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AUGUSTUS THOMAS (1859-1941)

The following biography was originally published in The British and American Drama of Today. Barrett H. Clark. New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1915. pp. 233-4.

Augustus Thomas was born at St. Louis, in 1859. He says (quoted in The Outlook, December 28, 1912): "After Farragut ran the New Orleans blockade my father took direction of the St. Charles Theater in New Orleans, then owned by Ben DeBar. When he returned to St. Louis in 1865, I was in my seventh year, and my earliest recollections are tinged with his stories of Matilda Herron, John Wilkes Booth, and others who played in that theater. Father was an orator of considerable ability, and I remember him reciting long speeches from Kotzebue, Schiller, and Shakespeare. In his associations with the theater he took me very early to plays, and I have always been an attendant; consequently dialogue seemed the most natural literary vehicle. I found later that this impression was justified when I discovered that the most telling things in Homer and later Greek poets and philosophers were in dialogue -- that this was true of Confucius and Christ. I began writing plays when I was about fourteen years of age. When I was sixteen and seventeen, an amateur company that I organized played in certain railway centers on the old North Missouri Railway for the benefit of local unions of the workingmen. In 1882 I made a dramatization of Mrs. Burnett's Editha's Burglar. With this as a curtain-raiser and a rather slap-stick farce called Combustion, I made a tour of the country with a company that I organized, and with which I ran in debt several thousand dollars. In 1889 a four-act version of The Burglar, arranged by me, was played in New York and was successful, and since that time my royalties have enabled me to give my attention on the business side exclusively to playwriting."

Thomas [was one of] the most successful, skilful, and interesting American dramatists [of his day]. Arizona, a melodrama of the West, is one of his typical works; even The Witching Hour, a later play, is notable for the very qualities which went to the making of the earlier melodrama. Thomas [was] ingenious, he [knew] well the art of contriving moving stories, he [knew] the taste of his public and the requirements of the actor; but his ideas, while they are occasionally very interesting, are not significant. He has little to do with characterization. He is important by reason of his cleverness, his zest in the externals of life.


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