The longest football game on record, a game more than half a century old, is still being played nightly at an off-Broadway theater in New York's Greenwich Village where the musical comedy Leave It to Jane has suddenly become a smash hit all over again. Jane, shown here with some of her friends, is none other than Playwright George Ade's old but endlessly young College Widow, the beautiful blonde daughter of the president of Atwater College, who lures the halfback (son of the benefactor of rival Bingham College) into playing for Atwater under an assumed name. Since Atwater's president is a stickler for amateur standards, and since Jane falls desperately in love with her halfback as soon as she has effected her preposterous stratagem, Leave It to Jane poses problems familiar to any student of sports' romantic aspects. In Jane, the greatest of these problems is, of course, to win the Thanksgiving Day game for Atwater.
George Ade was a young newspaperman, 17 years out of Purdue, when he wrote The College Widow in 1904. He modeled Atwater on a real school—Wabash College at Crawfordsville, Ind.—and created a stageful of campus characters who have since become standard fare in a thousand plays, films and TV half-hours. There is Flora, for example, described as "a prominent waitress," and Silent Murphy, a piano mover smuggled into the football squad on the pretext that he is a music student. Romance and adventure alike are unfolded on a leafy campus, or under the grandstand, where offstage frenzy indicates at one point that Halfback Billy has just run 106 yards for a touchdown. "The wildest, craziest, most pandemonic scene ever staged," said the New York Herald on the Widow's opening night in Manhattan. One spectator, Admiral Dewey, the Spanish-American War hero, stood up in his box, shouting, "It's wonderful!" Pushed out on the stage, Ade stammered that he had tried to treat college students like human beings. "They may not deserve it," he said, "but that's what we've done!"
In 1917 the Widow's musical version with tunes by Jerome Kern and a book by P. G. Wodehouse again thrilled audiences with its wonderful world of youth—"Melodic songs and dances, gay costumes in excellent taste, and hearts unclouded by Freud," said The Times.
The small stage of the Sheridan Square Playhouse's current hit production inhibits some of the wild abandon of the original. Halfback Billy (played by Ronald Knight) is forced to make his 106-yard run on a small treadmill, like the contraption used in that other great theatrical sporting event, the chariot race in Ben Hur. But all the original exuberance and excitement are present, making it easy to understand why an entire literature of college comedy grew up from Ade's beginning.
October 26, 1959
SILENT MURPHY, A PIANO MOVER PERSUADED TO PLAY FOR ATWATER, DEMONSTRATES DETERMINATION TO DEFEAT RIVAL SCHOOL
BETWEEN HALVES, AT A DARK MOMENT FOR ATWATER, PLAYERS ARE MELODIOUSLY ENCOURAGED TO STRUGGLE ON TO VICTORY
POOR JANE, NOW REALLY IN LOVE, BITTERLY REGRETS TRICKING STAR HALFBACK