Golden, John, 1874-1955Alternative names
John Golden (1874-1955) was a songwriter and theatrical impresario who wrote, directed, managed, or produced over 100 shows in a career spanning more than 40 years, including Lightnin', Claudia, and Susan and God. Golden was known for his "clean, humorous, American plays," which were suitable for a family audience. "I think Mrs. Warren's Profession is a great play," he explained in his autobiography, Stage Struck, "[but] given equal literary value, I should infinitely prefer a wholesome play."
Born in New York City, Golden spent much of his childhood in Wauseon, Ohio. Returning to New York as a teenager, he aspired to become an architect. He was hired as an errand boy at a New York architectural firm, through which he was offered a job assisting a bricklayer. In Stage Struck, Golden claims to have helped lay the bricks for Harrigan's Theatre. Around the same time, Golden found additional work as a spear-carrying supernumerary in a Roman spectacle at Niblo's Garden. He discovered that he loved the stage, and set aside his architectural ambitions to pursue work in the theatre.
Golden briefly attended New York University to study law, and while there, he put on a successful student show. It was not only his first foray into theatrical management, but the first production of the nascent NYU theatre department. "I decided that drama had certain undeniable advantages over law," he said. "For one thing, you reaped the rewards more quickly. For another, I liked it better." Golden doggedly pursued his acting career, but with limited success. His first review in the New York press was a single line in the October 12, 1898 edition of the New York Evening World, which said only, "John Golden made a good butler." While his big break as an actor failed to materialize, Golden pursued other avenues of work, including a stint as a chewing gum salesman, and more traditional executive positions at manufacturing and chemical companies.
By the turn of the twentieth century, Golden had also taken up freelance writing. In addition to publishing his comedic verses in Puck, Judge, and Truth magazines, Golden began setting his words to music, launching a lucrative songwriting career. Miss Prinnt, with music and lyrics by John Golden, opened at the Victoria Theatre in December 1900, and ran for nearly a year. Among his greatest successes as a songwriter were "Goodbye Girls, I'm Through" from the 1914 musical Chin-Chin, and "Poor Butterfly" (written with Raymond Hubbell and Charles B. Dillingham) from The Big Show, a 1916 Hippodrome extravaganza. Golden used the royalties from his hit songs to produce his first Broadway play, Turn to the Right by John E. Hazzard and Winchell Smith. His creative partnership with Smith yielded some of his most successful productions, including Lightnin', which Smith co-wrote with actor Frank Bacon. Turn to the Right also became a vehicle for Golden's patriotic efforts during the first World War. In addition to running Liberty Bond drives, Golden staged free performances of the production for soldiers at cantonment theatres, a practice which presaged his more extensive tickets-for-troops campaigns in World War II.
By the time his production of Austin Strong's Seventh Heaven closed in 1924, Golden had produced three of the five longest running shows in Broadway history, a record which remained unbroken for many years. As of 2011, the 1938 revival of Lightnin' was still among the 100 longest running shows in Broadway history. In 1929, Golden produced Rachel Crothers' Let Us be Gay, which marked the beginning of another long and fruitful professional relationship. Golden would go on to produce eight of Crothers' plays, including Susan and God starring Gertrude Lawrence, one of his most profitable productions. His career continued to flourish in the 1930s with such plays as Frank Craven's That's Gratitude, and When Ladies Meet, co-written by Golden and Crothers.
Yet not every Golden show met with raves. One productions which failed both critically and popularly was 1933's A Divine Drudge, which he co-wrote with Vicki Baum. It ran at the Royal theatre for only 12 performances. In a letter to Baum, Golden was uncharacteristically disheartened: "The failure of the play, its cost or the time given to it, none of these hit me so hard as the utter surprise, bewilderment, at the fact that I could be so terribly wrong," he penned. "Confidentially, Vicki, it has me so twisted that I'm preparing to do some plays that other people like simply because I'm afraid of my own opinion." Golden soon rebounded, however, with well-received productions of Frederick Jackson's The Bishop Misbehaves and Samson Raphaelson's Skylark, once again featuring Gertrude Lawrence.
The 1940s marked a particularly prolific period in Golden's career; he produced a string of Broadway hits and national tours, including Rose Franken's Claudia, starring Dorothy Maguire, Theatre by Somerset Maugham and Guy Bolton, and Three's a Family by Henry and Phoebe Ephron. When the United States entered the second World War in 1941, Golden became an active participant in a number of relief efforts. He was an early supporter of the American Theatre Wing War Service, Stage Door Canteen, and the Air Training Corps of America. He produced Red Cross shows at Madison Square Garden featuring cameo appearances by Eleanor Roosevelt, Crown Princess Martha of Norway, and Madame Chiang Kai-Shek. Golden was also the director of the Officers' Service Committee, which provided junior officers of all branches of the military with half-price tickets to various New York City entertainments, and the chairman of the entertainment committee for the New York Defense Recreation Committee, responsible for distributing as many as two million free tickets for local entertainments to servicemen. He regularly donated thousands of dollars from the receipts of Claudia to various relief programs and humanitarian causes, and spearheaded a campaign to remove the tax on tickets for merchant seamen. Arguably Golden's most significant contribution to the war effort, however, was his creation of a playwriting contests for soldiers, and later for sailors. The first contest resulted in a series of five short plays by enlisted men which John Golden produced in 1943 as The Army Play by Play. The show brought in over $200,000 for the Army Relief Fund.
In addition to producing, Golden took an active role in many theatrical organizations and professional associations, including the Lambs Club, the first professional theatrical club in America. Inducted in 1893, Golden served as committee chair for the annual Lambs Gambols for ten years, and was the Lambs "Shepherd" (president) from 1944 to 1945. Golden was responsible for creating the Producing Managers' Association with Sam H. Harris in 1918. In one of the few dark episodes of his career, he found himself at the center of the 1919 actors' strike, which pitted him against performers he had known and respected since the earliest days of his career. Golden was also one of the original officers of the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers (ASCAP), and an early member of the Songwriters' Protective Association, the Dramatists' Guild, the Stage Relief Fund, the Percy Williams Home for Aged Actors, and others; and Grover Whalen appointed him chairman for the Entertainment Committee of the 1939 New York World's Fair.
Golden continued his professional and humanitarian activities well into the postwar years, including supporting the Equity Library Theatre, and serving as chair for the New York City committee for United Nations Day. He also continued to produce for Broadway up to the end of his life, though audience numbers began to dwindle with the advent of television and the changing of popular tastes. His last show, a revival of Seventh Heaven, opened in May of 1955 at the ANTA Playhouse. John Golden died on June 17, 1955, at his estate in Bayside, Queens, which he bequeathed to the City of New York for use as a public park.
From the guide to the John Golden papers, 1874-1971, 1925-1954, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)
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|Theater--New York (State)--New York|
|World War, 1939-1945--Theater and the war|
|Theatrical producers and directors--Caricatures and cartoons|
|Theaters--Stage-setting and scenery|
|Theatrical producers and directors--United States|
|Musical revues, comedies, etc.--Excerpts, Arranged--Parts|
|Band music, Arranged--Parts|
|Theatrical producers and directors|