Until recently, Stephen Travers was a rich, blind widower with a teenage daughter, Emily. But while Emily is away at summer camp, Stephen becomes a rich, blind newlywed. Like any teenager who hasn’t had a mother for ten years, Emily is spoiled by her doting father; in fact, she is known locally as ‘the glorified brat’. It’s a mark of just how glorified she is that, at one point, Stephen, who is not only physically blind but also has a blind-spot about his daughter’s true character, expresses regret that he has never spoiled her, even a little! Any hint of trouble is met by her with a rhetorical question: ‘Do I seem like the kind of little girl who would do a thing like that?’ So the advent of a new Mrs Travers is going to be bad news for Emily…
That’s the opening scenario of Charles Emery’s one-act comedy, The Glorified Brat, copyrighted on July 5, 1949, and performed at American high schools and universities until well into the 1980s. It’s far from being a great work – a school drama contest adjudicator once told the cast that they had done a very good job putting on a very bad play – but it does have one thing to recommend it…
Upon receiving her father’s telegram informing her that she has a new mother, Emily returns home early from camp and starts throwing her weight about. The housekeeper, Amesy, tells her that things have changed and now she won’t be able to get her own way so readily: ‘some day your daddy is going to see right through you just like he had eyesight.’
The first scene comes to a climax as Claire, Stephen’s bride, meets Emily for the first time, and Emily asserts herself: if Claire tries to interfere or discipline her, she will convince her father that Claire is nothing but a gold-digger. Claire angrily raises an arm to slap her stepdaughter’s face, but then controls herself. But by the time the play is done, there’ll certainly be some slapping – and not of Emily’s face, either…
Amesy is the bellwether in a telephone conversation with her sister at the top of the next scene:
‘I think things’ll be coming to a head one of these days and I’m just waiting to see that Emily get a good thrashing. Sakes alive, I’d give a week’s salary back to Mr Travers if he’d only turn Emily over his knee. She’s as spoiled as the rod is spared and that’s the truth.’
And things are moving in that direction already. The summer camp supervisor has written a letter about Emily’s bad behavior there, and Claire has seen it. Being blind, Stephen himself doesn’t know, and Claire is lovingly trying to avoid disillusioning him. But Emily needs to be sure of the situation, and since she has some embarrassing information about Amesy’s son, she uses it to blackmail the housekeeper into stealing and destroying the incriminating letter. Caught in a tricky situation, Amesy can only retort, ‘Somebody’s going to thrash you within an inch of your life some day and I just hope I’m around to see it!’ But she does tear up the letter in Emily’s sight… but Claire finds the pieces on the living room floor before they can be swept up.
Things get worse in the Travers household before they get better. Emily arranges an accident for her father – pulling out his chair from under him as he goes to sit down – and claims that Claire was responsible, forcing confirmation from the unwilling Amesy under the threat of her son’s exposure. The following evening, full of shame at what she has done, Amesy quits, and Claire confronts Stephen and threatens to leave him if he doesn’t recognize the truth about his daughter and sort things out before the next morning. Stephen is unwilling, and anyway Emily has already gone to bed.
Claire asserts herself and calls down Emily, who arrives in pajamas and a bathrobe. She is evasive when questioned about the letter, then tries to foist the blame on Amesy. When the ongoing cross-questioning gets too dangerous, she ‘falls to the floor in as amateur a faint as was ever invented’. But the fall is loud enough to attract attention: Amesy was preparing for bed on what she thinks is her last night in the house, heard the noise, and left off brushing her hair to investigate. She is still holding her hairbrush as she comes in…
Amesy decides she wants to make a clean breast of things before she goes, and the whole truth comes out. Stephen locates Emily’s supine form and empties a glass of water onto her face. The effect is miraculous:
EMILY (rising quickly): You ought to be ashamed, Daddy!
STEPHEN (as Claire takes the empty glass from him): That was a quick recovery, Emily. (Reaching out a hand.) Now, if you will just hand me that hairbrush, Amesy.
(Amesy crosses to him, puts the brush into his hand.)
AMESY: Sakes alive, Mr Travers. I can spare that!
(Stephen sits on the left side of the divan, turning the brush over and over in his hand.)
STEPHEN: I guess I’ve spared it once too often and spoiled my child.
(He crooks a finger at Emily.)
STEPHEN: Come here, Emily.
(Emily shrinks back at centre. A pause.)
STEPHEN (softly): Come here, Emily.
(Emily does not move.)
STEPHEN (cheerfully): Come, my angel.
EMILY (still not moving; biting a fingernail, fearfully): You wouldn’t hurt me, would you, Daddy?
STEPHEN: Now do I seem like the kind of little man who’d do a thing like that?
(Emily takes a careful step in his direction.)
EMILY: You’ve never done it before, Daddy.
STEPHEN (sweetly): Don’t you trust Daddy, dear?
And at that moment, the telephone rings. It’s Amesy’s sister, but Amsey doesn’t want to chat at this moment of destiny, and puts the receiver down!
(Emily takes a few more cautious, not-quite-trusting steps toward Stephen, who crooks his finger at her again.)
STEPHEN: Come, Emily, dear. Sit on Daddy’s knee.
(Emily reaches the divan and sits on Stephen’s knee. She touches his face with her hand, her voice coy and beguiling.)
EMILY: Oh Daddy. Dear, dear Daddy!
(She puts her arms around his neck, her face close to his. He unfastens her arms gently.)
STEPHEN: Oh, not on Daddy’s knee that way, dear.
(He places her stomach across his lap.)
STEPHEN: On Daddy’s knee this way.
(He starts to apply the hairbrush amid screams of rage and terror as –
THE CURTAIN FALLS
(The hairbrush falls on Pat Seymour, courtesy of Warren Sager, at Bird City Rural High School, Kansas, in the school year 1960-61)
In other words, as one high school yearbook put it in 1953, ‘The father finally sees the light about his daughter, and the play ends as he is giving her a well-deserved spanking’. (Lincoln Community High School, Illinois)
Two things are remarkable about the spanking scene. One is the buildup as Emily is coaxed across to Stephen: there can be no doubt that this is going to end with her being soundly spanked, but what an extended, suspenseful process it takes to get her there!
(Gordie van Marter spanks Sandy Rust at Angola High School, Indiana, on November 25, 1958. Amesy, played by Elaine Gilbert, looks very satisfied with this turn of events!)
The reason for that buildup has to do with the second remarkable thing. As the scenario is set up, one might expect Emily to be spanked by Claire: at long last she has someone to be a mother to her. (We’ll encounter this in a different play in this series another time.) It would also be a lot more straightforward in physical terms, because of Stephen’s disability. The one thing he can’t do is seize her and put her across his knee against her will: she has to come to him first. And it has to be Stephen who spanks her, because he is the one who spoiled her in the first place: the spanking marks his coming to his senses and restoring order in his household.
The play premiered at Rockland High School, Maine, with George Sleeper as Stephen and Dorothy Curtis as Emily. There’s no known photograph of the spanking, but here’s the girl who got it:
To finish off, here’s a quick sample from the play’s four decades on the high school stage.
In the school year 1953-54, Louise Seymour is spanked by Duane Witham at Phoenix Union High School, Arizona:
The next spanking on our itinerary happened at Harding High School, Marion, Ohio on February 26, 1960:
Mike Espinosa spanks Debbie Ellison at Coalinga High School, California, in the school year 1976-77:
And finally, at Edgewood High School, West Covina, California, in the school year 1983-84:
One hopes the school’s previous production of the play, in 1971-72, handled the spanking less ineptly. Or perhaps not – because there’s no known photograph of it!