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Home > Collections > Rare Books and Manuscripts > Manuscripts > Manuscripts Registers > MS.357

Special Collections

Milton S. Eisenhower Library

The Johns Hopkins University

Baltimore, Maryland  21218



Fitch (Clyde), 1865-1909

Collection (1909) 

Ms. 357


Size:           1 item


Processed:      August 1993

By:             Scott Black


Provenance:     The Clyde Fitch Collection was donated

                by Mrs. E. P. Webb in 1993.


Access:         Access to this collection is unrestricted.


Permission:     Permission to publish material from this collection

                must be requested in writing from the Manuscripts

                Librarian at the address above.


Citation:       Clyde Fitch Collection  Ms. 357

                Special Collections

                Milton S. Eisenhower Library

                The Johns Hopkins University


Clyde Fitch Collection

Ms.  357




The Clyde Fitch Collection was donated by Mrs. E. P. Webb in 1993.

The Accession Number is 92-93.38.


Biographical Sketch


     Clyde Fitch was the most popular and successful American

dramatist in the first decade of the twentieth century.  While

critics were at best ambivalent about his work, audiences flocked

to his plays.  At one point, in 1901, four of his plays played

concurrently to packed houses in New York.  Now all but forgotten,

featured only briefly in histories of American drama and the

subject of just six dissertations, Fitch seems to have been

definitively of his moment, but for a study of popular

entertainment in the early 1900s, he should rightfully occupy an

important chapter.

     Born William Clyde Fitch in Elmira, New York, in 1865, he

graduated from Amherst College where he was active in collegiate

dramatic productions.  Spurning his father's wish that he become an

architect, Fitch embarked on an immediately successful career as a

playwright.  His first piece, Beau Brummel, a historical drama, was

performed in 1890 in New York to huge popular acclaim.  Over the

next decade, Fitch continued to turn out romantic historical

dramas, with a decided emphasis on the romance and almost none on

the history.  Often written as vehicles for the leading actors and

actresses of the day, plays such as Nathan Hale (1898), Barbara

Frietchie (1899) and Captain Jinks of the Horse Marines (1901)

featured strong female roles, a central love interest, melodramatic

plots and the inevitable happy ending with good triumphing over

evil.  A critic from the New York Tribune complained of Captain

Jinks, "it is all so feeble and paltry that it seems a pity to

waste severe criticism on it," but the public, perhaps more attuned

to its own feebleness or at least to its own entertainment

requirements, was less discerning.  From 1900 on, Fitch was

reputedly earning up to $250,000 a year for his productions. 

     Fitch was involved in all aspects of his plays' production,

and audiences applauded and supported his innovative staging, sharp

dialogue and developing realism. By the early years of the

twentieth century, Fitch was turning from historical to social

drama.  Plays like The Climbers (1901), The Girl with Green Eyes

(1902) and Her Own Way (1907) featured contemporary settings,

usually New York high society, and a more realistic representation

of motive.  Influenced by William Dean Howells and Ibsen, Fitch's

later plays never escaped his fundamentally melodramatic conception

of plot and character, but their growing use of realistic detail

marks an important transitional stage in the development of the

American theater.  In 1906, he collaborated with Edith Wharton on

the dramatization of her House of Mirth, which flopped on the stage

but established an appreciative friendship between the two.  The

Truth (1907) was hugely successful in Europe and earned Fitch an

international reputation on par with his American popularity.  His

final play, The City, produced posthumously in 1909, introduced a

new degree of moral complexity.  Treating the taboo theme of incest

in language that was considered "coarse," the play employed a large

dose of realism to build its dramatic tension.  The play was a

critical and popular, if notorious, success, but Fitch did not live

long enough to enjoy it.  He died in 1909 and his reputation

shortly thereafter.


Scope and Content Note


The Collection includes one item, Rev. Percy Stickney Grant's

remarks at Fitch's funeral at New York City's Church of the

Ascension in 1909.  Grant (1860-1927) was the rector of the church

and an old friend of Fitch's.  Grant offers personal reminiscences,

comments on Fitch's art and its influence, and a flattering eulogy

on the playwright's character.  The pamphlet was printed privately

and is unpublished.




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