October 27, 1945 p. 26
NOW THAT JOHN WILDBERG had successfully pulled his neat little trick of easing the first company of Anna Lucasta out of New York and into a terrific advance sale in Chicago to capacity business and very quietly presented a second company at the Mansfield Theatre without benefit of a public announcement or etxending [sic] invitations to drama critics to evaluate the performance of the actors who took over the chores of the first company, a dangerous precedent is being set.
Arrangements have been made to shuttle company members between New York and Chicago, with the unsuspecting public paying the box office traffic, never knowing what cast they can expect to see performing in the now hit show. Indeed, the exchange policy has already been put into effect.
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THE POPULARITY of the show, as most people understand, is due to the novel idea of presenting an almost total amateur Negro cast in a play which was not written for Negroes, plus the fact that the American Negro Theatre had stimulated all the first line critics to what amounted to rave notices when it produced the play in its little theatre in the basement of the 135 st library, more than a year ago. A Broadway production under such favorable circumstances was not hard to envision. Wildberg had the vision, plus the reported $7,000 (peanuts for any production) with which to produce.
It is not news any longer that through the production of Anna Lucasta, Wildberg has become the impressario [sic] of the budding young Negro aspirants of the theatre, from north to south and east to west. The fact that there now is a focal Broadway point serving as a clearing house for young talent is a good thing but as the boys in the service put it, "that's the stuff you've got to watch."
You've got to watch it because Wildberg, in a not too subtle manner, is lowering the standards of the professional actor. Take the case of Hilda Simms who has played the title role in Lucasta from the time it first saw the light of day in Harlem. Hilda, like the play itself, opened on roadway with the pre-Broadway blessings of every first line critic on every New York daily yet, Hilda to this very moment, even though a new contract was negotiated after a full season of playing, has not received from Wildberg, billing of any sort. Newspaper ads or lobby display. To be sure, the young lady has gotten a great deal of publicity in the press and on the air but it has come solely through outside recognition and not from the producers themselves. The same is true of Fred O'Neal. It stands to reason that just so long as the person playing the title role receives no billing, no one else in the cast will get it.
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AS TO SALARIES, a small increase over Actors' Equity minimum (fifty-seven odd dollars) is a great deal more money than the average newcomer to the stage has ever earned. The opportunity to act and be paid for the privilege of so doing, is a great temptation and Wildberg is using it for all it's worth. If he can't find enough amateurs or the kind he wants in New York, he sends his good man Friday on a southern tour to dazzle students with a bright and glamorous picture of a Broadway career while established competent actors who would demand a salary commensurate with the standards of the business, are given the go-by.
To be sure there are a few people in the casts of both the first and second companies of Lucasta, who are professionals and are paid a fairly decent salary; but because of the policy of no-billing, they have had to forfeit the lobby display billing which most of them have gotten in other stage vehicles.
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IT WOULD BE WELL for the newcomers to realize that once they have played in a Broadway play, they are no longer amateurs and they automatically join the ranks of the professional. They soon learn that a little above maximum salary is far from adequate to cover the necessary expenses involved in being an actor. But more than that, they allow themselves to get lost in the shuffle and when Lucasta has finished its run, they will find they have never gained any identity for themselves. Wildberg has deliberately featured the title of the show and incidentally himself, so that he is free at all times to change actors as he sees fit. He has promised the paying patron but one thing and that is, the play, "Anna lucasta."
The actors have placed themselves in the position of puppets and are subject (beyond their Equity minimum contracts) to the Wildberg monopoly. Just for the record, ANNA LUCASTA with its first company played Broadway for more than one year to capacity audiences, grossing weekly in the neighborhood of $22,000. The American Negro Theatre, which did the spade work and brought the play to Broadway's attention, receives one and a quarter percent of the net intake. The first company is now doing the same kind of business in Chicago with a second company at the Mansfield grossing about the same.