(Michael Feingold’s article appeared on Theatermania, 2/20.)
A few weeks ago, to nobody's surprise, I bought a set of books. (My friends, reading this, will sigh and shake their heads; they know that my apartment already looks like the San Francisco Library after the earthquake.) I had been hunting a topic for this month's essay, but no matter what notion I toyed with, the books kept luring me away. Aside from beautiful young people, nothing is more seductive than beautiful old books.
And this set, to me, was especially seductive: a complete run, in nine volumes, of Ego, the diary-autobiography-scrapbook of the great British drama critic James Agate (1877-1947), who covered theater for London's Sunday Times from 1923 until his death. I already owned several of the volumes, along with many of Agate's review collections, but I shelled out for this batch, not only because it was complete, but also for its association: It had belonged to one of Agate's few American devotees, the arts journalist Thomas Quinn Curtiss (remembered now for his biography of the film director Erich von Stroheim). Agate had dedicated one of Ego's later volumes to Curtiss. That and two of the others carry on their flyleaves lengthy, affectionate inscriptions to Curtiss, in Agate's small, precise handwriting.