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Poster for Klaw & Erlanger's production of "Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm" by Kate Douglas Wiggin (1856-1923) and Charlotte Thompson. Stage adaptation 1911. Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm is a classic American 1903 children's novel by Kate Douglas Wiggin. Rebecca Rowena Randall goes to live with her two stern aunts in the village of Riverboro in Maine. Her joy for life ends up inspiring them. She faces many trials in her young life, but comes through them with more wisdom and understanding. Wiggin co-wrote the play with Charlotte Thompson that was produced for Broadway by Klaw & Erlanger in 1909. Before opening on Broadway, it had toured Boston and New England where it had been warmly received. Klaw & Erlanger was the New York City based theatrical production partnership of entrepreneur A.L. Erlanger and lawyer Marcus Klaw. The two began as a theatrical booking agency in 1886 before expanding into producing plays. In 1896, Klaw & Erlanger joined with Al Hayman, Charles Frohman, Samuel F. Nixon, and Fred Zimmerman to form the "Theatrical Syndicate." This organization established systemized booking networks throughout the United States and created a monopoly that controlled every aspect of contracts and bookings until the late 1910s when the Shubert brothers broke their stranglehold on the industry.
Klaw & Erlanger controlled most of the theatres in the southern United States and put on their first Broadway production of Ben-Hur in November of 1899. Between then and September 1924, they would produce 238 Broadway plays plus hundreds more at theatres they either owned or leased around the United States. As well, their partnership built a number of important theaters including New York City's famous New Amsterdam Theatre in 1903.
They were also involved in film production for some of their plays that were adapted to the screen. The story opens with Rebecca's journey to Riverboro, to live with her two aunts, Miranda and Jane Sawyer. Up until this time, she has lived on the family farm. Rebecca is the second eldest of seven children. Most of the children have fanciful names, such as Marquis and Jenny Lind, influenced by the father's artistic background (Rebecca is named after both the heroines in Ivanhoe). The family is quite poor, due to the number of children, Mr Randall's inability to stick to a job, and the farm being mortgaged. At the beginning of the novel, he has been dead for three years and the family are barely scraping by. Therefore, Rebecca's stay with her aunts is both a chance to improve her opportunities in life and to make things easier at the farm, as there is one less mouth to feed. Despite her impoverished background, Rebecca is an imaginative and charming child, often composing little poems and songs to express her feelings or to amuse her younger brothers and sisters. It is she who names their farm 'Sunnybrook' after the little brook that runs by their house.
Miranda and Jane had wanted Hannah, the eldest sister, due to her sweet nature and household skills, but as these skills are greatly valued by her mother, Rebecca is sent instead. Miranda is unimpressed by Rebecca's imagination and sallow complexion, saying that she is the image of her shiftless father, Lorenzo DeMedici Randall. Miranda determines to do her duty and train Rebecca to be a proper young lady, so she will not shame the Sawyer name. Jane takes on the role of Rebecca's protector, acting as a buffer between her niece and her sister, and teaches Rebecca to sew, cook and be a proper little housewife. In return, Rebecca's liveliness and curiosity brighten Jane's life and refresh her spirit. Although Rebecca strives to win Miranda's approval, she finds it hard to live up to the older aunt's high standards, as she has to fight against Miranda's view of her as "all Randall and no Sawyer".
The middle part of the novel is taken up with describing the life of Riverboro and the people who live there. Important characters include Jeremiah Cobb, who is the first resident to encounter Rebecca and be charmed by her; Sarah Cobb, his wife; Rebecca's best friend, Emma Jane Perkins, and Adam Ladd, a young businessman, who first meets Rebecca when she and Emma Jane are selling soap for charity. Rebecca nicknames him 'Mr Aladdin', as he gave her and Emma Jane a lamp as a present.
Poster for the stage adaptation of Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm produced by Klaw & Erlanger, 1911
Rebecca proves to be a good student, especially in English, and goes on to attend the high school in Wareham. During the last part of the book, she matures into a young lady, but still retains her high spirits and develops her talent for writing. She applies for a teaching place at Augusta, but her mother falls ill and Rebecca has to return to take care of her and the farm. While Rebecca is away from Riverboro, Miranda dies, having willed the Sawyer house to Rebecca. A railway company will buy Sunnybrook Farm in order to build on the land, giving the Randall family enough to live on. Thanks to Miranda's will, Rebecca now has enough money to become an independent woman and help her brothers and sisters. The novel ends with her exclaiming, "God bless Aunt Miranda! God bless the brick house that was! God bless the brick house that is to be!" Description Source Wikipedia