Monday, October 18, 1922
“Showstopper” Criminal Linked to Malicious Series of Production AccidentsThe Showstopper: it is a name every actor on Broadway fears and despises; a name that directors scarcely dare to whisper in opening night prayers, hoping against hope that their production will not be the evening’s offering of target practice; a name that unleashes inner terrors and grants wings to fanciful imaginations.
Following his career debut in the Main Line Theater’s disaster-ridden July production of The Wedding Guests, this unseen fiend has wreaked havoc on playhouses up and down Broadway Row, transitioning from an amusing nuisance to a frighteningly enigmatic threat to public safety in a few short months. Several prominent companies are now deep in debt from refunded ticket sales and destroyed property, and hundreds of promising young actors and actresses now wander the streets without work, their dreams of stardom cruelly smashed.
Who is this masked menace, and why has he begun a seemingly one-man crusade to bring down Broadway? Speculation among the citizenry abounds while facts remain elusive.
Mrs. Susan Lepree of Brooklyn said she believes the Showstopper has an unhappy history with theaters.
“I heard the man has a wooden leg and a brass hook for a hand,” she said. “He lost them in a stage accident when he was a child and now he has a vendetta against playhouses for life. Isn’t that just the most romantic tragedy you’ve ever heard?”
Miss Danielle Rousseau of Manhattan said she finds the danger and enigma surrounding the criminal intriguing.
“I’ve heard he can slip in and out of shadows like a phantom,” she said. “It’s some kind of ancient art they teach in the Orient; that’s how he gets in without anyone seeing him. I just wish I could meet him; he’s so daring and mysterious. I’ve fallen in love with him, so I have!”
Mr. Joseph Thompson of Queens had a decidedly less romantic opinion.
“The man’s a fool, and a damn reckless one at that,” he said. “Putting innocent men and women at risk who are just trying to make honest money is the most despicable thing I can think of, and he doesn’t even have the guts to show his face. Yellow-bellied slime.”
Mr. Clifford Hicks, also of Queens, demonstrated firsthand just how many wild rumors exist surrounding the Showstopper.
“I’ve heard tell the Showstopper’s got wings of a bat and sucks the blood of innocents he can find alone in the streets at night,” he said. “Of course, I make it a habit never to put much stock into tall tales and womanly gossip. But that’s the word on the street.”
Mr. Terrance Banks, owner of the Regal Playhouse that was attacked last month, said he is concerned that his ability to put bread and water on the table for himself and his family may be compromised.
“That maniac is out to ruin my business and my livelihood,” he said. “Thanks to the blasted Showstopper, actors won’t sign onto my payroll, my productions are being cancelled and my company is losing money in buckets every day. He must be stopped.”
Even among overwhelmingly negative opinions there are still some that manage to find diamonds in the rough. Sir Reginald Coxley, manager of a modest theater chain including the Majestic Theater on Broadway’s West End, said that his profits have actually increased thanks to the Showstopper.
“More gentlemen and ladies from outside the city are paying to see my productions now, hoping not only for quality entertainment but also to catch a glimpse of the notorious criminal in action,” he said. “Quite an interesting study of human behavior, really, and a savvy manager will continue to reap the benefits.”
When asked if he feared his productions might be next on the Showstopper’s hit parade, Sir Coxley simply laughed and declined comment.
One question on the mind of every New Yorker during this time of crisis is where the police are in the meantime. Broadway’s law enforcement community has thus far outright refused to assign more men to the Showstopper case despite increasing public outcry. Even more shocking is that high-ranking members of the New York City Police Department appear not to take the Showstopper or the threat he poses seriously.
Chief Inspector William Calvin, head of Broadway’s 43rd Precinct, said that in his opinion, the Showstopper case is not even worth his time.
“The man’s just another one of your standard kooks; they pop up, give the people some cheap thrills for a while and disappear when their audience loses interest,” he said. “My officers and I already have our hands full keeping real thugs and murderers off the streets; we can’t afford to run around on a wild goose chase after every nut in a cape and cowl. I’ve got hangnails that are more pressing to me than the Showstopper.”
Despite law enforcement’s dismissive attitude, there are other individuals who feel the threat is greater than many may realize. Mr. Hamilton Saxby, a Bronx-born set designer, former prop master and expert on theatrical technology claims to have studied the Showstopper’s methods of disrupting and destroying productions. He says his findings are, to say the least, alarming.
“This is not just some two-bit prankster looking for thirty seconds of fame,” he said. “Thus far, not one of the Showstopper’s attacks has been a stereotypical hack-and-slash job. The level of ability demonstrated here indicates that each crime is carefully planned down to the slightest detail, and the sheer complexity of means and timing in incidents so far are representative of a brilliant, if perhaps deranged, intellect.”
The set designer also expressed concern regarding the means the Showstopper uses to perpetrate his crimes.
“My examination of the few gadgets and devices recovered intact from crime scenes has confounded me,” he said. “The engineering comprehension involved in their creation must be at least 30 years ahead of our time. What’s more, their specialization of their function further indicates a mind that can foresee every possible situation and build a device tailored to tackle any challenge.”
Mr. Saxby concluded with a warning to police.
“They are tragically underestimating what is happening here,” he said. “All the evidence indicates the Showstopper is very real and very dangerous. I fear that if action is not taken soon, this man, mad or not, may become unstoppable.”
As protests against law enforcement’s stubborn inaction grow stronger every day, seems contrary to logic and the laws of common decency that the sole line of defense against the city’s scum and villainy continue to look the other way on the Showstopper case. If the citizens of New York cannot expect aid from those who have sworn to serve and protect them, where are they to turn?
Even in this dark time, hope still exists for Broadway and its population. Sources inside City Hall say that as recently as last week, several councilmen proposed the passing of an executive order to force the police to mobilize against the Showstopper threat. The result of these valiant efforts by trusted elected representatives remains to be seen.
The preceding chapter was an excerpt from a longer novel in progress, titled The Showstopper! To read more of the story and learn the truth behind the legend, visit the author’s writing blog at www.divinelycomic.wordpress.com. Hope you enjoyed it, and any comments or feedback on either would be greatly appreciated.