Paul Armstrong (1869-1915)
Successful theatre playwright of the late 19th century.
Brief biography, 1914. - Added April 2011.
New International Encyclopedia, Vol 2., 1914
PAUL ARMSTRONG. _______
An American playwright, born at Kidder, Mo. He was for five years, from 1890 to 1895, a licensed master of steamships plying on the Great Lakes, but in 1904 began the writing of plays, and produced many successful dramas. These include: The Heir to the Hoorah (1904); St. Ann (1904); Salomy Jane (1905); In a Blaze of Glory (1906); Via Wireless (in collaboration with Winchell Smith, 1909); Going Some (with Rex Beach, 1909); Alias Jimmy Valentine (1909; The Deep Purple and The Greyhound (with Wilson Mizner, in 1910 and 1911, respectively); A Romance of the Under World (1911); The Escape, played in New York in 1913.
Words on American drama. - Added May, 2011.
Success Magazine, Vol. 9, 1906.
Paul Armstrong, author of the "The Heir to the Hoorah," says --
"The American drama is the dream of realism, -- homely, if you like, but a drama of real, living people, somewhat primitive, perhaps, in that few of them are perverted, but a drama of healthy, ideal motives. There is always uplift in the America dama. It sticks close to the good old ten commandments.
"Its most distinctive characteristics are opimism and humor, and there is no such thing as class or caste or convention when a deed is to be done or a reward given. Might I say, 'a square deal?'
"One of the chief dangers confronting the persent-day drama is the decadence o the art of reading and acting, because of the alleged stage director. The state director does not call upon the intelligence of the actor, but attempts to make him an automatio. An actor without sufficient experience is pushed into an important part on account of pull or fad or money, or because he will do as he is told. Hence the actor who wishes to use his intelligence, or who is without pull or money or mannerism, is declined. The incentive to work is being strangled.
"The continual temptation put before the playwright to write a one-part play -- for some alleged star, -- is a menace to our drama. The play is bound to be weak unless one part dominates naturally, -- not because the others are strangled.
"The domination of the playwright by the manager and the commercial mind is a growing eveil. The manager wants to copy that which has succeeded and flees from originality as from a petilence."
Theatrical biography. Added April, 2011.
The Actor's Birthday Book – 1907
PAUL ARMSTRONG. _______
Paul Armstrong,long looked upon as one of the most able native dramatists, is fast acquiring enviable fame on account of the great success that his play, “Salomy Jane,” has made and managers, who heretofore would not even read his plays, are now tumbling over themselves in their efforts to have him turn them out a play. 'Tis the pleasing way with success. Mr. Armstrong was born in Missouri, in a village nearSt. Joseph, and his early days were filled with considerably more downs than ups. After trying at least a dozen different occupations, he finally turned his hand to newspaper writing and was on the Chicago Record-Herald for some time. He wrote for various papers for a long time, turning out plays the while. Mr. Armstrong's first piece to have a public hearing was a one-act play, “Blue Grass,” tried in vaudeville by Willis Sweatnam, which he afterward elaborated into a four-act play, produced in Philadelphia in March 1906, by Frank Howe, Jr. “Ann La Mont,” which he claims to be one of his best efforts, was first produced in Virginia by a stock company and afterward used in the West by Florence Roberts. A farce. “The Superstitions of Sue,” met with defeat, but his next effort, “The Heir to the Hoorah,” has been touring over two seasons. Nat C. Goodwin produced a one-act play of Mr. Armstrong's entitle “Sierra,” a big success, but owing to a dispute between them it was quickly withdrawn. The came his ten-srike with “Salomy Jane” and the name Paul Armstrong now ranks with the best. He is writing several plays that will have hearings during the season of 1907-8 and their appearance will be eagerly awaited. He has striven too long and too hard as a dramatist to be of the flash-in-the-pan variety and it is safe wager that he has come into the ranks of successful playwrights to stay.
Playwright Success, 1912. - Added Jul., 2011.
McBride's Magazone (Jan.-Jun, 1912)
The Prosperity of American Playwrights. by Robert Grau _______
Page 612 (Excerpt).
Paul Armstrong is product of the last five decades. All of his successes have come forth in in the last five years; yet it is a poor week when he does not collect fifteen hundred dollars in royalties, a sum that is expected to be doubled this year, because of the several companies which are t present "The Deep Purple."
Obituary, 1915. - Added April, 2011.
The New York Times - August 31, 1915.
Author of “Alias Jimmy Valentine”
Stricken Suddenly After a Ride in Central Park.
His Plays Include “Salomy Jane,”
“The Heir to the Hoorah,” and
“The Deep Purple.” _______
Paul Armstrong, the playwright, died suddenly at 8 o clock last night from heart disease at his home, 829 Park Avenue. Early yesterday afternoon he went with two friends in his automobile to one of the railway terminals. There they met Mrs. Armstrong, and then went for a ride through Central Park. When near the Fifty-ninth Street entrance Mr. Armstrong complained of feeling ill. He was hurried home, and Dr. Charles A. Duncan of 233 Lexington Avenue, the family physician, was sent for, but was unable to save him.
Mr. Armstrong had no been in good health for a long time. Two months ago he spent a month and a half in the John Hopkins Hospital, being treated for enlargement of the heart. While he seemed much on his return home, it was known that he was far from well, and his sudden death was not unexpected.
Mr. Armstrong was born nearSt. Joseph, Mo., and was in his forty-seventh year. After trying a number of vocations he turned to journalism and became a reporter on The Chicago Record-Herald. He did general reporting for some time and then became a writer on sporting topics, under the nom de plume of “Right Cross,” and among other subjects wrote the accounts of a number of championship pugilistic battles.
In 1904 he abandoned newspaper work and wrote a number of sketches and plays, but was unsuccessful until Willis Sweatnam appeared in his vaudeville sketch, “Blue Grass.” His first successful play was “The Heir to the Hoorah,” which was produced by the late Kirke La Shelle. His next success was “Salomy Jane,” in which Miss Eleanor Robson, now Mrs. August Belmont, was starred and which ran for many months.
Mr. Armstrong had the assistance of other writers in many of his plays; notable among these were Winchell Smith, Rex Beach, and Wilson Mizner. He was unusually successful, and many of his plays enjoyed long runs. Starting with 1907, there was seldom a season that one of his plays was not running at a New York theatre. In January, 1907, “Salomy Jane” was produced, and during 1908 “Society and the Bulldog” was given at Daly's Theatre, “Via Wireless” at the Liberty, and “Blue Grass” at the Majestic. In 1909 “Going Some” was put on at the Belasco during April: “Alias Jimmy Valentine” was given at Wallack's in January, 1910; “The Greyhound” was successful at the Astor Theatre in March, 1911, and “The Escape” appeared at the Lyric Theatre in September, 1913. During the same month his one-act comedy “Woman Proposes” was acted at Keith's Union Square Theatre. In September, 1914, “The Bludgeon” was produced at the Maxine Elliott Theatre.
Mr. Armstrong's career was an active one, and he followed several businesses before he became a successful playwright. At one time he was a licensed master of steam vessels on the Great Lakes. After writing “Alias Jimmy Valentine,” he became greatly interested in criminals, and in 1911 went into Judge Rosalsky's court and got permission to “adopt” James Brown, a lifelong lawbreaker, who was up for sentence. He planned to give the man a new start in life and reform him. The attempt ended in disaster, as Brown was sentenced to Sing Sing for two years and six months, a few months later.
Mr. Armstrong was married to Miss Rella Abel in London in 1899, and she obtained her final decree of divorce from him in December, 1913. Their children were Anabel, Myrell, and Elizabeth Armstrong, all of whom survive their father.
Ten days after his first wife received her final decree, he married Miss Kittie Cassidy, who was the leading woman of several of his plays, notably “The Deep Purple,” “A Romance of the Underworld,” and “The Escape,” under the stage name of Catherine Calvert. Mrs. Catherine C. Armstrong and their infant son survive him.
His funeral will take place at 10 o'clock Wednesday morning from his late home. The body will be cremated in accordance with his wish.
Paul's Belmont Farm and family affairs. - Added May, 2011.
History of Annapolish Roads, by James Gibbs.
BELMONT FARM, PRECURSOR TO ANNAPOLISH ROADS. _______
(Excerpt related to Paul.)
For nearly 20 years, Paul Amrstrong owned Belmont, possibly using it as a country retreat since he spent some of his time in New York City. We know little about Armstrong or what his plans for Belmont might have been. He was not a farmer, but a playwright and screen writer for some of the earliest motion pictures. Reviews in Variety maginze of some of his films and a divorce suit brought against him by is wife, Rella Abell Armstrong, provide the best evidence uncovered to date. The Armstrongs married in London, England in July of 1899, and raised three daughters: Annabel, Myrell, and Elizabeth. In 1910, they separated, Rella suing for divorce on the grounds of her husband's adulterous affairs and brutal treatment. Paul pleaded innocent of the charges through his attorney Daniel Randall (the same Randall who sold Belmont to the Armstrongs three years earlier). The suit declined into a protracted argument as to who should pay the attorney's fees, Rella withdrawing the suit four months later in April of 1911. The couple appears to have continued living apart, Rella residing in New York City.
In her suit, claiming alimony, Rella Armstrong stated that her husband earned $3,000 a month, a very substancial sum at a time when the average daily wage for workers remained about a dollar a day. Paul Armstrong, admitting that he had in fact earned as much as $3,000 in one month, claimed that his average income was far less. In coming years, he would work with directory D. W. Griffith and actors William Demerest and Vola Vale, generally to good reviews for his original work (The Escape, The Heart of a Thief, and, co-authored with Wlison Mizner, The Greyhound) and adaptations of stories by Bret Harte (Salomy Jane) and O. Henry (Alias Jimmy Valentine). Paul Armstrong's last play, The Heart of a Thief, closed within one week of its opening in 1916. According to a review of the screenplay in Variety, "That play broke his heart. He never wrote another line, and he died soon aafter." (Variety, July 1, 1925)
CATHERINE CALVERT has returned to the screen. The hansome brunette -- in private life the widow of the late playwright, Paul Armstrong, and the sister-in-law of Rolf Armstrong, who paints PHOTOPLAY'S covers - makes her reappearance in a Vitagraph special. She has signed a three year contract with the smith organization. Miss Clavert has one small son to whom she is devoted.
A more extensive biography on Paul Armstrong, written by Alan R. Havic, appears in the [Dictionary of Missouri Biography], published in 1999. The first two paragraphs of this biography ties him with Bay City, and links him to his father's occupation as a sailor:
“Paul Armstrong, a journalist and playwright, was born in Kidder, Missouri, near St. Joseph, on April 25, 1869. He attended the public schools of Kinder and Bay City, Michigan, the town which he moved while still a boy.”
“Pursuing his father's occupation, Armstrong worked for five years on Great Lakes steamboats, earning a master's license at the age of twenty-one.”
Paul's last child was a son from his marriage with Kittie Cassidy (aka: Catherine Culvert), named Paul, Jr.. This is based on writen history of the [TCM Channel] website in describing some of his plays.
Another connection to family of Paul Armstrong, is Robert W. Armstrong, who was born in Saginaw, and an newphew to Paul, Robert being the son of of Paul's brother William N. Armstrong. Robert worked for Paul in his playwright business in New York. After serving in WWI, he found work in Hollywood an support actor and later achieved star status. He was a star in the 1933 classic film "King Kong." -- Source: [The Internations Movie Database]
While many sources state that Paul Armstrong was born in Kidder, Missouri, I have not been able to find a birth record that verifies this as his place of birth, other than the Maryland 1910 census which is shown below. I did find a birth record for St. Clair, Mich. on Paul Armstrong, born on April 25, 1869, son of Richard and Hattie Armstrong.
1869 – Michigan Births: St. Clair, St. Clair, Mich.
Paul Armstrong born April 25, 1869, son of Richard and Hattie E. Armstrong.
1870 – Census: St. Clair, St. Clair, Mich.
Armstrong, Richard – b. 1841 Canada
Harriet E., wife – b. 1847 Mich.
William M., son – b. 1866 Mich.
Chilula, dau. - b. 1868 Mich.
Paul, son – b. 1869 Missouri
1880 - Census: West Bay City, Bay, Mich.
Armstrong, Richard - b. 1840 Canada
Harriet, wife - b. 1847 Mich.
William, son - b. 1866 Mich.
Cholula, dau. - b. 1868 Mich.
Paul, son - b. 1870 Missouri
1910 – Census: Anne Arundel, Maryland.
Armstrong, Paul – b. 1869 Missouri (Father born in Canada, mother in Mich.)
Merila, wife – b. 1879 Illinois
Annabelle, dau. - b. 1901 Missouri
Myrtle, dau. - b. 1902 New York
Elizabeth, - b. 1903 New York
1914 - The Writer, Vol. 26 - January, 1914.
Mrs. Rella Abell Armstrong, wife of Paul Armstrong, the playwight, has been awarded a final decree with $7,500 annual alimony and the custody of her three children. Paul Armstrong has since married Miss Catherine Calvert, who has appeared as leading women in several of his plays.
Buried at Elmwood Cemetery
Source: [Find A Grave] 1919: Paul's 2nd wife, Catherine Cassidy (aka: Catherine Calvert) and their son Paul.
Abell, Rella (1-wife)
Armstrong, Anabel (dau)
Armstrong, Chilula (sis)
Armstrong, Elizabeth (dau)
Armstrong, Myrell (dau)
Armstrong, Paul (subject) Armstrong, Richard (father)
Armstrong, Rolf (bro)
Armstrong, William (bro)
Belmont, August Mrs.
Cassidy, Kittie (2-wife)
- aka: Catharine Calvert Demerest, William
Duncan, Charles A.
Goodwin, Nat C.
Bay City, MI
Belmont Farm, MD
John Hopkins Hospital
New York, NY
New York Times
St. Joseph, MO
Santa Monica, CA