February 18, 1913: Central High Students balk at “Gay Deceiver”

On this day in Duluth in 1913, the senior class of Central High School stopped rehearsals of the play “The Gay Deceiver” because members felt the play, chosen by Professor A. F. M. Custace, “was not one that the Drama League of America would sanction” for high school pupils. Written by John A. Fraser in 1896 and later retitled “The Cheerful Liar,” the play is a “farcical comedy in three acts.” The characters included Hastings Hussel, a justice of the peace and the cheerful liar as well as Flora Bloomer, “a girl who has a good time when she wants to.” In the play, Flora and Randolph Dearborn, a man of low birth right, show up at Hussel’s office to elope. Flora, it turns out, is the daughter of General Boomer, Hussel’s Civil War comrade. Hijinks ensue when the General arrives and Hussel attempts to help the young couple by passing off two townsfolk as his Dearborn’s aristocratic parents. The plot is discovered and the marriage stopped—and then the play starts to get silly, with classic Shakespearean mistaken identity as Flora disguises herself as her cousin Tom to deceive the cheerful deceiver, who seeks to marry her himself, and she and Randolph wind up married in the end. The students told the newspaper that “The Gay Deceiver” was too similar to a play called “The Flirt” in that it contained “nonsensical ideas which might fall upon responsive persons not yet out of their formative year.” Instead they chose the play “Engaged,” described as “a wild riot in funland, ludicrous and melodious love. The kisses are wafted into the atmosphere and recorded in a book.” Many other works carry the title “The Gay Deceiver,” including a short story by Kathleen Norris, a 1907 stage play by Maurice Hennequin and Felix DuQuesnal, a 1926 MGM movie based on the 1907 play, a 1940s homosexual advocate magazine, several novels, and a 1962 episode of the “Andy Griffith Show” called “Floyd, the Gay Deceiver.” The episode had Mayberry’s befuddled barber “posing as a rich man in letters to a wealthy widow and [he] panics when she decides to visit him—but with Andy and Aunt Bea’s help, he successfully plays the rich man.”