(Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 2/27.)
In 1937, London's Sunday Times sent its pontifical, notoriously captious theater critic, James Agate (1877-1947), to New York, to scrutinize the American theater firsthand. By that time, Agate, like London, had long been familiar with American plays and actors; work had flowed freely between the two countries. In the 1890s and 1900s, American stars like John Drew, Ada Rehan, Nat Goodwin, and the playwright-actor William Gillette had been popular in both. In the 1920s, as the heyday of European operetta gave way to an era dominated by American popular song, figures like the Astaires and Sophie Tucker became beloved across the Atlantic, as did the emerging generation of American playwrights headed by Eugene O'Neill.
Agate came to America with trepidation, confiding his qualms in Ego 3, the volume of his autobiographical diary-cum-scrapbook that covers 1937, the year of his journey. "I have always found Americans enchanting," he notes on shipboard, "while rather boggling at their country. This is because it frightens me; I am afraid of its slang, efficiency, bustle, and stark cruelty."