"every one who has a spare
afternoon and some odd change
in his pocket is hereby exhorted
to go to the Cort at 2:30 o'clock
and there sit at the feet of the
stage children while they repeat
their entrancing performance of
'Merton of the Movies.'"
The New York Herald, 1923
Children Fill in for Broadway Stars
With the success of "Daddy Long Legs" in 1915, PCS students were gaining attention for their all-children productions of popular Broadway shows ("Quality Street," 1919; "Prince and the Pauper," 1921). Thanks to the generosity of producers who leant the theatres and the settings and playwrights who waived their royalities, PCS students took on all the roles in hit Broadway shows and gave benefit performances for the aid of Professional Children's School.
In 1923, PCS student Billy Janney was a child actor appearing on Broadway in "Merton of the Movies" at the Cort Theatre. The comedy lampooned the silent movie industry and Billy thought it would be great fun if he and his fellow students at PCS took over all of the roles at a benefit performance. He brought the idea to the PCS Board of Directors and the show's producers who readily agreed. Billy landed the title role and was coached on his performance by Glenn Hunter, the real star of the show (see photo below). The rest of the cast joined in coaching the students in their roles and stage manager Albert Cowles directed the production.
The April 12th performance was so successful that a second performance was added on April 26th. Alexander Woolcott wrote that morning in The New York Herald, "every one who has a spare afternoon and some odd change in his pocket is hereby exhorted to go to the Cort at 2:30 o'clock and there sit at the feet of the stage children while they repeat their entrancing performance of 'Merton of the Movies.'"
Once again, society turned out in support and the audience included Mrs. August Belmont, Mrs. Andrew Carnegie, Mrs. Charles Dana Gibson, Mrs. John Henry Harkness, Mrs. Otto Kahn, Miss Beatrice Pratt, Mrs. Percy Rockefeller, Mrs. Otis Skinner and "numerous others of equal social importance." One of the New York papers reported "the leading grown-up players sat in the audience positively absorbed in watching their work duplicated before their eyes." Columnist Mary Margaret McBride wrote that, "an audience composed of critics and first-nighters nearly stopped the show with laughter and expressed themselves at the final curtain in what the reviews always call 'an ovation'". - John Tucker