C.M.S. McLellan: Rang in “The Belle of New York”

Today a post in honor of an important man in Broadway/ musical comedy history, playwright and lyricist C.M.S. McLellan (Charles Morton Stewart McLellan, 1865-1916), who often wrote under the pseudonym Hugh Morton.

Originally from Bath, Maine, McLellan’s family was connected to shipping, and we can make the natural assumption that the stage name arose out of the common practice of wanting to create a buffer between a socially prominent family and the “embarrassment” of involvement with the stage. It was tempting to think these brothers might be related to the Civil War General/Mayor of New York and his distinguished family, who also had roots in New England, but they spelled it “McClellan”, with an extra C.

Charles McLellan was raised largely in Boston and initially went into journalism, eventually rising to the editorship of a society gossip sheet called Town Topics. From the late 1890s through the end of his life he contributed to around two dozen stage shows, most of them of a frothy nature, many of them adapted from hit French farces.

McLellan’s first success The Belle of New York (1898) enjoyed popular success for over 50 years. The original Broadway production starred Dan Daly, Harry Davenport, Edna May, Phyllis Rankin, and Paula Edwardes. It concerns a virtuous young girl who masquerades as a wild one in order to win the heart of a wayward rich boy. Part of the show is set at Narragansett Casino, Rhode Island, a local landmark in the area where I grew up. While it played a modest run of a couple months on Broadway, its London production ran for nearly 700 performances, which at the time was close to being the record. McLellan’s great success in London caused him to move there, although he would continue to have his plays produced on Broadway as well as the west End.

The Belle of New York played all over the globe in constant revivals for decades. There was a posthumous 1919 silent film version starring Marion Davies. In 1921 it was revived on Broadway in a revamped version called The Whirl of New York, featuring J. Harold Murray and Louis Mann, et al. The best known version nowadays is undoubtedly the 1952 film starring Fred Astaire and Vera-Ellen, which replaced the songs with new ones by Johnny Mercer and Harry Warren. It remained popular with amateur groups for another quarter century.

Some of his other shows:

The Telephone Girl (1897) starred husband-wife Louis Mann and Clara Lipman, and future Chaplin supporting player Henry Bergman. Mabel Hite later toured in the show. None of the numerous silent movies of the same title seemed to be based on McLellan’s version, a farce about a telephone operator who overhears a conversation she shouldn’t.

The Girl from Up There (1900) starred Charles T. Aldrich, Harry Davenport, Virginia Earle, Otis Harlan, Harry Kelly, Edna May, and the team of Dave Montgomery and Fred Stone.

Adele Ritchie starred as the title character in Glittering Gloria (1904), which also featured Phyllis Rankin.

The drama Leah Kleschna (1905) was McLellan’s second most produced play. The original production ran for about six months and starred Minnie Maddern Fiske, William B. Mack, and George Arliss. A 1913 movie version was the first of McLellan’s plays to make it to the screen, and the only one he experienced during his lifetime. Subsequent remakes were produced in 1918 and 1924. 1924 was also the year of the play’s latest Broadway revival, with starred Helen Gahagan, Lowell Sherman, William Haversham, and Arnold Daly.

The Shirkers (1907): Holbrook Blinn, Helen Ware, Arnold Daly, Margaret Wycherly, Annie Yeamans.

The Pink Lady (1911) made a star out of Hazel Dawn and played for nearly a year. Harry and Olive Depp were also in the original production. The hit song from that show “My Beautiful Lady” was later used in the films Two Weeks with Love (1950) and The Actress (1953).

And numerous other shows, the last of which was Around the Map (1915).

McLellan’s brother, confusingly named George B. McLellan, was an important Broadway manager and producer who was married to Pauline Hall.

For more on show business history please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous; for more on early film history, read Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube.