Horse Eats Hat

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Horse Eats Hat
Horse Eats Hat by Edwin Denby after Eugène Labiche.jpg
Written byEdwin Denby
Orson Welles
Based on the play
The Italian Straw Hat
by Eugène Labiche and Marc-Michel
Date premieredSeptember 26, 1936
Place premieredMaxine Elliott Theatre, New York City
Original languageEnglish

Horse Eats Hat is a 1936 farce play co-written and directed by Orson Welles (at the time 21 years of age), and presented under the auspices of the Federal Theatre Project. It was Welles's second WPA production, after his highly successful Voodoo Macbeth. The script, by Edwin Denby and Welles, was an adaptation of the classic French farce The Italian Straw Hat (French: Un chapeau de paille d'Italie) by Eugène Marin Labiche and Marc-Michel.

Starring Joseph Cotten, a mainstay of what would become known as the Mercury Theatre, the play premiered at the Maxine Elliott Theatre, New York City, on September 26, 1936, running until December 5, 1936.


Welles spoke to filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich about the production:

The farce Horse Eats Hat was the best of the Mercury shows – and, though successful, it divided the town. The press was mixed, yet it was always packed, and had an enormous following. Some people went to it every week as long as it ran.[1]

Welles biographer Simon Callow addressed this production at the British Film Institute's premiere of the restored Welles film Chimes at Midnight in 2015:

(After the success of Voodoo Macbeth) ... they (John Houseman and Welles) decided to scheme a project of their own, and they did indeed set up a theatre company of their own under the umbrella of the Federal Theatre Project. They immediately embarked on a fantastically eclectic and crazy program. They gathered around them actors that they had loved ... people that we all know now very well from Citizen Kane; all kinds of character actors, and Welles had a special passion for variety artists – that's the background he had with his father, and so on. So, he crammed them all into their first show, which was a really crazily ambitious thing to do, which was the famous play of The Italian Straw Hat. Houseman particularly, and his friend Virgil Thomson who helped to do the translation, were ever aware of all the new currents in theatre. This time, instead of going towards Expressionism they went towards French Surrealism, and they devised a production, which one would so love to have seen, in which basically the production kept exploding. The set kept on falling down; it was 'the play that went wrong'. The proscenium arch suddenly cracked, and the audience thought that the proscenium arch had actually cracked, but it was all carefully planned. There were cars coming on the stage and going off the stage. It was a mad and insane kind of a romp. Very light-hearted and very fluffy. No political element to it at all. Detested by fifty percent of the press – adored by fifty percent of the press. Some people went again and again and again. Joshua Logan told Welles that it was the greatest piece of theatre that he had ever seen in his life. They had already created a sensation.[2]


Freddy Joseph Cotten[3]:182
Mugglethorpe Orson Welles, Edgerton Paul[3]:182
Horse Carol King and Edwin Denby[4]:34
Entwhistle George Duthie[3]:182
Uncle Adolphe Donald MacMillian[3]:182
Queeper Dana Stevens[3]:182
Bobbin Hiram Sherman[3]:182
Grimshot, Lieutenant of Cavalry Sidney Smith[4]:34
Joseph Harry McKee[3]:182
Gustave France Bendtsen[3]:182
Augustus Bil Baird[3]:182
Myrtle Mugglethorpe Virginia Welles[3]:182
Agatha Entwhistle Paula Laurence[3]:182
Tillie Arlene Francis[3]:182
The Countess Sarah Burton[3]:182
Daisy Henriette Kaye[3]:182
Clotilda Lucy Rodriguez[3]:183
Corporal Bernard Savage[3]:183
Butler Walter Burton[3]:183
First Footman Steven Carter[3]:183
Second Footman J. Headley[3]:183
Raguso Enrico Cellini[3]:183
Berkowitz George Barter[3]:183
Wedding Guests Ellen Worth, Arabella St. James, Marie Jones, Hattie Rappaport, Anna Gold, Myron Paulson, Wallace Acton, Pell Dentler, George Leach, Bil Baird[3]:183
Tillie's Girls Peggy Hartley, Terry Carlson, Lee Molnar, Gloria Sheldon, Teresa Alvarez, Opal Essant, June Thorne, Mildred Cold, Geraldine Law[3]:183
Countess's Guests Georgia Empry, Solomon Goldstein, May Angela, Lawrence Hawley, Margaret Maley, Jack Smith, Mary Kukavski, Elizabeth Malone, Ann Morton, Helena Rapport, Helen Korsun, Nina Salama, Julie Fassett, Jane Hale, Jane Johnson, Michael Callaghan, Don Harward, Walter LeRoy, Harry Merchant, Warren Goddard[3]:183:34
Citizens Night Patrol Arthur Wood, James Perry, Victor Wright, Robert Hopkins, Craig Gordon, Harry Singer, Frank Kelly, Bernard Lewis, Henry Russelle, Charles Uday, George Smithfield, Henry Laird, Edwin Hemmer, George Armstrong, Jerry Hitchcock, Tod Brown[3]:183


  1. ^ Welles, Orson, and Peter Bogdanovich, This is Orson Welles. New York: HarperCollins Publishers 1992 ISBN 0-06-016616-9 page 334
  2. ^ "Simon Callow on Orson Welles and the theatre" by Simon Callow, British Film Institute, August 3, 2015 (Adobe Flash video)
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y France, Richard, The Theatre of Orson Welles. Cranbury, New Jersey: Associated University Presses, Inc. 1977 ISBN 0-8387-1972-4
  4. ^ a b Wood, Bret, Orson Welles: A Bio-Bibliography. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1990 ISBN 0-313-26538-0

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