Brown University Library Special Collections

The Itinerant Actor

Posted by Karen A. Eberhart on April 5, 2012

Edwin Scribner, c.1908

The papers of playwright Edwin Scribner (Ms.2012.005) arrived recently to complement a large collection of his published plays in the Harris Collection of American Poetry and Plays.

Edwin Scribner was born in Logansport, IN in 1879.  On 27 July 1898, he quit his job in the Master Mechanics office of the Pan Handle Railroad in Logansport and, as he states in the first volume of his diary, “From that date the theater has been my interest and occupation in life.” He was an itinerant actor and a playwright, writing at least 50 plays.  He died in Waterville, ME in 1964.

His papers contain 18 typescripts for his unpublished plays which complement the 33 published plays already owned by Brown.  Of particular interest is the diary he kept  from 1898-1921 which provides an intimate view into the life of a traveling theater troupe actor.  It was not meant as a place to bear his soul but rather as a record of his work.  And work he did.  Every page documents the unrelenting travel schedule of an itinerant actor.

Diary of Edwin Scribner, Oct 4-Nov 3, 1900

In the fall of 1900, from September 19 to December 15 (88 days) he visited 77 cities and gave 79 performances.  The tour ended on December 15 this way: “Before meeting our leading man John Fry Palmer, drunk picked a fight with Griffith – which got him a good licking and landed him in jail.  Closed with John Griffith Co. – they beat me out of my last weeks salary.”  Two days later Edwin was working for another theater troupe in yet another city and so it went for the next 20 years.