Pegler: Father McGlynn’s play (2-25-44)

The Pittsburgh Press (February 25, 1944)


Pegler: Father McGlynn’s play

By Westbrook Pegler

Kansas City, Missouri –
I see by the New York papers that Father Thomas McGlynn, a Catholic priest, has written a play, presenting the white man as the minority and the Negro as the majority in our country, in appropriate reversals of the equation.

Jack Chapman, the drama reviewer of the New York News, recalls that some years ago I happened on a similar idea in a sketch for the Dutch Treat show.

In my play, called Old White Joe, the old family retainer was a cringing white man who was hailed into a high-suburban drawing room of the Negro aristocracy, and commanded to bring in the field-hands and sing an old folk song for the gentlemen who were all in dinner jackets and having their brandy while the ladies powdered up.

Old White Joe, played by Ray Vir Den, an old Oklahoma boy who came down East to yell mi-mi-mi in the opera but got a job in the advertising business instead, then backed off and returned with the rest of the Dutch Treat quartet to sing, “Gone Are the Days, From the Cotton Mills Away.”

They entered in faded overalls, blinking at the elegance of the room and the company, and sang beautifully to the final “Hear Them Angel Voices Calling, Old White Joe.”

Radical reformer is guest

Mr. Chapman says that Mr. Fordyce, the master of the manor, snarled at Old Joe, “Come here, you old white bum.” That is not correct. What he said was, “You, Joe, come here, you old white rascal.”

Then he asked him how many hams he reckoned he had stolen in all the years, boy and man, that he had been in the Fordyce family. Old White Joe said he reckoned he didn’t “never stole none, lessen you could call takin’ stealin’.”

Among the Negro guests of the Negro host there was a radical reformer from New Orleans who kept saying that nevertheless white men were human children of the same loving God. He was hollered down by a Negro clergyman who explained that down South they didn’t have the same white problem.

Down South, the Negroes were in the majority and could keep the white man in his place by force of numbers. Up North, the Negro minority had to use prestige and segregation.

Another guest, a noisy, pompous, Greenwich broke type, said that yes, he had been down South on business and that it had made his blood boil to see some great big pushful buck white man walk into a streetcar and deliberately pass up empty seats to plant himself beside some lovely innocent colored girl.

Mr. Fordyce softened the debate by explaining how well his family all loved Old White Joe. At that point, Worth Colwell, another advertising man, ran onto the stage in the role of Miss Pansy Fordyce, the young missy of the household, yelling “rape, rape, rape!” The curtain fell as the gents, including the Southern radical reformer, tore offstage to lynch the beloved Old White Joe.

Versions of typical white men

This sketch was done strictly for the amusement of a stag dinner, but I confess that I have never been able to moralize the story to a happier conclusion depicting mutual trust and friendship.

As a matter of fact, those colored aristocrats were not too fond of each other, nor above a little cheating one way and another, for they were just burnt-cork versions of typical white men.

But, if it comes to that, the Negro is no more tolerant or kind, even among Negroes; and history gives him no reason to boast of his gentle consideration for others when he is up.

And he is to a certain extent to blame for the prejudice which has followed him since slavery through his overbearing conduct in the Southern states during the Reconstruction era. In Haiti and Santo Domingo, Negroes have massacred other Negroes and there were Negro masters of Negro slaves in Abyssinia.

In Father McGlynn’s play, a poor white woman and her baby are evicted by a greedy Negro landlord and the baby is adopted by a Negro family and finally sent to college to study in equality with Negroes.

Well, so what? Well, so I know what, but it wouldn’t do any good to say what because the solution has been there all the time in a building with a cross on the spire where Father McGlynn works, but neither side is yet sufficiently civilized to give it a try.