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Weavers of Dreams, Unite!Actors' Unionism in Early Twentieth-Century America$
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Sean P. Holmes

Print publication date: 2013

Print ISBN-13: 9780252037481

Published to Illinois Scholarship Online: April 2017

DOI: 10.5406/illinois/9780252037481.001.0001

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For the Dignity and Honor of the Theatrical Profession

For the Dignity and Honor of the Theatrical Profession

Respectability and Unrespectability in the Actors’ Equity Association, 1919–1929

(p.119) Chapter Five For the Dignity and Honor of the Theatrical Profession
Weavers of Dreams, Unite!

Sean P. Holmes

University of Illinois Press

This chapter examines the Actors' Equity Association's (AEA) campaign to raise the status of the acting community by cleansing it of its long-standing reputation for immorality. It focuses in the first instance on the efforts of Equity leaders to improve the collective image of actors by persuading the Methodist Church to lift its ban on commercial amusements and taking newspapers to task for reinforcing the association that existed in the public mind between acting and criminality. Its primary concern, however, was with the internal dimension of the campaign. It takes as its starting point the AEA's crusade against the excessive consumption of alcohol, a practice that straddled not only the divide between the legal and the extralegal but also the ill-defined line between the public sphere and the private sphere. It argues that accusations of drunkenness often functioned as a pretext for disciplining those performers whose sexual habits were at odds with the so-called civilized morality embraced by the leadership of the AEA—that is, “promiscuous” women and homosexual men. Even as the theater as a cultural institution was helping to redraw the boundaries of propriety in American society, the AEA was seeking to bind the men and women of the legitimate stage to a moral code that was rooted in increasingly outmoded notions of respectability.

Keywords:   Actors' Equity Association, immorality, respectability, acting community, Methodist Church, alcohol consumption

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