Tuesday, September 30, 2014


My book McKee Rankin and the Heyday of the American Theater has received excellent reviews and two or three which demurred on its detail and one which was from Choice in 2002 which I wish to comment on here. 

Review by Choice Review

Virtually forgotten today, Canadian-born actor-manager-playwright Arthur McKee Rankin (1844-1914) is nonetheless noteworthy for his extended career as a traveling star, appearances in The Danites as miner Sandy McGee, and the enormous influence he had over his protoge, actress Nance O'Neil. Still, Rankin hardly deserves this overblown biography. Despite the meticulous telling of Rankin's life, an account rife with extensive documentation (over 1,200 endnotes), Beasley's narrative, though often enlightening and entertaining, attempts to do too much. In addition, Beasley offers a great deal of speculation and makes too many careless gaffes (e.g., Frank Fay for Eddie Foy; Dudevant for Dubedat in The Doctor's Dilemma; Value for Yale; Mackay for Mackaye; O'Neil for O'Neill [James]; Talbin for Telbin; Ogle for Olga; Helene for Helena [Modjeska]), thus casting regrettable doubt on the book's total reliability. Appendixes trace the careers of other family members and Rankin's leading ladies after his death and list plays written or adapted by Rankin. Interest in this book will be limited to specialists. D. B. Wilmeth Brown University
First, the book is as much a biography of the theatre as of Rankin and in that it is not 'overblown.' The reviewer misleads the reader by referring to "speculation" when I documented every fact, as can be seen by his reference to 1200 endnotes. It is amazing how he ever found the reference to Frank Fay which was buried in the endnotes of small print with no index to them. But he is right that Foy was the person. I had intended to correct it before publication but forgot. It is easily verified on google. As for Dudevant, I did not make it up but cannot now tell from which version of The Doctor's Dilemma I got it. Value for Yale sounds unlikely. There was Steele MacKaye and the actor Frank MacKay, both in the index. James O'Neil (O'Neill) is mentioned once. Talbin was the spelling in the source I found it; I mentioned him once in passing. Helene Modjeska was the spelling given by reviewers. Ogle for Olga must be somewhere in the endnotes; I don't know who it refers to. If the reviewer could have ferreted out more "mistakes" he would have. To question the reliability of a book of 520 pages based on these examples (of which only Fay was truly incorrect) is astonishing. 
I have checked the reviews  and comments about the book online. Prices for it are high, one over $300. I sell it from my website new for $10. [www.davuspublishing.com]. Regarding comments on Nance O'Neil's connection to lesbianism and Lizzie Borden, Kathleen Carbone [who told me how greatly she liked McKee Rankin and the Heyday of the American Theater] sent me her article "The Divine Spark of Nance O'Neil" in The Hatchet; A Journal of Lizzie Borden & Victorian Studies, Winter 2009, which gives more information on O'Neil and her friends—well worth reading.

1 comment:

  1. Among the theatre scholars who have contacted me over the years, one wanted information on William Davidge, who had played in Rankin's companies. I had cut a reference in the text to him in which he came out of retirement to play in a benefit for his son in Rankin's company at Wood's Museum, Philadelphia in 1876. [I mentioned him playing in Daly's company in an endnote]. His son, William Davidge Jr, was written up with portrait in the N. Y. Clipper, Dec 15, 1883, p.656. He assumed management of Wood's in the summer of 1873 and 74 and was re-engaged for low comedy, and in partnership with A.R. Van Horn and Rankin leased the theatre in 1875. for 1876-77 season Robert Simpson owned Wood's and engaged Davidge Jr as principal comedian.