The closing debut of that great Shakespearian humorist and emotional ass, Mr. James Owen O’Connor, at the Star Theater, will never be forgotten. During his extraordinary histrionic career he gave his individual and amazing renditions of Hamlet, Phidias, Shylock, Othello, and Richelieu. I think I liked his Hamlet best, and yet it was a pleasure to see him in anything wherein he killed himself.
Encouraged by the success of beautiful but self-made actresses, and hoping to win a place for himself and his portrait in the great soap and cigarette galaxy, Mr. O’Connor placed himself in the hands of some misguided elocutionist, and then sought to educate the people of New York and elocute them out of their thralldom up into the glorious light of the O’Connor school of acting.
The first week he was in the hands of the critics, and they spoke quite serenely of his methods. Later, it was deemed best to place his merits in the hands of a man who would be on an equal footing with him. What O’Connor wanted was one of his peers, who would therefore judge him fairly. I was selected because I know nothing whatever about acting and would thus be on an equality with Mr. O’Connor.
After seeing his Hamlet I was of the opinion that he did wisely in choosing New York for debutting purposes, for had he chosen Denver, Colorado, at the end of the third act kind hands would have removed him from the stage by means of benzine and a rag.
I understand that Mr. O’Connor charged Messrs. Henry E. Abbey and Henry Irving with using their influence among the masses in order to prejudice said masses against Mr. O’Connor, thus making it unpleasant for him to act, and inciting in the audience a feeling of gentle but evident hostility, which Mr. O’Connor deprecated very much whenever he could get a chance to do so. I looked into this matter a little and I do not think it was true. Until almost the end of Mr. O’Connor’s career, Messrs. Abbey and Irving were not aware of his great metropolitan success, and it is generally believed among the friends of the two former gentlemen that they did not feel it so keenly as Mr. O’Connor was led to suppose.
But James Owen O’Connor did one thing which I take the liberty of publicly alluding to. He took that saddest and most melancholy bit of bloody history, trimmed with assassinations down the back and looped up with remorse, insanity, duplicity and unrequited love, and he filled it with silvery laughter and cauliflower and mirth, and various other groceries which the audience throw in from time to time, thus making it more of a spectacular piece than under the conservative management of such old-school men as Booth, who seem to think that Hamlet should be soaked full of sadness.
I went to see Hamlet, thinking that I would be welcome, for my sympathies were with James when I heard that Mr. Irving was picking on him and seeking to injure him. I went to the box office and explained who I was, and stated that I had been detailed to come and see Mr. O’Connor act; also that in what I might say afterwards my instructions were to give it to Abbey and Irving if I found that they had tampered with the audience in any way.
The man in the box office did not recognize me, but said that Mr. Fox would extend to me the usual courtesies. I asked where Mr. Fox could be found, and he said inside. I then started to go inside, but ran against a total stranger, who was “on the door,” as we say. He was feeding red and yellow tickets into a large tin oven, and looking far, far away. I conversed with him in low, passionate tones, and asked him where Mr. Fox could be found. He did not know, but thought he was still in Europe. I went back and told the box office that Mr. Fox was in Europe. He said No, I would find him inside. “Well, but how shall I get inside?” I asked eagerly, for I could already, I fancied, hear the orchestra beginning to twang its lyre.