the nitrate angel

File:Albrecht Dürer - Winged Man, in Idealistic Clothing, Playing a Lute - WGA07044.jpg

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My grandfather haunts me. I never met him (he died almost 20 years before I was born), and yet because he was an actor, I have been able to find out a great deal about his career and life. There are so many questions I’d like to ask, but am not allowed to: what was your favorite experience while acting? Which of the several women who loved you did you love in return? Could you tell me about the night you met my grandmother?

There is time yet, and I will find out more about him. In the meantime, I wrote this hurried draft of the beginning of a biography I’d like to write: here is what I have so far.

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The Nitrate Angel

I could start with statistics, what the records show about 1891, the year my grandfather was born; they would show an America significantly younger and less anxious than our own, so different from the one we know as to confound and amaze us. But that’s not what Stewart’s life was about. They can’t tell us why he was important.

To begin with, he went much farther along the path to fame and success than most. He was a hustler, self-made, pure American. He was tough, so tough that, as a teenager, he was willing to go for a week on coffee and donuts alone, so tough that later he thought nothing of hopping a train from New York to Baltimore for a week’s work, then going back up to start a totally new engagement. He sang, he danced, he carried off pure drama with flair, he performed in drag. He made it in Scranton, the testing ground for Broadway, and then he performed on Broadway, and then he started over on the west coast. He never stopped–and died six months before his 50th birthday.

© copyright, The Rag Tree, 2013.

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DrawingWinged Man, in Idealistic Clothing, Playing a Lute. Albrecht Durer, 1497. Silverpoint on dark paper, with white highlights. WikiCmns. Public Domain.

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  1. Seb
    March 5, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    One has to wonder how Scranton became the great stepping off point to he American theatre?

    • March 5, 2013 at 7:53 pm

      Seb: the audiences in scranton were unbelievably tough: factory workers and coal miners and they wanted pure comedy or drama. if you didn’t make them cry their guts out or belly laugh, you got a rotten egg right on the kisser for your efforts. RT

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