Thursday, July 2, 2015

George M. Cohan

One staple of the Baldpate history is the namesake book, 7 Keys to Baldpate by Earl Derr Biggers. Mr. Biggers published his book in 1913. With the book’s popularity at the time, the Mace family (currently building the inn) decided to name the inn The Baldpate Inn, after the book. The fictional inn and the actual inn had many striking similarities. For example, the inn was 7 miles out of town and was only open in the summer. 7 Keys to Baldpate was very popular at this time. In the same year as the publishing of the book, Broadway writer George M. Cohan wrote a play adaptation of the book, which has been performed routinely and has been adapted to film several times.

In 1913, when Cohan adapted 7 Keys to Baldpate, he already had a pretty impressive resume behind him. The premiere of 7 Keys brought about much confusion in the audience and critics. Regardless, it became a hit. The play ran for a year in New York, a year in Chicago, and several revivals would follow, including one starring Mr. Cohan himself. 7 Keys to Baldpate was success for it was a well written adaptation. Critic Eileen Warburton attributes its success for it “mixes all the formulaic melodrama of the era with a satirical [farcical] send-up of just those melodramatic stereotypes.”

With the Fourth of July upon us, I thought it would be a good time to talk about Mr. Cohan’s musical compositions. With his work on Broadway, he wrote many patriotic songs that we still sing and listen to today. His first Broadway hit, Little Johnny Jones, premiered in 1904. This musical featured the popular song “The Yankee Doodle Boy.” The musical was about a fictional, American jockey who rides a horse named Yankee Doodle in the English races. Other hits to come out of this musical include “Give my Regards to Broadway,” a very popular musical theatre piece.

After the success of Little Johnny Jones, Cohan became one of the more prominent Tin Pan Alley writers. This was a collective of writers and publishers that dominated Broadway and popular music during the early twentieth century. Such songs to come out of this era include “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “OverThere.” “Over There” was used during World War I to help improve moral and increase patriotism. It was the most popular song of the era.

George M. Cohan’s work is timeless. His music is still played today, especially around this time. His plays are still performed. 7 Keys to Baldpate specifically has been revived many times and has been adapted to film 7 times. The first one, a 1917 silent film by Paramount, starred Mr. Cohan in the lead. Along with this, it was adapted to television twice. There is also a radio play adaption starring Jack Benny and Mary Livingston, which you can hear in our Key Room every day. George M. Cohan’s work has been immortalized in our culture. Next time you’re in the Key Room, make sure to find Mr. Cohan’s key, which he donated to our vast collection.

Your dead square, honest Yankee*
Matthew Porter

*quote from Grand Old Flag verse 2