On this day in Duluth in 1921, Ruth Draper, billed as “the greatest living dramatic reciter,” performed at First Methodist Church. Llewellyn Totman, Duluth’s teenage promoter, booked Draper and promised that while New York’s Princess Theatre had charged $18 for box seat ticket just weeks earlier, he was charging but $1.65 for reserved seats and $1.10 general admission to her debut performance in the Zenith City. Draper, the newspapers reported, had spent the past two years wowing the audiences of Europe, and London critics “enthusiastically acclaimed her as the most brilliant America that ever came to their shores.” Draper essentially performed a one-woman show of character sketches in skits entitled “A French Dressmaker,” “Three Generations,” “A Class in Greek Poise,” “A Quiet Morning in Bed,” “A Debutante,” “In County Kerry,” “In a Railway Station on the Western Plains,” “Showing the Garden,” and “Vive La France,” performed entirely in French. The Duluth News Tribune marveled over her “marvelous linguistic qualities. She speaks French like a true Parisian, Russian-English like one who has suffered the hardships peculiar to the race, and Irish with a natural brogue.” She also imitated women from Germany, Greece, and the American South. The paper remarked that “Miss Draper’s recital will remain one of the bright spots in the season’s dramatic offerings, which was all the more enjoyable in that Duluth has so few attractions of this nature. Draper was just one year into a 36-year career and, according to one biographer, would have been preferred to have been known as a character actor, not a recitalist. Katherine Hepburn said of her, “My God, how brilliant she was! With her essential, her enormous personal distinction. What fascinated me was to see this enormously distinguished creature turn into a peasant—instantly!” You can learn more about Draper here and listen to her monologues here.
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