That Was Then: December 1930

From left, Jimmy Stewart ’32, Joshua Logan ’31, and Marshall Dana ’32 rehearse for their “Drinking Song” number.
From left, Jimmy Stewart ’32, Joshua Logan ’31, and Marshall Dana ’32 rehearse for their “Drinking Song” number.
Princeton University Archives

The Triangle Club’s 42nd season, overseen by future stage and film director Joshua L. Logan ’31, was among its most memorable. For the first time in its already storied history, the club produced a musical comedy, The Tiger Smiles, about student life at Princeton, taking audiences back to the 1890s, when beer flowed freely, and forward to the 1990s, when “progress, system, and efficiency” reign. In this cheerless world, 2 million students see their professors once a year, allowing the faculty to devote themselves to golf.

The Tiger Smiles was warmly received in Princeton when it opened on Dec. 17, 1930, and in the 15 Eastern and Midwestern cities it toured. The critics smiled as well. Time declared, “Its excellence easily equals anything the club has done since it was founded,” while the New York Herald Tribune called it “brilliantly conceived and smartly executed.” Although some satiric barbs were lost on non-Princetonians, those in the know found much to relish, not least “The McCosh Walk,” a musical lampoon of Bicker:

In Princeton town we have a step
That has both pep and pomp.
It’s what the little Soph’mores do
When they become club conscious;
They put their noses in the air
And stick out at the haunches.

Also setting The Tiger Smiles apart was its opening venue — the newly constructed McCarter Theatre, a veritable palace compared to Triangle’s former home, the Casino. Destroyed by fire in 1924, the Casino provided what the club’s director, Professor Donald C. Stuart, called an “inadequate stage, wretched acoustics, and seats that torture like a rack.” After making do with even less congenial quarters for six years, Logan was delighted with his company’s new home. “We wonder now how we managed before without a theater to work in,” he wrote in PAW — a “we” that included one James M. Stewart ’32, who made his Triangle debut as a leading man in The Tiger Smiles.  

John S. Weeren is founding director of Princeton Writes and a former assistant University archivist.