Charles H. Hoyt: American Farceur

We’ve had occasion a few times here to refer to farcical American dramatist Charles H. Hoyt (1859-1900) so we do a post on him today, his birthday.

A New Hampshire native, Hoyt attended Boston Latin, and became the music and drama critic for the Boston Post before turning his hand to authorship. Hoyt turned out 20 comedies between 1881 and 1899. The first couple were produced in Boston; he made the move to New York circa 1883.

His fifth play A Parlor Match (1884) was one of his biggest successes and the one that put him over. He adapted the play from a vaudeville sketch by Evans and Hoey, expanding it to full length for them to perform in at Tony Pastor’s Theatre. They continued to play in this comedy all over the country for many years, constantly changing it and updated it as conditions warranted. The popular music hall song “The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo” was introduced to American audiences in the show in 1892, and Anna Held made her American debut in the show in 1896.

A revival of Hoyt’s 1883 play A Rag Baby provided the theatrical debut of baseball player Mike “King” Kelly and was the first show to give star-billing to a professional athlete. Kelly also appeared in A Tin Soldier (1886).

In 1887 Hoyt married 16 year old actress Flora Walsh, who appeared in many of his productions.

A Midnight Bell (1889) starred Maude Adams and was made into a 1921 film.

A Trip to Chinatown (1891) was another major Hoyt hit, being the show that introduced the song “The Bowery” to the world, and featuring a cast that included Trixie Friganza. The show ran 657 performances, which was then a record.

In 1891 Hoyt took over management of the Madison Square Theatre, which was commonly called “Hoyt’s” for the seven years he ran it.

His 1893 play A Temperance Town starred the popular up-and-come Caroline Miskel. She became became Hoyt’s second wife. (Walsh had died earlier that year). Though Miskel initially retired, she re-emerged in 1897 to star in Hoyt’s A Contented Woman, another acclaimed performance.

A Milk White Flag (1894) was his second biggest hit, running 153 performances.

A Runaway Colt (1895) starred baseball player Cap Anson.

In 1898, Caroline Miskel-Hoyt died along with their infant son. Hoyt’s previous wife Flora Walsh had also died young, and his father and business partner had also recently died. The combined grief was too much for Hoyt. He drank excessively and lived recklessly. He acquired syphilis and developed paresis, common among showfolk of the time.  He was briefly committed to an asylum and perished in 1900.

His fame lived on for a time. A Trip to Chinatown was adapted into the Broadway musical A Winsome Widow in 1912. A Milk White Flag became the musical Go To it in 1916. The 1918 musical Ladies First was also based on a Hoyt play. And several of his plays were developed into films by the Selig Polyscope Company in 1917. Today he is known only to old-time theatre buffs.

To learn more more about vaudeville and early show business please read  No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.