SHAW, George Bernard (1856-1950). Typescript with autograph emendations of his essay, 'Beerbohm Tree from the point of view of the playwright', n.p., December 1919, annotated at head 'Proof to G. Bernard Shaw 10 Adelphi Terrace W.C.2.' and 'Please follow copy exactly', 20 pages, 4to; green roan-backed slip case. Provenance: purchased from Scribners, New York, 6 November 1945, $23.
A FINE SHAVIAN TRIBUTE-THROUGH-CONDEMNATION to the actor-manager of the first production of Pygmalion. His task, he makes clear from the start, is 'a duty of such delicacy that it is quite impossible to be delicate about it at all: one must confess blankly at the outset that Tree was the despair of authors'. Shaw's theme is the way in which Beerbohm Tree saw the author as merely 'a literary scaffold on which to exhibit his own creations.… The author, whether Shakespear [sic] or Shaw, was a lame dog to be helped over the stile by the ingenuity and inventiveness of the actor-producer'. Shaw enlarges at length on Tree's chaotic character: 'he had as little [foresight and consideration] as a man can have without being run over in the street', to the extent that he could not even remember the lines of any part in the play which was not his own -- 'even the longest run did not mitigate his surprise when they recurred'. Shaw illustrates this with an example from the first production of Pygmalion, the moment when 'the heroine, in a rage, throws the hero's slippers in his face': unfortunately, 'Mrs Patrick Campbell was very dexterous, very strong and a dead shot' and Tree's astonishment at this 'unprovoked and brutal assault' was such that the rehearsal ground to a halt. Holding this aspect of his subject in view, Shaw considers the extraordinary profits to be made in the West End theatre of his day, even without the slightest business knowledge: he describes Tree as forever surrounded by a sort of court, with no clear indication of any individual's role or status: 'I very soon gave up all expectation of being treated otherwise than as a friend who had dropped in', and consequently Shaw describes his taking it upon himself to put together a 'sort of production' on his own. In earnest, Shaw urges the need for 'a school of acting, or at least a tradition', in order to obviate the need for such eccentrics as Tree, whose effects were chiefly enlargements upon his own personality - a point which the author emphasises with examples drawn from Tree's Shakespearian productions, concluding 'What Tree could do was always entertaining in some way or other. But, for better for worse, it was hardly ever what the author meant him to do'. The only cure for his disease would have been 'author-actor-managership', in the style of Molière: 'What did he care for Higgins or Hamlet? his real objective was his amazing self'.
Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree (1853-1917) was the great Edwardian actor-manager, and the natural heir to Sir Henry Irving. His collaboration with Shaw on Pygmalion (1914) was an exception in his late career, when he was concentrating on establishing himself as a tragedian. Shaw's tribute was published in Herbert Beerbohm Tree: Some Memories of Him and His Art, collected by Max Beerbohm, London .