Arthur Addison Bright
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British theatrical agent, most famous for his close friendship with Peter Pan author, J.M.Barrie.
Addison Bright acted as the agent and advisor for a small number of highly successful playwrights, including Arthur Conan Doyle, E.W.Hornung and Stephen Phillips.
His most important client was, however, J.M.Barrie, creator of Peter Pan.
Bright was more than an agent to Barrie; he was a close friend and confidential adviser and played a key role in persuading Barrie to take up play writing.
In 1896 he engineered a visit to the USA so that Barrie could meet the Broadway producer, Charles Frohman, who went on to stage all of his plays.
It was Frohman’s unquestioning belief in Barrie that gave the world Peter Pan, which had its premiere on December 27th, 1904. He funded the vast expense of this revolutionary production, which had many technical problems in its development (stage flying, for example, had never been tried up to that point) without a murmur, totally confident the play would be a rip-roaring success.
Sadly, Bright’s world came crashing down in 1906.
Hornung read a report that his play, Raffles, had been presented more than 1000 times in America, but he hadn’t received royalties for anything like that number of performances. An investigation followed and it appeared that Bright had misappropriated £28,000 of his client’s money. Barrie was owed £16,000, Conan Doyle £8,000 and Hornung £4000.
The probability is that Bright had not intentionally defrauded his clients – he had been a victim of severe depression (then described as “melancholia”) for some time and for a year or two had been physically incapable of running his business properly. The failure to pay the royalties may have been nothing more than bad bookkeeping.
(Certainly, all the money due to the playwrights was repaid very quickly from his estate, which had ample funds to meet the debts.)
That said, while legal proceedings were taking shape, Bright went to Switzerland, telling Barrie that he hoped the mountain air would help him to sleep. Once there, he shot himself.
Barrie was distraught at Bright’s death. He certainly believed in his friend’s innocence and had tried hard to defend him from prosecution.
He wrote a short but loving obituary for Bright, which appeared in the Times on Friday, 1st June, 1906:
“To the many to whom the keenly intellectual face and noble character of Arthur Addison Bright were incentives to well-doing, it will come as a painful shock that he died suddenly on Tuesday night in Lucerne, whither he had gone a few days before in the hope that ‘the mountain air would give him sleep’. Mr Bright had represented a number of authors besides myself in their affairs of the theatre, and it was owing to his encouragement and zealous help more than any other cause that novelists and poets have of late years produced plays. He was a man of a mind the most catholic and cultured, and so beautiful and modest a nature that it may be said of him, he had never time to be much interested in himself, he was so interested in his friends. For many years he had been my most loved friend. He was 45 years of age and leaves a widow and two children.”
This is a very fine handwritten letter (36 Russell Square, W.C. 28th Nov, n.y.) to Stuart Ogilvie*
It reads (in full):
My dear Mr Stuart Ogilvie,
The date of your note is like the hoe of an accusing counsel. I blench before it. But do believe me when I assure you that I have had not a moment until now, for anything but the clamorous worries of plays & management - & let my regret at the discourtesy of my staff be none the less acceptable to you, for the delay in my expression of it.
I am indeed sorry that my first essay in management should be connected with any failure on my people’s part to welcome so distinguished a dramatist, or one for whose work I have always entertained such admiration.
With kind regards
*Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie (1858-1932)
Scottish barrister and playwright, another close personal friend of J.M.Barrie, who went on to build in the early 1920s a “paradise for children” known as Thorpeness on 6000 acres of his land on the Suffolk coast. Promoted as “The Home of Peter Pan” it had a golf course, country club, natural beach and a series of mock-Tudor houses and estate cottages. It also had a 65 acre manmade freshwater lake called the Meare, with tiny islands and locations straight out Peter Pan – the Pirates’ Lair, Wendy’s House, Peter Pan’s Island and Dragon’s Den, together with a life-sixe crocodile and a mini-fort.
Condition is very good.