Biography of David Belasco (1859-1931)

Theatre Director, producer and American playwright born in San Francisco (California). One of the first producers of theatre was for Americans who unified all the elements of a theatrical production under the supervision of a person, the stage director, and is considered to be one of the most outstanding personalities of the scene of the United States of America. Born into a judia-portuguesa family originally called Valasco, his father had been a famous Harlequin at several London theatres and his mother possessed an impetuous temperament. He made his debut as an actor in 1872 in his hometown in the works of Pizarro, East Lynne and Richard III, where she played the role of Duke of York in Charles Kean as Richard farewell tour. He toured the West as supporting actor and ended up at San Francisco completo Baldwin Teatre (1878-1882) with famous actors such as John McCullough and Booth. Married at the age of 20 and for a time led the life of an itinerant actor along the Pacific coast. His apprenticeship as a playwright was made adapting novels, poems and ancient works. As producer devoted himself to several spectacular melodramas, with battles, fires, calamities, and produced a passion with real animals on stage. There he collaborated with James A. Herne, and worked with Gustave Frohman. With the first appeared in New York in 1879 in Hearts of Oak, adaptation of an old melodrama and The Mariner completo Compass, which was a failure. Belasco returned to California until Frohman led back to New York as a producer and resident playwright at the new Madison Square Theatre in 1882. His first mount in the Madison was Young Mrs. Winthrop (1882), and in 1884 he produced his first work written solo, May Blossom, visiting the same year England. In 1884 it changed to the Daniel Frohman Lyceum Theatre, performing the same jobs until 1890, when it became independent as a producer. Lots of productions and more than thirty-six works written, alone or in collaboration, occupied his long apprenticeship in those years. His first success was in collaboration with Henry C. DeMille: The Wife (1887). Other successful works were The Girl I Left Behind Me (the girl I left behind me, 1893), written in collaboration with Franklyn Fyles, and The Heart of Maryland (heart of Maryland, 1895), based on the American civil war, in which Maurice Barrymore played the hero protagonist. Zaza (1898), adaptation from the French, was a success in New York and London. In Madame Butterfly (1900), Blanche Bates was the protagonist in New York and Evelyn Millard in London. Puccini saw this dramatization of a story of John Luther Long, and used it as the basis for his opera, as with The Girl of the Golden West (1905). Another work of this period was Under Two Flags (1901). Belasco worked with the actor David Warfield in The Auctioneer (1901) and bought the Republic Theatre of Oscar Hammerstein, entering the stage of greater economic prosperity of his career. Completely rebuilt, the Republic was inaugurated with a replenishment of Du Barry, already seen at the Criterion Theatre, production and which had as main actress Mrs. Leslie Carter, one of the actresses who used to work with Belasco. This piece was followed by The Darling of the Gods (1902), another Japanese history written in collaboration with John Luther Long, with Blanche Bates and George Arliss as principal actors, and Sweet Kitty Bellairs (1903). Other hits for Belasco in his first theatre were The Girl of the Golden West (1905); Adrea (1905), with Mrs Carter; The Rose of the Rancho (1906); The Music Master (1904), with Warfield; The Easiest Way (1909), and The Governor's Lady (1912). In total there were forty-two productions and replacements in New York and on tour. In 1906 Belasco built their own theatre, known first under the name of Stuyvesant, which opened in 1907 with A Grand Army Man, and kept both assets. Renamed the Belasco in 1910, this new theatre occupied the producer until the end of his life. Between 1915 and 1930, it was responsible for thirty-five productions. They have become legend art objects piling up in their private rooms, along with sumptuous pieces of scenery of Belasco assemblies. In this theatre he produced The Return of Peter Grimm (1911), with Warfield as an old man who returns from death to rectify the mistakes of his life; The Case of Becky (1912), with Frances Starr, on a case of split personality and hypnotism; Kiki (1921), with Leonora Ulric; Laugh, Clown, Laugh (1923), based on an Italian work; and Mini (1928), his latest production, adaptation of the work The Red Mill, Ferenc Molnár. Belasco finished his career as he began it, adapting a foreign work.

As a producer, Belasco did not provide anything to the scene of his country which had not been done before, but did so with greater processing and care. Nor can say it to collaborate to the creation of a proper national drama, since it used to import its subjects in Europe. Seeking to be realistic without falling into the unpleasant, it combined scenic realism, which called for solid sets and real objects in three dimensions to the extent possible, with a melodramatic and sentimental action in charge of idealized characters. Belasco significantly influenced American theatrical production techniques through their natural emphasis on naturalistic styles of interpretation, of his scenographies elaborate and full of details and accessories of extreme realism. It required an absolute authenticity to their scenarios. Thus, for the work of The governor's lady (woman of the Governor, 1912) bought objects from the Child's Restaurant, belonging to a chain of prestige in New York, to create an exact replica restaurant on stage. He worked with the designer Louis Hartmann and John H. and Anton Kliegl technicians, and pioneered the use of electric lights to create environments. The direction of Belasco led to a number of popular actors, but chose actors with talent rather than famous. Each work is rehearsing ten weeks (more than the usual four weeks), which resulted in a greater care in the incarnation of the roles in the main actors. Belasco was a comprehensive Theater man, while it did not act from 1880. As a director, it was meticulous. As a dramatist he joined its name more than seventy works, which was responsible for conceiving scenic effects. His collaborator DeMille took notes while Belasco described scenes and effects, to then write dialogue that would be reviewed by Belasco during rehearsals. Perhaps his biggest success was the production of the merchant of Venice (1922), with Warfield in the character of Shylock. It also maintained a conflict with the Theatrical Syndicate on the question of the independence of the artist in the theatre. This Union was an Association of American theatrical entrepreneurs, formed in 1896, which included Klaw and Erlanger, Charles Frohman, the Hayman, Sam Nixon (Samuel F. Nirdlinger), and J. Fred Zimmerman. For sixteen years, they controlled most of the theatres in New York and other major cities, perverting the initial objectives of safeguarding the aesthetic values and free competition by its eagerness to make money. They arrived in force to actresses such as Sarah Bernhardt to perform in theaters without conditions. Actresses as she and producers such as Daly and Belasco managed to break this monopoly dictatorship. The extensive collection of Belasco dramaturgical material is today in the public library of New York.

Bibliography

ACOSTA, Luis A. (ed.): German literature through their texts. Madrid: Cátedra, 1997.

NICOLL, Allardyce, history of World Theatre, Madrid, Aguilar, 1964.

VV.., contemporary American Theatre, Mexico D. F., Ediciones El Milagro, 1995.

VV.., The Cambridge Guide to World Theatre, ed. Martin Banham, Cambridge University Press, 1988.