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The Stage And Stage Degenerates
by [?]

I have met these people and their kind many times since then. I have seen them in Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Chicago, New Orleans and San Francisco. They are everywhere the same. They do not differ in any degree. On the road they are slightly more restrained, for fear of corporal punishment or jail, but the impulse of gluttony and lechery is always there. Any keeper of a second or third-class hotel in a town that is on one of the big circuits is apt to grow eloquent upon the subject of theatrical folk if given the chance. They are noted for a brazen effrontery in demanding everything that is in sight and the laxity with which they regard a debt incurred. I have no doubt that the first man to let his valise down from the second-story window of a hotel, slide down the rope himself and thus square his bill was the leading comedian of that sterling bit of humor, “Hot Times in the Tenderloin.” Meantime his soubrette, who was another man’s wife, was waiting for him outside, and they went away together.

I do not know that the baleful fire of unchaste amour runs more fiercely in the veins of stage people. I only know that they give it more of a free field. You sometimes hear some bar-room comedian and booze recitationist, who draws a hamfatter’s salary in a continuous vaudeville, declare to half drunken listeners that there are good women on the stage. So there are–some. But they are so rare that when they are found they shine like the jewel in the Ethiop’s ear. It would be within the bounds of truth to say that for every virtuous woman behind the foot-lights there are ten prostitutes. Even those who try to keep their feet from the mire and succeed are given no credit for chastity by their fellow professionals. One night, in my never to be forgotten German hotel, I was assured in a thing in loud-patterned trousers and a snow-white overcoat with deep black collar and cuffs, that he knew Emma Abbott, then dead, was unfaithful to her husband, Eugene Wetherell, also dead. This was spoken of “honest little Emma.” A purer woman never lived. I knew that he was lying and told him so, but he was ready with a tale of time, place and circumstance and brazened it out. In like manner I have been told tales of Mary Anderson and Modjeska and Viola Allen–all of them lies. They were the tributes which my gentle friends, male and female, paid to success in their beautiful but risky profession.

It is not to be wondered that women who go on the stage lose their virtue. The wonder is that some of them preserve it, in spite of the life they lead and the company they are forced to keep. The very talents they possess render them susceptible to adulation and applause. They keep late hours. They are thrown constantly with conscienceless males. They breathe an atmosphere of excitement. If they display unusual capabilities, they are intoxicated nightly with the deep, rich, moving roar of high acclaim. Their nerves need bracing and they take to late suppers and champagne with absinthe in the mornings. From the woman who drinks to the woman who falls is not a far cry. I once asked Lizzie Annandale, the contralto, to tell me why so many stage girls surrendered their most precious possession within a year after their first night behind the scenes. She was a frank old party, willing to talk to a friend:

“Aw,” she said, “that’s easy. Women are only human. The girls are cut off from association with decent people. They have to live with stage folks. Society is barred to them. Stage men marry only when they can’t help it. The girl must have somebody to look after her, some man to see that her trunks are checked, that she gets a decent seat in a crowded train, that she doesn’t get the worst of it all around. A man expects pay of some kind and she hasn’t anything to give except herself. That is what he wants. Take our own company, for instance. We are carrying twenty chorus girls. We are bound for the southern circuit. After we play New Orleans we play Texas. After we leave Texas we make a jump straight across the continent to ‘Frisco. The girls don’t get wages enough to enable them to take berths in the sleepers. They will be forced to herd day and night in the other coaches with the men. You will see the chorus people, male and female, asleep two and two on the seats. The exhausted woman’s head rests on the shoulder of her companion, the man’s arm around her to hold her steady. What do you suppose happens when a thing like that is kept up for awhile? Aw! W’at t’ell.”