Neapolitan Emery Pottle, aka Gilbert Emery, was a writer and actor, born in Naples in 1875. Read more about his Hollywood film career and enjoy a virtual film festival in this post [link to be added].
During the month of October 2021, Bristol Valley Theater, the Naples Library, and the Naples Historical Society partnered to present information about the Naples-born author, playwright, and actor, Emery Pottle aka Gilbert Emery, leading up to a live reading of his 1921 play, The Hero, featuring the acting talents of local Neapolitans and hosted by the Bristol Valley Theater on October 24, 2021.
Below is a compilation of posts that originally appeared on Facebook, written by Sara Almekinder.
Today we will give a little information on the Pottle family, who were very influential not only in Naples, but in the state and nationally.
Gilbert Emery's grandfather was Emory Bensley Pottle (1815-1891). He was a US Congressman elected to represent New York's 20th District in the United States House of Representatives, serving from 1857 to 1861. He also served as a member of the New York State Legislature.
Gilbert's father was William Loring Pottle (1848-1910). He was born in Naples and lived nearly all his life here.He held a clerkship in Albany while Cleveland was Governor and was custodian of the Dies at Washington under Cleveland's first administration. Mr. Pottle was a gentleman of pleasing address and had many friends.
Gilbert Emery (Emory Bensley Pottle 1875-1945)
Gilbert Emery was the stage name of Gilbert Emery Bensley Pottle, an American actor who appeared in over 80 movies from 1921 to his death in 1945. He started out as a short story writer and later wrote plays. From 1899 to 1900 he was an instructor in English and public speaking at Beloit Academy in Wisconsin. In 1900 he was a reporter for the Morning Sun in New York City; from 1900-1901 he worked for the Evening Post; and from 1901-1903 he worked for Criterion Magazine. He was an instructor in English at Columbia University and a writer. During World War I, Pottle was a member of the American Expeditionary Forces' Liaison Service, serving with French Balloon Companies 39, 49 and 74. He was later a member of the Paris Peace Conference from 1918 to 1919, and a member of the Interallied Food Commission in 1919. He wrote a number of books in his early years, including Handicapped, The Little Village, and The Little House. He also wrote poems and short stories for magazines and several plays. Much of his writing was under the pen name Gilbert Emery.
Today is the second post in a series about Neapolitan Emery Pottle, focusing on his early career and romantic failings so epic they were immortalized in the society page of a California newspaper and the literature of the time.
Emery was born in Naples in 1875, but was not destined for small town life. After attending high school in Naples and Oneonta, Pottle attended Amherst College, graduating in 1899.
Perhaps seeking adventure, the recent graduate struck out into the world and settled in Beloit, Wisconsin, a town of about 10,000 residents and over 100 cigar makers. Pottle was hired at the Beloit Academy where he taught writing and public speaking, but the land of cheese and beer could not entice Pottle to stay for long and he relocated to New York City in 1900.
In NY, Pottle got his first professional writing gig as a reporter at the Morning Sun in 1900. Later that year, he moved to the Evening Post later. In 1901, he left his beat for a position at Criterion Magazine. During this time, Pottle was also an English instructor at Columbia University and pursuing his own work as a writer.
By 1904, Pottle met and wed fellow writer, Juliet Wilbour Tompkins. They celebrated their marriage on November 22, 1904… and their divorce in March 1905. The Oakland Tribune announced the split on March 27, 1905 and noted that the divorce coincided with the publication of a Pottle short story in Harper’s Magazine.
The story, “The Reparation,” is about a young man dealing with guilt and glee after his miserable marriage ends when his wife dies in childbirth. [click arrows symbol in upper right corner of slides below to scroll through at full size]
Pottle never married again, but he continued to write. In tomorrow’s installment, we will share some more of Pottle’s works.
Emery Pottle wrote short stories, poems, and plays throughout his life and many of his works are available online. This post includes links to a selection of these. Happy reading!
• The Late Mr Rollins and Other College Farces – 1899 – plays written while Pottle was at Amherst https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=loc.ark:/13960/t4zg7h91s • Handicapped – 1908 – a novel about a love triangle and a horse race https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=hvd.hn1ehk • Poems – 1911 – Pottle’s roots in Naples are visible to me in some of his poems, especially On the October Hills https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uva.x030803736 • The Little Village – 1917 – a novel https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uva.x030833204 • Tarnish – a Play in 3 Acts – 1924 - If this year’s reading of The Hero is a success, perhaps we could read this next year. https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=uc1.b3727222
Pottle was almost 39 years old and living near Lake Como, Italy when the First World War started in July 1914. In September 1915, Pottle joined the American Ambulance Sevice at the age of 40. He signed up for service at Lycee Pasture, a boys’ school outside Paris that was converted into a 1600-bed military hospital during the war.
Pottle remained in the battlefields near Paris until October when he was redeployed to Pont-a-Mousson in Lorraine. Fighting was heavy in this area and ambulances transported an average of 7500 wounded soldiers per month from the trenches, frequently facing German fire. For more information, use the links below to read memoirs written by members of the American Ambulance Service: https://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/memoir/afshist/AFS1f.htm https://net.lib.byu.edu/estu/wwi/memoir/Buswell/AAFS1.htm
Pottle returned to NYC and spoke about his experiences at a fundraiser for the American Red Cross. His impassioned speech imploring donations was quoted on the front page of the June 22, 1917 edition of the New York Times. An excerpt:
“I am an idealist, but all the idealists are fighting on the side of the allies. This is the time for action and not words.”
“Those who stand on the curb and wave flags when the soldiers depart and stand there again to sob when they return are not patriots.”
“You say, I have given my sons. Well, do you count them as worth a hundred dollars or a thousand or even a million dollars? What are you doing when they are fighting the battles of the world? Are you just sitting around and doing nothing? Will you be ashamed to look those sons in the face if they do return? How can we think of comfort or hesitate to make any sacrifice when we think of what is going on in France tonight.”
“Think of the stream of wounded men overflowing from the front, flowing, flowing, and still flowing.”
“The flower of France has gone. The flower of England has gone and the flower of America is going.”
Pottle’s experiences in war were reflected in his writings. In 1918, he published “Squad’s Right”, a short story about a man in his 40s who abandons his thoughts of active duty when his experiences in training show him that he is too old to fight. Like Pottle, his character serves in the Ambulance Service instead.
[click arrows symbol in upper right corner of slides above to scroll through at full size]
The Hero, a play about a returning war hero, was published in 1920.
Emery published The Hero in 1920, 2 years after the conclusion of World War I and 4 years after he returned from the front where we served as an ambulance driver in France.
The play is a contemplation on its time. How does a world that mourned the vacancy left when its sons went to war adapt to welcome them home? How does war change those who fought and those who stayed behind? How does heroism on the battlefields translate after the war is over?
The Hero debuted on Broadway over 100 years ago. It opened in March 1921 at the Longacre Theater for 5 performances and was reprised for 80 performances from September to November 1921 at the Belmont Theater. The Belmont was closed in 1937 and demolished in 1951, but the Longacre still stands at 220 W 48th street. This was Emery’s first experience on Broadway and launched his career on stage and in movies. He was 46 years old and movies as we know them did not exist yet. The Hero’s debut was only 1 year after the official end of the Spanish Flu, the global pandemic that lasted from February 1918 to April 1920 and killed more than 50 million people. Broadway stayed open during the pandemic but with reduced audiences, staggered performances, and closures and mandatory quarantines when outbreaks occurred. Masks were not required, but some patrons wore them. Ushers were asked to “eliminate the sneezers, coughers, and spitters” from the audience. In 2014, the Metropolitan Playhouse staged a production of The Hero. The Metropolitan Playhouse provided a copy of the script to the Naples Historical Society. The script was hard to find and we appreciate the generosity of the Metropolitan Playhouse in sharing it with us. You can read reviews of the production here: http://slleiter.blogspot.com/.../review-of-hero-march-14... https://www.broadwayworld.com/.../THE-HERO-Comes-to-the...