One of the manifold problems confronting the theater historian is that many scripts simply no longer exist, which means that some plays are almost impossible to describe in detail. A case in point is the 1945 operetta Marinka: most of Emmerich Kalman’s music survives in an archive in Los Angeles, but the libretto, by George Marion, jr., and Karl Farkas, is lost. And that’s all the more frustrating because one thing we know about the show is that it included a spanking scene.
The plot is based on the mysterious deaths in 1889 of Crown Prince Rudolph of Austria and his lover, Mary Vetsera, an incident known to history as the Mayerling Affair after the imperial hunting lodge where the bodies were found. This was the final act in the scandal of a series of extra-marital affairs which might have forced the exclusion of the Crown Prince from the succession. The main question that remained unanswered for more than a century was whether the couple were murdered or had committed suicide.
In the operetta, the answer was… neither. The deaths were an official cover-up, the bodies unwillingly supplied by enemies of the state, while the lovers were allowed to emigrate incognito to Connecticut to begin a new life as farmers!
Aww, I’ve given away the ending. But overall the show told the story of the romance between the Prince and his debutante paramour, known by the pet-name Marinka. Originally entitled Song of Vienna, it had been renamed after its principal character by the time it opened for a pre-Broadway try-out in New Haven in May 1945, with Jerry Wayne as Prince Rudolph and Joan Roberts as Countess Marinka. Here’s Joan, who had just come out of Oklahoma! to play Marinka:
And now here she is as Marinka:
The show then toured to Washington and Boston, where Jerry Wayne bowed out and Harry Stockwell, also late of Oklahoma!, took over as Rudolph.
It opened at Broadway’s Winter Garden on July 18 and, despite lukewarm to poor reviews, managed to run for 165 performances, closing on December 8, after which it had a further tour of the East Coast. By then, Joan Roberts and Harry Stockwell had both left the show. Back came Jerry Wayne as Rudolph, and the new Marinka was former child actress Edith Fellows. Here she is in the role:
And here are Marinka and Rudolph together:
And that brings us to a position where we can identify one key moment in the progress of their romance:
With no script, we can’t say exactly why he put her across his knee, but at least, thanks to the songs, we can infer something of the spanking’s long-term impact on their relationship. For the second act of the show began with a musical number from Marinka, evidently singing about something that had recently happened to her.
‘Treat a woman like a drum,
It’s a way that works with some:
She’ll be sounder if you pound ’er.’
In fact, a song all about the good effect of spanking your wife or girlfriend!
After the 1945-46 tour, Marinka sank into obscurity, though in 1955 Joan Roberts recorded a cover version of ‘Treat a Woman Like a Drum’. And then, in 2008, there was a new production by Ohio Light Opera…
But how can that be, when the libretto is lost? Simple: the show combined most of the surviving songs with a ‘reconstruction’ of the script created by the artistic director, Stephen Daigle. He did feel obliged to make one big change: one song was completely rewritten to suit modern sensibilities. You guessed it: ‘Treat a Woman Like a Drum’! Somehow I really don’t think the spanking scene made it into this new version…