Arnold Daly: A Giant Felled by Fire

Harvard Theatre Collection

Irish-American man of the theatre Arnold Daly (1875-1927) was born and bred in Brooklyn. To my shock, he is no relation to the seminal Augustin Daly, although I have little doubt he profited by the confusion.

A wash-out in school, this Daly’s path became clear when he was hired as a secretary to Charles Frohman, which provided his introduction to the theatre. By 1892 Daly was on the boards himself, in a small role touring production of a show called the Jolly Squire. An 1895 stage adaptation of Mark Twain’s Pudd’nhead Wilson brought him greater success. By 1899, he was on Broadway, appearing in the original production of Clyde Fitch’s Barbara Frietchie. Another Fitch premiere, Major Andre (1903), was the last occasion for which he would be known solely as an actor.

For in 1904, Daly began doing it all, producing and directing as well as starring. he became known as a major importer and interpreter of Shaw, including the American premieres of Candida (1904), the one-act How He Lied to Her Husband (1904), You Never Can Tell (1905), John Bull’s Other Island (1905), Mrs. Warren’s Profession (1905) and revivals of The Man of Destiny (1904) and Arms and the Man (1906). The production of Mrs. Warren’s Profession was closed by the authorities for the “obscene” references to prostitution. He appeared in dozens more plays, often self-producing, through 1926.

In 1914 he dipped his toe in vaudeville , bringing Shaw’s one-act How He Lied to Her Husband to the Palace. That same year he also began appearing in silent films, his most notably appearances, among a dozen, being in three Pearl White serials. 

Daly also took credit for authoring scores of plays, although almost all of them were adaptations of foreign hits. He best known play is Democracy’s King, which he self-produced on Broadway in 1918. That play is included, along with other oddments, in his 1921 book The Dominant Male: Essays and Plays. 

In 1900, Daly married actress Mary Blyth, then a member of Richard Mansfield’s company. Their daughter was stage and screen actress (and reputed Jazz Age lesbian) Blyth Daly. Daly and Blyth married twice and divorced twice. Blyth’s second was the actor Frank Craven.

Daly’s last appearance on stage, interestingly enough, was in a 1926 Theatre Guild production of Jaurez and Maximillian, with Edward G. Robinson and such Group Theatre giants as Harold Clurman and Morris Carnovsky. A true generational passing of the torch.

In late 1926, Daly suffered a bad head injury, which indirectly proved to be fatal a couple of months later when his apartment caught fire. His remains were discovered quite close to a window that opened directly onto a roof, making escape theoretically quite simple. It is thought that confusion and weakness from the injury prevented him from making the easy exit to safety. He was 52 years old.

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