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Dec. 19, 1915: F. Scott Fitzgerald's feminine side

Posted by: Ben Welter under Minnesota History Updated: August 23, 2012 - 11:05 AM
 
Back in the day, men who belonged to university drama clubs played women’s roles with some frequency. Among them was St. Paul native F. Scott Fitzgerald, a Princeton student who was winning praise for the witty lyrics he had written as a member of the school’s Triangle club. He was barred from performing in a few early productions because of poor grades, but his marks must have improved. In 1915 he was playing a woman’s role in the “beauty chorus” of a traveling production of “The Evil Eye,” a musical he co-wrote with Edmund Wilson. The club arrived in Minneapolis not long after Yale’s Dean Jones issued an order prohibiting students at the all-male school from appearing in feminine roles more than once in two years, arguing that such impersonations made the men “effeminate.”

The Minneapolis Morning Tribune picks up the story from there:

 

Local College Men Have No Fear of Growing Effeminate

 
“U” Educators Do Not Agree With Yale Ruling Against Taking Women’s Roles in Plays
 
 
  F. Scott Fitzgerald showed off his feminine side in the Triangle Club's 1915 production of "The Evil Eye."
Educators at the University of Minnesota do not agree with Dean Jones of Yale that college men should not be allowed to impersonate women in college plays two years in succession. University of Minnesota professors believe that the donning of feminine garb in no way affects the masculinity of the wearers.
 
But Dean Jones of Yale believes otherwise, and last week he issued an order prohibiting any Yale student from appearing in feminine roles in college dramatic clubs more than once in two years. His order was based on his belief that such impersonations made the men effeminate and would breed a race of decadent college men.
 
Northrop Disagrees.
 
“I can hardly agree with Dean Jones,” said Prof. George Norton Northrop, president of the Garrick Dramatic club, the leading dramatic club at the University of Minnesota. “We have had many men who have taken feminine roles in Garrick club productions and I have failed to see that they became effeminate after such impersonations. On the contrary, I believe they became just that much more masculine. Of course, I do not know exactly why Dean Jones has made his ruling for Yale students, so I am not judging him.”
 
Dean Jones’ manifesto has stirred up a hornets’ nest among the educators of the country. Dena McClenahan of Princeton university and other Princeton authorities point to their Triangle club, in which the feminine roles of their productions are taken each year by men, some of them by the same men for two and three years in succession, and while not scoffing at Dean Jones, lift their high eyebrows and get ready to produce more Triangle club shows that have men taking leading feminine roles.
 
Vincent Agrees With Princeton.
 
Dr. George E. Vincent, president of the University of Minnesota, agrees with the Princeton authorities, and he and a number of university educators will attend the production of “The Evil Eye” that the Princeton Triangle club will give here Dec. 28-29, in which nearly a score or more of Princeton athletes and college students will impersonate women.
 
A St. Paul boy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, who has written the lyrics for the musical comedy, is cast for a member of the “beauty chorus.” According to his Twin City friends, Fitzgerald’s impersonation of a woman is “corking,” but they do not fear that it will make him effeminate.
 
In the Triangle club’s productions there are “pony choruses,” “beauty choruses” and several leading roles, all of which are played by men who are students at the university. Each year the Triangle club has been producing a comedy that has called for the use of women, but these roles have always been taken by men themselves, so that Princeton college authorities know of what they speak when they do not agree with Dean Jones’ rule.
 
Stag Party Planned.
 
The Triangle club will arrive in Minneapolis the morning of Dec. 29 from St. Paul. They will make their headquarters at the Radisson hotel and at noon will be entertained at the Minneapolis club at a stage luncheon to which 150 men have been invited to meet them. In the afternoon they will be guests at a dance at the Minikahda club given by the Minneapolis Princeton alumni. Their performance here will be given at the Auditorium and will start at 8:15. Immediately after the performance the club will leave for Chicago, where it will give two performances on Dec. 30.
 
"Scottie" was photographed in nontraditional garb long before his Princeton days. He was about 2 years old when this photo was taken on St. Paul's Laurel Avenue. That's his mother at right. (Edith Brill photo courtesy of mnhs.org

 

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