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Ghost Fry

After several disastrous appearances in Atlanta and a riot in Athens, Scott Thornton was determined to perform Bulwer-Lytton’s Richelieu once to its conclusion without having to flee the stage under a barrage of sausages and bananas. He accomplished this by staging and Atlanta matinee for women and children May 9, 1891.

Thornton was annoyed that the backers of the show had introduced an entertainment between acts without consulting him. This entr’acte was a musical interlude featuring “Judge” David A. Newsome, an elderly eccentric at least as well known to Atlantans as Scott Thornton, and, if possible, even more pathetic and tragic (Judge Newsome will be the subject of a series of columns in the near future.) Sensing that even his supporters were taking him far less seriously than he wished, Thornton insisted that the Judge’s turn be scratched from the program.

The performance went on without jeering or vegetable bombardment, although the ladies frequently reacted with polite laughter to the Thornton company’s gaffes. After the play’s rousing climax a delirious Scott was showered with bouquets and honored with several encores. As the curtain lowered on Scott’s greatest triumph, the indomitable old Judge Newsome took the stage to warble the lugubrious ballad, “The Lone Rock by the Sea.” The children screamed in glee, an usher mounted the stage with a bouquet of roses, for which he deftly switched a huge bundle of radishes, the ladies erupted in laughter, and someone behind the curtain, perhaps Scott himself, punched the doughty old crank in the back. Even when his dream of respectability was nearest fulfillment, Scott Thornton was damned to anticlimax and indignity.

Despite the flight of their manager with all their funds, the Thornton troupe set out on a tour of the state following their Atlanta matinee. Their first appearance was set for Macon, but a prankster telegraphed the theater that Scott was sick and the tour canceled. When the company arrived they found another act scheduled in their place. The same trick was tried in Albany, but Thornton had anticipated the prank and the show went on, although to a torrent of cabbages and potatoes. Afterwards the actors were treated to a dinner and drinks by several members of the audience. In Americus the audience assailed Thornton with eggs and he abandoned the stage at the end of the third act. The company returned to Atlanta, and the Constitution noted, “the members of Scott’s company say they had a great time. They do not take the vegetable part of their reception so much to heart as does the great tragedian.”

Shortly after his return Scott was back in DeGive’s Opera House, this time as a member of the audience for Professor Cannaday’s hypnotism demonstration. When the Professor called for volunteers, the audience, aware that Scott was among them, set up a great clamor for him to come down and be mesmerized. After passing his hands over Thornton’s head, Professor Cannaday announced that he was an unfit candidate for hypnosis and sent him back to his seat to the great disappointment of the crowd.

In August, Thornton staged Tom Taylor’s The Fool’s Revenge, with himself in the role of the vengeful jester, Bertuccio. Atlanta Police Chief A.B. Connolly detailed officers throughout the theater with orders to eject anyone causing the least disturbance. Many men were expelled from DeGive’s and several arrested, provoking an outcry against Connolly was a spoilsport.

Whether on or off the stage Thornton was fair game for Atlanta’s cruel young practical jokers. On April Fool’s Day, 1892, Scott received a letter on the stationary of Atlanta’s Edgewood Theater with the forged signature of the manager, B.W. Kleibacker. The letter informed Scott that a major New York theatrical promoter was eager to have him as the leading man of his southern touring company, and that a response was needed right away. Thornton ran to the theater, found Kleibacker out and went home. He repeated his dash to the Edgewood five times, finally leaving Kleibacker a note to accept the offer on any terms.

1892 found Scott Thornton in several unprecedented roles. In June he served as the umpire in a fat man’s baseball game, a favorite pastime of the ’90s, in which teams of prominent and corpulent citizens played ball for the amusement of the public. Scott seems to have done his job well, even though much of it appears to have involved carrying mugs of beer to fielders and baserunners.

A few weeks later Scott unveiled a theretofore unknown talent to the Atlanta public. The 132-pound actor battered Frank Holland, a 192-pound New Yorker, winning a 38-round prizefight at East Lake Park. Scott did not confine his fistic artistry to the ring. A year later in the lobby of the Kimball House hotel, he took offense at statements made by an English traveling salesman, well known in Atlanta as “The Duke.” Scott stepped back and boomed, “I’m tired of people slurring my profession, and I’m going to stop it,” whereupon he biffed the Duke twice in quick succession on the nose.

Continued Next Week

© 1995, John Ryan Seawright


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