Monday, October 14, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 174: Channing Pollock, Stage Struck (#19)

Channing Pollock, "Stage Struck" (1911) from The American Stage: Writing on Theater from Washington Irving to Tony Kushner:

Channing Pollock was a playwright, critic, theatrical press agent--and not a great guy, judging from this piece about the dangers of being "Stage Struck." That is, this longish piece (with illustrations) is given over largely to the accumulation of anecdotes about people who wanted to become actors--and how hilarious and sad they are.

There are some good points that Pollock makes and some good observations that someone outside of the business might need to hear. It's the usual litany of the high-paying but high-risk professions: only one in a million ever really make it to the major leagues/stardom; there's a lot of hardship on the way, especially for the traveling actor; you can lose it as easily as you can get it.

Pollock also notes that there are some reasons that the stage is so alluring, chief among them, the instant gratification: if you do good at any other job, how nice for you, but if you do good on the stage, people will stand and clap every day and twice on Sundays. Can we really blame people who see acting as a way to really "be somebody"?

Well, ask Pollock and he'll answer, "Yes." Because, besides those few fair points about the business, most of this piece is made up of those afore-mentioned anecdotes that poke fun at those who can't hack it--the woman "whose pronunciation betrayed the baseness of her early environment," the stutterer, the woman dying of a lung disease, etc. And when he's not making fun of those who can't, he makes fun of those who really shouldn't, which is primarily the rich and well-to-do, who put themselves through hell when they could be enjoying their money.

For all that Pollock does a useful service by demystifying the theater, there's something faintly curdled about the wit of a man who pokes fun at a stutterer who wishes to go on stage--and particularly because the wit is overplayed. That is, Pollock has set up the scene after telling us several other similar stories; the man comes in to present his letter of introduction and proves to be a stutterer... and then Pollock notes that "He stuttered hopelessly."

So, Pollock's wit seems mean-spirited; but even worse, it's witless.

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