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May Irwin in Mrs Black is Back, 1904

January 21, 2013

(A.S. Lipman ?) as Professor Black and May Irwin as Mrs Black
in Mrs Black Is Back, Bijou Theatre, New York, 7 November 1904, and tour, 1905.
May Irwin (1862–1938), American character singer and actress
(photo: unknown, probably New York, 1904)

This colour lithograph and halftone postcard of May Irwin in Mrs Black Is Back was published in 1904 or early 1905 by Carter & Gut of New York.

‘Miss May Irwin will open her New York season to-morrow evening at the Bijou Theatre in a comedy called Mrs. Black Is Back. It is by George V. Hobart. He wrote the play especially for Miss Irwin; there are several “coo” son interpolations for her benefit and that of the audience.
Mrs. Black Is Back has for its foundation a lie. It’s a tiny lie, but a lie all the same. Mrs. Black, very appropriately, is a charming widow. She married a geology professor, a man who hates lies of all varieties, whether black or white, large or small. She tells him she is twenty-nine; she is really thirty-six. Her son Johnny is seventeen years old. When it becomes impossible to keep Johnny away from home Mrs. Black is in a quandary.
‘The father of course thinks Johnny must be nine or ten years old if his mother is twenty-nine. She the staid and guileless professor goes out on a shopping expedition and buys all sorts of toys, like popguns, goat wagons, and rubber balls for his young stepson. To putt off the dreadful discovery Mrs. Black persuades her son to remain at school in England.
‘She is just beginning to draw a happy breath when she is called over the telephone by Johnny himself. He has fled to America in pursuit of the girl with whom he is in love. His mother is almost in a swoon when a Mexican gambler enters with an I.O.U. for $400, which he won from her son on a transatlantic liner. The gambler threatens to show the I.O.U. to the professor. Mrs. Black almost faints when she things what her husband would do on hearing that his supposedly ten-year-old stepson had lost $400 at poker. Finally, after many comical situations, the tangle is unraveled and all ends happily.’
(The New York Times, New York, Sunday, 6 November 1904, Part Four, Second Magazine Section, p.5a/b)

May Irwin

song sheet cover for May Irwin’s Song Successes as sung by her
in George V. Hobart’s new comedy, Mrs. Black Is Back,
Bijou Theatre, New York, 7 November 1904, and tour, 1905
(photo: Hall, New York, 1903; published by M. Witmark & Sons, New York, 1903)

‘May Irwin in Mrs. Black Is Back at the Columbia [Washington, D.C., March 1905]
‘A distinguished audience, which included a White House party composed of the President and Mrs. Roosevelt, Miss Alice Roosevelt, Senator and Mrs. Lodge, and Dr. W.L. Bigelow, welcomed May Irwin upon her return to Washington after an absence of more than two years. Miss Irwin has not appeared here since her temporary retirement from the stage, but that she has lost none of her many admirers was amply in evidence. There was not a vacant seat in the house, and many were content to stand through the performance.
‘The play which Miss Irwin selected to inaugurate her reappearance in the theater is a farce comedy by George V. Hobart, and was evidently written for the star. It bears the alternative title of Mrs. Black Is Back, but the fact that Mrs. Black is back has very little to do with the play itself. The programme enumerates a score or more of characters, all of whom are related to Mrs. Black by marriage or otherwise, including Mrs. Black’s second husband, her son, sister, sister-in-law, and others. The theme is a trite one, but the author has handled it in a way that provides Miss Irwin with every opportunity to exploit her original and unique individuality. In her new offering she is seldom out of the calcium, and she has plenty of opportunities to delight the worshipers of ragtime with a brand-new array of coon songs, one of which, the programmes states, was written by Miss Irwin herself.
‘Mrs. Black, it is disclosed, has wedded her second husband, a sedate and precise professor. In a moment of vanity she subtracts seven years from the sum total of her age, and when she tells her new husband of her son she represented him to be a youth of ten years. The anxiety she experiences when the time comes for her boy to return forms the basis of all the complications that ensue. The boy comes back unexpectedly, and in order to conceal his identity she resorts to all manner of tricks, all of which are accepted as truth by the step-father. In the end, of course, Mrs. Black resolves to confess everything. This confession enables Miss Irwin to indulge in a clever bit of comedy, which convulses the audience with laughter and introduces the spectator to a new phase of Irwin comedy which must be seen to be appreciated. Her son in the third act, “I Love to Two-step Wif My Man,” was given with the characteristic Irwin humor and expression, which has made her a subject of much imitation, and the song was repeatedly encored, as were several others sung in the course of the three acts.
‘Miss Irwin’s support, competent in every respect, includes the usual coterie of comely young women, who form a pleasing chorus whenever occasion demands. A.S. Lipman plays the husband of Mrs. Black, and afford an excellent foil to the star, while Jane Burby, as her sister, helps materially in making effective the comedy of Miss Irwin. Edgar Atchison Ely plays the son with a boyish buoyancy, and in the second act sings two duets with Miss Irwin, both of which were given with good effect. Frances Gordon is pretty, coy, and clever as Priscilla Black, in love with Mrs. Black’s son; John G. Sparks makes a satisfactory Irish valet, and Nick Long gives a good character sketch of a Mexican, while Charles Lane looks and acts well the part of a physical culture exponent.’
(The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, 7 March 1905, Part 2, p.3d/e)

Mrs Black Is Back was the subject of May Irwin’s only film, made in 1914 with Daniel Frohman as presenter.)

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