The American Legacy
220 East Fourth Street ~ New York, New York 10009
Office: 212 995 8410 ~ Tickets: 212 995 5302
"One of my favorite downtown theaters" ~ Martin Denton, nytheatre.com
James A. Herne
James A. Herne found his voice through years working as an actor. Born James Ahern in Cohoes, New York, he did not find his way to the stage until he was 20. Now going by James A. Herne—perhaps owing to a printer’s error—he began an acting career with a short-lived tour before joining the Adelphi Theater in Troy, playing in Uncle Tom’s Cabin.
His career as an actor and stage manager bloomed and took him across the country and back, and through a brief marriage to touring actress Helen Western. But it was in San Francisco in 1874 as a theater manager that he met a young David Belasco, his future collaborator, and a young actress, Katherine Corcoran, whom he married in 1878.
With Belasco he began writing, and their popular Hearts of Oak premiered in 1879, when Herne was 40. From this point on, and with his wife’s ardent support, his playwriting became his focus. He earned the accolades and support of intellectuals such as William Dean Howells and Hamlin Garland. His plays include Within an Inch of his Life and Marriage by Moonlight (both with Belasco in 1879), The Minute Man (1886), Drifting Apart (1888), Margaret Fleming (1890), Shore Acres (1892), The Reverend Griffith Davenport (1899) and Sag Harbor (1900).
In his 1897 manifesto “Art for Truth’s Sake In the Drama”, he neatly sums up his aims: “It is generally held that the province of the drama is to amuse. I claim that it has a higher purpose--that its mission is to interest and to instruct. It should not preach objectively, but it should teach subjectively....It sets forth clearly that the concern of one is the concern of all. It stands for the higher development and thus the individual liberty of the human race.”
One can only imagine where this vision might have taken him, had he lived to fulfill it. He died of pneumonia in 1901.