Thursday, May 10, 2018

the last book I ever read (Grant by Ron Chernow, excerpt one)

from Grant by Ron Chernow:

The extended stay in Corpus Christi, a hotbed of smuggling, generated worries that idle soldiers would be corrupted by the lax atmosphere. The town’s civilian population had burgeoned to one thousand and was not of the most savory sort, the place reviled by one officer as “the most murderous, thieving, gambling, cut-throat, God-forsaken hole” in Texas. Commanding officers thought performing plays might stave off debauchery among the soldiers. By January, Corpus Christi boasted two new theaters, including one holding eight hundred people and playing to packed houses nightly, with officers usually handling both male and female roles. After suitable costumes were obtained from New Orleans, the decision was made to stage Othello. The first choice for Desdemona was James Longstreet, who stood six feet tall and would have towered over Othello, so the prudish Grant was drafted instead. This seems an unlikely choice until we recall that Emma Dent thought him “pretty as a doll,” while Longstreet alluded to his “girlish modesty.” As it turned out, Theodoric Porter, playing Othello, couldn’t work up enough body heat around Grant. “Porter said it was bad enough to play the part with a woman in the cast,” said Longstreet, “and he could not pump up any sentiment with Grant dressed up as Desdemona.” To put Porter out of his misery, Grant was cashiered and a professional actress imported from New Orleans.

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