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Published here for the first time, "The Great Bordello, A Story of the Theatre" (edited and with an afterword by Jack F. Sharrar) is by Jazz-Age playwright Avery Hopwood (1882-1928). Hopwood was the most successful playwright of his day, with four hits on Broadway at the same time in 1920.
Set in the early decades of the twentieth century, "The Great Bordello" is a roman à clef that tells the story of aspiring playwright Edwin Endsleigh (Hopwood's counterpart), who, upon graduation from the University of Michigan, heads for Broadway to earn his fortune and the security to pursue his one true dream of writing the great American novel. Shaping Edwin's journey in the world of the theater is his love of three women: the beautiful, ambitious Julia Scarlet, whom he first meets in Ann Arbor; the emotionally fragile and haunting Jessamy Lee, and the very private and mysterious leading lady Adelina Kane, idol of the American stage.
In the company of Edwin and his loves are an array of thinly-veiled representations of theatrical personages of the time, amongst them Daniel Mendoza, the exacting and powerful impresario, who controls the lives of his leading ladies; the goatish manager Matthew Lewis, who promotes Julia Scarlet as "the American Sarah Bernhardt"; the worldly-wise veteran of the stage, Ottilie Potter, who has gotten where she is because, "Men had what I wanted, and I had what they wanted"; and the huge, manlike Helen Sampson, chief among theatrical agents.
Once described as "the most devastating exposé of the American theatre as an institution imaginable," "The Great Bordello" provides a deeper understanding of the human desire to accomplish something of enduring value amidst commercial success and ruthless realities of life.
Jazz-Age playwright Avery Hopwood (1882-1928), benefactor of the Avery and Jule Hopwood Awards Program at the University of Michigan, his alma mater, was the most successful playwright of his day, with four hits on Broadway in 1920 ("The Gold Diggers," "The Bat" and "Spanish Love" (both co-authored with Mary Roberts Rinehart) and "Ladies' Night (In a Turkish Bath)," co-authored with Charlton Andrews. "Getting Gertie s Garter, " "The Demi Virgin, " and "Naughty Cinderella" peppered other seasons.
Although Hopwood amassed a fortune writing these Broadway entertainments, his chief goal was to write a significant novel. "Something," he once told a newspaper reporter, "which an intelligent man can sit down and read and think about." "The Great Bordello," completed only days before his early death, was to be, he hoped, just such a work.
About the editor:
He is Director of Academic Affairs for the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, where he also teaches, is a graduate of the University of Michigan, and holds a Ph.D. in theater history and dramatic literature from the University of Utah.