Monday, January 16, 2017

"If He Didn't Take the Life of—a Woman—He Took Mine—and He's Got What Was Coming to Him"

Just the other day we highlighted a story (HERE), a true one according to the author, about 
a terrible miscarriage of justice in which an innocent man was executed based purely on circumstantial evidence. In those days, of course, systematic scientific fingerprint analysis still lay in the distant future, but it's just possible it could have cleared the poor man. There has always been a persistent skepticism about fingerprints, however, one which today's author, a popular playwright in his day, exploits to the fullest in a melodrama entitled . . .

By Augustus Thomas (1857-1934).
First appearance: Everybody's Magazine, July 1921.
Play (greatly condensed to 6 pages). First performed on Broadway: April-May 1921, 56 performances. Producer: George M. Cohan.
Online at Hathi Trust (HERE).
"Would You Take a Man's Life on Finger-Print Evidence?"
The editor of Everybody's Magazine explains the raison d'être for "Nemesis":
ACCORDING to the police, the finger-print system is invaluable in the detection and identification of criminals and for years the public has looked upon it as being well-nigh infallible. But is it? Augustus Thomas, the playwright, thinks not, and he has written a play called "Nemesis" to prove his point.
The play opens in the library of the Kallans, Ben and Marcia. There has been a dinner party and cards are to follow. . . .
- The Broadway League's Internet Broadway Database has the basic data about "Nemesis" (HERE). Britannica (HERE), Wikipedia (HERE), and the IMDb (HERE) have much more about Augustus Thomas; we encountered George M. Cohan a couple of years ago (HERE) in regard to his production of Seven Keys to Baldpate.
- Some theater-goers weren't too enchanted with this play, including this critic who seems to have it in for Sigmund Freud:
"For two interminable acts, 'Nemesis' rumbles slowly along amid a jargon of half-baked Freudian chatter. . . In the third act, the husband [does something that is] theatrically ingenious, and the audience comes to life. The next act shows the sculptor being tried for the crime; and for some time Mr. Thomas forgets his dignity of automat erudition and gives us a murder-trial with all the realism of a careful reporter. . . After all, Pudd'nhead Wilson knew something about finger-prints, but nothing at all about Dr. Freud. We rather liked him so."
— Walter Prichard Eaton, "The Theatre: Mr. Thomas Discovers Dr. Freud," The Freeman, 20 April 1921 (go HERE for full review).

The bottom line:
   "Must everybody tell everything?"
   "Oh, yes—everybody does somehow—somewhere—everybody."
   — Marcia and Dr. Simpson

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