Dramatist, Songwriter, and Lyricist: Rida Johnson Young, 1875–1926

  • Sherry D. Engle


Rida Johnson Young created well over thirty plays and musicals, along with numerous popular songs during the first two decades of the twentieth century. Her prodigious output was the result of maintaining a practical writing schedule. “Regularity in work,” explained Young, “is one of the biggest helps to success.”3 Young, who often played down her own accomplishments in interviews, related that another key factor to her success was “never undertaking anything really big” and writing plays that were popular and within her ability.4 But Young also excelled at finding venues for her talents as playwright, lyricist, and songwriter, creating popular dramatic works and songs that brought her both celebrity and wealth. What is more, managing her own business affairs, she usually served as her own agent, took an active role in the casting and rehearsing of productions, and formed professional alliances with the likes of Daniel Frohman, Lee and J. J. Shubert, and Isidore Witmark of Witmark Music Company. When she died in 1926, the dramatist left behind a remarkable body of work, along with a number of unproduced plays.


Lottery Ticket Musical Score Musical Play Business Affair York Public Library 
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  1. 1.
    Rida Johnson Young, “Ah, Sweet Mystery,” Naughty Marietta (New York: Witmark, 1910).Google Scholar
  2. 16.
    Isidore Witmark and Isaac Goldberg, The Story of the House of Witmark: From Ragtime to Swingtime (New York, Lee Furman, 1939), 348.Google Scholar
  3. 17.
    James Walvin in Leisure and Society 1830–1950 (London: Longman, 1978) tell of the turn-of-the-century passion for pianos and the proliferation of sheet music at this time.Google Scholar
  4. 33.
    Albert Nelson Marquis, ed., Who’s Who in America, vol. 12 (Chicago: A. N. Marquis & Company, 1922), 3417.Google Scholar
  5. 34.
    Young also had some initial association with the Shuberts during Brown of Harvard, which they possibly co-produced with Henry Miller and they were apparently involved in casting the play. Sam, Lee and J. J. Shubert went up against the Theatrical Syndicate who had a monopoly on theatres in the late 1800s; after the death of Sam in a 1905 train wreck, Lee and J. J. continued to expand the organization to become the largest theatre owners in New York and throughout the country and essentially forming their own monopoly. Gerald Bordman, American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1869–1914 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1994), 621.Google Scholar
  6. 48.
    Virginia Frame, “Women Who Have Written Successful Plays,” Theatre, 6 (October 1906): ix. Young’s play also competed with three major successes which opened the previous fall: J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan (brought in from England), David Belasco’s The Girl of the Golden West and Charles Klein’s The Lion and the Mouse.Google Scholar
  7. 57.
    Rida Johnson Young, Boys of Company B (When Love is Young) (1907), ts, Shubert Archives, New York, NY, hereinafter cited as SA, Act II, p. 17.Google Scholar
  8. 60.
    Rida Johnson Young, The Lottery Man (New York: Samuel French, 1910).Google Scholar
  9. 69.
    Rida Johnson Young, The Red Petticoat, ts., 1912, SA, Act I, p. 16.Google Scholar
  10. 112.
    Burns Mantle, rev. The Dream Girl, Chicago Tribune, August 31, 1924, p. D1.Google Scholar
  11. 145.
    Rida Johnson Young, Captain Kid, Jr. (New York: Samuel French, 1920), Act I, p. 42.Google Scholar
  12. 157.
    Charles Darnton, The Evening World, December 7, 1916, n.p., clipping, MCNY.Google Scholar
  13. 172.
    Fran Hassencahl, “Mae West,” Alice M. Robinson et al., eds, Notable Women in the American Theatre (New York: Greenwood, 1989), 915.Google Scholar
  14. 223.
    Lucy France Pierce, “Women Who Write Plays,” The World Today 15 (July 1908): 729.Google Scholar

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© Sherry D. Engle 2007

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  • Sherry D. Engle

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