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The Baby Carriage

by Bosworth Crocker


The Baby Carriage, by Bosworth Crocker, was the first play performed on the fourth bill of the 1918-19 season, and it portrayed the vast differences between an Irish mother who gets to move to a better neighborhood, and the wife of a Jewish tailor whose husband’s religious code prevents her from having a possession that would symbolize some semblance of a better life.  Set in the Lezinsky Tailor Shop on the lower east side of New York City, Mrs. Rooney, an Irish mother whose family is moving to the Bronx, comes into the shop to leave her final job of clothing alterations to be done by Mr. Lezinsky before she moves uptown.  She tells Mrs. Lezinsky that she would be happy to sell her the baby carriage for her now-too-big son for the very reasonable amount of $5.  Though this is a great bargain, and Mrs. Lezinsky, who is pregnant, admires and longs for the perambulator, their family is so poor that even $5 is too much for them to afford.  She pleads with her husband to allow her to make the purchase, stating how much more convenient their life would be and how one of their children deserves a carriage like this, but he questions her desire and moralizes her lack of discretion in even asking.  She finds a wad of cash in a coat left by another faithful customer, Mr. Rosenbloom, and steals the $5 she needs.  This becomes apparent to her husband when Mr. Rosenbloom returns to the shop looking for his money and claims that $5 is missing, causing Mr. Lezinsky to charge him less since he did not want his reputation to be compromised.  Being a highly religious man, Mr. Lezinsky condemns his wife for her deceit, particularly to get something they simply can’t afford and, in his mind, don’t need.  Ironically, when Mrs. Rooney returns to the shop at the end of the play, she gives Mrs. Lezinsky the carriage as a parting gift, causing one researcher to observe “the gift of a baby carriage from one immigrant woman to another is a poignant expression of women’s shared dreams.”(1)

The cast of The Baby Carriage featured Alice Rostetter as Mrs. Rooney, W. Clay Hill as Mr. Rosenbloom, O.K. Liveright as Solomon Lezinsky, and Dorothy Miller as Mrs. Lezinsky.  Though the program does not list her as such, Ida Rauh is cited as director by a reporter for the Morning Telegraph, who writes of watching a rehearsal for the play with Rauh directing.  The story also reports that actors seemed to have different scripts in this rehearsal, referring to a “revised script” that not all of them had.  One interesting alteration to the script is reported after the only carriage that they had available to use was a blue one, even though the script refers to a white carriage, and so the script is changed by Rauh and the actors to be able to work with the prop they have available.(2)
Neither Heywood Broun nor John Corbin felt the play was a complete theatrical experience or anything more than, as Broun wrote, a “slice of life and show it without the trimmings.”(3)  In fact, Broun gives a lesson on what a play should possess, contending that just because something is true doesn’t make it dramatic, and then includes “it should tell a story and, in a broad sense, point a moral.”(4)  Corbin calls the play a “sketch of the east side,” and that it “seems somewhat lacking in form and point.”(5)  Both, however, admired its keen eye, Corbin writing “it is very simply and truthfully written and is a work of shrewd and sympathetic observation,”(6) and Broun echoes that it was an “excellent observation.”(7)  Black notes that the play “deviates from traditional structure, concentrating on mood or atmosphere, dialogue and characterization rather than on lines and climatic action.”(8)  This, observes Sarlos, is similar to a play presented earlier in the season, O’Neill’s The Moon of the Caribbees, and sees The Baby Carriage and the other plays in the fourth bill “as a distinct trend in the wake of O’Neill’s favorite sea play, one justly hailed and damned for its replacement of action with mood.”(9)  When The Baby Carriage was published for the second time in a collection of plays by Crocker titled Humble Folk, the New York Times said of the plays in the collection that “Mr. [sic] Crocker was concerned with a picture or a touching moment in lower-class existence,” and that the “dialogue is deft and redolent of the type of person he [sic] pictures.  With a minimum of action he [sic] manages to suggest vast passions.”(10)  The reviewer clearly does not know the playwright’s gender (calling her “Mr. Crocker”); a similar confusion arose when the play was first published in 1920 in 50 Contemporary One-Act Plays and its author was listed as coming from Great Britain.(11)

The name Bosworth Crocker was actually a pseudonym used by Mary Arnold Crocker Childs Lewisohn.  She was the wife of writer Ludwig Lewisohn, a novelist who, in February 1919, also reviewed plays for a New York weekly called Town Topics, wrote unsigned reviews for Bookman and Dial, and would become the drama and fiction critic for Nation in June 1919. Lewisohn would count as his friends New York literary greats that included Sinclair Lewis, H.L. Mencken, Edgar Lee Masters, Theodore Dreiser, Upton Sinclair, George Jean Nathan, and Carl and Mark Van Doren.  He was also a supporter of the Provincetown Players, having attended since their first New York performance in the fall of 1916.(12)  O’Neill’s plays had encouraged Lewisohn, who wrote in his reviews that he looked forward to the day when “‘the crudities of the pop theatre’ would give way to ‘a bare room and three people and a human difficulty that tugs at our hearts and compels our participation,’” and O’Neill’s works “were a welcome sign of the possibility for change.”(13)  Lewisohn and Crocker returned to New York in the summer of 1917 (after he left a faculty position at Ohio State University), and they became part of the “Village commeraderie.”(14)  They are famed for a tempestuous marriage, which Ludwig immortalized in his novels.(15)

By the time of the 1919 Provincetown production of The Baby Carriage, Crocker’s plays and poetry had received some minor recognition in New York City.  In February 1917, the Washington Square Players had staged her play The Last Straw, about a janitor who is not believed by anyone when he claims his innocence after a cat is found dead.  She received the most positive reviews of that bill, called by the New York Times “the most creditable play.”(16)  Her play Pawns of War was published in January 1918 by Little, Brown & Company with a foreword by John Galsworthy, the British novelist and dramatist with whom she had corresponded and eventually met.  Galsworth described that the play “visualizes the German invasion of Belgium,” and that it “It has a sustained crescendo . . . very gripping and should play extremely well . . . so lifelike and so forceful.”(17)  Humble Folk, a collection of five one-act plays by Crocker that includes The Baby Carriage, was published in 1923.  Lewisohn wrote the introduction, albeit just prior to their separation, and says that her plays have “the tang and edge of life, the power and pathos of reality,” and that they “deal with the problematic element in human existence,” and not in abstract terms, but “through the feeble symbolism of the consciously sophisticated.  They show character in conflict, character which is action, passion which is struggle, circumstance which is crisis.”(18)  Regardless of Crocker’s potential relationship with members of the Players, it would seem that The Baby Carriage may simply have been submitted to the Players for their consideration like any anonymous play might have been.  The article in the Morning Telegraph that was conducted during a rehearsal of the play recounts Glaspell asking Rauh if she’d written and told Crocker that her play had been accepted, and Rauh reports no, that she had forgotten.  Rauh then tells the reporter “That’s the way it is, always.  No author knows his play is being produced until he comes down and sees it.”(19) This is one small window into the seldom-discussed process by which the Players eventually chose the plays they produced. 

© Jeff Kennedy, 2007.

(1) Black, Women 55.

(2) Morning Telegraph, 16 February 1919, sec. 2, cols. 1-5: 3. qtd in Sarlos Provincetown. Names the author of the article as Barry O’Rourke, though I cannot find where this information comes from.  No author is listed in the newspaper.

(3) Heywood Broun, New York Tribune, 23 February 1919, sec VII, col 1 & 2: 1

(4) Heywood Broun, New York Tribune, 23 February 1919, sec VII, col 1 & 2: 1

(5) John Corbin, New York Times, 23 February 1919, sec IV, col 1-2: 2

(6) John Corbin, New York Times, 23 February 1919, sec IV, col 1-2: 2

(7) Heywood Broun, New York Tribune, 23 February 1919, sec VII, col 1 & 2: 1

(8) Black, Women 57.

(9) Sarlos, Provincetown100-101.

(10) New York Times, 17 February 1924: BR5

(11) Frank Shay and Pierre Loving, eds. Fifty Contemporary One-Act Plays (Cincinnati: Stewart and Kidd, 1920).

(12) Ralph Melnick, The Life and Work of Ludwig Lewisohn (Detroit: Wayne State U Press, 1998) 254. Twenty years later, Susan Glaspell would inscribe a gift book to him, “never forgetting what he said, at the close of the second act, the first night in the dear old Provincetown Theatre.”

(13) Melnick 242. These quotes were taken from reviews in Town Topics on 24 April 1919 and 8 May 1919.

(14) Melnick 211.

(15) Mary never granted Ludwig a divorce, though they separated in 1924, and she successfully prevented him from reinstating his U.S. passport for ten years by informing the State Department after he left the country with his mistress, Thelma.  He lived in Paris with Thelma until 1934, establishing “one of the great salons of the Left Bank” while continuing to write and spend his evenings with James Joyce, Thomas Mann, Roy Titus, “and a host of Europeans and Americans who passed through his doors.”  He became a staunch orator and writer of articles against anti-Semitism and its threat to European civilization.

(16) New York Times, 14 February 1917.

(17) New York Times, 6 January 1918: 65.  This is a quote from an advertisement for the book, not taken directly from Galsworthy’s actual foreword.  Thus, it must be looked at as edited and the context in which he originally wrote could be different.

(18) Bosworth Crocker, Humble Folk (Great Neck, New York: Core Collection Books, 1978). From 1919 to 1924, Crocker took over from Lewisohn as theatre critic of Town Topics, and she became a charter member of P.E.N. and the Authors League of America.  She continued to write plays, including Heritage, Reprisal, Cost of a Hat, and in 1923 was mentioned as part of a theatrical organization called The Green Ring that was dedicated to creating productions of “an experimental nature,” with an “intimate playhouse” to be opened on West Fourteenth Street.

(19) Morning Telegraph, 16 February 1919, sec. 2, cols. 1-5: 3.