Don't Chew the Scenery
In February of 1908, Cathrine Countiss and E. D. Price were celebrating eight months of wedded bliss, but both had gone their separate ways and were busy with their respective careers. Cathrine was closing her performance as Cigarette in Under Two Flags at Albaugh’s Lyceum Theatre in Baltimore, while E. D. was managing the production of The Man of the Hour at Boston’s Tremont Theatre. The couple was planning to join forces for the summer at the Broadway Theatre in Denver, Colorado where Cathrine’s sisters Dixie and Daisy lived. Price would manage the Cathrine Countiss Stock Company for thirteen weeks in the Mile High City.
The two were known for long-distance practical jokes, as a sense of humor was the glue of their show business partnership. We offer evidence of said prank—a contract drawn by Price and offered to Countiss for her acceptance:
E. D. PRICE engages CATHRINE COUNTISS as a member of his Stock Company at the Broadway Theatre, Denver, Colorado commencing on or about May 17th or 31st.
E. D. PRICE agrees to furnish CATHRINE COUNTISS with board and lodgings and railroad fare one way but no sleepers and is to have the option of furnishing transportation tourist.
CATHRINE COUNTISS agrees to play whatever she is cast for to the best of her ability and to conform to all rules established in and out of the theatre by said PRICE, and not to chew or otherwise damage the scenery of said theatre.
She further agrees to dress well on and off; to pay attention to costume and make-up—not to use too much make-up; not to use profane language in the dressing rooms, or to raise any controversy in the assignment of the latter. It is mutually agreed that Mr. Douglas Fairbanks will have what is commonly known as the Star dressing room.
It is mutually agreed that this contract may be cancelled without notice at the option of said PRICE.
Dated at Boston, Massachusetts, this twenty-seventh day of February, in the year one thousand nine hundred and eight.
So, let’s break this down. First, the summer stock company was to be in Cathrine’s name, not E. D.’s. Then there’s the matter of a week-long 1,800 mile one-way train trip from New York to Denver sitting in tourist with no sleeper. No self-respecting thespian would ever agree to such torture. And what’s all this talk about playing any old part, when everyone knew that Cathrine Countiss always took top billing as the leading lady? Chewing the scenery? Well, we know she would never do that—Cathrine Countiss was, after all, a star of the stage of the highest order.
And where did Price get off questioning Countiss’ manner of dress and make-up? Cheeky devil. With regard to Douglas Fairbanks having the Star dressing room—no comment. Needless to say, Cathrine would have the last word in this prank, as she addressed an envelope to Price at the Adams House Hotel in Boston, affixed four cents postage and returned the humorous contract unsigned.
Turnabout being fair play in this showbiz marriage, Cathrine Countiss launched her counter attack. On 5 May 1908, Price was in his summer office at the Tabor Grand Opera House in Denver when the telephone rang. “Is this the manager?” gurgled a saccharine voice as described by the Denver Republican newspaper (6 May 1908). What ensued was a cleverly staged charade by Cathrine posing as a blonde ingénue seeking employment. Price responded, “Impossible! This is to be a high class stock company. Not a kindergarten. What you want is a dramatic school.”
The article continues. "The sweet seductive voice that gurgled like the sound of silvery waters rippling over a moss-covered ledge on a moon-lit night was suddenly lost in a burst of mocking, derisive laughter. ‘Stung!' said Price bitterly as he flushed a deep crimson and abruptly hung up. He had been talking over the wire with Cathrine Countiss, the star of his own company."
Touché, Miss Countiss! Well played.
Images: Cathrine Countiss Estate Archives; Historic New England, Nathaniel L. Stebbins Photography Collection, Photograph PC047.02.6110.17503