The Worlds Wit and Humor: An Encyclopedia in 15 Volumes. 1906. Vols. IV: American
The Dying Gag
By James L. Ford (18541928)
From The Literary Shop
THERE was an affecting scene on the stage of a New York theater the other nighta scene invisible to the audience and not down on the bills, but one far more touching and pathetic than anything enacted before the footlights that night, although it was a minstrel company that gave the entertainment.
It was a wild, blustering night, and the wind howled mournfully around the street corners, blinding the pedestrians with the clouds of dust that it caught up from the gutters and hurled into their faces.
Old man Sweeny, the stage doorkeeper, dozing in his little glazed box, was awakened by a sudden gust that banged the stage door and then went howling along the corridor, almost extinguishing the gas-jets and making the minstrels shiver in their dressing-rooms.
Yes; I felt that I couldnt stay away from the footlights to-night. They tell me Im old and worn out and had better take a rest, but Ill go on till I drop, and with a hollow cough the Old Gag plodded slowly down the dim and drafty corridor and sank wearily on a sofa in the big dressing-room where the other Gags and Conundrums were awaiting their cues.
He ought not to go on except at matinées, replied another veteran who was standing in front of the mirror trimming his long, silvery beard; and just then an attendant came in with several basins of gruel, and the old Jests tucked napkins under their chins and sat down to partake of a little nourishment before going on.
The bell tinkled and the entertainment began. One after another the Jokes and Conundrums heard their cues, went on, and returned to the dressing-roomfor they all had to go on again in the after-piece. The house was crowded to the dome, and there was scarcely a dry eye in the vast audience as one after another of the old Quips and Jests that had been treasured household words in many a family came on and then disappeared to make room for others of their kind.
As the evening wore on the whisper ran through the theater that the Old Gag was going on that night, perhaps for the last time; and many an eye grew dim, many a pulse beat quicker at the thought of listening once more to that hoary Jest, about whose head were clustered so many sacred memories.
Meanwhile the Old Gag was sitting in his corner of the dressing-room, his head bowed on his breast, his gruel untasted on the tray before him. The other Gags came and went, but he heeded them not. His thoughts were far away. He was dreaming of old days, of his early struggles for fame, and of his friends and companions of years ago. Where are they now? he asked himself sadly. Some are wanderers on the face of the earth, in comic operas. Two of them found ignoble graves in the Tourists company. Others are sleeping beneath the daisies in Harpers Editors Drawer.