Actors’ jealousies land them in court

The theatre is a place where egos collide and petty jealousies can quickly escalate into full blown hatreds. This certainly seems to be the underlying cause of the dispute between two thespians in 1886. In May of that year Mr J. R. Rogers, the manager of Miss Minnie Palmer’s theatrical company, was summoned before the magistrate at Bow Street. Mr Charles Arnold, an actor attached to Miss Palmer’s troupe, complained that Rogers had sent him a threatening letter.

The missive was read out in court:

Mr C. Arnold, my contempt and hate for you is such that only death can satiate. I feel that such curs as you are unfit to live. Name a place and time, and let us go into a room, lock the door, and only one can come out alive to tell the tale. Your enemy, J. R. Rogers

Minnie Palmer was an American actress and Arnold had been engaged to perform with the company about a year earlier in the USA. The actor’s brief told the court that his client, Arnold, had been employed for a year but there had ‘been some unpleasantness’ and Arnold had been sent to other companies, to play ‘inferior parts’. The upshot was that Rogers had refused to pay the actor and had then sent him the letter when he complained about this. Arnold wanted Rogers to be sent for trial for this threat to his life.


[a playbill for MInnie Palmer’s theatrical company]

Roger’s counsel tried to laugh the whole thing off as an example of American humour, albeit in poor taste. Rather cryptically he stated that:

‘the one who would tell the tale would be the one who was not much punished. The one who was punished would not want to tell the tale’ (this provoked laughter in the court room). His client has ‘no intention of fighting a duel’, and was happy to be bound over and to apologise. He added that Mr Roger was off to Australia with Miss Palmer’s company shortly anyway, so this would presumably diffuse any tension.

The justice set sureties at £500 for Rogers to keep the peace for six months and required him to find two others who would vouch for him to the tune of £200. Whether this satisfied Charles Arnold is not recorded but he wouldn’t be the last actor to feel his talent was being trampled on by the jealousies of other members of the acting fraternity.


                     [from Reynolds’s Newspaper , Sunday, May 16, 1886]

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