Ruth Draper Monologues Ruth Draper Monologues Ruth Draper Monologues
Ruth Draper Monologues

 
Though the technology existed to record Ruth Draper's monologues during the height of her popularity in the 1920s and '30s, she was reluctant to allow her work to be experienced as anything other than live performance. Certain that an audience contributed as much to an evening with Ruth Draper as she did, she was loath to act without it. Draper regularly took cues from an audience's response, and each time she performed a particular piece, it differed slightly from the time before. There was no definitive version of a monologue. The written version of her sketches, for example—published by Doubleday in 1960 as The Art of Ruth Draper—contains lines and even entire incidents that do not appear in the recorded versions. There was also the issue of listening to a recorded version of her own work, an experience that was anathema to the severely self-critical artist. She did not even enjoy seeing other solo performers because their work hit too close to home.

In the years following World War II, as Draper entered her 60s, she became more open to persuasion on the topic of recording her monodramas. Alexander Korda made a screen test of her, a copy of which still exists, though the sound has been lost. Films of Draper made around the same time by British director Hugh Beaumont have disappeared. In the 1950s, she made two U.S. television appearances. No copy exists of her 1954 appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show, but a kinescope of her 1956 performance of "A Children's Party in Philadelphia" on Omnibus, the acclaimed magazine program of television's early age, is part of the Wesleyan University Cinema Archives.

Though Draper made some sound recordings in Britain for Decca in 1950, she was not pleased with the results. The recordings were never released and are believed to have been destroyed. As Draper approached her 70th birthday, Charles Bowden, a prominent theatrical producer who worked with the actress in New York during the final years of her career, was fearful of her work being lost entirely, and he stepped up efforts to lure her into the recording studio. Arthur Rubinstein, a friend of Draper and her family, assisted in the persuasion process, and Arturo Toscanini, a longtime admirer of Draper and the "maestro" of RCA, offered the services of his chief engineer to supervise the process.

The first sessions took place in 1954, after Draper had completed her "farewell" season at Broadway's Vanderbilt Theater. It turned out to be a Frank Sinatra-like departure, and Draper was back on Broadway late that year, this time with her nephew, the tap dancer Paul Draper, for a run that extended into 1955. (She appeared again in 1956, a season that was truly her last; Draper died at home in bed after a Saturday night performance at the Playhouse Theater in New York on December 30, 1956.) Additional sessions took place in 1955, several of them held at RCA's Studio 1 on W. 24th Street. Draper traveled a good deal, but was based in New York, where she owned on apartment on E. 79th Street. The sessions were scheduled when Draper knew she would be in New York and would have time for them. There were also sessions scheduled in early 1956, but the recordings made then, just months before Draper died, are not as effective as those made earlier and none of that material is suitable for release.

In all, twenty-five monologues were recorded, but RCA's Red Seal label released just a single album. It contained "The Italian Lesson," "Three Generations in a Court of Domestic Relations" and "A Scottish Immigrant at Ellis Island." With the exception of a private pressing made for members of Draper's family after her death, no other recordings were available until several years later when Spoken Arts, a company founded by Arthur Luce Klein that specialized in literary and theatrical spoken word, released five albums containing eleven of the monologues, including the three published earlier by RCA. Spoken Arts later released cassette versions of the same sketches. Spoken Arts was taken over by new owners in the late 1980s, however, and the company's focus has since shifted to educational material. Under its new owners Spoken Arts continued for several years to carry the Draper cassettes, but in early 1999 the company eliminated entirely its catalog of literary and theatrical spoken word.

While researching an article about Ruth Draper that appeared in the November 1999 issue of Vanity Fair, I learned that the recordings had gone out of print. I approached BMG, which in 1986 purchased RCA, and through the company's Special Products division produced the first CD compilation of Draper's monologues, Ruth Draper and Her Company of Characters: Selected Monologues. A year later I produced More Selected Monologues, the second CD compilation of Draper's original RCA recordings. I am also the distributor for both CDs.

    ---- Susan Mulcahy




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