Born circa late 1870s; died 19 December 1946, Petersburg, Michigan
Wrote under: Naillil Remitrom
Married J. L. Veronee
Lillian Mortimer's date of birth is unknown, but she was acting in her own plays by 1895. Mortimer began producing her plays and achieved her greatest success with No Mother to Guide Her (1905). For a number of years, Mortimer played the comic soubrette Bunco in that melodrama. She evidently had a repertoire of lazzi to use whenever her stage directions indicated "funny business," and she must have been able to put across lines such as this: "Christopher Columbus! Burglars! I thought dere was somethin' crooked about dat guy. De oder one didn't want to do it. Hully gee—what'll I do? Guess I'll have to take my trusty and go after dem. Dey're comin' back." No Mother to Guide Her was revived in 1933 for 13 performances with a cast of 15 midgets.
The popularity of No Mother to Guide Her can scarcely be comprehended by the reader of the published text. The dialogue is little more than a framework on which to hang innumerable bits of comic business, scuffles, pratfalls, abductions, faintings, fisticuffs, knife fights, and revolver shots. The stage directions at the ends of the acts illustrate the genre: at the end of act 2, "they fight. Livingstone gets the better of the knife fight—stabs Jake and throws him off. Livingstone starts for Jake again with knife, to give him another thrust, and as he does so, Bunco enters from R., shoots him; he staggers. During all this action there is a terrible storm raging."
In 1915 Mortimer left the popular-priced melodrama theater circuit to become a headliner in vaudeville. In an interview about her plans for the future, she said, "I shall write again—when I get time…I've got enough scenarios to keep me busy for the next year if I should make plays of all the plots that I have in mind; but I'm always waiting for a little 'leisure,' and then along comes a new contract, and I jump to the road again." Although Mortimer remained on the Keith Circuit for 20 years, she found leisure time during the 1920s to write three to five full-length "comedy-dramas" each year. Most were published for use by amateur theater groups.
In these plays, Mortimer frequently used ethnic characters for the secondary roles—Irish, German, and Jewish "types," country folk, and blacks. In Mammy's Lil' Wild Rose (1924), Mortimer specified that Mammy be "made up with minstrel black (not mulatto) and mammy wig." Headstrong Joan (1927) includes a courtship between the lovable middle-aged Irish maid, Honora, and Abie, a "typical Jewish peddler," who wears a paper collar and his derby pulled down to make his ears stand out. This subplot spoofs the long-running Broadway hit Abie's Irish Rose. The various dialects Mortimer used provide a counterpoint to the bright, slangy speech of the lively young couples.
The plot formula Mortimer found most useful set up a confrontation between two young couples. The more attractive pair is virtuous and romantically idealized. The other two, motivated by greed or jealousy, create obstacles for the innocent lovers. But the lovers are so young and appealing that the plotters finally repent and accept the ethics and values that will enable them to live happily ever after.
The photograph of Mortimer in the New York Dramatic Mirror (12 May 1915) is of a self-assured middle-aged woman, flamboyantly dressed. She stands with hand on hip and chin tilted back, archly gazing from heavy-lidded eyes. It is hardly the image one would expect of the author of more than 40 moral dramas reaffirming the values of girlish innocence and of decency and noble self-abnegation for young men.
A Man's Broken Promise (1906). The City Feller (1922). Little Miss Jack (1922). The Path Across the Hill (1923). The Road to the City (1923). Yimmie Yonson's Yob (1923). That's One on Bill (1924). An Adopted Cinderella (1926). The Bride Breezes In (1926). Mary's Castle in the Air (1926). Nancy Anna Brown's Folks (1926). Ruling the Roost (1926). He's My Pal (1927). Nora, Wake Up! (1927). The Winding Road (1927). His Irish Dream Girl (1928). Love's Magic (1928). Paying theFiddler (1928). Two Brides (1928). The Open Window (1928). Manhattan Honeymoon (1929). The Gate to Happiness (1930). The Wild-Oats Boy (1930). Jimmy, Be Careful! (1931). Mother in the Shadow (1936).
Leverton, G. H., ed., America's Lost Plays (1940). Mantle, B., ed., The Best Plays of 1933-34 (1934).
New York Dramatic Mirror (12 May 1915). NYT (26 Dec. 1933, 20 Dec. 1946).
—FELICIA HARDISON LONDRÉ