Merton of the Movies (1922)

George S. Kaufman and Marc Connelly

The Plot:

merton of the moviesMerton Gill, the eponymous hero, is smitten by the flickers. He spends his days saving his small salary at the Simsbury General Store and his evenings dreaming of becoming the next cowboy star. This young man goes west, haunting a Hollywood casting office, bustling with the amusing and eccentric characters and is befriended by "Flips," the greatest stuntwoman in Los Angeles. (Merton is shocked to discover that starlet Beulah Baxter doesn't perform her own stunts in "Hazards of Hortense".) Merton's first appearance on the set as an extra ends in disaster, until "Flips" notices his astounding resemblance to matinee idol Harold Parmalee and gets her pal, Jeff Baird, the comedy king of Buckeye Studios (clearly modelled on Mack Sennett) to star Merton in a series of spoofs on Parmalee's persona. Only thing is, Merton, with his unswerving loyalty to "serious screen pictures," can't be let in on the joke. To say that, ultimately, the worst actor in silent films becomes its greatest sensation speaks more to the timeless mediocrity of Hollywood than anything else.

About the Play:

The play consolidated Kaufman's reputation as a Broadway force and a major satirist. Based on a short story by Harry Leon Wilson, the fable of a small-town rube who tries to make it into the silent film industry is not only a model of Kaufman's modus operandi, but one of the very first satires on Hollywood. An interesting and historic glimpse of the birth of the movies, also made into several film versions subsequently, including one starring Red Skelton.

Stage history:

The original 1922 production of Merton ran for 398 performances, at a time when half that number of performances could make a hit. It has been rarely revived, although a production at Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater in 1974 starred Michael Moriarty and a successful version was performed in Los Angeles' Geffen Theater in 1998, directed by John Rando.

Strip Box:

One of the first plays ever written about the film industry; the comedy spoofs the early days of silent film.