After four years of honing his craft in leading roles before hometown audiences. Scott Thornton had gained little respect from most of his fellow citizens. By the spring of 1891 it had become a favorite pastime of young men about Atlanta to attend Thornton’s performances and make themselves as obnoxious as possible.
After a particularly ugly near-riot at DeGive’s Opera House, several sympathetic citizens arranged for a return engagement so that Thornton might have a chance to stage Bulwer-Lytton’s Richelieu without interruption. Shortly before the performance, Thornton gave an interview in which he assessed his inclinations and abilities:
By nature, so to speak, I am a comedian, but my mind runs toward the legitimate. See? I’m glad it’s that way, too, because while I can play anything from Humpty Dumpty on up, I don’t like to waste my time outside of Shakespeare and other legitimate writers. Don’t blame, do you?
On the morning before the performance, the Constitution tried as best it could to make the way smooth for Scott and his troupe:
Of course no attempt will be made to restrain the legitimate feelings of the audience, but the throwing of wiener wurst, oranges, bananas, cigarettes or other articles will be prevented at all hazards.
…Between the second and third acts the marriage of two of the cast [will] occur.
…Scott Thornton is a worthy and deserving young man. What he is he has made himself without the advice or assistance of others.
He has always had the support of the best people of the city in his struggle to gain a footing in his chosen art, and the hardships he has undergone umcomplainingly show that he appreciates their support.
Over a dozen uniformed policemen were stationed throughout the audience, but were incapable of preventing anything other than a general attack on the stage.
The fun began when one of the soldiers on the stage began his lines:
“Ha! Ha! Ha!”
“Haw! Haw! Haw!” came the reply from the audience, “Do that again! Where’s Scotty?”
Before long a firecracker exploded and the usual shower of edibles began. Thornton was forced to abandon the stage before delivering the speech of which he was so fond. Not once, but twice, the bouquet-on-a-string trick was tried, and Scott fell for it both times.
The next day Thornton and his troupe began a tour of the state, their first appearance in Athens.
Thornton’s reputation had preceded him and a mob of University students were on hand at DuPre’s Hall, prepared in the manner which they had learned from the newspaper accounts of Scott’s recent disasters.
As soon as the curtain opened, the cast was pelted with fruits and vegetables and their lines drowned out by the screams of the college boys. The sheriff and police stood by and allowed the mayhem to proceed. The stage manager dropped the curtain until the audience quieted somewhat, then the cast resumed the stage and attempted the first act again from the beginning, but with no greater success.
The curtain fell again and when it rose. Thornton himself was on stage, having determined to perform the final act, which contained his best lines. When one of the speeches was interrupted by a cabbage landing in his lap Thornton lost his temper and the curtain came down once more. The students stormed the stage while Thornton’s manager whisked the actresses from the theater while the male members of the troupe hid as best they could. The students said they would depart in peace if Thornton would give them a solo speech, but he refused.
Thornton managed to escape the theater to his hotel in town, but he was tracked down by the mob and forced to give them a speech before they let him go.
Before taking the troupe to Augusta, Thornton announced that he would give Atlanta one more chance, a Saturday matinee for women and children, with plenty of policemen on hand, Scott explained:
The men don’t give me a fair showing. They interrupt the performance, and I am obliged to present my show with rattled support. Now I’ve got talent, and all the guying around in the world is not going to make me give up the glorious profession which I have followed in my humble way for seventeen years.
Ladies are the best judges anyhow, and at the matinee performance I’m going to play solely for their benefit. There’ll be lots of cops procured by my manager, and he’ll make the men keep quiet.
On the day before the matinee, Scott’s manager, Benjamin F. Dodson, skipped town with the troupe’s entire assets, $75. He had also run up large bills at several hotels and blown the money Thornton had given him to make advance arrangements for their statewide tour.
© 1995, John Ryan Seawright
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