The Drama According to Marks
JAMES A. COWAN
Whether they were defending helpless virtue against the attacks of villainy or discouraging the art of dramatic criticism as practised by burly lumbermen, the Marks brothers threw themselves into their parts with immense fire and vigor. Incidentally they achieved a success which ranks as an outstanding example of the pluck and persistence of Canadian character.
GEORGE WHITE, who used to sell newspapers in Toronto, but is now one of Broadway's noted
figures, set out, a few months ago, to produce a new stage spectacle. He spent a fortune. He hired a battalion of beautiful girls. He gave orders for the construction of a couple of carloads of scenic effects and the painting of half an acre of back-drops. He had directors, shoe-makers, composers, scrub-women, lyric-writers, ballet-meisters, carpenters, musicians, milliners, eccentric hoofers, electricians, costumers and printers all
toiling furiously. He signed contracts for a bevy of high-salaried favorites and then labored at the agonizing task of pleasing both his stars and the fickle public. The final result is his present edition of “Scandals,” for which, on the opening night, ticket prices ran as high as $55 a seat. Quite a sensation his production is, too! As it has created more than the customary furore, its fame will probably endure for all of six months.
Approximately half a century ago, another Canadian had just gone on the stage. With a claw-hammer coat, white vest and flowing tie, light checked trousers, silk hat and the nearest thing to diamonds he could afford, he combined a wild Irish disposition. The resultant one-man spectacle was Tom Marks and for some of the outstanding offerings which he produced ticket prices ran as low as ten cents a seat. The box office furore which he created lasted for forty-five years. At the end of this period, he decided that he would like to retire and he has been working steadily at this occupation ever since.
Even this simple little comparison makes one inclined to assume that the celebrated Mr. Marks possesses a personality both arresting and distinctive. The assumption is absolutely accurate.
Tom Marks to-day, seventy-one years of age if you believe the official records and fifty, if yoú believe your own eyes, is as vigorous an individual as ever tossed a heckler out of an upstairs opera house. He is living in great peace on the farm which has been the home of his family for more than a century, at Christie Lake, Ontario, not far from Perth.
“I’ve retired,” he declares, “and when I say retired, that is what I mean. I am through with the stage. Why should I go back?”
He invites you to gaze upon his environment. You look down an eighth-of-a-mile of wooded hillside to his personal lake, sparkling through the trees and stretching off towards the sunset. You turn and view behind you an indefinite number of green fields and clumps of timber. Mr. Marks explains that the land is superb, agriculturally speaking, and that, in the barn, which you note in the foreground of his background, he
has one of the finest of trotting horses, and uses it, too. There never yet was an actor of more than five years’ standing who did not long for a home in the country with plenty of sunshine and no matinees.
Tom Marks having reached the stager’s earthly paradise, why should he disturb it all for a return to the footlights?
He lives in the old farmhouse, now in the 100th year of its run, which he has modernized by the addition of electric light, running water, high-powered radio and other comforts. Five hundred yards away, lives his brother, R. W., erstwhile king of Canadian melodrama, straight man, one-time magician, manager, producer and impresario. He and Tom are the eldest of the seven Marks brothers, all of whom, at one time or another successfully indulged in the show business in Canada.
In the summer, Tom Marks now operates a modest holiday resort, more for his own amusement perhaps than as a business venture. Thirty cottages are grouped along the near-by shore-line. But, except in the busiest season, trains seem to stop there merely out of politeness and the countryside round about is thinly populated. It is a subdued existence for one with the turbulent and exciting past of this old trouper.
There, amid that pleasant sort of placid scenery that mooing cows must love and lady nature-poets simply dote upon, sits the hard-boiled veteran showman.
The word hard-boiled, is used only after due consideration. Tom Marks and R. W. played with great success in territory where audiences were as tough as boarding-house beefsteaks. In their earlier years, they were partners and toured together, a powerful pair of actormanagers, known as the wildcat and the strong man because of their abilities in clearing audiences of objectionable members. Cash customers who thought it funny to interrupt the action, would realize a few moments later as they viewed the opera house from the outside,
that they had erred in their calculations.
Tom Marks made eighteen different tours of the Dominion, at first in partnership with R. W. and later at the head of his own companies. He appeared as an acrobat, as a comedian, as a sweet singer of Irish ballads and as the hero-interpreter of thrilling chunks of drama. But the exact roles in which he may have appeared from time to time are not so vitally important in this case. Mr. Shakespeare to the contrary, the play was not the thing.
It was Tom Marks the mobs flocked to see, not the particular piece of play-writing and re-vamping which happened to be his vehicle of the moment. His actual on-stage performances were the high spots of his visit to each town or city and the cause of his coming, but he was a show himself wherever he was and whatever he did. The performance ran continuously from the moment of his arrival till the minute of his departure.
Apparel That Proclaimed
AT EACH stop, from one end of the Dominion to the other, he would be greeted by one hundred friends or so. He held impromptu salons on streetcorners or wherever he chanced to meet an acquaintance, pouring forth anecdotes, repartee and reminiscences in a never-ending stream to the crowd he inevitably collected. Invariably, he was gloriously garbed, usually in a costume very similar to the one previously described. The silk hat was rarely missing. The general effect was such that it enabled him to appear at a funeral with becoming dignity or lend an air of merriment and good-will to a wedding.
His clothes, however, were not entirely decided by his own tastes in the matter. Tom Marks was a showman if anyone on earth was ever entitled to that rating and knew that it was absolutely necessary to keep himself in the public eye. He realized, therefore, the importance of the principles of window-dressing as applied to his own personal appearance. So his dress was a matter of business policy, and good policy it was, too, as his growing bank balance testified. When he started on the road, he wore a species of jewelry which has been publicly referred to, at least once, as cut glass. Within a
few months, these decorations had gone into the ashcan to be replaced by diamonds, thus demonstrating the worldly wisdom of his sartorial methods.
These diamonds of his, eventually, became nearly as famous as Tom Marks himself, and like him shone brilliantly on scores of Canadian stages. They became an integral part of his makeup, as much a necessity as chewing-gum to Will Rogers. Without a few of them, he would feel partially undressed, like a bank-clerk without a collar.
You may meet him to-day, dressed in the knock-about costume of the gentleman who is rusticating, wearing a
battered felt hat and a khaki shirt, but the chances are eleven to nothing that you will find a diamond stud and a diamond ring among the articles of apparel present. He wears them even when fishing on the lake.
In the old days, Buster used to compete with the diamonds for public notice but Buster has now passed on. He was a bulldog who could have collected a crowd in a cemetery. When Tom Marks toured, it was his custom to hire a smart trap and a fine horse as his personal means of locomotion in each town. Buster used to drive the horse. At ¡east, he held the reins in his teeth which was just as good.
In Winnipeg once, Buster held the fort and the fiery steed while his master dropped into the offices of the Manitoba Free Press to renew old friendships. The dog considered that his duties also included the issuing of a general warning to passers-by in case anyone had evil designs on the rig.
He took his tasks so seriously, not to say fiercely, on this occasion that the watching mob soon numbered hundreds and the managing editor, glancing out of the window, was about to shout for reporters under the impression that a riot was commencing.
This minor incident in the metropolis of the midwest is a sample of Tom Marks’ genius for keeping himself right in the public eye.
The mid - west, too, was always his favorite stamping ground during fifty years of trouping in all parts of the Dominion and the United States. The most epic days of his career were the boom times on the prairies. He was a picturesque figure
in a picturesque era and he fitted into the picture perfectly. So he loved the west and the west liked him.
Back in those days of coal-oil footlights, individuals promoting art and drama through the wide open spaces had a variety of troubles now non-existent and among them may be listed these very kerosene footlights. Gleaming defiantly through the gloom of the auditorium, they apparently offered an irresistible temptation to cowboys
and others. As a result gun-toting members of the audience occasionally attempted to shoot them out and " sometimes were partially successful.
The Gentle Art ol Election
this diversion, it was often necessary, no matter where Marks’ companies might be playing, to eject divers muscular citizens, gin-saturated souls and other people coming under the general heading of roughnecks. In this strife for peace and quiet the Marks brothers gained great fame. It was technically known as “going over the footlights” and as practised by Tom
and R. W., was a simple process requiring only a few seconds of a man’s time. jj
Whenever it became apparent that some spectator was merely a chronic interrupter, one or both of the brothers, accompanied by as many members of their company as the occasion seemed to warrant, perhaps, but usually alone, would hop into the house and cast forth the disturber into outer darkness. The main entertainment of, the evening then continued.
When Tom and R.W. separated, midway through their careers, the former continued with his ballads and
comedy while R.W. specialized in melodrama. Foi years, his villains hissed and his handsome heroes rescued his beauteous heroines aí. over the country, six nights a weet and at the customary matinees Excellent as his productions were it was obvious thaï in the very nature of things, he woulc need to be more or guard than brothei Tom, the merrymaker. R,W., hove ever, had his owr system for coping with the situation He used to select at doubtful stands a quartet of the neighborhood’s most boisterous lads-. He would explain to them that he sought theii co-operation ir keeping order during the coming engagement. Candidates thus selected nearly always accepted with cheers They would patrol the aisles and put down the suggestion of a murmui with the severity of so many Mussolinis. There were times when it was nearly impossible to hear the actors because of the uproar created by
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the discipline committee performing its duties. But the method was effective and it never failed to solve the problem.
Calgary was one city where Tom Marks’ difficulties of this sort were nil. Beresford, the English aristocrat, rancher and man of considerable mystery, was a great friend. He always came to Tom’s performances accompanied by the entire ranch force with the foreman in charge. The foreman was a deep admirer of the actor and also a demon for preserving order.
“When he was in the house,’’^Fbm says, .“there never was a peep from any unruly visitor. It was the general idea that Beresford’s foreman would likely as not split a man in two pieces if he caused trouble.
“Beresford himself was an unusual typev even for the west. For an Englishman, he' was the nearest thing to an American westerner I ever ran across. He had a drooping British moustache, hut he talked with a half-Yankee drawl. He always chewed tobacco. I think he must have chewed in his sleep.”
It is customary to take it for granted that the earlier days in the west were the most woolly seen in any part of the Dominion and this might lead one to believe that, in that territory and during that period, the travelling show would find the going toughest. But this impression is entirely incorrect, at least insofar as Tom Marks is concerned.
“The people in the west always were reasonable folks,” he says. “I guess they are that way still. I never thought the west should be rated as hard territory to play. A show was always given a chance to make good. If it did, it had only scattered bits of trouble. If performances were poor or if a manager tried to put something over on the public, he nearly always got what was coming to him—but that is a different matter altogether.”
Tom Marks’ opinion, after testing out most of this continent and spending half a century at it, is that Ontario takes the prize. Years ago, before any travelling troupes seriously considered long midwest engagements and before the prairies had sufficient population to attract the trouper, there used to be parts of old Ontario where it was considered impossible for companies to appear. These were the hardest towns in America to play, Tom Marks declares, Pennsylvania mining towns, Mississippi settlements and raw Montana municipalities not excepted.
Shantymen; just in from the woods, with money in their pockets, a certain amount of alcohol in their stomachs and an ambition to demonstrate to the townspeople how wild they really were, these were the ugliest patrons a manager had to contend with. A few other Ontario towns, in addition, had local groups of bullies who specialized in upsetting performances at the opera house.
Into this territory came the Marks brothers, taking everything as it came, the good with the bad. When they struck a “bad” theatre, they literally fought their way through and it was their activity at this time which brought them the nicknames of “the strong man and the wildcat,”
They changed the whole complexion of the show business in Ontario at that
time. The rowdy element in these towns was, of course, only a very small percentage of the total population, but its consistent trouble-making had been keeping the respectable citizens away from the theatre. They did not wish to pay for an evening’s entertainment only to become involved in a near-riot. But Tom and R.W. squelched the disturbers without mercy. Their reputations were well known to showmen all over the continent and once the Marks company had been in and cleaned up a town, other theatrical troupes which had formerly kept out, would follow them in.
To the brothers goes the credit of changing scattered municipalities of this country from the bad lands of the show business into paying and pleasant terri?to"ry. ; ' . —
In fact when the word went round that they wère coming through, leading citizens in towns where there had been trouble would offer them special inducements to come in and play an engagement. . ..
Joe Murphy, the famous Irish actor who eventually retired from the stage a millionaire, was, years ago, run out of Dundas, Ontario, then practically a foundry town. Murphy himself was heart-' broken and the people of Dundas much upset about it. They offered Tom and R.W. the free use of their town hall for an indefinite period if they would only bring their company to Dundas for a short run. The brothers agreed and arrived in due time, with everything cleared for action. On the opening night, there was not a single woman in the house. There was a dramatic intensity about the atmosphere of the auditorium which did not come from the play on the stage. One or two spectators were tossed out before proceedings commenced and a couple more refused admittance. The attitude of the showmen was almost bellicose, so belligerent indeed, that no outbreak occurred, though there was every evidence that it was coming when the house began to fill.
Dundas was most appreciative. The rest of the stay was peaceful in the extreme and, financially, one of the most successful in the long history of the Marks brothers’ undertakings.
Battles and rumors of battles, like this one, were not, of course, confined to Canada. When Tom and R.W. were touring Wisconsin, a drunk in the front row, one night, insisted on contributing his opinions of the actors to the evening’s fare. R.W. climbed over the footlights and heaved him out into the night. At the end of the performance, the ejected one returned, accompanied by the sheriff. He introduced himself as the mayor’s brother and had the actor arrested on an assault charge.
But when the case came before the magistrate, it had developed, unknown to the Marks brothers, into a bitter feud, with the whole town taking sides. Many people, including the judge, felt that the mayor’s brother had been attempting to run the town and were overjoyed that, by laying a charge against a visiting Thespian, he had so conveniently given them a chance to attack him publicly. Therefore, they had quietly collected about forty witnesses for the defense,
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witnesses who were prepared to testify all manner of things.
The judge took the attitude, when the plaintiff prepared to give evidence, that the question to be proved was not whether R. W. Marks had been guilty of assault, but why the town bully, with a reputation for rowdyism to sustain, had allowed himself to be manhandled by an unknown.
“Why did you let this man throw you out of the hall?” thundered the cadi.
The prominent drunk was taken aback by this shift in the matter under discussion. He was only able to stammer, rather shamefacedly and ungrammatically: “He took me too quick,” and the case was dismissed amid the laughter of a crowded courtroom.
The most serious situation the two brothers ever were called upon to face was in a small Pennsylvania mining town, an overgrown village, where the population was largely foreign-born. Before the curtain rose, a crowd of foreign miners clumped up the stairs and said that the hall was theirs on that particular night. They intimated that they were coming in to see the show for nothing. The Marks brothers tried to explain that they were cither coming in at so much a head or not at all. A fight started and ended by the attackers being tumbled downstairs. They retired to collect rocks and reinforcements. They then proceeded to pelt the opera house with stones and kept this up all night only pausing long enough to .allow such spectators as had braved the bombardment, to go home after the performance. It was impossible, however, for any member of the company to leave the hall. At daybreak, the rock-gatherers ■departed and there was no further trouble during the engagement.
Lest the impression be given that the early touring days were little more than a series of skirmishes, it is worth noting that Tom Marks, after these early blood-andthunder engagements in the east and also after he and R.W. had separated, went into Michigan with its shantymen and its lumber camps, and played that territory successfully for seven solid years.
Then he struck for the open west, both 'Canadian and American, the districts which developed into his favorite theatrical haunts. He remained there for the next eighteen years, for he did not return to the east for a quarter of a century after he started on his first invasion of Michigan.
NATURALLY he watched a great many land booms have their rise and fall and naturally, too, he was mixed up in many of them. In fact, he developed a veritable passion for real estate transactions and must have been, at one time, one of the Dominion’s large land-owners for he purchased lots at almost every stopping place.
He also became involved in gold mining ventures in British Columbia and towards the latter part of his career, since he was playing Alberta at the time, he took a flyer in oil during the Calgary hysteria of 1911. He came out of the frenzy richer than he went in and thus earned a local reputation for much financial sagacity. This is the exact story of his oil transactions as he himself tells it.
Some weeks before the boom broke, a man whom he knew slightly, approached him and asked him to buy 500 shares of stock in the Dingman well. This chance acquaintance explained that he would sell for a dollar a share since he was hard pressed for money. He had paid five times that for it and the only reason he was selling at all was the wolf on the doorstep.
Tom Marks decided that oil would probably be as good a gamble as anything else, and bought. The boom duly arrived. Tom, when he heard of it, left an understudy in his place and hurried to Calgary from the town where his company was playing.
“I sold my stock as soon as I got in,” he says. “I rated myself as a smart financier since I got $29 a share for it. Then I decided to stay a day or so longer and speculate with the money I had made on the_ first deal. But on the night of my arrival, I developed the world’s worst tooth-ache. My face swelled out of shape; the pain was terrible and I didn’t as much as go out on the street, much less buy stocks. The next day my condition was not improved when I heard a rumor that
the shares I had sold for $29 were then worth $98 each. As soon as I was better, I had to rush back to my company and I never got a chance to risk another nickel before the boom went to pieces. That is possibly the reason I made the money I did.”
When Tom Marks finally did leave the west and toured the east again after a twenty-five year absence, theatre managers where he played noted an amazing phenomenon. There were a sensational number of sets of whiskers in his audiences.
These, it turned out, belonged to his old admirers of two and a half decades earlier, whose recollection of Tom Marks a quarter of a century younger were still vivid. Whiskers, in fact, are considered by Tom Marks as an infallible barometer of an old actor’s popularity.
“Let me count the beards in your houses,” he will say to a brother veteran to-day, “and I will tell you how good an actor you are. Young folks and the middle-aged can be ballyhooed into attending your performances but memories are the only effective means of attracting the old-timers. They won’t budge unless they remember you as someone who made a lasting hit with them years before, but when they do come they bring everyone else in town with them. Whiskers are the real tests of drawing power.”
In these later appearances throughout the east, Tom Marks occasionally ran up against an attitude of mind which annoyed him more than the rough-house tactics of his pioneering touring. He once called at the Garner House in Chatham, Ontario, to arrange accommodation for his company, only to receive a frozen reception from the manager, a man named Ebert or Everett, who stood at the desk, silk-hatted and immaculate, twisting the tips of his coal-black moustache.
“We’re full up,” said the manager, briefly and brusquely.
“You are not,” was the reply, equally to the point.
Finally, the resplendent one delivered himself of the generalization that theatrical people, as a class, do not pay their bills. He had shortly before been mulcted of $67 and was disposed to take no more chances.
“Very good,” said Marks shortly. “I see your viewpoint. I’ll go and stay with the Methodist minister, but I’d like to leave a small parcel in your safe. Will you keep it for me?”
The manager agreed, and Tom Marks handed into his keeping a package of one hundred one hundred dollar bills. Then he walked out. The hotelman’s decision that he had made a mistake was strengthened when he noticed that the showman had been accompanied by three friends when he had called, one of whom was the mayor and another, the local manager of the Bank of Montreal. In this particular difficulty, as with the problem of the rowdy, Tom Marks had his own speciallydevised solution.
One of the most remarkable aspects of Tom Marks’ theatrical career is the fact that Canada always was his home and headquarters. He is a Canadian, of course, but he made his footlight debut in the United States, was rapidly earning a real reputation for himself there, but suddenly threw away all his prospects to come back to the Dominion and engage in the show business in doubtful and untried territory. At the present time, when the question of young Canadians emigrating southward is so vital a concern, it may be in order to express the hope that others do as he did. He went to the United States to seek his fortune and returned to Canada to make it. His brother, R.W., did the same thing.
The Drama Calls
WHEN a lad of nineteen, Tom Marks, hoeing potatoes on his native Ontario heath, considered as he eradicated the weeds, the question of his future. This was long before the day of skilled vocational guidance for young fellows so he did not know that a fixed goal was necessary. He came to only one definite conclusion in the matter. He heard that there was to be a state fair in Minneapolis and he determined to attend it and see what the fates might offer. The theory that nature expects every man to weigh his own talents, size up his abilities and then head straight into the path for which he is seemingly suited, had not yet blossomed forth. Tom Marks merely knew that, whatever he might undertake, he was
going to enjoy himself in the process of working at it or else he was not going to labor at that particular vocation. What could be simpler or more sensible?
With this as his creed, he set out, in 1874, for the state fair. Probably it was very successful as such things go. lom Marks is not sure. He does know, however, that it was anything but a success for him. When the fete wound up, he moved on and arrived in a small Minnesota town in a state which can only be described as one of acute bankruptcy.
He tried to calculate how long it would take to walk from Minnesota to Old Ontario and whether, if the worst came to the worst, it could be done without food. He was forced to the melancholy conclusion that it was impossible—even for a boy with a fine line of Irish ancestors.
Finally, he succeeded in borrowing one hundred dollars, a feat, one would say, which proved the magnetism of his personality as completely as any of the packed auditoriums of later years. Leaving his trunk and personal belongings as evidence of his good faith, he went on, for some inexplicable reason, to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, which he reached on a night that was cold, wet, miserable and depressing as a damp dishrag.
“Never in all my life,” he declares, “have I been as ill as I was on that night and, what is more, with one of the worst diseases in the world, barring love. I was suffering from homesickness. I could smell the wind off the lake and see the lights shining on the water in front of the farmhouse. I was tempted. I wanted to take that hundred dollars, forget about repaying it and buy a one-way ticket home. I’ll never know why I didn’t.”
But the next day his spirits rose with the sun. He decided that providence owed him something and he would give providence an opportunity to pay. He went to the races. He plunged with his entire capital. Such luck he never has had since. He drove away from, the track in a hired carriage with eighteen hundred dollars in his wallet. The carriage, however, was not mere swank. He had met the Governor’s daughter during the afternoon and obtained her permission to escort her home. The carriage was for the purpose of pointing out to the elite of Eau Claire that an Irish-Canadian from the supposed backwoods was as gallant an individual as the pick of Wisconsin’s young bloods.
Lest it be thought that this reference to the Governor’s daughter is an attempt to drag the love interest into an otherwise charming biography, let it be stated now that when Tom Marks bade the lady good-bye he never expected to see her again. And, what is more, he never did.
Forty years later, he was bringing his daughter east from her school in the west when the train stopped at the very Minnesota town which had been the scene of his youthful financial agonies as well as his successful drive for funds. He remembered the place only as the train started to pull out.
“Quick,” he said, as he recollected, “we’ve got to get off here. I’ve forgotten something.”
“What?” he was asked.
“A trunk,” was the reply. “I left it here forty years ago and I’ve never thought of it since—till this minute.”
He had repaid his borrowed hundred after his race clean-up but, feeling like a temporary Rockefeller, had magnificently suggested that his creditor keep his personal belongings as a souvenir.
Enjoying himself as he went, Tom Marks finally drifted into a position as government reporter, under President Garfield, on the Yellowstone Survey between Chamberlain, South Dakota and Little Missouri. He had been in this work for two years when he met Buffalo Bill who was then playing the legitimate theatres in a now forgotten play. Cody took an immediate liking to the young Canadian and Tom Marks became his advance agent. Later in the tour, Buffalo Bill decided to try a new play. One of the dramatis personae was a young Irishman and it was decided to let the ambitious Canadian advance man tackle the part. So immediate was his success that Buffalo Bill ordered him to forsake the purely business end of the drama for its more aesthetic side.
Erom the show business, according to Colonel Cody, he went to a minstrel show where he submerged his brogue and smiling countenance in negro dialect and burnt cork.
In a number of publ'shed stories con-
cerning the commencement of his career the statement is made that Tom Marks was working at an assistant cobbler’s bench when passers-by heard him singing. The discovery of his voice resulted in his being seized by the magnates of the road show trade to be groomed for stardom. This theory has been widely accepted and justly so, since it is much more romantic and thrilling than a simple story of meandering to the footlights from an Ontario potato field.
“Were you ever a shoemaker?” Tom Marks was asked in an effort to get more accurate data on this tale of an interesting rise to fame.
“Oh, yes,” was the prompt reply. “Sure I was. I must have worked at it for a week altogether. But I didn’t like it. Any person who ever heard me singing at -a cobbler’s bench had a real smart pair of ears.”
It is usually hinted that there is some mysterious and sacred inner fire which enables those blessed with it to step upon the stage and do tricks with the emotions of the audience. Acting is more a holy duty than a mundane occupation. A close analysis of this belief might, conceivably, reveal a high percentage of hot air. In fact, whenever art and earning a living happen to get mixed, traces of this gas may usually be found.
There may, of course, actually be people who feel themselves gifted from above and who must express themselves or blow up. Such an individual is either a genius or an object deserving of the deepest sympathy since, in the latter case, it may be that he will never get over it.
At any rate, it is refreshing to meet a man like Tom Marks, who has achieved great renown on the boards but who admits, nevertheless, that he went on the stage chiefly because he liked it and because it seemed like a fine way of earning a living, seeing the country and meeting interesting people. He arrived in happygo-lucky fashion instead of by deep design and with much earnestness of pur-, pose. In due time, he developed his unusual faculty for creating mirth and making friends, and realized also that these abilities of his were bringing him fame and money. Gratified as he was by this, he was not over-impressed with himself. He did not conclude that these talents justified him granting himself a rating as a unique being. In short, his first taste of success did not go to his head and much of his later popularity may be due to this as much as anything else.
We Are Seven
PECULIARLY enough, while Tom was serving his apprenticeship with Buffalo Bill and the blackface acts, brother R.W. was also appearing in the limelight for a living. These two boys from an Ontario farm had set out independently and both had been drawn into a very unusual line of endeavor for youthful agriculturalists—a unique situation, but one with a perfectly logical explanation.
Their father had long been the county s most famous raconteur and _ neighbors from miles around would flock in to listen to his tales.
“I remember, when I was a youngster,” Tom relates, “seeing as many as thirty horses tied in front of the house on a Sunday. People would come from far and near to listen to father. Most of them stayed all day and, though it never entered my head at the time, I’ve often wondered, since, how we managed to feed them all.”
The father’s rare vein of humor was almost a disadvantage to him since enthusiastic auditors were continually camping on him and taking advantage of his Irish hospitality. Had he not been as good a farmer as he was a spinner of yarns, it is conceivable that they might finally have eaten him out of house and home.
His sons, first Tom and R.W., but finally the whole seven of them, managed to make the family gift pay them handsome dividends and utilized it to the full. R.W., who is older than Tom, was'really the first to set out. Tom started a year later.
“I played in Winnipeg,” R.W. once declared, “when you could have jumped across it with a clothespole.”
He was, he said, the first touring showman to play there and quoted from a yellowed newspaper clipping which pointed out that the inhabitants of that municipality could henceforth consider it a real town since the drama had reared its head there for the first time.
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This claim to a Winnipeg-Fort Garry premiere was of course, disputed. All such matters usually are. The thing will never be settled to everyone’s satisfaction but it should be mentioned that R.W. was not always billed as Mr. Marks. In those far-off days, there was rather a brisk demand for magicians and R.W. was an expert in sleight-of-hand. It was obvious moreover, that the drawing-power of a star with a good, solid British name would not be as great as one, for example, with the mystic title of an eastern potentate. So the details of R.W.’s early triumphs in the magic art are somewhat difficult to get at. Many old-timers, in addition, forget that the Marks brothers commenced their careers separately and that R.W. was touring long before there were Marks brothers’ productions.
The brothers united shortly after Tom’s plunge into minstrelsy. Their first combined effort was “The Big Four,” a vaudeville act made up of Tom and R.W. along with two of their cousins, Emma Wells and Jennie Ray. The act was headlined in most of the big houses from San Francisco to New York and made a transcontinental tour of all the large American cities with great success.
When they reached New York, the brothers decided on a new venture. “Let’s go back to Canada,” one suggested to the other, “and have a whole show of our own.”
When the next season opened, the first of the many Marks’ attractions took to the road—the Emma Wells Concert Company. It was exactly what its name implies, a varied and remarkable array of talent offering to the intelligent citizenry a refined entertainment which combined with the best of the old favorites, new and startling innovations. This information can be gleaned from the handbills of that time by anyone who takes the trouble to read them.
The fame of the organization was international. The Marks brothers always took the attitude that, as far as theatrical territory went, the line dividing Canada and the United States was largely imaginary. They calmly proceeded to invade the republic to the south whenever they felt like it and they constitute the one wellknown example of a theatrical producing organization with headquarters in this country making extensive inroads into the United States. They felt that they could offer the American public just as good amusement as ever came out of New York and their old box-office records indicate that many thousands of Americans must have thought so, too.
A Fopr-Voiced Melba
IN THE Emma Wells Concert Company, R.W. was the straight man while Tom served as comedy lead. They used to divide between them, too, the duties of doorman and ticket-taker. Emma Wells herself is now almost a fabulous figure. She was the famous four-voiced vocalist who sang in rapid succession, soprano, alto, tenor, and bass, while crowded halls gasped their wonder. No veteran theatre-goer, intimate as he may be with the history of Mousie Fletcher and his onestring jambooza, Gorman and Gorton’s Minstrels with the World-Famous Gold Band or any of the other celebrated attractions of that era, can consider his reminiscences complete unless he saw the great Emma Wells.
After several seasons, the company name was changed and became henceforth the Marks brothers’ show. Later still the brothers split and Tom began to build up vehicles to fit his own exuberant personality. His offerings always had a strong Irish flavor and assayed high in sentiment. They never failed to give the leading actor an opportunity to sing at least a couple of his great ballads. “Judy O’Toole” was perhaps Tom’s greatest song number, for audiences continued to demand it thirty years after he first introduced it. Another great melody of his was “They’re Hanging Men in Ireland for bating Sidesworth Buns,” a song incidentally, with an interchangeable title which was often rendered as “They’re Hanging Men in Ireland for Chewing Slippery Elm.” Among the plays which packed the theatres where Tom Marks played were “The Irish Boarder,” “The Village Blacksmith,” “Rosie Cary,” “Shamus O’Brien,” “The Soldier of France” and “The Man That Came Back.”
The total number of dramas used b him at one time or another runs up int the scores. Many of them he wrote him self. All of them he revamped to fit hi company and his own particular ideas Play-writing, like acting, never struct Tom Marks as something to be ap proached with great solemnity and mud! deference. He would often tear the worl of some well known author to pieces over night,_ change the entire plot, add ne\ gags, introduce fresh characters or elimin ate old ones, give the play another titli and a few hours of rehearsal, then offer i to his admirers. Usually, the result was ¡ hit. If it was not, he merely spent tin next night polishing up and putting to gether a new offering.
He was quick to take advantage of the events on which public attention wai temporarily focussed. When the wa: broke out, he promptly decided that this called for special efforts. He searched hi; trunks for a script sufficiently unusual tc meet the requirements of the moment Though he did not find exactly what ht wanted, he discovered the basis of it. A stirring favorite of years before, calleó “The Sweetest Girl in Dixie” was hk choice. It called for two negro comedians. Their scenes he changed into a part for ont Irishman. He transformed the Kentucky Colonel of the old piece into a returned Canadian captain of the air force. All reference to Dixie’s dearest darling disappeared and the title became “The Man That Came Back.” As a final touch, Tom Marks added a pipe band which was a great sensation.
His company, however, was due to tour parts of the United States as well as Canada so that certain other arrangements were necessary to fit these conditions. Alterations in the book were kept on file for use in the land of the Stars and Stripes and two sets of paper and lithographs were printed.
When his route took the company across the border, Tom Marks dug into his trunks for the second set of poster material and the coming attraction was duly advertised on billboards and board fences as “For Our Country’s Sake” with suitable designs of a patriotic nature.
Tom Marks made his farewell to the stage in 1921. His last stands were the little towns of Essex, Kingsville, Leamington, Blenheim and Wallaceburg, all in Ontario. These towns are not to-day roads show territory. Travelling troupes may never play them again and they had long been off the theatrical map when even, Tom Marks made his last visit. But his net profits from the three towns where' he spent his last week exceeded a thousand dollars. In the eighteen weeks of his last tour, despite the smallness of many of the towns he touched, he earned more than most really successful business men do in a year.
But were the manager of this season’d smallest road show to be handed Tom Marks’ farewell itinerary with the suggestion that he take.his production oven the same routé, he would consider his adviser crazy. And rightly so. It would! include towns where he would expect to starve to death and where his gross r&i ceipts would not pay railway fares.
Tom Marks was able to do big business there but Tom Marks was an institution of almost as long standing as the Dominion of Canada itself since he started out only a few years after Confederation. Many hundreds of Canadian families of pre-movie generations considered it as much a matter of course to go and see him when he played their town as to celebrate the First of July.
He stepped off the stage for good when he was still packing theatres to the doors. He will never play again. There will be no anti-climax to his career for he is quite content to spend the rest of his life in summer resort management and amateur philosophy.
Ask him to-day to sum up. the results of his manifold experiences and he may quote you a certain epigram which he asserts contains the concentrated wisdom of half a century on the road. The interesting part of it is that he does not believe it. you know he does not and don’t yourself. But it is good just the same.
“In most lines of business.” he will tell you, “you are wise to put faith in no one. But in the show business, there are only three classes of people you cannot trust — actors, stage-hands and musicians.”