It is a pretty place, this little English town of Marlow, nestling on the north bank of the Thames, and the visitor can hardly be blamed if he has only eyes for the riverside: the sun-sparkle on the water, the white boats drifting lazily on the current, and the gaily-clad crowd on the towpath, all conspire to engage his eager attention.
But, when the crowds are gone, if he should stroll leisurely along the causeway leading from the white suspension bridge to the High Street, he may notice tucked away on a small stretch of green between the handsome Parish Church and the Inn, a beautiful memorial, the charming stone figure of a young girl seated atop the pedestal of a graceful drinking fountain. The statue is exquisite. The innocence and beauty portrayed by the figure are undeniably poignant.
Around the pedestal are inscribed the words:
For it is not right that in a house
The Muses haunt morning should dwell;
Such things befit us not.
In Happy Memory of Charles Frohman, 1860-1915
Who was Charles Frohman? Surprisingly, although his memory perpetuates in this English town, he was not an Englishman. He was born in Sandusky, Ohio, and was the youngest son of Henry and Barbara Frohman, and brother to Daniel Frohman of screen fame.
The stage fascinated Charles from an early age. As a lad, he sold tickets at the door of Hooley’s Theater, Brooklyn. From that rather unromantic occupation, he graduated to walk-on parts, and then to various semi-executive jobs in the theater, all the while storing away in his ever-alert mind all there was to know about show business.
At the impressionable age of twenty, Charles paid his first visit to England with Haverley’s Minstrels, a show that scored an immediate success in this country. Charles found England, and the English people, entirely to his taste and this first contact with them made him firmly resolved to return.
Back in his own country, Charles became a theatrical agent and an organizer of touring companies. Genuine talent never passed by him unnoticed, and many Americans stage stars – such as Ethel Barrymore, Billie Burke, Otis Skinner and Maud Adams – owed not a little of their success to Frohman’s encouragement in the early days of their careers. At that time, it wasn’t unknown for a manager to decamp, leaving his company penniless and stranded, but Frohman’s companies never suffered in this way. His honesty and integrity were bywords: he never needed to have a written contract with anyone, his word was good enough, and both his colleagues and the actors he employed held him in the highest regard. An amiable, almost avuncular personality, he was generous and helpful to all who had dealings with him.
In 1893, Charles Frohman opened at the Empire Theater, New York, with his own newly formed stock company in The Girl I Left Behind Me. It was a resounding success and laid the foundation of his fortune. From then on he slowly acquired a controlling interest in other New York theaters, and acquired the lease of the Duke of York’s and Globe Theatres in London, where he became known for the lavishness and splendor of his productions.
It was in London that Frohman met a young playwright by the name of J.M. Barrie who at that time had just written a play destined to be performed all over the world – the famous Peter Pan. Frohman, quick to sense what would appeal to his public, produced Peter Pan at the Duke of York’s where it played to delighted audiences for many years.
It was during these, the busiest days his life, that Charles Truman often left the bustle of the city and stayed at Marlow, a place for which he had a special affection, whose greenness and tranquility provided rest for his tired nerves. By now he had become the world’s greatest theatrical businessman. The boy who’d sold tickets at Hooley’s Theater had come a long way!
The early months of the 1914 war found Charles once more in New York. In April 1915 he made arrangements for a routine business trip to England, and on May 1st went aboard the luxurious “Lusitania”, due to dock at Liverpool on the 7th. There was a rumor of submarines in the area, but none of the passengers or crew took it seriously, believing that the Germans would not be bold enough to torpedo the great Cunard liner. As she approached the south-western point of Ireland, however, the ship was torpedoed by an enemy submarine and within eighteen minutes, at 2.15pm, the vessel foundered, drowning 1198 of her 1906 passengers and crew.
Charles Frohman was among those reported lost. He was last reported by his companion the actress Rita Jolivet, who survived the disaster, to have turned down a seat on a lifeboat, saying "Why fear death? It is the greatest adventure in life,"
He was greatly mourned in both America and England and it was through the collaboration of his many friends connected with the stage that the memorial in Marlow was erected, the little nymph symbolizing the Spirit of Youth, reminiscent of his greatest production, Peter Pan. Reminiscent, too, perhaps of Frohman himself, who must surely have been one of the youngest in heart.