Parker, Charlotte Blair
PARKER, Charlotte Blair
Born 1858, Oswego, New York; died 5 January 1937, Great Neck, New York
Wrote under: Lottie Blair Parker
Daughter of George and Emily Hitchcock Blair; married Harry D. Parker
Charlotte "Lottie" Blair Parker's earliest theatrical experience was as an actress. She studied for the stage under Wyzeman Marshall in Boston, performed with the stock company of the Boston Theatre, and later toured with such major figures as the Czech tragic actress Mme. Janauschek and American actor-producer of poetic drama Lawrence Barrett. Parker married a theatrical manager. She turned to playwriting when White Roses, a one-act play she submitted to a New York Herald contest, received honorable mention.
Parker's most popular full-length play was Way Down East, which she wrote in 1897. "Elaborated by Joseph R. Grismer," it opened at the Manhattan Theatre in 1898. Grismer's wife, Phoebe Davis, played the leading role of Anna Moore in the original production and in the 1903 and 1905 revivals. In 1920 D. W. Griffith paid $175,000 for screen rights to the melodrama, which was by then considered dated. His film version was a popular success and an artistic triumph, largely because of the sweetly expressive face of Lillian Gish.
Critics saw a strong resemblance between Way Down East and Steele MacKaye's 1880 melodrama Hazel Kirke, in which Parker had once played the title role. Both plays feature an innocent girl who loves a man above her station in life and is duped by a sham marriage ceremony. Upon her learning of her dishonor, Hazel Kirke throws herself into the mill race. In Way Down East, Anna Moore is sent out into a New England blizzard. In both plays, the heroine is rescued at the last minute and a reconciliation is effected. The originality of Parker's treatment lies in her use of "Down East" atmosphere and such comic characters as Hi Holler, Martha Perkins, and Reuben Whipple.
Under Southern Skies was set in Louisiana in 1875. It opened 12 November 1901, with Grace George in the leading role. True to its reviewer's prediction, the play was a popular success with "that large class of playgoers who like their color on thick without too much delicacy of shading, and with no great subtlety in the handling." This criticism was intended metaphorically, but it might also be noted that several roles were performed in black-face. As in Way Down East, the heroine is caught between a false-hearted cad and an honorable young suitor; again, virtue triumphs.
Parker's third full-length play to reach Broadway was The Redemption of David Corson, based upon the novel by Charles Frederic Goss. It opened 8 January 1906 and ran for only 16 performances. With the novel Homespun (1909), Parker returned to a New England village milieu, Yankee characters, and rustic dialect. She used the formula of her stage melodramas—a conflict between a rich scoundrel and a poor-but-honest young man. A review of Homespun in the New York Times (14 Aug. 1909) sums up her characteristic manner: "It is as moral as a Sunday school tale, and at the end pleases if not surprises the reader by the tableau of virtue triumphant and vice in the dust."
None of Charlotte Blair Parker's plays were published, but the New York Public Library has Way Down East and Under Southern Skies in typescript.
Parker, L. B., "The Writer's Thoughts Concerning Her Play," in Green Book Album (Oct. 1911).
New York Dramatic Mirror (27 Aug. 1901). NYT (8 Feb. 1898, 13 Nov. 1901, 9 Jan. 1906). The Stage (Jan. 1937, Aug. 1937).
—FELICIA HARDISON LONDRÉ