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by Laura Frankos

J.P. Morgan, Musical Robber Baron

Also see Laura's Musical Museum (answers are at the bottom of this column)

JP Morgan
J.P. Morgan in 1890
John Pierpont Morgan (1837-1913) was a financier, industrialist, art collector, and philanthropist, a key figure in late nineteenth- and early twentieth-century America. He also is a character in three different musicals, and both he and his namesake son are referenced in many song lyrics, most often as bye-words for rich and successful. The Great White Wayback Machine now takes you on a brief tour of Morgan's career, to see better how history and musicals come together.

Morgan began his career in banking, and was a senior partner in Drexel, Morgan and Company (later J.P. Morgan Company) by 1871. He had a ruthless talent for taking over and restructuring troubled corporations, a practice some called "Morganization." He did this with many railroads, starting in the 1870s, but especially following the Panic of 1893, when a third of the industry went bankrupt. Morgan consolidated rival railroads into interlocking directorates, with a common board of directors. In 1902, Morgan, James J. Hill, J.D. Rockefeller and E.H. Harriman combined their holdings into the powerful Northern Securities trust, effectively monopolizing rail services in the west. President Theodore Roosevelt then brought a suit against the corporation under the Sherman Antitrust Act. Morgan tried privately contacting the president: "If we have done anything wrong, send your man to meet my man, and we'll fix it." Such arrogance didn't sit well with TR, who felt "no private interest {or} company can presume to be ... equal to the government." In 1904, the Supreme Court broke up Northern Securities, setting an important legal precedent as the first successful antitrust suit.

Morgan's other dealings with the government weren't so acrimonious. During the Panic of 1893, the U.S. Treasury's gold reserves had dropped to dangerous levels. Usually well over $100 million, they shrank to a mere $10 million—and the government struggled to maintain the bimetallic standard. President Grover Cleveland secretly met with Wall Street financiers, led by Morgan, to arrange a $65 million loan for gold purchases to restore the treasury. This saved the economy, but contradicted Democratic party policy, leading to a split in the ranks and an overwhelming victory for McKinley and the Republicans in 1896.

The U.S. economy was troubled again in 1907, with a progressively weakening market, and businesses and brokerages failing. A widespread panic began in October with a run on the Knickerbocker Trust Bank. Over the next three weeks, Morgan, the Treasury secretary, and leading financiers met at Morgan's library to hammer out a rescue plan. At one crucial point, Morgan literally locked more than a hundred bank and trust presidents in overnight until they reached a deal—a favorite business practice of his. Morgan's plan included both private loans from the biggest tycoons and a $25 million government bailout fund to keep the banks afloat; his U.S. Steel Company also took over Tennessee Coal and Iron—with Roosevelt's approval—to prevent the collapse of a prominent brokerage firm that had used TC&I stock as collateral.

Despite the cash influx, banks refused to make short-term loans, so the stock market plunge continued. The desperate president of the exchange told Morgan that, without further funds, he would have to close early on October 24, adding to the panic. Morgan quickly gathered the city's bankers and within minutes arranged for a massive loan of nearly $20 million, keeping the exchange open. In the midst of this chaos, he also saved New York City from bankruptcy on November 1, buying $30 million in bonds at the request of the mayor. The Panic of 1907 led to the establishment of the Federal Reserve System in 1913, creating a central bank and means of managing the nation's money supply.

Morgan was a noted art collector in many different media, with a special interest in rare books and manuscripts. In 1902, he directed architect Charles McKim to construct a magnificent building to house his collections. He was the president of the Metropolitan Museum of New York for nine years, and supported many other museums, universities, and cultural institutions. After he died in 1913, his son Jack donated many of the art pieces to the Met and the Wadsworth in Connecticut, but kept the manuscripts and books intact. In 1924, Jack turned the Morgan Library into a public institution.

Morgan as a Character

J.P. Morgan Saves the Nation, a musical with book and lyrics by Jeffrey M. Jones and music by Jonathan Larson, tells the saga of Morgan's life from boyhood to tycoon. The show had a brief run in 1995, performed outdoors on the steps of the Federal Hall National Memorial, on Wall Street itself. Heavily allegorical, it features characters including Uncle Sam and Nineteenth-Century Capitalism, as well as a chorus of girls festooned with dollar bills. Jones' book covers Morgan's rise to power in exhaustive detail, climaxing with the bailout engineered during the Panic of 1907. Ben Brantley's review praised Larson's music, which featured rock and rap, as well as pastiches of John Philip Sousa and ragtime, but said the show seemed like "a revue put together by an earnest team of Marxist economics students." In light of that comment, it's interesting to note that Brecht modeled Pierpont Mauler, the meat tycoon, in Saint Joan of the Stockyards, on Morgan. In Happy End, the musical Brecht wrote with Kurt Weill and Elisabeth Hauptman, Morgan is depicted in a stained-glass window with Henry Ford and John D. Rockefeller, fitting "saints" for those who worship the almighty dollar.

Morgan is a supporting character in 1987's Teddy and Alice (book by Jerome Alden, lyrics by Hal Hackady, music by John Philip Sousa, with original music by Richard Kapp). The show focuses on the relationship between Theodore Roosevelt and his impetuous daughter, Alice, played out against the backdrop of the political scene. For dramatic purposes, Alden fiddles with the facts. Morgan and others, including fellow tycoon E. H. Harriman, are shown advising Roosevelt, who had become president after McKinley's assassination, not to run in 1904. They disapprove of his conservation programs, his efforts in Panama, and note that he's only in office because of fate. Teddy counters that he's proud to be a radical, and vows to fight on. Act one climaxes with Teddy clinching the nomination at the Republican convention. In fact, Roosevelt's only possible competitor, Senator Mark Hanna of Ohio, had died early in 1904; after that, the nomination was never in doubt. Morgan, Harriman, and other executives donated over $2 million to the campaign, despite TR's breaking up Northern Securities. (Always one to hedge his bets, Morgan also contributed to Democratic candidate Alton Parker.) Morgan remained on decent terms with Roosevelt, even dining with him, as long as he knew the president wasn't after U.S. Steel, then the largest corporation in the world. Roosevelt, though known to history as a "trust-buster," thought business monopolies could work efficiently, provided they were regulated. Taft broke up more trusts than Roosevelt. Finally, while many opposed Roosevelt's conservation policies, E.H. Harriman wasn't one of them. Harriman, an avid naturalist, sponsored and went on an Alaskan expedition in 1899, and was eulogized by John Muir.

In act two, the atmosphere on election eve is tense, and it appears from the early returns that Teddy is losing. Morgan and the other bigwigs grouse that Teddy has ignored their advice. The president stomps out and has a poignant flashback of his first wife, who has been haunting him, presumably for years and certainly for the duration of the musical. He realizes he must let go of the past, just as word arrives that he's won in a landslide. In real history, Roosevelt won by over 2 1/2 million votes, the largest margin of victory up to that time. Parker carried the South, as Democrats did, but nothing more. Unless the early returns mentioned in the text were strictly from the South, there's no way Teddy could be seen as losing the election.

Morgan is a minor character in Ragtime (1988, book by Terrence McNally, lyrics by Lynn Ahrens, music by Stephen Flaherty). He and industrialist Henry Ford represent the pinnacle of wealth and society at the start of the twentieth century. They introduce themselves in "Prologue," and give a nod to the late nineteenth century concept of Social Darwinism:

Morgan:  "Certain men make a country great."
Ford:  "They can't help it."
Morgan:  "At the very apex of the American pyramid"
Ford:  "That's the very tip-top!"
Morgan:  "Like Pharaohs incarnate, stood J. P. Morgan"
Ford:  "And Henry Ford"!
Morgan:  "All men are born equal."
Ford:  "But the cream rises to the top!"

Morgan next appears in "Success," a number designed to spur Tateh and the other immigrants to work hard in their new home:

Morgan:  "I'm J.P. Morgan, my friends, the wealthiest man on this earth!"
Immigrants:  "Success!"
Morgan:  "You immigrants, look up to me, and you'll see what money is worth!"
Immigrants:  "Success!"
Morgan:  "One day, your immigrant sweat might get you the whole U.S.!"

Late in the show, Coalhouse Walker takes the Morgan Library by force, and threatens to burn its treasures, protesting Sarah's murder at the hands of the police. Morgan wails to the district attorney in "Look What You've Done":

Morgan:  "Four Shakespeare folios! A Gutenberg Bible on vellum! The treasures of civilization are at stake! You've got to do something!"

As noted above, Morgan specialized in rare books and manuscripts. He owned two other Gutenberg Bibles, printed on paper; the vellum copy of 1455 is now available online. Walker's commandeering the Library is fictional, but I find myself wondering if novelist E.I. Doctorow and librettist McNally knew of Morgan's tactic of locking people in his library until they concluded a deal.

Morgan in Lyrics

Talented songwriters like Porter, Berlin, and Brecht could work Rockefeller or Vanderbilt or Carnegie into a lyric when they needed a reference for a rich man. But their go-to name was always Morgan. Here are some examples:

George M. Cohan had a song in one of his earliest musicals, Running for Office (1903), titled "If Only I Were Mr. Morgan." He continued pondering about the financier in another show.

I wonder what he'd think of Mr. Morgan,
And how he'd like political machines.
  -- "If Washington Should Come To Life," George Washington, Jr. (1906, George M. Cohan)

The Morgans and the Whitneys and other big shots,
Change dollars into jitneys and drop them in the slots.
  --"Lunching at the Automat," Face the Music (1932, Irving Berlin)
Here Berlin imagines down-on-their-luck millionaires dining at the Automat. Two years later, Porter would also rhyme Whitneys (a prominent banking family) and jitneys (slang for nickels or cheap public transit) in "Anything Goes." But not Morgan.

Because of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Monroe,
Longfellow, Whittier, Bryant and Poe,
Pershing and Lindbergh and Morgan and Mellon,
And Amos and Andy, too.
  -- "I Still Love the Red, White and Blue," The Gay Divorce (1932, Cole Porter)

Let's tear down the house of Morgan.
  --"Union Square," Let 'Em Eat Cake (1933, music by George Gershwin, lyrics by Ira Gershwin)

To be as rich as Morgan
Is my one ambition.
  -- "Blue Moon," (1934, music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart) I'm kind of cheating to include this, since it was originally written for a movie, then MGM had Hart rewrite the lyrics, turning it into a standard. But it has been heard on Broadway, in both The 1940s Radio Hour and in the revue, Rodgers and Hart.

When J.P. Morgan bows, I just nod.
  --"I Can't Get Started," Ziegfeld Follies of 1936 (music by Vernon Duke, lyrics by Ira Gershwin)

All the best dictators do it,
Millionaires keep steppin' to it,
The 400 love to sing it,
Ford and Morgan swing it.
  -- "Doin' the Reactionary," Pins and Needles (1937, Harold Rome)

If you meet J.P. Morgan while playing golf
With the Long Island banking set,
Don't greet him by tearing your girdle off.
It ain't etiquette.
  --"It Ain't Etiquette," DuBarry Was a Lady (1939, Cole Porter)

J.P. Morgan works weekends.
I got rich in a minute.
  --"A Moment With You," Saturday Night (1954, Stephen Sondheim)

They love to hear the music of the organ,
They love to hear the voices of the choir.
When all the while it's really J.P. Morgan
Who sets them on fire.
  -- "Dr. Brock," Tenderloin (1960, music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick) Dr. Brock, the reforming 1890s minister, complains about his parishioners' secular interests.

Vanderbilt kowtows to us,
J.P. Morgan scrapes and bows to us.
  --"We've Got Elegance," Hello, Dolly! (1964, Jerry Herman)

See Lea Graff, the German midget,
Who sat upon J.P. Morgan's lap.
  --"Lucky Day Overture," The Black Rider (1993, Tom Waits) This lyric has a story behind it. Lya Graf (sic) was a German Jewish midget who performed with Ringling Brothers in the twenties and thirties. In 1933, the circus was in Washington at the same time as the Senate Banking Committee was investigating J.P. Morgan, Jr., for financial practices that helped bring about the Depression. The press photographers were on hand when the circus press agent came by with Graf and another midget, hoping for some publicity. They met one of Morgan's partners, and then the tycoon himself. Someone hoisted Graf, whose was 32 despite her childish features, onto Morgan's lap, and the image became instantly famous, the more so because Morgan loathed being photographed. Irving Berlin wrote a song from Graf's point of view for his revue As Thousands Cheer, in which all the numbers were based on items found in a newspaper, but it was cut in Philadelphia.

Here are two references to Morgan's firms:

Remarkable U.S. Steel
Is splitting shares at five to four.
Monopoly makes the industry
Far better than before.
  --"What a Remarkable Age This Is," Titanic (1997, Maury Yeston)
The millionaires in First Class sing this line, referring to Morgan's U.S. Steel, the world's first billion dollar corporation. While Roosevelt had agreed not to bust Morgan's monopoly, Taft tried and failed in 1911. The Titanic passengers would have been well aware of that. Indeed, Yeston and librettist Peter Stone nearly had Morgan as a character; the tycoon owned a shipping combine, of which White Star Line (the Titanic's owner) was a part. He had a suite and his own promenade deck reserved for the maiden voyage, but had to cancel at the last minute.

Upper class!
Upper crust!
Standard Oil and Morgan Trust!
  --"Marry Well," Grey Gardens (2006, music by Scott Frankel, lyrics by Michael Korie)
Col. Bouvier and his relatives sing about good investments.

Finally, no discussion of John Pierpont Morgan in musical theatre history would be complete without mentioning the ultimate rags-to-riches character, J. Pierpont Finch of How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961, book by Abe Burrows, Jack Weinstock, Willie Gilbert, songs by Frank Loesser). With a name like that, he couldn't help making it to the top.

And for those of you who were wondering about the provenance of certain artifacts listed in last column's "Musical Theatre Museum," here are the details:

1. Venus—One Touch of Venus (1943)
2. Adonis—Adonis (1884)
3. nude male bronze—The Light in the Piazza (2005) "That statue is completely naked!"
4. female dancer by Adzinidzinadze—Can-Can (1953)
5. Confederate general—L'il Abner (1956) This, of course, is Jubilation T. Cornpone.
6. Confederate infantryman—Caroline, Or Change (2004)
7. paintings of Priam Farll—Darling of the Day (1968)
8. Bathers at Asnières—Sunday in the Park with George (1984)
9. British threepence—Half a Sixpence (1965)
10. Roman denarius—The Rothschilds (1970) Meyer gets the crowd to buy his rare coins by concocting stories about them.
11. 1907 buffalo nickel—Ragtime (1998) Tateh's coin becomes the name of his film company. Ragtime doesn't have a strict chronology, so I admit to picking 1907 as a compromise date.
12. 1937 buffalo nickel—The Cradle Will Rock (1937) This is scuffed because it was under a foot.
13. penny from the 1980s—Avenue Q (2003) This is Princeton's lucky coin from the year he was born, which is dented because Kate threw it off the Empire State, where it hit Lucy.
14. British coin, 1947—Brigadoon (1947) When Tommy tries to buy milk in MacConnachy Square, the natives peer in amazement at the coin, exclaiming over the date, but then tell him his money's nae guid.
15. 1853 gold nugget—Paint Your Wagon (1951) Contrary to popular belief, this show is not about the famous California gold rush of 1848, but one slightly later.
16. 1890s Klondike gold nugget—Foxy (1962) This flop retelling of Volpone reset it in the Klondike gold rush.
17. 1890s Klondike gold nugget—Road Show(2008) Sondheim and Lapine had the Mizner brothers out in Alaska, too; an earlier version of the show was called Gold.
18. Roman ring with geese—A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1962) This ring of Erronius' helps identify the missing members of his family.
19. boar's tooth necklace—South Pacific (1949) Luther Billis knows you could get these on Bali Hai.
20. American locket—Annie (1977) Annie hopes to find her family through this locket.
21. Victorian gold locket—Oliver!(1963) This locket holds the key to the orphan's identity.
22. opal pendant—A Little Night Music (1973) Well, maybe the curator of the museum will take some criticism for including this artifact, since it's not specifically called for in the book or lyrics, though Madame Armfeldt certain remembers getting it! Perhaps we should rummage through Cunegonde's collection instead.
23. amethyst tie-pin—The Most Happy Fella (1956) Tony leaves this for his favorite waitress.
24. ruby slippers—A Day in Hollywood, A Night in the Ukraine (1980) The Smithsonian is probably wondering how the Musical Theatre Museum got these, but they (and other show biz shoes) were featured in the "Famous Feet" number.
25. matching bouffant wigs—Dreamgirls (1981) The Dreamettes wore these in their first big competition, and they decided to put them on backwards after seeing another group with the same wigs.
26. Funny Boy poster—The Producers (2001) This poster, advertising one of Max's shows, decorates the wall of his office.
27. assortment of Playbills—{title of show}(2008)
28. colored handbill of Kean—Kean (1961) More expensive than the plain ones!
29. actor's contract—On the Twentieth Century (1978) This is the one Oscar Jaffe tried to get Lily Garland to sign.
30. Shrew poster—Kiss Me, Kate (1948)
31. Dodgers jersey—The First (1981) Baseball fans will recognize the number as Jackie Robinson's.
32. Senator's jersey—Damn Yankees (1955)
33. pennants from Tait College—Good News (1927)
34. Virginia resolution—1776 (1969) This is the resolution favoring independence that Richard Henry Lee brought to the Continental Congress, leading to the creation of the Declaration of Independence.
35. alliance between USA and France—Ben Franklin in Paris (1964) Franklin helped secure France's support, without which the State might not have succeeded in the Revolutionary War.
36. trade agreement with Japan—Pacific Overtures (1976)
37. 1860s Italian correspondence—Passion (1994)
38. 1930s Hungarian "lonely hearts" letters—She Loves Me (1963)
39. Weill-Lenya correspondence—LoveMusik (2007)
40. 1920s bugle—Mame (1966)
41. 1912 cornet—The Music Man (1957)
42. 1920s trumpet—Gypsy (1959) As played by Mazeppa.
43. Lichtenburg ocarina—Call Me Madam (1950)
44. Chinese drum—Flower Drum Song (1958)
45. French music box—The Phantom of the Opera (1988) Somehow, the Museum acquired this from a certain French aristocratic family.
46. opium pipe—The Mystery of Edwin Drood (1985
) 47. silver-handled razors—Sweeney Todd (1978)
48. Spanish wash basin—Man of La Mancha (1965)
49. British gramophone—My Fair Lady (1956) The Museum also has a number of phonetic recording from Professor Higgins' laboratory in its storage.
50. Russian sewing machine—Fiddler on the Roof (1964) Motel's sewing machine was quite revolutionary for its time.
51. laughing doll—Flahooley (1951)
52. toy piano—They're Playing Our Song (1979) Legend has it that composer Vernon Gersch wrote one of his hit songs on this piano.
53. gag toys—Hairspray (2002) Some patrons may feel whoopee cushions and the like do not belong in a museum, but they do reflect certain aspects of popular culture.
54. earthenware saucer—Porgy and Bess (1935) In the American South, such saucers were sometimes used to collect funds to help pay for funeral expenses.
55. four-poster bed—I Do! I Do! (1966) This bed includes a charming embroidered pillow.
56. bottle of patent medicine—Oklahoma! (1943) Traveling peddlers often got gullible customers to buy such potions with wild promises of the "medicine's" effects.
57. woman's compact—Promises, Promises (1968)
58. pair of dice—Guys and Dolls (1950)
59. Sleep-Tite Pajamas—The Pajama Game (1954)
60. Allure Magazine—Lady in the Dark (1941) Liza Elliott was the noted editor of this acclaimed magazine. The Museum possesses some rare mock-ups of unused covers.
61. 1930s typewriter—Wonderful Town (1954) Ruth Sherwood said the "W" key broke while she wrote her thesis on Walt Whitman.
62. 1940s typewriter—City of Angels (1989) Mystery writer Stine used this to write some of his best hard-boiled detective novels. It's not sure if the keys broke through use or if Stine broke them on purpose to set up an alibi for himself.
63. 1960s typewriters—How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying (1961) As used by secretaries at World Wide Wickets.
64. Wintergreen campaign materials—Of Thee I Sing (1931)
65. Fiorello handbills—Fiorello! (1959)
66. Egyptian tomb—Aida (2000)

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