1905-08: As Ye Sow
In several respects, As Ye Sow (1905) was an unusual play. The marketing of a popular entertainment to a Christian audience was unprecented. It was authored by the Reverend John M. Snyder, who had conceived of the theatre as a vehicle for moral instruction.
The play also marked the first stage appearance of Douglas Fairbanks. In the coming era of film, Fairbanks would found United Artists with Charlie Chapman and D.W. Griffith.
Coincidentally the play appeared in New York at the same time that Reverend Thomas Dixon’s play, The Clansman, arrived on Broadway. The novelty of the simultaneous appearance of two scripts written by ministers took some of the focus off the racist content of Dixon’s play.
Both plays had success in an afterlife of touring in the provinces. Roughly a decade later each of these dramas were turned into silent films. The movie based on Snyder’s work was filmed (in Gloucester, MA) just months after the Reverend died in Nantucket. Like most silent films, it did not survive. D.W. Griffith’s film based on The Clansman, appeared shortly afterward. It was retitled The Birth of a Nation. When Griffith’s film was brought to Boston in 1915 hundreds of black citizens protested. At that point these were the largest demonstrations against racial discrimination in the history of the Northeast. Ben Cotton's closing credit in a long, long career on stage, drew no special commentary about the ever-present legacy of blackface performance.