Emma-Lindsay Squier & the Dancing Pirate
Detail of an illustration for
Squier's "The Glorious Buccaneer" in Colliers
Jessica Amanda Salmonson
Acadamy Award-nominated The Dancing Pirate (Pioneer Pictures, 1936) was directed by Lloyd Corrigan, based on a short story by Emma-Lindsay Squier. The screenplay passed through several scriptwriters' hands before it was produced & bares little resemblance to the story "Glorious Buccaneer" that appeared only in the magazine Colliers in December of 1930. One wonders why she did not have a Photoplay Edition of her uncollected pirate tales at this time, as she did have a collection's worth of them. One reference book listed Pirate Plunder as having been issued as a book in 1933, & it was on my wantlist for years, but I slowly came to the conclusion this had to be in error as the series had not been completed in Good Housekeeping until 1935. See Emma-Lindsay Squier's Pirate Stories for a bibliography & commentary on her works in this area.
That her pirate tales remained uncollected -- even as one of them filled the silver screen with then-still-rare Technicolor marvels -- is almost inexplicable. But her highest commercial successes as an author were in the 1920s. Her long association with Good Housekeeping as one of their most highly-paid regulars was over by 1935, the year before the cinematic adaptation of one of her tales. This hardly means her writing career was on the skids, but it had taken directions that had more to do with travel & the Hollywood scene & involvement with the San Diego Zoo all of which made the New York publishing industry appear a little less significant. When The Dancing Pirate was released, Emma-Lindsay was planning a trip to Africa & was co-authoring with the great & weird American poet Margaret Widdemer a play they both hoped might be produced on Broadway. And we haven't even considered what her husband was up to as a film producer & her assistance to him on scripts & promotional articles & other matters.
So while there was a small element of "downfall" in the mid-1930s (the loss of her association with Good Housekeeping and Cosmopolitan Books had to sting) in other ways this adaptable, resiliant woman was doing better than ever. Her later works were appearing in pulp magazines (including pseudonymously in Hollywood reporter type magazines) & travel pieces in the Girl Scout magazine American Girl & articles on zoos & sundry topics for newspapers which was fun stuff though considerably less significant than her books. Her last book for Cosmoplitan Books was Bride of the Sacred Well & it approached being a bestseller, yet now the Depression was setting in & her publisher was leery of a pirate collection at this time (well before one was filmed). I still think had she spent a little more time in New York hobnobbing with publishers & editors at the critical moment when the film was pending release, a Photoplay original for Burt or Grosset & Dunlap gathering all the pirate stories would've been a cinch to sell. But the iron would've had to have been struck fast because by the time the film was released & created no big stir, then it would be too late.
She may have left too much to the hands of agents while she pursued her travel & her California activities. The latter included radio performances & radio scriptwriting, lectures, animal activism, Hollywood reportage . . . at a time when even her cocker spaniel Monty was acquiring a career -- as a film actor! All of this only hints at the adventures of her active life. Those of us who are complete bookworms might not agree, but not everyone thinks getting another book out is the most important thing in one's life.
Within two years, in 1938, tuberculosis was diagnosed. She did return to New York at this time to see a specialist, but hardly to hobnob with publishers. Her last two-year battle for her life meant her writing career held a distant second place in order of importance. How sad to think of the debilitation of that dear pirate maiden who once climbed ropes to save her playmate & cousin Miriam Seeley (always the damsel in distress) from fellow marauders!
The Dancing Pirate is available in video release. It is a Technicolor Rodgers & Hart musical about Boston dance instructor Jonathan Price (Charles Collins) kidnapped by pirates in the 1820s. Many pirate antics occur while Jonathan the swabbie dances with his mop or evades walking the plank. He eventually escapes his captors to a little Spanish town in old California, where the governor (Frank Morgan) initially mistakes him for a pirate chief, leading to comic-opera misunderstandings, & falling for the beautiful Serafina (Steffi Duna). Watch for Rita Hayworth amidst the Dancing Cansinos in the elaborate climactic dance sequence, & in the beginning of the film keep your eye out for a brief appearance by Pat Ryan (later Pat Nixon).
The story is loosely adapted from the life of history's Joseph Chapman, originally of Boston. As a San Diego resident, Emma-Lindsay would've been exposed to Chapman's actual history even without her special personal love of pirate stories. Chapman was not a dancer, of course, & the character Emma-Lindsay had written about was a carpenter. History's Chapman deserted Hippolyte de Bouchard's pirate crew that had long harrassed the west coast of Spanish California. He became the first yankee resident of Los Angeles in 1818 & established himself as a leading citizen of that sleepy little pueblo village.
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