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Curtiz and Cagney sell Cohan as “a real-life nephew of my Uncle Sam, born on the fourth of July”; he was probably born on the 3rd of July, 1878, but fudged the date for a better story. Cohan’s version of the reception of SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE is also myth-making, presenting himself as a Magee- like entertainer outsmarting urban know-it-alls. “We opened BALDPATE at the Astor Theater in 1913,” he wrote. “The panic was on. Help! Murder! Police! Cries of anguish. Roars of disapproval. Crit- ics, playwrights, Drama Leaguers, and literary la- dies and gentlemen of all sorts, sizes, and standing stood on their hind legs and denounced the drama- tization instanter. ‘He’s tearing down traditions.’ ‘He’s breaking all rules and regulations of play construc- tion.’ ‘He’s insulting the intelligence of the public.’ The entire regiment aimed and fired. ‘What’s the matter? What have I done?’ I innocently inquired of a well-known playwright (Augustus Thomas) who had attended the opening night performance. ‘You know what you’ve done, don’t you?’ ‘I certainly do not,’ I confessed. ‘On what lines have you usually constructed your plays?’ he asked. ‘Mostly on the Pennsylvania and New York Central,’ I replied. He immediately reported to ‘the circle’ that Cohan was a hopeless hick. The public flocked to BALDPATE. They came in hacks and packs and stacks. Capac- ity for the entire season. Another company presented the play in Chicago. Same thing out there. All farce records broken.”

However, the smart set of 1913 got the joke and critics gave the play good notices. Like Biggers, Cohan identified with the critically-scorned, com- mercially-successful Magee. Oddly, the role in the first production was played by Wallace Eddinger, though Cohan would play it in revivals and the first American film adaptation of his warhorse. SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE was first filmed, by director Monte Luke, in Australia in 1916. The Cohan-starring vehicle, which patriotically renames its hero George Washington Magee, appeared a year later. This brisk, pacey, public domain picture is available on DVD from Alpha Video in the expected- for-its-vintage ropey state, but with an acceptable music score. The source print must be British, since there’s a post end-title tag of the King saluting in front of a Union Jack before the instruction “Good Night—all lights up please!” As in book and play, Magee’s attempts to write a novel at Baldpate are troubled by a stream of mysterious strangers who also show up with keys to the property and seem to be mixed-up in political graft, gangster intrigue, romance and murder and attract a further crowd of cops, detectives and secret servicemen (“Sorry to have interrupted your writing, Mr. Magee, but this


is government business!”) who serve to inspire him. An abbreviated version of the multiple twist ending simplifies things—only the 1929 talkie and 1983’s

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS use all of Cohan’s complex series of rug-pullings—and it’s ambiguous as to whether Magee has made this all up, though we do see him finish his manuscript and get an enthusiastic response from his publisher (Frank Losee).

Director Hugh Ford, a specialist in transferring famous plays to film (his first feature was a 1913 PRISONER OF ZENDA), doesn’t get the sort of decrepit set and mysterious shadows which would be a feature of the Old Dark House movies of the 1920s and ’30s, though Eric Hudson is on hand as a wild-haired hermit who does specialty skulking and pretends to be a ghost in a vain attempt to scare off unwelcome visitors. Ford’s major visual trick is the stagey joke of cramming as many pos- turing people as possible into the frame around Cohan, disrupting the supposed isolation of the setting. Elda Furry, who plays the blackmailing Myra Thornhill, would later change her name to Hedda Hopper and switch careers from character actress (DRACULA’S DAUGHTER) to gossip columnist; Alpha’s cover copy notes that she and leading lady

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