Born in Elmira, New York, on May 2, 1865, William Clyde Fitch was the first of five children and the only son of Alice Maud Clark of Hagerstown, Maryland, and William Goodwin Fitch, a staff member to General Heintzelsman during the Civil War. When he was four, the family moved to Schenectady, where he later joined with friends to form the Amateur Club and the Hookey Club and edited The Rising Sun, the pages of which express Fitch’s early verve and vitality. His childhood frailty and love of beauty, learned from his charming, vivacious mother and sisters, made him an anomaly as he grew older; preferring the company of girls, to whom he wrote precocious love notes, and affecting individualistic aesthetic costumes, he marked himself as an original as early as his attendance at the Hartford Public High School.
Fitch’s reputation followed him through preparatory school in Holderness, New Hampshire, and to Amherst College, where his classmates and Chi Psi fraternity brothers found his picturesque appearance no deterrent to his good humor and inventiveness. In fact, his first dramatic effort was a second act to a Harper’s operetta, Il Jacobi, written in haste to complete an evening program for his fraternity. During his college years, he acted, produced, and painted scenery, frequently transposing effects from, for example, Daly’s theater in New York, where he was an avid visitor. His college acting career included performances in Oliver Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer (pr. 1773) and in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals (pr. 1775).
After graduating from Amherst College in 1886, Fitch went to New York, attempting both journalism and tutoring—which he disliked—to support himself. His novel A Wave of Life and short stories for The Churchman were written at a boardinghouse on West Fifty-third Street. The beginnings of his successful career can be traced to two experiences: He presented a letter of introduction to E. A. Dithmars, the drama critic for The Times, who provided the entrée to opening nights; and he spent some time in Paris with his mother in 1888, where he composed and read the one-act original play Frederick Lemaître.
By 1889, Fitch had established himself in New York and increased his circle of acquaintances to include such artists and writers as Oliver Herford of Life and William Dean Howells. His old friend Dithmars spurred Fitch’s dramatic career by introducing the young playwright to the actor Richard Mansfield, who wanted a tailor-made play about Beau Brummell. After several false starts, including an argument with Mansfield about the ending, the play opened on a shoestring budget on May 17, 1890, at the Madison Square Theatre, where it was a huge success. Five months later, Felix Morris produced Frederick Lemaître in Chicago with the Rosina Vokes Company.
Soon before Fitch went to London to work on the unsuccessful comedy Pamela’s Prodigy, he countered the critic William Winter’s charges that Mansfield’s kindness had made him only the titular author...
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