Letters from a prolific dramatic writer to her publisher

Letters from a prolific dramatic writer to her publisher. Women in Theater, Marion Short, Publishing.
Letters from a prolific dramatic writer to her publisher
Letters from a prolific dramatic writer to her publisher
Letters from a prolific dramatic writer to her publisher
A woman adapts her theatrical authorship to the times, meeting "the great demand for amateur plays" and negotiating "Movie and Talkie rights"
Letters from a prolific dramatic writer to her publisher

New York: 1896-1928. Five letters totaling 6 pages in all, comprised of: a 1 page Autograph Letter Signed (February 1896), a 1 page Autograph Letter Signed (May 1899), a 1 page Typed Letter Signed (May 1911), a 1 page Typed Note Signed (September 1911), a 2 page Typed Letter Signed (October 1928), and a 1 page Typed Letter Signed (November 1928). Spanning before and after the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the correspondence between American playwright Marion Short and her longstanding publisher Edgar S. Werner & Co. documents one woman's ability to nimbly adjust to changing tastes and times. Across her career, Short experienced changing demands for published plays and dramatic anthologies, the rise and fall of traveling theatre troupes, the glitter of Broadway and the advent of motion pictures. This collection of letters reveals that she was more than a prolific writer; she was an agile, forward-thinking business woman unafraid to adapt her work to evolving audiences.

Independently and in collaboration with her partner Pauline Phelps, Marion Short maintained a dramatic career across her lifetime. Hailed before their collaboration as "a dramatic reader of some prominence on the Pacific slope" Marion's fame increased with their first staged collaboration Sweet Clover, described as "by far the strongest play yet turned out by American female dramatists" (contemporary review Minneapolis Journal). Success happened, in part, because though the women came from opposite ends of the country (Phelps from Connecticut and Short from California), they approached their writing as a business. Rather than a solely creative outlet, Short demanded pay for her labors and negotiated contracts that made her writing a means for self-sustenance.

The earliest of the letters clearly shows Short's view of her work as a valuable commodity. Writing to Edgar Werner in 1896, she begins "Dear Sir - I will sell you A Legend of Bubble Land and An Orchard Romance. MS herewith submitted." The completion of a negotiation, Short now provides the publisher with copies of her written work; and she ensures in writing that Werner will cover the expenses of publicity by "furnish[ing] me three hundred leaflets...and two electrotypes of my portrait." By 1899, the mentioned work officially titled The Legend of Soap Bubble Land had become a popular recitation piece in schools (printed in Werner's Magazine, with the magazine also reporting on school performances). In control as the owner of this commodity, and aware of how to expand her hold on the market, Short writes again to Werner that same year, informing him another of the Bubble Land series he has enquired about "has already been published in a book of children's songs - Chicago publisher," thus establishing her value as an in-demand writer with national connections. But she assures him "if you would like another of the Bubble Land legends you are at liberty to use it."

Within the next 12 years, Short exands her business. Continuing to write original work -- and now collaborating with Phelps -- she has also become in-demand as a consultant. To Werner in May of 1911 she declares she is "busier - considerably - than I was when I last saw you." Having established that others value (and pay) her as well as he, she lets him know that "your favor [is] at hand" as she delivers a manuscript to him: "We have a play called Hallow-e'en and Candle Light. We lease this play at from $5 to $15 a performance. We received $20 for a single performance by a club in Brooklyn." These were significant sums at the time ($140, $400, and $550 accounting for inflation) and prove her money-attracting capacities. Yet as she is also about to urge him to send extra work her way ("I think I can take some plays to edit and revise...if you have need to have such work done"), she extends him a discount to maintain a good relationship. To this end, she and Miss Phelps will "pay 10% of price for which you lease it." Her maneuvering pays off, and in a note from September 1911 she confirms receipt of payment for editing five plays for Werner & Co.

The final letters in the collection mark a notable shift. For while Short continues to be business savvy and driven as she was before suffrage, Werner's own wife has also gained an expanded role and also engages in the dramatic market. In a two page letter to Mrs. Werner from 1928, Short balances sociability with commerce, using a sandwich approach to her composition. The opening dives directly into verifying that "Your favor at hand. Please send the book containing Christmas Night at the Quarters to Miss Anna Sweeney." But from here, the tone softens awhile. She expresses "interest in the account of your new home and activities" while updating her correspondent that "Pauline Phelps is in Hartford living with her widowed mother...I was doing some work with Miss Phelps, so I was up there in July and stayed a month. When anything of mutual interest comes up I seem to be the one that is free to make the trip and of course am glad it can be arranged that way." On the one hand, Short is sharing information about her life with her partner, much as Mrs. Werner did in a previous letter. On the other, she is also setting herself up to circle back to work. "Yes, we can edit the plays. There seems to be great demand for amateur plays since the road dramatic companies have ceased to operate." This is a field where she and Phelps are both producing rapidly, and "lying low until the demand changes." It is also a field where she thinks she can assist Mrs. Werner: "I wish you would give us a commission to write you a book of pays for two characters, say five plays in all...One third in advance of the price agreed upon and the book to be delivered within a time limit of six months." Within a month, Mrs. Werner has pulled the trigger on such a project; and Short's final November 1928 letter confirms she has been paid for one project, agrees to the price on another, and is moving ahead with Mrs. Werner on the book of plays. "Our idea was to sell it to you outright, excepting the Movie and Talkie rights on which we would reserve fifty percent of royalties."

Exceptional research content, including possibilities for LGBTQ+ studies, women's business collaborations, women's literary collaborations, the history of theater and film in the US, the role of early women in film, and the rise of women in publishing after suffrage.

Woman's Who's Who in America 644.
(Item #3900)

Price: $1,500