Memoirs tell of drama in Portales

By Don McAlavy: CNJ columnist

Memoirs left by Levi J. Whiteman, grandfather of the author’s wife Kathy McAlavy brought to life a drama that was produced in Portales in 1907 by Whiteman, then 20, and his friends. The historical melodrama was written in 1888 by John A. Fraser.

The melodrama was called “A Noble Outcast” and founded on an older piece, “Jocrisse the Juggler.” The author said “there is no character to be found with such power to compel alternate laughter and tears as Jerry the Tramp. The drama is intense, the appeal to the sympathy of the human heart powerful, and the comedy is as refined as it is successful in moving the audience to laughter. The drama takes place in the South.”

“In the first act Jerry is a typical ragged tramp, but in the second act he is the same tramp in flashy clothes, making an absurd attempt to look “swell.”

Whiteman and his friends produced the historical melodrama in the courtroom of the old courthouse in Portales. Whiteman was the villain in the drama and Katherine Greathouse, who lived on a ranch west of Floyd, became the heroine.

Whiteman said in his memoirs, that “the drama was such a success in Portales that it was taken on the road, all the way to Texico!”

We didn’t realize any of this until we were reading my grandfather’s memoirs in 1992”, said Kathy McAlavy. “We thought it would be great to locate the play and do it again, in the old Lyceum Theatre in Clovis.”

After a search for the only script of “A Noble Outcast,” known still in existence, it was found by this author in the Billy Rose Collection in the New York City Public Library. The task of finding that script took from Jan. 18, 1993 to Oct. 21, 1993, and another month to receive a paper copy of that old script.

We produced the drama in the old historic Lyceum during Pioneer Days in Clovis July 22-23, 1994. The cast, directed by Jean Kelso, well known for her theatrical work in Clovis, included Harold “Bergan” Burris as Jerry the Tramp. Shellie Lasiter as France, Clifford Webber as Jack Worthington, Rex Murray as James B. Blackburn, David Travis as Colonel Matthew Lee, Betty Burris as Mrs. Matthew Lee, Katherine McAlavy as Sadie. I was the producer.

The old melodrama was a hit in Clovis in 1994 as it was in Portales in 1907.

Don McAlavy is Curry County’s historian. He can be contacted at: dmcalavy@telescopelab.com