"Your Lucky Girl!" The Play
by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Robert B. Zeuschner
8 pm on Saturday evening, May 3rd, I handed my ticket to the ticket collector
at the Palmdale Playhouse (the city of Palmdale is located about forty
miles north of Hollywood) and walked into the main door of the playhouse.
I was handed a copy of the program. The Playbill read "The World Premiere
of YOU LUCKY GIRL!", and I must confess that this was an event which I
never thought I would see. It was the very first production of ERB's only
play, and ran for just two weekends: April 25, 26, 27 and May 2, 3, and
4, 1997. The play was set in the year 1927, and the sets and clothing of
the production were appropriate to the period. The music played during
the intermissions was also mostly instrumentals from the period prior to
the Great Depression.
As all good ERB
fans know, the manuscript for "You Lucky Girl!" was originally written
for ERB's only daughter, Joan, to further her career aspirations on the
stage. However, she was married about a year after this play was completed,
and it was put away and completely forgotten until it was discovered in
the safe at ERB, Inc. in 1962 by Henry Hardy Heins. Later this year, Donald
M. Grant is scheduled to publish the text, but this is a play, and the
best way to see a play is to listen to the words with the appropriate voices,
and see it enacted with sets, costumes and hair styles from the late 1920s,
and all the other tiny details which belong to that era and add a touch
The Palmdale Playhouse
seats a little over 300 people, and I would guess that there were about
250 in attendance. I think that there were only the four of us who were
fans; the rest were ordinary folks who came for a fun evening, and they
were not disappointed. There were two intermissions, and I listened carefully
to the remarks of people standing in the lobby. The attendees all enjoyed
it and several discussions were sparked about how much things have changed
when it comes to women seeking their own careers. I did not overhear a
single negative comment.
The lobby of the
playhouse had numerous ERB-related items displayed on tables and on lobby
cards, with donations from George McWhorter and the Burroughs Memorial
Collection at the University of Louisville, some things from Roy and Dela
White's extensive collection, and from Danton Burroughs. There were photographs
of the young Joan Burroughs and the Burroughs family, some ERB books, stage
contracts, period costumes and jewelry, and more. Another poster board
displayed at least a half-dozen favorable reviews of the play.
The play was shepherded
from inception to completion by Hugh Munro Neely, a documentary film maker,
musician, actor, and stage director. In addition, he is a life-long fan
of Edgar Rice Burroughs and has wanted to do this play since he first read
about it in the 1970s. After the play ended, Mr. Neely kindly invited the
small group of Burroughs fans (four of us) backstage. We talked for at
least twenty minutes, with Mr. Neely answering our questions about the
text and the production. He told us that there were very few changes in
the play we saw. Fewer than a half-dozen lines had been deleted or changed.
Mr. Neely remarked that in the original script, ERB had provided very extensive
and detailed stage directions, and he had tried to follow those as closely
as was practical. We were also given a tour of the backstage area and the
set, and noticed many details not visible from the seats. For example,
there was a red G&D ERB book on the bookshelf, and on the piano were
actual framed Burroughs family pictures, including a photo of Ed and Emma,
and their three young children, and another framed photo of Joan Burroughs
at about age 20. The music on the piano was also from the 1920s.
As to the story,
it is a romance and a melodrama in three acts. The plot of the script was
vintage Edgar Rice Burroughs. It felt like ERB's more "realistic" stories,
which is to say, it was a little like The Girl >From Hollywood (but without
the grimness), a little like "The Efficiency Expert," combined with "women's
liberation" and a noble character, where true love wins out over all in
the end. Doesn't that sound like typical ERB?
All of us in the
audience who knew the details of ERB's life felt that there were many references
to the Burroughs family. The two heroines were the same age as Joan Burroughs,
and were best friends. The father of the family had a bit of Ed himself,
and I can imagine the elder brother to be Hully or John Coleman, and perhaps
in the play and the actors who portrayed them:
the father of the Mason family, played by Steve Willis Bill Mason, the
son, played by L. Michael Wells Anne Mason, the daughter who loves the
stage, played by Tiffany Krusey Corrie West, the best friend of Anne Mason,
played by Jenna White Frank West, elder brother of Corrie West, played
by David Kingsley Clyde C. Barton, an entrepreneur for a light opera repertory
company, played by Sheldon Moskowitz Jud Perkins, the local police constable,
played by the director, Hugh Munro Neely Hazel Jones, an attractive divorcee,
played by Caryl Money Tracy Lord, the fiancé of Anne Mason, played
by William L. Smith Phil Mattis, the supercilious fiance of Corrie West,
played by Chuck Linn Katie, the maid at the Lord residence, played by Patricia
The Setting in
Scene 1: Location:
Home of William Mason, in the small town of Millidge, a town in the American
midwest. Time: 6 o'clock on a summer evening, 1927. The characters are
all introduced and the tensions elucidated.
Scene 2 Location:
Same. Time: Midnight, same summer evening, 1927 The bank is robbed and
the wrong man arrested.
Time: one hour later, summer evening, 1927. The heroine declares her love
for the thief, and he rejects her.
of Mr. and Mrs. Tracy Lord Time: Three years later, 1930
The hero is threatened
with prison, but he winds up with the girl he loves and all the money.
A Very Brief Synopsis
of the Story
Anne Mason wants
to act on the stage, but her fiancé, Tracy Lord, is opposed to it.
Anne's best friend, Carrie West is interested in a career singing, but
her wealthy and overbearing fiancé absolutely forbids it. After
a bank robbery, an innocent man falsely accused, and love temporarily frustrated,
each girl finds true love and a career in show business beckons.
A More Detailed
Telling of the Plot
For those who
do not want to know the story in advance, I suggest that you skip the next
few paragraphs because I am going to provide a detailed retelling of the
plot. I do not have a copy of the script, and I am trying to recreate the
play from memory. Beware: I may have some of the plot elements out of order..
Act 1, Scene 1
(living room of the William Mason home, 6 pm, summer, 1927)
The setting is
Millidge, a small town somewhere west of Chicago. The characters are introduced
in the first scene of the first act, and we learn something about each
of them. The exposition of the tensions between the people and their various
situations, is leisurely.
The play opens
in the living room of the home of William Mason and family. The son, young
Bill Mason (about 20 or 22 years old) enters and sits on a chair. A few
seconds later, his father, Mr. Mason, enters, and with dialogue the background
for the play is laid bare. Mr. Mason is employed by the town bank and his
wife is deceased. Their son, Bill Mason owns an automobile garage, is successful,
is honest, is noble, and has been in love with his sister's best friend,
Carrie West, for many years. Anne Mason is somewhere between 18 or 20 years
of age, and is enamored of the theatre.
Mr. Mason plays
the role as a bit of a grumbling curmudgeon. He complains that, as usual,
his daughter, Anne is not home, and since it is her job to prepare dinner
for her father and brother, he will have to go out to eat dinner, which
he does not enjoy doing. Anne shows up a few minutes later, and clearly
demonstrates that she can wrap her father around her little finger. The
reason she was late is that she was rehearsing for a local stage production,
and she makes clear her love for the stage. Anne's best friend, the vivacious
, beautiful and intelligent Carrie West appears, and they discuss the fact
that Carrie's mother is seriously ill with a heart ailment, and needs medical
attention which is not available in their home town of Millidge. She needs
the medical expertise available in Chicago, but it will cost at least $10,000
and Carrie and her brother Frank simply cannot raise or save that much
money. Carrie is engaged to the son of the town's banker, the overbearing
and arrogant Phil Mattis. Carrie knows that when she is married to Phil,
he will supply the necessary money for her mother's medical treatment.
Tracy Lord is a rather conservative Republican who feels that a woman's
place is in the home, and that the family is "the bulwark of the Nation!"
He does not want Anne on the stage. It is clear that Bill Mason is in love
with Carrie West, but feels that his own position as an auto garage owner
does not provide him with enough to declare his feelings for Carrie, and
in addition, she is engaged and he would never say anything which might
interfere with her upcoming marriage. Bill is noble, after all. Bill does
not like Carrie's fiancé, Phil Mattis, but is too high-minded to
say so. There are some hints that Carrie does have strong feelings for
Bill, but he is reticent and does not respond to her hints.
A successful theatrical
promoter of light operas, Clyde Barton, is brought to the Mason home by
Anne, who wants to become an actress in his stage company. Meanwhile, while
Anne is out of the room, Mr. Barton overhears Carrie West singing a song
at the family piano, and tells her that she has a perfect voice for operetta
and guarantees to make her a star if she will sign a contract with him
and his company. Although she is clearly tempted, reluctantly Carrie turns
him down. Meanwhile, Anne convinces her father to go out to dinner with
Mr. Barton, Carrie, and Carrie's fiancé, Phil Mattis. Despite Carrie
and Anne's attempts to get Bill Mason to join them, he does not . The family
leaves for the restaurant, and Bill goes to the office of his downtown
garage to work on paperwork.
Act 1, Scene 2
(living room of the Mason home, around midnight)
The house is dark,
and a strange person comes running into the darkened Mason living room,
pokes around the furniture for a short time, and then, hearing someone
running to the front door, ducks into the kitchen and out the back door.
A minute later Bill Mason comes in the house, turns on the light, and calls
out "Frank." He picks up a pillow on the couch, and discovers a large package
of money. At that moment, the police constable, Jud Perkins, comes in the
door and discovers Bill with the money. Bill is arrested for bank robbery
and taken off. Frank West, Carrie's brother, comes out of the kitchen,
and we know who really committed the robbery.
Act 2 (living
room of the Mason home, an hour later)
Bill Mason comes
home, after posting bail. Frank West appears and the two talk. Frank admits
that he stole the $10,000 from the bank to pay for his mother's medical
bills, but now recognizes that it was a stupid act of desperation and will
probably kill his mother and destroy the pending marriage of his sister,
when they find out that he did it. Frank tells Bill that he will go to
the police and confess that he did the crime. Bill tells him no, and convinces
Frank to allow Bill to take the blame.
The Mason family
returns from dinner, knowing nothing of the bank robbery. They include
Mr. Mason, Clyde Barton, Anne Mason, Carrie West, Phil Mattis, and a rather
free and flirtatious divorcee named Hazel Jones is also present. More discussion
ensues concerning the impossibility of any responsible young woman taking
up the loose life of the stage. Hazel Jones flirts outrageously with every
male on the stage, and all politely deflect her attentions.
Tracy Lord, says that Anne must stay at home once they are married, and
give up her plans for the stage. With some reluctance, Anne agrees to give
it all up for his sake, and she and Tracy embrace. Phil Mattis imperiously
tells Carrie that he absolutely forbids her to even consider Mr. Barton's
offer. Carrie, spunky heroine that she is, is pushed over the edge by his
forbidding her, and breaks off the engagement.
Clyde Barton leaves
to return to his hotel room, and Hazel Jones asks him if might be able
to give her a ride home (and later Hazel answers the telephone in Mr. Barton's
room, indicating that she may be spending the night with him). Everyone
else goes home as well.
Carrie West discovers
that Bill Mason had been arrested for bank robbery, and was out on bail.
Later she and Bill talk. Bills offers not a word in his own defense. Carrie
tells Bill that she does not believe that he could have committed the bank
robbery. She also tells Bill that if she loved someone, she would stand
by them and wait for them, even if they went to jail. Bill loves Carrie
too much to allow her to give up her future for his sake. In a real act
of courage, Carrie lays bare her soul and tells Bill that she loves him,
and in a real shocking scene, Bill turns to Carrie and tells her that he
does NOT love her. She sobs as the curtain falls.
Act 3 (living
room of the home of Tracy Lord and Anne Lord, formerly Anne Mason)
The act opens
in the living room of a rather wealthy residence, occupied by Tracy Lord
and his wife, Anne Mason Lord, who is now a housewife with a maid, and
quite bored by the role. Anne's brother Bill shows up, and we discover
that the bank owner, Phil Mattis's father, declined to press charges against
Bill because all of the cash was returned, and because Bill Mason's father
was a loyal bank employee. We learn that later, Bill's father, Mr. Mason,
was able to loan his son a great deal of money allowing him to purchase
the rights to sell Packard automobiles in Millidge, and Bill has been very
successful. It is not clear where Mr. Mason got the money from, but Bill
has been repaying the loan faithfully every month.
Carrie West left
town right after Bill rejected her, and has not been heard of for the past
three years. Phil Mattis married the flirtatious Hazel Jones, and quickly
Anne Mason Lord
is very distraught because she has heard that her husband, Tracy Lord,
is carrying on with a famous Chicago actress. She says she does not believe
it, but people have been telling her about this for more than a year, and
now the evidence is that her husband has been going to Chicago on business
frequently, and there he has been seen in the company of this actress.
Bill tries to convince her that this must be a mistake.
Phil Mattis, the
arrogant son of the banker, comes to see Bill Mason. Phil tells him that
he wants the successful Packard automobile franchise, and if Bill won't
give it to him, then Phil will once again open the bank robbery charge
against Bill and send him to prison. Although three years before Phil's
father did not chose to prosecute Bill, now Phil's father has died and
Phil gives Bill just one hour to decide whether to give the business to
him, or go to prison. Bill knocks Phil Mattis to the floor, and he leaves.
Mr. Mason comes
by and Bill and his father discuss what to do. Bill says he will not give
up their successful business, even if it means going to prison. His father
and sister agree to stand by him and his choice.
Tracy, comes home and Anne confronts him with evidence of his infidelity.
Phil Mattis shows up at the door with the police constable, Jud Perkins,
who clearly prefers the company of the Mason family to the young Mr. Mattis.
The Lord family
maid announces that the famous Chicago actress is at their front door.
Anne says to the maid that the woman is NOT to be allowed in, but a minute
later the maid comes through the door followed by none other than the missing
Carrie West, who has become wildly successful in Chicago and New York,
using a stage name. Carrie West produces a letter from her brother Frank
(who is in South America), admitting that he robbed the bank, and so the
constable refuses to arrest Bill Mason. Next we learn that Carrie was so
successful in Chicago and New York that she was able to loan Mr. Mason
the money which he in turn loaned to his son Bill to buy the automobile
agency. Tracy Lord and Mr. Mason reveal that both of them kept in touch
with Carrie and took care of her business affairs, and so there was no
infidelity. It really was business!
Bill and Carrie
embrace and declare their love for each other. Anne and Tracy embrace,
affirming their love for one another. Tracy tells Anne that she may pursue
her love for the stage, and he will support her. Each girl is able to seek
her own happiness in whatever manner she wishes. ERB is clearly affirming
the right of women to chose their own destiny, whether as housewife and
mother, or as an actress.
The final scene
in the play has both girls, Anne and Carrie, facing one other and each
pointing a finger at the other, intoning simultaneously, "You lucky girl!"
How was the quality
of the production? I thought it was well done community theater, and I
imagine it would have looked very much the same if it had been produced
in 1927. I do not know whether ERB imagined that his daughter Joan would
play the role of Anne Mason, who gives up the theater for marriage, or
the role of Carrie West, who succeeds in the theater but not in love (until
the end). I am guessing that the two girls were a composite of Joan's character.
I am sure that ERB had met theatrical producers promoting stardom for lovely
young ladies, and I have no doubt that the character of the producer was
a composite drawn from real life. It might be fun to try to psychoanalyze
the play, and look for clues in the play to supply information about the
personal life of the Burroughs family. For example, the mother of the Mason
family did not appear as a character. Was this reflecting Ed's relationship
with Emma at this time, which we know had deteriorated? According to Eddie
Gilbert, ERB had met Eddie for the first time at the home of Florence Gilbert
in early 1927. Was she possibly in his mind as the vivacious and beautiful
Carrie West? The Burroughs family knew many other young film actresses
including Rochelle Hudson. I wonder who served as the model in ERB's mind?
I was very happy
to be able to see the play in person. Wouldn't it have been great if it
could have been a touring company, visiting the home towns of everyone
who belongs to the Burroughs Bibliophiles? Perhaps one day a video tape
of the production might be available for those who missed the premiere.
I hope so! The play's director, Hugh Neely did us all a great favor by
promoting the production of this play, and then actually bringing it into
existence. On behalf of all of us, thank you Hugh!