When one watches Jimmy Cagney's performance as George M. Cohan in "Yankee Doodle Dandy", the emphasis is on his abilities as a stage performer and song writer and dancer. There is some discussion of his playwriting - in particular his 1917 flop "Popularity". One gets the impression that while he was good at musical shows of his day ("Little Johnny Jones", "Forty-Five Minutes From Broadway") he flopped as a straight dramatist. This is not really true (despite sneers by critics like Brooks Atkinson). Cohan loved the stage business of all sorts associated with melodrama, but he loved to lampoon it in his plays. Between 1913 and 1924 he wrote several plays that were well received, and are occasionally revived. While technically melodramas, they actually are comedies. The best known of these are "The Tavern" and "Seven Keys To Baldpate".
"Seven Keys To Baldpate" was made into movies several times in the silent period as well as up to 1947, and even made into television dramas occasionally in the early days of that medium. It is not a totally original work. Earl Derr Biggers (the creator, later, of Charlie Chan) wrote the novel "Seven Keys To Baldpate" in 1913, and it was so popular that Cohan made his drama version, but he extended the dizzying plot a little.
William Hallowan Macgee (here Fred Gwynne) is a writer with a deadline for a publisher. He goes to a friend's cabin called Baldpate to work on his manuscript. He begins to work on the manuscript, but keeps getting interrupted, as it turns out that he is not the only person with a key to the cabin. Soon a young woman (Jayne Meadows), a crooked Mayor (Howard St. John), and assorted strange and unsavory types are congregating to the cabin. Not only are they disturbing the quiet that Macgee needs, but they are apparently looking for something of value. Macgee learns that there is a large sum of stolen money in the cabin that everyone wants to get their hands on. His problems are trying to locate the money himself, assist the young woman, and keep from getting bumped off.
Actually (although the play was cut to fit the hour long productions of "The DuPont Show of the Week" format) it was quite entertaining from what I recall of it. But the best part was towards the end - and it is referred to in the "Summary Line" above. It seems that Gwynne was at the start of his rise to television stardom in CAR 54, WHERE ARE YOU?, as Police Officer Francis Muldoon. Well, in this production the local Chief of Police turns up (naturally he too has a key to the cabin) and the role is played by Gwynne's television partner Joe E. Ross. Ross had very little to do, but makes the most of it. He makes a phone call, supposedly (Gwynne thinks) to get police help in rounding up the Mayor and his cohorts. Instead, holding onto the phone and the stolen money, we hear Ross start informing his wife to get their car over because they are headed for Montreal! When the wife apparently has problems with understanding this name Ross turns to Gwynne and asks him how to spell Montreal. Gwynne is slightly confused and starts to spell it, when he realizes that Ross is planning to flee with the cash and has a fit.
It was a pleasant production, and I wonder if it still exists anywhere. In any case, it showed that Cohan's dramatic works could still be quite successfully produced for public entertainment purposes. By the way, Cohan's dramatic extension of the plot - which lets the audience into what it was all really about - was kept in the end of this production.
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