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Julius Caesar
An Appreciation of the Hollywood Production

By L. Frank Baum
Author of the "Oz" Fairy Books, Playwright and Lecturer

Mercury Magazine -- June 15, 1916

I wonder if the people of Los Angeles appreciate the fact that the production of Julius Caesar in the Hollywood hills on the night of May 29th was dramatically a world epoch?

The remark of an acquaintance next day: "It was pretty good, wasn't it?" sent cold chills coursing down my spine.

It is a callous age; we have seen so many marvels that we are ashamed to marvel more; the seven wonders of the world have become seven thousand wonders. Yet in all old Earth's history there has never been so stupendous or so perfect a presentation of any play as that of which I now speak. Those who witnessed Julius Caesar and understood what it means to the drama will remember it with awe not unmixed with reverent gratitude that opportunity permitted them to be present.

When a boy it was my good fortune to witness in New York what has since been termed "The Great Cast" in Julius Caesar. That cast included such names as E. L. Davenport, Lawrence Barrett, Edwin Booth, John McCullough and Milnes Levick.

WILLIAM WINTER'S VIEW

"Never again," said William Winter in his review of that performance, "will the world behold such an aggregation of talent concentrated in one play." But the world has progressed; histronic art has progressed; allowing the fact that modern actors have not enjoyed the advantages of "stock" training, it is my opinion from personal recollections of "The Great Cast" that Tyrone Power is a better Brutus than was E. L. Davenport; that Frank Keenan's Cassius excelled that of Lawrence Barrett; that Theodore Roberts is incomparably superior to Milnes Levick as Julius Caesar and that a comparison of William Farnum's Antony with that of Booth, leads those who saw both delineations to prefer Farnum's. Finally, never has there been such a Casca as that of De Wolfe Hopper or a Cato equal to that of Douglas Fairbanks.

They ranted somewhat in the old days, while modern delivery is well nigh perfect. Those old fellows articulated better, perhaps, but every word of Hollywood's master play reached clearly forty thousand ears.

RAYMOND WELLS PRAISED

Added to the fact that Shakespeare's masterpiece was never before interpreted by so great a cast is the astounding manner in which the play was presented. There was no illusion attempted.

Ancient Rome was set among those Hollywood hills and we lived for the hour in the age of the great Caesar. I don't know who Raymond Wells is; I never heard of him before this event; but he worked miracles.

They say he was backed by finances secured by a country laundryman, a country banker, a country hotel manager; but not to them is credit due save for their enterprise.

The master hand was that of Raymond Wells; to him must we accord the palm for the world's greatest accomplishment in dramatic production.

Such statistics as are at my command show: (1) It was the largest stage, the most extensive scenic area ever used in a dramatic production; (2) It was not only the greatest cast artistically but the most numerous cast ever employed, numbering over 4000 persons; (3) It was the most lavishly and. correctly costumed play on record; (4) It was witnessed by the greatest number of spectators ever attending a single performance; (5) The gate receipts totaled the largest sum ever received for one performance, and all net proceeds were donated to the Actor's fund.

NO DUPLICATE POSSIBLE

The world may beat this record, in time to code, but I doubt if it will be in our age.

Some enthusiasts talk of attempting to "repeat" the production of May 29th, God forbid! It can never be repeated.

The thrills that mastered every heart during that one exquisite moonlit night amid the realistic Seven Hills of Rome--the gracious beauty of those old-world settings--the responsive mood of every person in that superb cast, from Brutus to the dancing-girls, all keyed to perfect harmony with the scene, can never be duplicated.

To undertake it savors of sacrilege.

Let it stand throughout the ages to come as the one perfect dramatic spectacle--unless some genius arises who can cast the disc of perfection farther than has Raymond Wells. And let us be grateful to much maligned "movies" which brought to Los Angeles America's greatest thespians and generously permitted them to enact the roles in Julius Caesar.

Without the movies this great play would have been impossible. The theatre "stage," tottering in its decadence, has been utterly crushed by this production.

Never again will we stand for confined walls, painted scenery and foot-lights. The drama is born anew, to flourish gloriously in Nature's inimitable settings.

Copyright © 2003 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

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