WHO WAS THE “LOVELY PORTUGUESE” WOMAN, DEAD IN NEW ORLEANS?
First some background. On April 4, 1923, Walter McClellan’s one-act, The Delta Wife, was staged at the Le Petit Theatre due Vieux Carre, in New Orleans. In 1924 it was published by D. Appleton in its Modern Plays series, edited by Frank Shay. In 1925 Frank Shay, as director of the Provincetown Barnstormers, included the play in its summer season, along with Eugene O’Neill’s Gold and Susan Glaspell’s The Verge. The Delta Wife was subsequently staged, during the week of May 2, 1927, by the Memphis Little Theatre of Memphis, Tennessee, in the week-long Little Theatre Tournament for the David Belasco Trophy, at Frolic Theatre, New York, and received one of the two prizes awarded, each in the amount of $200. It was reviewed: “The Delta Wife of the Memphis group was a play of no little timeliness, dealing with a man and a woman trapped in a hut by the rising waters of a Mississippi flood. Except for a slight bit of overwriting, particularly in the woman’s part, it was an authentic endeavor undoubted dramatic effectiveness…”1 Three years later, as the New York Times reported, The Delta Wife was presented by “the Curtain Club of the College of the City of New York at the Y.M.H.A., Ninety-second Street and Lexington Avenue.” Its long life extends itself at least to 1949 when it was presented by the Cranford Dramatic Club, a community theatre in Cranford, New Jersey.2 There is no evidence that he McClellan ever had another play produced, if indeed he wrote other plays.
It is not Walter McClellan as playwright, however, that has piqued my interest and prompted the question raised in my title, but McClellan as poet, who was an early contributor to the Double Dealer, the fabled New Orleans small magazine started in 1921. To the summer 1921 issue McClellan contributed a sonnet, “Arrangement in Black and Gold,” with the words “New Orleans, 1821” in italics below the title. The title itself appropriates James Abbott McNeil Whistler’s title for his portrait of Robert Montesquiou-Fezebsac.
The lovely Portuguese is dead,
As for the details of Walter McClellan’s life, all that I have discovered to date is that he contributed a second poem to the Double Dealer, “Gayoso Girls are Golden,” which was reprinted in The Bookman (Mar. 1923), p. 37, along with “Tosti’s Garden,” his one poem in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse (date unknown), and that he seems to have hailed from Memphis, Tennessee, or thereabouts.
2. “Curtain Club to give Two Playlets,” New York Times (Dec. 2, 1930), p. 25.