Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Arthur Hopkins, Class of 1900, Became Noted Broadway Producer

When Arthur Hopkins and several of his brothers came to WRA in the late 19th century, there was very little in the way of theater productions at our school. The closest we came to drama was declamation contests, and for music, choir or mandolin club. No plays or musicals were staged at WRA during this era. Yet, Arthur Hopkins, class of 1900, became one of the most celebrated and successful producers in the history of the Broadway stage.

Hopkins started his career as a newspaper reporter in Minneapolis and Cleveland, then became a booking agent for circus acts at Luna Park in Cleveland and other amusement parks in the New York area. In 1913 he produced "Poor Little Rich Girl", a Broadway hit, and the first of his more than 80 productions over the next 35 years. He had the distinction of being the first to produce a play by Eugene O'Neill on Broadway, bringing "The Hairy Ape" from Provincetown, and later O'Neill's "Anna Christie". He was the first to showcase the almost unknown Norwegian dramatist Henrik Ibsen's plays in New York, producing "A Doll's House", "The Wild Duck", and the controversial "Hedda Gabler". Hopkins also worked as a director with some of the best known stage actors of the time including John and Lionel Barrymore, Katherine Hepburn, Humphrey Bogart and others. In the 1930's he produced and directed plays by such celebrated dramatists as Maxwell Anderson and Robert Sherwood, and in 1946 he produced "The Magnificent Yankee", a hit play based on the life of Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes.

Arthur Hopkins was an unassuming man who played a large role in the history of the American stage. When he died in 1950 the New York Times stated "the American theatre has lost one of its greatest figures." Hopkins was the author of an autobiography and a book of essays on the theater based on a series of lectures he had given at Fordham University in 1947. His brother, William R. Hopkins, Cleveland City Manager, was probably better known in Ohio. He is the subject of one of my earlier entries.