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"The world needed John Brown and John Brown came, and time will do him justice." Frederick Douglass (1886)

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Friday, July 05, 2019

"Marching Song"--Orson Welles' 1932 John Brown Play to be Published This Summer

During the summer of 1932, 17-year-old Orson Welles, with the assistance of his mentor and lifelong friend Roger Hill, wrote a drama about anti-slavery fighter John Brown (1800-1859). The authors could not interest any New York theaters in staging their work at the time. As a result, Welles and Hill were obliged, in Frederick Engels’ phrase, to abandon “the manuscript to the gnawing criticism of the mice.” The play has received one production, consisting of a few performances, at the Todd School for Boys in Woodstock, Illinois, where Hill was the headmaster, in 1950. Fortunately, Roger Hill’s grandson Todd Tarbox has now edited the play and it will be published by Rowman & Littlefield in August. This is a significant cultural event. Marching Song is an important historical drama. 
The drama consists of eleven scenes, set in Concord, Massachusetts; Pine City, Kansas; an estate in Virginia; a farm in Maryland that served as Brown’s headquarters; and, finally, Harpers Ferry—the scene of Brown’s fateful raid—and Charles Town—where the great abolitionist was hanged—both in what was then Virginia (now West Virginia). The action takes place from some time in 1857 to December 1859, on the eve of the Civil War. 
At the age of 25 Orson Welles co-wrote, directed, and starred in Citizen Kane, widely regarded as one of the greatest films of all time. But this was not the first achievement in the young artist’s career. A few years earlier he terrorized America with his radio broadcast of War of the Worlds. And even before he conquered the airwaves, Welles had made a name for himself in New York theatre, with his dynamic stagings of Shakespeare classics and the politically charged musical The Cradle Will Rock. But before all of these there was Marching Song—a play about abolitionist John Brown—that Welles had co-written at the age of 17. While attending the Todd School for Boys, Welles collaborated with Roger Hill, the schoolmaster at Todd, to produce this full-length drama.  
Marching Song: A Play is a work by one of America’s true geniuses at an early stage of his creative growth. Steeped in historical detail, the play chronicles Brown’s fight against slavery, his raid on Harper’s Ferry, his capture, his conviction for treason, and his execution. In addition to the entire text of the play, this volume features a biographical sketch of Welles and Hill—written by Hill’s grandson—during their days together at Todd.
A fascinating dramatization of a pivotal event in American history, this play also demonstrates Welles’ burgeoning development as social commentator and an advocate for human rights, particularly on behalf of African Americans. Featuring a foreword by noted Welles biographer, Simon Callow, Marching Song: A Play is an important work by an American icon. 
Orson Welles was an internationally recognized actor, director, producer, writer, magician, and political activist whose films included The Magnificent Ambersons, Touch of Evil, and Citizen Kane, considered by many to be the greatest film ever produced.
Roger Hill was the headmaster of the Todd School for Boys for thirty years. During his tenure, Hill fashioned one of the most progressive educational programs in the country, embracing the philosophy that youngsters were “created creators.”  
Todd Tarbox, grandson of Roger Hill, is an educator and the author of See the World, Imagine, and Orson Welles and Roger Hill: A Friendship in Three Acts (2016). He lives in Colorado Springs, CO. 
-Source: Rowman & Littlefield website (http://bit.ly/2YBsymr)

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