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A Western Heiress, A Comedy in Five Acts

Plot Summary | DPP Coincidences
A Western Heiress's Cover

Possessing many more skills than just a canine painter, Cassius Coolidge also wrote the comedy A Western Heiress (along with the comic opera King Gallinipper). The complete script included details about scenery, stage directions, and descriptions of the cast. This play was never produced but was printed in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Doyle of New York auctioned a copy of the original manuscript, along with sixteen watercolor caricatures of the cast in April of 2008. That, plus a couple other Coolidge items, were estimated to sell between $800 and $1200. Its final sale price though, is unknown.

There is A Western Heiress in Town!

Possible Advertisement for A Western Heiress

Plot Summary

I am no critic, so I will forego any discussion of the play's merits. Also, I have difficulty even following scripts (damn you Shakespeare!) so I cannot comment on whether the play would be enjoyable. Nevertheless, the following is a summary of the plot.

The story covers the many suitors trying to court the heiress Miss Lura Vine, an orphan that has inherited close to a million dollars. She is the niece of the upper class Sterling family and is residing at their cottage. Miss Josie Grafton, who is under the Sterling's care, also has many callers. The women spend much of their time discussing possible husbands. In a day when many marriages were still quasi arranged or at most financial agreements, it is interesting to watch the numerous men approach the misses. Lura Vine has so many men calling upon her that she maintains files to keep track of them. Although many are out for personal gain, Mr. Walter Van Ine and Ned Bruce genuinely each love one of the women. The former is "not rich enough" though, and the latter is a starving artist, barely in any social position to approach the rich woman. Despite his affection, Mr. Bruce is a proud man, refusing to accept money from his friend Mr. Ine.

From coincidental paternity revelations to murder plots to eliminate competition for the ladies, many twists transpire trying to woo a mate. Will the women, who have little say in the matter, end up with love or money? Can they be happy with either?

Since my summary is probably inadequate and ends with a gripping cliff hanger, the entire A Western Heiress script [Link to Portable Document Format (PDF) File], including stage directions, is available for reading. If you produce this play on stage, please let me know.

The Original A Western Heiress Manuscript
Original Cover of A Western Heiress

Original Cover

Sample of the casts' caricatures

Sample of the casts' caricatures

DPP Coincidences

Although the two were created about twenty-five years apart, A Western Heiress and Coolidge's poker dogs share some common traits. One of the characters in the play (Mr. Bruce) is a painter and during Act III some of his works enter the plot. One is The Game of Poker, which is a scene of men around a table playing the titled game (sorry, no dogs). It still seems very reminiscent of the famous anthropomorphic paintings though. One hand even holds four aces, which makes an appearance in more than a couple poker dog paintings. At one point someone having delusions even sees a player in the painting take a card from his sleeve. Not quite an ace under the table, but close. Ironically, a character also derides poker as "a great curse." Given Coolidge's later works though, this dialogue must not have been representative of his personal view.

Another interesting tidbit deals with the numerous suitors approaching the heiress. With so many people with which engagements are possible, there is a brief discussion of "breach of promise to marry," just like the later Coolidge painting of the same name.

Finally, Comic Foregrounds (caricatures) are featured many times throughout the play. These devices allow a patron to stick their head through a cutout and appear to be in a completely different scene or another person, after which their photograph was often taken. This item is noteworthy because Coolidge actually invented these Comic Foregrounds. Was this an early version of product placement, with Coolidge trying to drum up a little business, or more innocently, was he just writing about what he knew?

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