David Belasco Essay, Research Paper
David Belasco was born in San Fransisco, California, on July 25,1853. Hisparents had come to California from London in the gold rush. Belasco grew upin San Fransisco and Victoria, British Columbia. His early education in a RomanCatholic monastery influenced his simple mode of dress and helped earn him the nickname Bishop of Broadway. He had some experience as a child actor, and from 1873 to 1879 worked in a number of San Fransisco theaters as everything from call boy and script copier to actor, stage manager, and playwright. He paid further theatrical dues in the time he spent as a “theatrical vagabond” (Belasco’s term), acting in small theatrical companies trouping through the mining camps and frontier settlements of the Pacific Slope. He recited poetry, sang, danced, painted and built scenery, and played everything from Hamlet to Fagin in Oliver Twist and Topsy in Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In 1879, with James A. Herne, his first important collaborator, he wrote the popular melodrama Hearts of Oak.
In 1880, Theatrical manager Daniel Frohman brought Belasco to New
York City, where he spent most of his life. For several years he was the stage manager of the Madison Square Theater, for which he wrote plays, Achieving popularity with May Blossom (1884), a Civil War love story. It was followed by Lord Chumbley (1888), a domestic drama featuring a comic Englishmen. In 1893, written with Franklyn Fyles, was The Girl I Left Behind Me, a popular Indian melodrama.
In 1895, Belasco had his first smash hit as a playwright , director, and independent manager. His Civil War melodrama, The Heart of Maryland, became a runaway success in New York, in London, and on tour across the U.S.. Belasco wrote the play as a showcase for the particular talents of an actress who would be the first in a long line of “Belasco stars”– a notorious, flame -haired society divorcee named Mrs. Leslie Carter. Other stars discovered and trained by Belasco include David Warfield and Ina Claire.
By 1900, Belasco turned his attentions to developing the career of
Blanche Bates. After reading a story in Century Magazine, and with John Luther Long’s approval, Belasco put together one of his most enduring plays, Madame Butterfly. Belasco worked fast, and though he scrambled together a laughably bad script, he had an unerring instinct for strong theatrical effects. Giacomo Puccini, who worked on developing the opera Madame Butterfly, and having the advantage of not understanding a word of English, was swept away by the. emotionalism of the production.
David Belasco was an undisputed master of stage sensationalism, and
his many clumsy scripts were reasons for uncanny displays of visual imagination and flamboyant spectacle. For Madame Butterfly, he composed breathtaking and exotic landscapes. One of his boldest stage effects portrayed the passing of an entire night in a wordless scene that lasted 14 minutes, beginning with a spectacular sunset which gradually faded to a lantern-lit evening scene that gave way to a starry night, then to moonlit silhouettes, and finally to an orchestrated dawn.
Belasco’s whole nature seems to have been perfectly expressed in the
“Sensation Melodrama.” He was arguably the genre’s best practitioner, and heappeared at the tail end of the melodrama tradition, as though it were his destiny to see the style out, and to bring Sensation Melodrama to its perfection and its death by overwhelming excess. Belasco became the epitome of the old-fashioned,bombastic,insensitive, commercial “Old Style” which young American experimentalists were determined to replace.