So Help Me God
About the Play
Werba’s Theatre, Flatbush, Brooklyn (1929). The Mint Theater Company presented the first revival of So Help Me God! at New York’s Lucille Lortel Theatre in 2009.
5F, 11M, (doubling possible) 1 dog
So Help Me God! was never published. Contact Literal Media (www.literalmedia.com) for copies
The fabulous diva Lily Darnley is on her way back to Broadway with a fabulous new play, Empty Hands—and she has plenty of suggestions how to make it more fabulous, even if they make everybody else miserable. Meanwhile, an ambitious young ingénue, Kerren-Heppuch Lane, has been cast as Lily’s understudy. She dreams of one day being as fabulous as Miss Darnley—and that day may come sooner than everyone thinks.
So Help Me God! was scheduled to open on Broadway on October 28, 1929—one day before the worst stock market crash in U.S. history. The nation entered the Great Depression, and So Help Me God! never made it to the Great White Way. For decades, the crash was assumed to be the reason why the play disappeared.
After seeing the Mint’s 2009 production of So Help Me God!, scholar David Stenn pointed out another possibility. Diva Lily Darnley bears an uncanny resemblance to Jeanne Eagels, the real-life diva who pulled out of the original production of Waktins’ Chicago. Jeanne was one of the biggest stars of the day; she made her name playing the angelic prostitute Sadie Thompson in Rain. (It’s no coincidence a member of Lily’s company compares earnest young Kerron to the heroine of Rain.) Like Lily, Jeanne demanded a new director and numerous cuts before she left Chicago. Like Lily, Jeanne had once interrupted a co-star’s bow. (She took over Leslie Howard’s curtain call during Her Cardboard Lover). But on Oct. 3, 1929, Jeanne Eagels died of a drug overdose—and suddenly, making fun of her was no longer funny. So Help Me God!, which had begun performances on Oct. 7, the day after Eagels’ funeral, was “withdrawn for revision” two weeks later.
About the Playwright
Maurine Dallas Watkins (1896-1969) is little remembered today, despite being the author of Chicago (1926) the smash Broadway comedy about two “merry murderesses” with showbiz aspirations that would, fifty decades after its premiere, inspire the smash Broadway musical of the same name. The play was based on Watkins’s observations as journalist covering the Windy City’s sensational Jazz Age murder trials. Watkins’ career encompassed more than Chicago—she earned a playwriting degree from Yale Scho…
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