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American History: April '97 Letters

Originally published on HistoryNet.com. Published Online: August 11, 1997 
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A TALENTED AND GRACIOUS LADY

Joseph Gustaitis's article on Antoinette Perry in your March/April 1997 issue reminded me of one of my late mother's favorite successes as a literary agent.

In November 1939, she and my father, who directed several plays in London and New York, attended a Broadway opening. During intermission, they chatted with Antoinette Perry, whom they knew quite well. Miss Perry suggested they see a play at the Mansfield Theatre down the street which she believed ahead of its time for American audiences. They did so the following evening, and my mother was so enthusiastic about it she asked for the English rights. The author's agent told her she was "crazy." After all, it only lasted for 23 performances in New York.

My mother persevered and sent the script to her assistant, Dorothy Vosper, in London, who sold it immediately. Robert Ardrey's Thunder Rock opened there with Michael Redgrave in the lead and became a sensational success, running throughout World War II to capacity audiences. After V-E Day, it was also produced in Vienna, Prague, Budapest, and Berlin to rave reviews.

Such is the theatre. A chance encounter during intermission and Antoinette Perry's judgment that my mother would agree a play could succeed in London and other capitals despite its failure in New York led to a long run for Michael Redgrave and an international reputation for its author. Antoinette Perry was indeed a talented and a gracious lady.

Jon Lewis Allen
Dallas, Texas

COLD WAR HYSTERIA

James T. Gay concludes that the Marshall Plan [May/June 1997 issue] did little to worsen the Cold War. The real question, however, is whether or not this plan provided a real alternative to the disastrous Truman Doctrine approach that the U.S. chose to follow in its relations with the world after 1950. The Marshall Plan's positive economic approach, including diplomacy and a focus on the real issues that were destablizing much of the world, was abandoned for the global, ideological, and negative thrust of the Truman Doctrine.

Gay provides an interesting theory as to why Marshall Plan advocates became alarmists and devotees to anti-communist rhetoric despite the tone of Marshall's speech in 1947. His argument that this was necessary to get the European Recovery Plan through a Republican, anti-Truman, isolationist Congress is convincing. If the Congress had been dominated by moderate interventionists, much of the bloodshed and hysteria of the Cold War might have been preventable.

Ralph S. Brax
Lancaster, California

WALKER WAS FIRST

While Jackie Robinson successfully broke the color line in major-league baseball [March/April 1997 issue], he was not the first African American to play in the major leagues. That distinction belongs to Moses Fleetwood Walker, who played in 42 games for Toledo, which was a member of the American Association in 1884. A few years later, organized baseball systematically banned African Americans from playing in the major leagues due to objections of white players and owners.

Larry Vigon
Chicago, Illinois

MEMORIES OF INDIAN SCHOOL

The story of Captain Pratt's Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania [May/June 1997 issue], brought back many memories for me. My mother was born in 1880 in Newville, a small town 11 miles from Carlisle. Her family would hire an Indian girl each summer to do the housework. This work was needed by them because it was too expensive for the girls to return to their homes in the West for the summer. Both my grandmother and mother told me many stories about the Indian girls and about the invitations they received to special activities at the Indian school as the result of their employing the girls for the summer.

William D. Beard
Boca Raton, Florida

TOO EARLY FOR PROTECTION

In the May/June [1997] issue of American History, in the "History Today" section, the item on the Baltimore Civil War Museum states that the U.S. Secret Service escorted Abraham Lincoln through Baltimore on his way to Washington, D. C., and his 1861 inauguration. This is incorrect. The Secret Service was not founded as a bureau of the treasury department until July 1865. Even then, its original function was to protect U.S. currency. It was not until the assassination of William McKinley in 1901 that the Secret Service began providing safety and security to U.S. presidents.

When he traveled in disguise through Baltimore in 1861, Lincoln was accompanied by only two people–the detective, Allan Pinkerton, who had discovered the plot against Lincoln's life, and Lincoln's old friend from his circuit riding days in Illinois, Ward Hill Lamon, who would provide protection for the president through much of his term, but sadly, not on the night of April 14, 1865.

Thomas M. Reiff
Elkins Park, Pennsylvania

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