Scott Thornton, Atlanta's self-educated and self-confident theatrical genius, first performed for a hometown audience in 1887. Reviews were polite, remarking on the uniqueness of his interpretation of Bulwer-Tytton's Richelieu, on his energy, and on the inadequacy of his supporting cast.
We next encounter Scott four years later, again at DeGive's Opera House, again in the role of Cardinal Richelieu, and with a different, but no more accomplished, supporting cast. A "special correspondent" from the Constitution described the scene:
"Richelieu" had reached the fifth act without serious catastrophe.
Scott has been on, and is now resting behind the scenes. The audience is all but standing upon the chairs in its ecstatic enthusiasm. The cardinal's whiskers have not dropped off yet, and the gallery is audibly practicing on "the awful circle of our solemn church." [a thunderous speech by Richelieu, Thornton's tour de force].
I feel that the climax is at hand.
Julie has just appeared in answer to the summons of the king. She is now pleading with that doughty monarch.
As each sentence falls from the cherried lips of the red-wigged Julie the audience punctuates it with a wild howl. Ladies, gentlemen and the gallery indulge themselves alike.
There is no restraint.
From my vantage point in a box kindly tendered me by Mr. Thornton I have with difficulty so far succeeded in dodging the various fruity testimonials of approval that continuously pour over the footlights.
It is the Count Baradas. He is pleading with the fair Julie. He kneels until his cotton tights actually touch the boards.
Through the pandemonium in the audience these words reached me, coming from the fierce mustache of the fiery Baradas:
"I loved thee."
A green banana flits past my vision and falls beside the supplicant.
He turns a bloodthirsty look toward the gallery...
a sextet of wiener wurst flies through space and falls at Julie's pretty feet...
Baradas is now rising with vengeance in his eye.
He walks to the footlight, clutches the hilt of his sword—A foot stool from one of the boxes—and gesticulating frantically... challenges the entire audience to mortal combat...
Richelieu's sonorous voice is heard above the din imploring the fiery Baradas to come off. He shall have anything he wants if he only will— even Julie...
Policemen are hurrying everywhere, brandishing their billies...
People are scrambling out of box fronts and rushing wildly behind the curtain. I am one of the crowd.
Behind here the scene is distracting. Richelieu is tearing his hair and sweating all the paint off his face; DeMauprat has forgotten his thirst for Barada's gore and is helping DeBerringer hold him down...
Within a few days a second performance was announced for two weeks later. The Constitution article gave the following information:
The coming performance, which is given upon the request of many people who admire Mr. Thornton, and who think he was not heard to as good advantage recently as he might, will be his farewell appearance in Atlanta...
His performances are always enjoyed to a degree surpassing the ordinary run of attractions.
In his originality of performance of the great characters of Shakespeare and other legitimate dramatists, his friends recognize genius of a marked type.
Mr. Thornton stands boldly alone in his conception of Richelieu. He imitates no one.
Since his appearance here last Monday, his fame has been in everybody's mouth. Nothing else has been so generally talked about in the city as his great performance, and the discourteous treatment of his support has been the press sensation all over the state.
The article concluded with a brief interview with the leading man:
"The published reports of 'Richelieu' have done me an injustice," remarked Scott Thornton yesterday at the Kimball.
"They rather leave the impression that I, Scott Thornton, was guyed. See? Those things were thrown at my support. The audience was very kind to me indeed."
"Their treatment of my support, I am frank to say, was justifiable. It all began in the first scene of the first act when one of the company referred to the audience as 'small potatoes.' The words were not in his part, at all. Of course the audience bit back, and finally downed him."
"...Of course my support were all amateurs. I didn't advertise them as professionals. See? I am a professional — not a star professional. Everybody understands about that, though."
"No, the audience applauded me right along. When I played 'Richelieu' here the first time I ranted all over the stage, but this time I didn't rant at all. It was my support they were guying around and, as I said before, I don't blame them much."
© 1995, John Ryan Seawright