Machinal. [play typescript]
Original typescript for an adaptation of the important 1928 expressionist play Machinal by American journalist and playwright Sophie Treadwell (1885?–1970). The play dramatizes the life, trial, and execution of real-life murderer, Ruth Snyder, who died that same year in the electric chair of Sing-Sing Prison for killing her husband. In the play, Snyder is simply referred to as “A Young Woman.”
The typescript is augmented with 14 pasted-in clippings cut out from an original 1928 Broadway program—noting actor Clark Gable in the role of her lover (his Broadway debut)—and from Theatre Magazine and other publications. The Broadway premiere ran for only 91 performances despite rave reviews by Brooks Atkinson and other critics. Machinal had a number of excellent productions internationally in the following years and is considered not only a high point in expressionist theatre but has been described as a milestone in feminist theatre. The play continues to be performed well into the present-day.
Originally produced as a two-act play with ten “episodes,” this adaptation presents the drama in “Eight Episodes (Continuous, or in two Parts—with Division after Episode 4).” (p9) The eight episodes of the “Young Woman’s” (Ruth Snyder’s) life dramatized here are entitled “Business,” “Home,” “Honeymoon,” “Maternity,” “Prohibition,” “Intimacy,” “Law,” and “Prison (The Machine),” the last named episode referring to the electric chair.
The typescript was owned by Missouri-native Kenneth McMullen Dickey (1890–1957) whose father was the sewer pipe magnate and Kansas City newspaper publisher. Kenneth wrote of his father twice (OCLC 53845040 and 12124295) and was involved in the world of drama in some manner.¹ We speculate that Dickey may have prepared this typescript adaptation, possibly for a production of Machinal in Kansas City, quite possibly around the time of the play’s production on Broadway in 1928. Page design annotations on page 24 of the typescript suggest that they were preparative for publication of this adaptation of Machinal.
Playwright Sophie Treadwell had a brief career in vaudeville and the theater, studying for four months under and helping to write the memoirs of celebrated actress Helena Modjeska (1840–1909). “In 1916 Treadwell became the first accredited woman war correspondent when she was assigned to report on World War I in France for the San Francisco Bulletin. ... Upon her return to the United States in 1918, the New York Tribune sent her to cover the Mexican Revolution….her biggest coup was conducting an exclusive interview with Pancho Villa at his Mexican ranch in 1922. ... Critical success came in 1928 with Machinal, an expressionistic drama based on the real-life Ruth Snyder–Judd Gray murder trial, which Treadwell had covered for the Tribune. The play was a psychological study of a simple young woman seeking escape from a whining mother, a monotonous job, and a loveless marriage. She and her lover, played by Clark Gable in his Broadway debut, murder her husband, but the young man flees to Mexico, and her dream of freedom ends with her execution. The critics were impressed by the play. ... Alison Smith described it as ‘a stabbing, desperate, compassionate recital of a bewildered woman caught in life’s machinery,’ echoing Treadwell’s own description that ‘it is all in the title—Machine-al—machine-like.’” (ANB)
A side-by-side examination of the present adaptation with the original play may yield interesting observations.
Within the decades of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s, we locate no examples in OCLC of Machinal, under that title or any variant, other than a single typescript held in microfilm at NYPL.
Description: Machinal. [play typescript]
[Kansas City, Missouri?, c.1928]. 137pp. Bound Typescript. 11¼ x 8¾ inches. Black cloth with gilt titling on upper cover; orig. cloth reinforced hinges. A few, likely contemporary, ink and pencil annotations. Bookplate of Kenneth McM. Dickey. Some fading to spine; rubbing at head and tail of spine and at tips; very good.
1. See The Jest… Kansas City, Mo.; prepared for private distribution by Kenneth McM. Dickey, 1929.