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John C. Burroughs

"Your Lucky Girl!" The Play by Edgar Rice Burroughs
Robert B. Zeuschner

    Shortly before 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 of verisimilitude. 

    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 Ed again. 

    The characters in the play and the actors who portrayed them: 

    William Mason, 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 Martini 

    The Setting in Three Acts. 

    Act I 

    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. 

    Act II 

    Location: Same. Time: one hour later, summer evening, 1927. The heroine declares her love for the thief, and he rejects her. 

    Act III 

    Location: Home 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. 

    Anne's fiancé, 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. 

    Anne's fiancé, 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 regretted it. 

    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. 

    Anne's husband, 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!