George Middleton and Fola La Follette

Born this day, playwright George Middleton (1880-1967).

Was he a relative of the great Jacobean playwright? I’d assert that it’s more likely than not, though the cautious may feel free to disregard the speculation. Middleton was from that oddly fertile literary town of Paterson, New Jersey. He attended Columbia, and upon graduation was immediately produced on Broadway when he and a collaborator co-adapted a novel called The Cavalier. The 1902 production starred Julia Marlowe. His biggest stage successes were plays he co-wrote with Guy Bolton, including Polly with a Past (1917-18), which put Ina Claire on the map, and Adam and Eva (1919-20). Middleton was President of The Dramatists Guild for two years.

Was he a relative of New Jersey Congressman George Middleton? Dunno, but he was definitely the husband of actress Flora Dodge “Fola” La Follette (1882-1970), daughter of famous progressive Wisconsin Senator and Governor Fighting Bob La Follette and suffragette Bella Case. In many ways Fola was as notable and accomplished as her husband, if not more so. She edited her father’s magazine, authored his biography, appeared on Broadway in Percy Mackaye’s The Scarecrow (1911), and was above all a renowned feminist and labor activist.

Both Middleton and La Follette had a hand in vaudeville; the former’s one act plays were presented there, and the latter acted in shorts plays on the circuits. She also toured the country giving suffrage speeches. That campaign included vaudeville venues like Hammerstein’s Victoria. (There was another George Middleton associated with vaudeville, partnered with C.E. Kohl. Apparently unrelated).

Middleton and La Follette were married in 1911 and were among the many greats known by our friend Mari Lyn Henry, who has made them among the many subjects treated by her work in progress. Thanks to her for putting them on my radar!

For more on show business history, please see No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous.