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Sapho Summary

(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

After premiering in Chicago in 1899 Sapho opened at Wallack’s Theatre in New York City in February, 1900. Featuring a cast of twenty-four with dances arranged by Carol Marwig and settings by Ernest Albert, it ran for twenty-nine performances until the theater was closed by order of the police. English actress Olga Nethersole was arrested for playing a scene in which her lover boldly carries her up a stairway to her apartment.

Audiences of 1900 were reportedly shocked by the production. William Randolph Hearst, publisher of the New York Journal, wrote: “We think there exists in this county a respect for decent women and for young girls. We expect the police to forbid on the stage what they would forbid in streets and low resorts.” These and similar editorials in other newspapers brought about Nethersole’s arrest, a dramatic courtroom trial, reams of front-page publicity, and, ultimately, a not-guilty verdict. In April Sapho reopened on Broadway—supposedly in a blaze of box office glory, although critics rated it a very bad play. After fifty-five performances with most of the original cast, a new production at Wallack’s Theatre began the following November and ran for another twenty-eight performances.

Sapho was the inspiration for a 1931 film entitled Inspiration starring Greta Garbo and Robert Montgomery.