One of the patrons of opening night was P. G. Wodehouse
with whom Kern had collaborated in England. Kern, Bolton
and Wodehouse had dinner that evening and the results were
a collaboration that turned out several more plays with
the same style; lyrics that contribute to the action, and
humor based on character and situation rather than being
the additional dialogue of supporting characters. In
1917, Have a Heart, Oh, Boy!, Leave It to
Jane, and a rather forgettable revue, Miss
1917, opened in Broadway theaters from this fortunate
combination of talent.
In 1915, the Germans published in American papers that they were serious in their threat to incorporate their new "submarine" technology in their hostilities in Europe, and Americans were advised not to travel on ships with foreign registries. Charles Frohman, in response to a summons by James Barrie, had booked passage to London. John Drew pleaded with Frohman not to go while England was at war, stating that if Frohman got himself blown out of the water, Drew would never forgive him. Frohman went.
After a rather uneventful crossing, Frohman's ship, the Lusitania was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland. The owners of the Lusitania had learned from the Titanic disaster and there was enough life preserving equipment on board for all the passengers. Unfortunately, panic among the understaffed and poorly trained crew created another disaster. Frohman helped the actress, Rita Jolivet with her life jacket and asked, "Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure in life", a quote from a Barrie play. Miss Jolivet survived, Frohman did not. Perhaps at the end of his life, the star maker, who was so shy that he avoided his own employees on the street, was his own greatest star.
Marlowe and Sothern were living and performing in England when the war began, as was Elsie Janis. They returned to the U.S. and immediately began a campaign to raise American awareness to the "European" conflict and raise money for the British Red Cross.
In 1917, America entered the War, and Broadway did its part too. Surely, the Ziegfeld Girls did their part in splendid costumes capturing the essence and colors of the American Flag, but Broadway turned true efforts in increasing War awareness and morale. Food drives were established with Broadway stars and starlets promising whole crops. Women were joining the Women's War Relief, folding bandages and making clothing. Julia Marlowe made recruitment speeches from an open automobile. Cohan's chorus girls donned overalls and learned to drive trucks to free men for the draft.
Elsie Janis, who had the archetype of all stage mothers, had been wowing American audiences since the age of 10, when, with perfectly accented mimicry, she was covering the tunes of French performer, Anna Held. (Held was Ziegfeld's first wife and the star of the first Follies.) Elsie had appeared on the English stage a number of times and returned to England to entertain troops with E. H. Sothern. Sothern had accepted a commission from the Y.M.C.A. to entertain troops and observe troop morale. Needless to say, morale improved greatly with the introduction of the shows. On his return, Sothern entered into an agreement with Winthrop Ames and George M. to establish the "Over There League", the forerunner of the USO.
Broadway stars began selling Liberty Bonds from the stage, street corners, automobiles and the steps of the New York Public Library. Up and coming starlet Elsie Ferguson is reputed to have sold $85,000.00 worth of Bonds in less than an hour.
When the American Red Cross requested aide, a "star tour" was organized. Mrs. Fiske, Laurette Taylor, George M., James Hackett, and DeWolfe Hopper were joined by eleven other top billing performers. They played 23 performances in 17 cities in 21 days, and turned over a nifty $686,000.00 to the Red Cross. No skimming either, the performers appeared free and paid their own transportation and expenses. Theater managers donated space and time in their halls, and hotels generously refused to bill the performers.
A "Broadway Bazaar" at the Grand Central Palace had celebrities at each counter and a witness to the event reports that the fickleness of Broadway's Stage Door Johnnies is ever constant. Mrs. Lily Langtry's booth was rather poorly attended, while they stumbled over themselves and each other to attend the tables of Helen Hayes, Katherine Cornell, Lynn Fontanne, Jeanne Eagels, and Ivy Troutman.
Irving Berlin, who had enlisted early in 1917, was commissioned to write entertainment for the Army. The result was, Yip, Yip, Yaphank, a show with an entirely military cast. Presented on Broadway in 1918, even the chorus "girls" were soldiers. If "Over There" set the tone for America's participation in the War, then "Oh How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning," from Yip, Yip, Yaphank, set the tone for every doughboy who enlisted.
Another Broadway contribution to the war effort was the bust of Miss Kay Laurell. In the Ziegfeld Follies of 1917, a tableau by Ben Ali Hagan had Miss Laurell posed before crossed American and French flags in the fatigue uniform of a French soldier, blouse torn by some previously dispatched vicious German, exposing one reportedly magnificent breast. Word was that the French government ordered 200,000 copies of a photo of Miss Laurell's portrayal to use in an enlistment campaign. There is a suspicion that the word came from Ziegfeld's publicity people.
In the Follies of 1918, on a card headlining Will Rogers, W. C. Fields, Marilyn Miller, Eddie Cantor, etc., Miss Laurell closed the first act with another Ben Ali Hagan tableau. In this pyramidal staging, every heart- rending image possible was frozen for those fleeting seconds in the stage lights. There were French waifs, (female of course) Red Cross nurses and medical aides. French and American soldiers were killing, or being killed by, murderous Huns. At the top of the stage, posed Miss Laurell, dressed as the Spirit of France, with her breast once more exposed. Surrounding her, but lower, of course, was a bevy of beautiful ladies, slightly more modestly attired, holding the flags of the Allied Nations. For some at least, in an era when the sight of a well-turned ankle could set a man's heart on fire, war was a titillating experience.
Even musical theater involved itself with the institutions which developed with War. Going Up about love and aviation opened on Christmas Night of 1917. Based on a 1910 play called, The Aviator the play had new significance to America during the War. With music by the new composer Louis Hirsh and lyrics by Otto Harbach, Going Up was produced by the team of Cohan and Harris. The play ran for 351 performances followed by a long road tour and was even a bigger hit in London the following year.