|Photo of Clyde Fitch from the Fitch Family Photo File at the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives|
|Signature of Clyde Fitch from April 12th, 1877, likely from an autograph book. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives.|
|A young Clyde Fitch with Mary Jackson, one of Fitch's childhood friends. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library & Archives|
His mother was worried about young Clyde leaving the house to visit Ned so had a door put into a shared wall to connect the two homes. By the time he was 13 years old, Clyde was already interested in theater and staged a successful production of “Pinafore” at the residence of Judge Samuel W. Jackson, a Washington Avenue neighbor. He painted scenery, found costumes, managed rehearsals and directed all aspects of production. Assumed to be a “dandy” in boarding school, Clyde knew he was considered a sissy by the other boys but said “I would rather be misunderstood than lose my independence”. He had a unique style, considered somewhat flamboyant and would often write his parents requesting specific articles of clothing for upcoming events and activities. Even though he was teased and sometimes tormented by his schoolmates, once even thrown out a window, Clyde never conformed and remained true to himself. One school chum who later became a critic, fondly recalled how the “motive power in Fitch’s hips resembled a gay sidewheel excursion steamer,” with the port and starboard wheels moving in turn instead of together, and his voice that of a “hysterical woman who just missed the train.”
Clyde attended Amherst College in Massachusetts where he was known as "Billy". He was a member of Chi Psi Fraternity and the “AC” (Amateur Club), a dramatic group where he was well known for playing female roles and “dazzled his fellow students with his flair for dress and his virtuosity as an amateur actor”. Upon graduation in 1886, he considered becoming an architect, his father’s choice for him, but wanted to try his hand at writing. His mother, who also dabbled in writing, encouraged his literary pursuits and his father agreed to support him for three years while he tried his hand at writing. They had an understanding if he wasn’t successful at the end of that time he would return home to Hartford Connecticut, where his parents had moved in 1885, to launch a career in architecture or business.
|The cast of The Rivals at Amherst College, 1885. Fitch was known for playing female characters and is seated on the far right. Courtesy of the Archives & Special Collections blog at Amherst College.|
|Caricature of Clyde Fitch courtesy of the Archives & Special Collections blog at Amherst College.|
Clyde wrote at least 62 plays, 36 of them original stories ranging from social satire to historical drama. He was especially known for his plays chronicling the lives of the leisure class. During the nineteen-year period he was actively writing, he was the most popular writer for the Broadway stage of his time. Beau Brummell was followed by Nathan Hale, The Cowboy and the Lady, The Moth and the Flame, The Girl with the Green Eyes and The Truth to great success. He was actively involved in the production of all his plays, directing most of them. He was well known for his staging and spectacular sets also giving impeccable attention to costuming, lighting and props. His plays were wildly popular with audiences but found mixed reviews with critics who said they lacked substance, focused too much on women's roles and storylines and relied too much on spectacle. Nevertheless, almost all of them were box office smashes. Many of his plays were made into silent films, the most popular being Beau Brummell.
Clyde's writing not only brought him fame but also enormous wealth. The annual income from his plays was put at about $250,000 a year, the equivalent of over $7 million in today’s dollars, this before the time of income tax when the average worker earned about $1 a day. His lifestyle was lavish. He built a townhouse at 113 East 40th Street in New York City with cupids overlooking the street and the interior adorned with fountains and nude male statuary. During his travels he amassed valuable artwork and antiques from Europe to furnish the townhouse as well as in his summer home in Greenwich CT. Clyde generously entertained and was a popular host and raconteur. Invitations to his parties and country weekends were highly coveted. His inner circle was a colorful group of gay and gay-friendly friends and colleagues who adored him. He had discreet affairs with well-known men most notably Oscar Wilde. Despite his opulent lifestyle, Clyde never stopped working. One friend said, "he lived like a sultan but worked like a dray horse". He even wrote lyrics, most notably to the popular song "Love Makes the World Go Round" for the show Bohemia with a musical arrangement by William Furst.
Not all his collaborations were successful. In 1906, Charles Frohman teamed him with Edith Wharton to write a theatrical adaptation of her novel House of Mirth. It was a difficult story to turn into a play, but they persevered, often working at Wharton’s home The Mount in Lenox Massachusetts. Neither thought the play was going to work but each continued working on it not wanting to disappoint the other. They eventually realized that Frohman had told each of them that the other wanted to work together on the project. They did finish the play and it was as unsuccessful as both feared but they became fast friends.
|Advertisement of Clyde Fitch's "Girls" which debuted at the Van Curler Opera House in Schenectady. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives.|
Unfortunately, Clyde was unable to bring another of his plays to Schenectady. He began suffering from attacks of appendicitis and was advised to have surgery. He decided to travel to France instead for an alternative treatment against his doctors wishes. He spent a few months in Chalons-sur-Marne where he suffered an acute attack. He underwent emergency surgery by a local doctor but never rallied. Clyde died a few days later, September 4, 1909, after developing blood poisoning. Charles Frohman died on the Lusitania in 1915 ending Schenectady's hopes of more first productions.
|Fitch's library was recreated in the Clyde Fitch Memorial Room at Amherst College. Courtesy of the Grems-Doolittle Library and Archives.|
|Fitch's grave in Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx is a testament to his wealth and lifestyle.|