- Clyde Fitch's adaptation of Alphonse Daudet's 1884 novel (which had been dramatized by A. Belot and Daudet's widow) opened on 5 February 1900 at Wallack's Theatre. The play focuses on a poverty-stricken French girl, Fanny Legrand, who becomes a wealthy, notorious courtesan. She becomes the mistress of an artist who sculpts her in the guise of Sapho, the Greek poet, and this sensual work becomes the talk of Paris, enhancing Fanny's fame. Referred to as Sapho, she is a much sought-after model by other artists and has other affairs, but eventually falls in love with a poor art student, Jean Gaussin, with whom she lives quietly in the country. Their idyll is interrupted by Fanny's city friends, causing Jean to leave, but he is so miserable without her that he returns despite the realization that he will never be at peace about her past. Sapho closed abruptly on 5 March 1900 after 29 performances by order of the police, acting on complaints from Anthony Comstock's Society for the Suppression of Vice. Producer and star Olga Nethersole was arrested for what was described as her attempt to "corrupt public morals," and Nethersole's manager, along with the manager of Wallack's Theatre and leading man Hamilton Revelle, were called before a magistrate's hearing. Nethersole, however, insisted on a trial and anticensorship forces, led by several prominent writers, protested her arrest. After a sensational three-day trial, Nethersole was acquitted after the jury deliberated for less than 15 minutes. Sapho reopened for an additional 55 performances and played several return engagements between 1900 and 1908 as part of Nethersole's repertoire. Sarah Bernhardt appeared in a 1910 Broadway performance on one of her frequent tours of the United States and Nethersole was seen in a 1900 motion picture of a scene from the play. There were several screen adaptations of Daudet's novel, but none made use of Fitch's play.See also sexuality on the American Stage.
The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. James Fisher.
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