Moloney, [Clara] Lipman and myself. ... Things generally are in a muddle.  The plays to be done in San F'co are Saints and Sinners, Partners, Heart of Hearts, Jim the Penman, and another play that A.M. thinks I will not be in.  

Boston, May 27, 1888 We remain here two weeks longer playing Jim.  It was decided last Thursday when A.M.P[almer] came to attend the Actors Fund benefit at the Boston Theatre.  I suppose [Hattie] will be disappointed, but it is for the best. ...  We are doing better bus[iness] with Jim than with the two previous plays. 

San Francisco, Aug. 14, 1888 We play Jim the Penman next week and we hope it will be so successful that we will be able to finish the season with it.

San Francisco, Aug. 19, 1888 One week over to good but not great business.  I think Jim will pull the business up.  All seats sold for tomorrow night.  Have not had my salary yet, but had to get an advance of $48 to buy a dress for Jim for tomorrow night, $20 to be taken out of last week's salary and $20 out of this week's.  First time I have had an advance from AMP[almer] during the eight seasons I have been with him.

San Francisco, July 29, 1890 Our business continues good.  We play Saints & Sinners this week.  Next week, our fifth and last, we begin with Aunt Jack and One touch of Nature for two nights.  Jim the Penman for 2 nights, Capt Swift two and Saints & Sinners for the Matinee.  Leave here on Sunday August 10th, 9 AM for Los Angeles. 

New York, Dec. 17, 1891  I went to the theatre last Evening.  Saw Mr. Presbrey who told me there would be a rehearsal of Jim the Penman on Monday at 11.  Oh! dear I did think I had seen the last of that play.  And I shall have to "get up" two new dresses for it, my former ones are worn out. I suppose too it will be done in a hurry.  Alabama  I think is beginning to fall off in its drawing power.  So I shall soon have to go to work.  I am tired of being idle. 

Maurice Barrymore, who had played Louis Percival in London played that role now in this production of Jim.  Members of the original 1886 Madison Square cast included "Frederic Robinson, EM Holland, Walden Ramsay, Harry Hogan, Maud Harrison and Mrs. EJ Phillips, thoroughly dependable co-adjutors". [Odell]

New York, Dec. 29, 1891 I have been rehearsing in Jim the Penman and am busy getting new costumes made for it.  I was at rehearsal until 1 PM yesterday, and then went to dressmaker and it was 20 minutes past 6 when I got back to my room. 

New York, Jan. 17, 1892 I have a very bad part in the new play we are rehearsing, but the dress will not be expensive.  That is my only comfort.  New dresses &c for Jim cost me $100.  I tell you "I have to pay to act". 

New York, Jan 24th 1892  Jim [the Penman] will be played all this week and it is possible that it may be done a portion of next week.  Mr. Presbrey always likes to hurry us in getting ready and so tells us it will be done by the 1st of Feby. 

Philadelphia Mar. 15, 1898 On Saturday Mrs. Pitt's son bought me a very handsome azalea plant   -- in a beautiful jardinière with Taberet stand the material of which the two latter are made is a kind of crockery, but very strong and in a bronze color.  All very lovely, but I felt it was too much for Mrs. Pitt to send me for the little I had done [playing Mrs. Pitt's part right  after Mr. Pitt had died], as I had never met her but two or three times, but Mr. Pitt was with us in the very long run of Jim the Penman.  He was a capital actor and refined gentleman.  The news of his committing suicide was proven to be a mistake, and was a great consolation to his wife.

Last updated Oct. 2, 2004

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