Draper on Draper

Draper on Draper


I n the last years of her career, in the early 1950s, Ruth Draper was persuaded by Charles Bowden and Richard Barr, her final managers/producers, that facing the publicity monster was a necessary component to achieving healthy box office returns. Outside of Draper's own letters, most of what is known about her working style comes from print interviews published during this period. Audio interviews were even less common, though she did speak with Studs Terkel in the early 1950s for his Chicago radio program.

One of Draper's rare discussions of her work took place in Boston in 1925 for a story that appeared in The Transcript. The following is a portion of that interview:

Not all of them are real people. They are mainly pieces of people put together. Some of them are actual enough. I used to know a City Magistrate who presided in the Domestic Relations Court, and he told me I could come and sit with him when I wanted to and see what was going on. That's where I saw the old Jewish woman [from "Three Generations in a Court of Domestic Relations"]. In real life, though, the situation was not the same as it is in the stage sketch. The old woman's daughter and her granddaughter wanted to have her sent away. I thought that was less interesting than placing the stress on the attitude of the youngest generation, so I built the sketch around the young woman, instead of the old one.

I never try to point morals in my monologues; yet I believe the material has got to be something more than a mere characterization; it has got to go deeper into human life and human feeling. People send me hundreds of interesting and amusing suggestions, anecdotes showing a funny situation, but I never try to make the things funny. It is invariably incidental, a byproduct of the character shown on the stage. As often as not the humor of the situation is something the audience finds for itself. I do nothing more than suggest it. There, I believe, is where the whole thing has its greatest appeal. The people who come have to use their own imaginations to get the effect, and they appreciate that. There is no scenery, no person except myself on the stage. The others are the joint product of my own and the audience's imagination.

You see, it appeals to the highest thing in the people who come. They help do the thing and assist in creating an effect which I could never create alone. Consequently, it's impossible to rehearse a sketch to be given in monologue, simply because the others aren't there to help in the rehearsal. If I do it by myself it is utterly flat. It takes courage to go before an audience with a sketch you have never done before. Not, of course, that I haven't worked it out completely in my own mind, for I know every detail. But the psychic connection with the audience is missing.

This factor is a tremendous influence in making the characterization live. It is a great stimulation. Once when I was doing "The Debutante" the audience was so sensitive to effects; it helped so largely in filling in the spaces, that I suddenly found myself adding to the sketch and saying things which were not originally in it. I shouldn't say that I said them, for I don't believe I did. The debutante said them, and I was a little astonished in a detached sort of way to discover the interpolations.