Interview with Robert Schnitzer
Interview with Robert Schnitzer
Interview Date: February 20, 1992

Camera Rolls: 318:09-12
Sound Rolls: 318:05-06
Interview gathered as part of The Great Depression .
Produced by Blackside, Inc.
Housed at the Washington University Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.
Editorial Notes:

Preferred citation:
Interview with Robert Schnitzer , conducted by Blackside, Inc. on February 20, 1992, for The Great Depression . Washington University Libraries, Film and Media Archive, Henry Hampton Collection.

These transcripts contain material that did not appear in the final program. Only text appearing in bold italics was used in the final version of The Great Depression.

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INTERVIEW
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[camera roll 318:09] [sound roll 318:05] [slate marker visible on screen]
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QUESTION 1
INTERVIEWER:

We're going to talk about the Federal Theatre Project. Give me a sense, I know you had been involved in the theater before the Theatre Project and in fact afterwards, that that's a part of your theater career. But give me a sense of why you think there was a need for the theater project in the first place? What was happening in the American theater?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Well, what was happening in the American theater was what was happening in America generally. People were out of work. And Mr. Roosevelt, who was one of my deities, felt that one should put people to work at their own professions or trades so that they could go back into them when the, when the Depression was over. He, he thought, and it seems to make sense that a pianist should not be forced to use a pick and shovel and then try to go back and have his hands handle a piano again. And so it was part of the, the general need of the country.

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QUESTION 2
INTERVIEWER:

Now, apart from, apart from putting people back to work when Hallie [Flanagan] finally got, was selected as the head of the theater part of Federal One, she developed some other goals. Maybe you can talk about this, this issue of bringing theater to people who have never seen it.

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Hallie, of course, had a, had a vision that was quite beyond putting people to work. She felt that this was the opportunity to use this emergency, perhaps, as, as work, as a tool towards bringing us a national theater. Of course, and, of course, I'm very partisan to, to Hallie's theories, because I like, I think almost everybody who worked for her, we practically worshipped her. She had, she was a hell of a leader. And she saw American national theater not as a single company in one city, like, which is logical, so to say, in England, with a homogeneous public. Now it's not quite so homogeneous as it was, then. Or France, though you have a national theater that tours a small geographic area and is based in the national capital. We are such an eclectic culture that she thought that a national theater would have various characteristics in various parts of the country. We had so many different national traditions and, and so many different styles of life, that a national theater would be a very dispersed one, with not only the classics, but also with very regional themes and, and a great variety of programming.

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QUESTION 3
INTERVIEWER:

Give me a little insight because you knew Hallie Flanagan fairly well. Her background was in college theater. How would someone—

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

We have to change batteries.

INTERVIEWER:

Oh, I'm sorry. The question I'm about to ask him, we'll just wait to, is how, how someone—

[cut] [slate marker visible on screen]
ROBERT SCHNITZER:

You were going to tell me, try and give me some insight into how someone with a relatively limited background in theater education would develop such a broad vision.

INTERVIEWER:

Well, although Hallie came from what some people consider a very secluded part of the theater world, the academic theater, like various, there are people with special talents who break out of whatever mold they're supposed to be in, and, Hallie is true—Hallie, of course, never expected to be a professional at all, you know that don't you? She was a wife and mother until her husband tragically died, and she had a baby in her arms, and she had to earn a living. And she began teaching theater at her old school. And then she became involved in it, and having the kind of a mind she had, she developed an interest world-wide in theater. And she was the first Guggenheim woman. You know that story, do you, that Guggenheim, who was the great man who ran the Guggenheim Foundation from the beginning. Oh, dear—

INTERVIEWER:

It's OK. We can start over. Do you remember?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

No, I, I don't. And, he was brought by some friend to see a production she had done at the college. He went back afterward and said, "You're going to be the first woman Guggenheim!" And she chose—at that time there was a great ferment in the Russian theater with Vakhtangov and, and Stanislavsky and all of, of the great ones of that period. And she chose to go to Russia, which did her no good later on, of course, with the, with the congressional committees. But she went there purely as a student, and was very much struck by the various styles, the new developments that hadn't seeped out into the Western world at all, excepting, I guess, a few experimental people, probably in, in Paris, maybe. And so she came back excited about the possibilities of a great variety, not the standard theater with a, a box with the curtain and an audience sitting out there, and, the well made three act play. And she began working at that. And then she was asked to go to Vassar, and there she instituted for the first time—Vassar, all the plays that the girls put on had, had girls playing the men's parts. And she shocked the whole campus by getting any man she could find in the town or on the faculty to play the male parts in, in plays. And from there, of course, she became known nationally in the academic theater, and, and I think to a certain extent in the professional theater. She was not the first choice for the job, you know, as head of the, the Federal Theatre. Several thorough professionals turned it down. And Actors' Equity wasn't favorable to it at all at the start. And they didn't want to fool around with this business of amateur, semi-pro theaters they thought it would be. And, Hallie—thank God they did, 'cause Hallie then was, I don't know, second or third choice, whatever it was.

INTERVIEWER:

She had a challenge, right there.

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Right there she said, "Boy, let me take hold of it!" And, and she did.

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QUESTION 4
INTERVIEWER:

Now, now when you got involved, you, you, your original connection with the theater project was in Maryland, right?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Well, I had the same Broadway attitude towards it that everybody else did. I, I had been making my career. I had been at it only six or seven years, I guess. And I did it at the Theatre Guild and with Walter Hampden and with Katharine Cornell, and, you know, I was thoroughly Broadway. You know George M. Cohan's line, "When you get west of the Hudson, it's all camping out." [laughs] So , but I, I had, I had, a summer theater in, in Delaware outside of Wilmington which I had had almost since I started professional work. It was one of the first barn theaters even before our famous Westport Playhouse. I and my partner converted a barn there.

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QUESTION 5
INTERVIEWER:

So what I, what I want to get a sense from you is, is, is how, how the experience touched you from, from the Broadway showbiz guy to someone who believed in Hallie's vision.

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

It was just because my theory had always been, "Don't wait and sit by the phone. Take the first offer that comes along." And it happened that that fall nobody had called me yet when I got through the summer season in, in Delaware, nobody had called me for a job in New York. I was still then an actor and a stage manager, though I moved on into administration. Anyway, I guess, that my first fully administrative job was with the Federal Theatre. And I was called up by the WPA in Delaware and said, "We're organizing a, a theater unit here. We have enough, theater people to justify a unit, and, would you like to run it?" I come in to be interviewed for it. I said well, "Take the first job that's offered, if it is offered." I went in, went to see, of course, the Arts, Director of the Arts Project, reported directly to, to Washington, which always irritated the politically appointed directors of all the other WPA jobs in the state. I had to go down and see him, however. And I was ready for a fight, because I expected to be asked how I had voted. And I was not asked that. I was asked whether I believed in putting people to work at their own work. And that was an easy answer. And the only other question was, "Do you think you could do it?" Well [laughs] , at nearly, I guess around thirty years of age, there was no question about that! So I took the job because it was a job to do. And then I pitched in and then I, being, not being too dumb, I, I acquired Hallie's theories. I found out what she was up to, and found out what kind of a person she was, too. I was called down there after I had done the first . I think I told you I did the original in modern dress. Orson Welles and John Houseman had my prompt script, although I wouldn't claim to be the director that Orson Welles was. But anyway she called me down there and asked what I had done wrong. She said "Nothing, we just like what you're doing. We want to talk to you." and she said, "Do you need anything?" which was typically Hallie. And I said, "Yes, I need, for one thing, the great honor of being allowed to charge admission." If you were good enough, why, you charged admission. So she said, "That's all right." And I said, "I need an administrator." And I named the person that I had in mind, and a treasurer, and she said, "Well, all right, we'll ask the unit that she's working for if she can be released." And she said, "Anything else?" I said, "Yes, you're not paying me enough." And she turned to her assistant and said "What's he getting?" and he told her. She said, "Well, that's true, we'll give you a little more." So you can imagine that I, I was completely sold. But that was the kind of a leader she was. She, she was—

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QUESTION 6
INTERVIEWER:

Give me your impression of that first meeting. How did she seem?

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INTERVIEWER:

OK, I was, I was wondering if you could, I know it's a long time ago, but give me your impressions of her [Hallie Flanagan] from that first meeting.

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Well, in the first place, they were using a, a great old mansion, the McLean Mansion in Washington. And her office, for some reason she'd been assigned to the ballroom, I think, and at the far end of it there was this huge desk with a little woman behind it. And I marched down to it, and I thought, "Boy, she's pretty small for the job." But, she was a powerful personality, and, and she made you feel that she was interested in you and that she wanted to help you do your job. She never, that I ever knew of, went in and said, "This is to be done!" And let's say artistically, particular. She'd come in and see a production in rehearsal, and it's always to the director, "What would happen if," or, "What do you think about this?", so forth, things like that. She brought out the best in you rather than imposing her, her thoughts on you.

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QUESTION 7
INTERVIEWER:

And when she [Hallie Flanagan] would make those kinds of comments, it wouldn't be as an administrator, it would be more like someone giving you notes after rehearsal?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

She's a, an artistic colleague of course. She was primarily a stage director rather than an administrator. She took that on. She had to learn that. She was very good at it. She, she was the kind of administrator that people want to lie down in front of a bus for because she always backed you up. She, she—when I did the Caesar in modern dress, it was the first time that it had been tried, except in Shakespeare's time, of course, they did it in modern dress, but, there was a lot of fuss about it. We were supposedly on good terms with Mussolini at the time, and, it was, it was some political people in religious places that made use of the fact that we had a large Italian population in Wilmington to complain that I was insulting Italy. I said that if Mussolini prided himself on looking like the Naples bust of Caesar, that was not my fault. I had picked my Caesar to look like the Naples bust. And, and I said, I asked the gentleman who was making the protest whether he would like to come and see the fact that we had not made any changes in Shakespeare's lines at all. There was no change at all. I just put them into khaki and black shirts, and, it seemed to fit the times. And he said, he, there were some places you've made up your mind about without seeing them. And for awhile I contemplated running an ad saying, "Come to Schnitzer's Whorehouse." But then I didn't, I didn't try that. Anyway, Harry Hopkins got out of Washington. Harry Hopkins went to Hallie and said, "Look, can't you put them into togas?" And Hallie said, "We're not going to put them into bedsheets. If you force us to, we'll pull it off, but otherwise, we'll run it the way it is." Hallie went to bat for you. And we continued to play it.

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QUESTION 8
INTERVIEWER:

She, she [Hallie Flanagan] would be a sort of a, if there were problems from upstairs, from Hopkins or Roosevelt, she would be the, she would—

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

—the buffer, absolutely, never passed the buck. When in the latter days, when serious cuts had to be made, particularly the New York project, which was by far the biggest and took cuts of a thousand people at a time, they were killing it by inches, and she, herself never sent up word to the director of the New York project, "Cut a thousand people." She came up, called a mass meeting of the, of everybody in the, in the New York Project and said, "Here's the situation. We have to do this, and I'm sorry, but there it is." And she took the heat of the people who, you know, hated the administration anyways. And that was always her way. It taught me a lot when I—I learned a lot from her when I went on into purely administrative work. She was a hell of a leader!

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QUESTION 9
INTERVIEWER:

Now, let's, let's switch gears back to Delaware, to the project you were running there before you did other things with the theater project. What was it like taking all these different actors, some of whom might have been amateurs, some of whom were summer stock, some of whom were old vaudevillians? What was that experience like?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Well, I, I chose the, the because the school board was studying, the schools were studying Caesar that year, and I had been instructed to cooperate with the, with the schools. So I chose as a hell of a good melodrama and tried to prove that it wasn't just a lot of lines that you memorized or anything like that. And, as you say, I had a very mixed bag of people, and I had come from a very, very legitimate thing.

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QUESTION 10
INTERVIEWER:

What kind of people did you have?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Vaudevillians, circus people—

INTERVIEWER:

Will you start that over again? Just say, "We had..."

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

We had vaudevillians, circus people, some from the legitimate theater. It was a very mixed bag. And I was very suspicious at first because it—I said I came from a very, very, legitimate—I'd been several years with Walter Hampden and Miss Cornell, and, it—but that stood me in good stead, because I was able to make them realize that it was a play, not, not something on a shelf, a bookshelf. And we went at it. And I cut it very severely at first, and these old boys would come to me and say, "Hey, Bob, I can read that line," and we'd put it back in. And then we did a number of other plays. We did a very amusing play called about making a job for yourself. I don't whether you've ever read that script. You'd find it very amusing. It's about—

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QUESTION 11
INTERVIEWER:

About how much have we got on this magazine?

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

Oh, almost 190.

INTERVIEWER:

So now, before we get to Treasure Island, I don't know whether the Delaware unit was involved in them, but one of the most unique theatrical forms that the Theatre Project developed was the Living Newspaper. Tell me a little bit about that.

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Yes. We never, we never did that in Delaware, but I was in Delaware, oh, less than a year before they moved me down to Washington.

INTERVIEWER:

You were aware of how the thing developed?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Oh yes. That was another good thing. The news of what was being done all over the country was circulated to all the unit directors, so you know what was being done. And you had, it gave you ideas, too, as Orson got his ideas from—

INTERVIEWER:

So, can you explain to me what the theory behind the Living Newspaper was? Or what, what the people...?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Well it, it was a very novel thing. Hallie, I don't know who, where the idea came from to Hallie, whether it sprang from her own thinking or whether she had seen something somewhere that had moved her to it. But she just thought that this documentary stage play was something worth doing. Of course, it was one of the brilliant successes and one of the causes of our downfall, because it was too verbal and showed up too many cracks in the structure of our government.

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QUESTION 12
INTERVIEWER:

Well, well how do you about whether a theater should do that? Is that a legitimate thing?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Well, is it legitimate for PBS to run documentaries? Why shouldn't the theater do it? I, of course, having all my life dealt with the round actors and not with the flat ones, I believe that the living theater is the best means of communication. I'm not alone in that of course. The Catholic Church has always known that. They, the theaters you know it was saved on the steps of the Church in the Middle Ages. And certainly the, the Mormons use it as not only for religious teaching, but generally for recreation and for general education.

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QUESTION 13
INTERVIEWER:

Let's talk a little more about the Living Newspaper. I mean, if someone picks up the New York Times and reads the news, that's not controversial. Why does it become controversial when it's put in a play?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Well, I can only give you my prime example, and that is that there was, when the various relief, housing relief measures were in Congress, there was one gentleman who got up and said, "Oh, you can't do too much with these people. If you give them a bathtub, they'll fill it with coal." Well, that was in the Congressional Record, and that was one of the scenes in , the living newspaper on housing. And here was the character said to be Senator So-and-so making his statement. Well, that didn't make him very happy, because it's been hidden away in the Congressional Record, but when you put it up on a stage, it's pretty, pretty serious stuff. So, of course, the, the Living Theatre's the most dangerous means of documentary presentation. Yes. Films, secondly, as you know, there is lots of pressure on the media to mind their manners in these matters. And—

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QUESTION 14
INTERVIEWER:

Do you remember how the public received these Living Newspapers? I mean, did they find it—

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Oh, they were a tremendous success. You can find that in all the records of, of the time. There wasn't one of them that wasn't welcome. on the subject of syphilis, and, and of course, the , which was the most famous, perhaps, on agriculture, some, all of them to the point, all of them absolutely documented so that nobody could say there was anything untrue about them at all. And constructively critical, which is what a good newspaper is, too.

INTERVIEWER:

Have we got enough to keep on going on this? Or...?

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

No.

[cut]
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QUESTION 15
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INTERVIEWER:

OK. Let's now move it over to how you came to get involved with the project out on Treasure Island. How did that assignment start?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Oh, well, I had been brought down from Delaware to be an assistant to Hallie in Washington, which I was for a year. And my work was mainly analyzing reports. We had very thorough reports from all the projects all over the country, and I, I did a lot of analyzing of them for her. And then, when it was decided to have a federal building at Treasure Island, Hallie asked me to go out there and organize the Federal Theatre out there. And there, too, I was introduced to the, to the state director who said, "We don't need you out here. We've got somebody already that can do it." One of his favorite old boys, an old theater ham he'd wanted in that job. I said, "Well—" He said, "You've got two strikes against you." And I said, "Well, give me the third anyway." [laughs] And I was very flattered that when I, when Hallie called me back to help with the hearings in Washington that he protested my going.

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QUESTION 16
INTERVIEWER:

When you got out to Treasure Island, what state was it in? Were the buildings...?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Well, the building was not, not yet built. I worked with the architects on the plans for the theater. It was a very, for those days, an advanced theater. It had no footlights and steps right down to the audience. It had a very wide stage. And it was where George Eisenhower, the great lighting man, got his first chance to try his mad theory that you didn't have to have a rheostat for to dim a light. You could do it, he thought then, electronically with a light bulb. And, of course, now we've gone one to chips. But, immediately he had a switchboard on which you could do this with little switches. And none of you people are old enough to remember, why, a switchboard, where if you wanted to make a dim of more than two lights, you had to stand on one foot and one hand up here and one hand out there on, on the rheostat and another foot, perhaps running another rheostat down here.

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QUESTION 17
INTERVIEWER:

So part of your job, also, was to put together the troupe, the performers. How did you do that?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Yes. I also had to put together the troupe. I assembled units from all over the coast, from Portland, Seattle, from San Francisco, from Los Angeles, of course, and from San Diego. And one was a dance unit, another was a musical unit, mainly of the Hall Johnson choir people. And another one was the Living Newspaper. And some of them, some of them we put together there. And some we brought the whole unit in with its program. The dance unit brought their program. We created all with the Hall Johnson Choir there. We created a series of, of short versions of Living Newspapers from a unit that had been doing Living Newspapers. We edited what there was and, and added to it.

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QUESTION 18
INTERVIEWER:

Did you stay for the fair to open to get a sense of how audience—

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Oh yes, I, I was there for quite, quite a long time, yes.

INTERVIEWER:

And did you get a sense of how people—

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Oh, well, it was well received. The Federal Theatre was everywhere well received except by a few people who, in my opinion, had bigoted views, either politically or artistically, or, or, what shall I say, socially. Theater people, you know: thieves, rogues, vagabonds and actors.

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QUESTION 19
INTERVIEWER:

Well, now you're out on the coast and Treasure Island is this beautiful, spectacular place, but you're in touch with the office in Washington, and you learn of Hallie's being attacked.

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Oh yes, oh yes.

INTERVIEWER:

What were you hearing about what was happening back east?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Well, I was hearing nothing good about what was happening back east. And, finally, when the hearing started and she was called, she asked me to come back and again do some analysis, among other things. I, I established what we all had believed, but now, now I could prove statistically, although the congressional committee didn't want to hear it, that ninety-five percent of the production done in, in all over America had been classics, contemporary theater, comedies, dramas, mystery plays, circuses, children's plays, puppet shows, musicals. And maybe five per cent might have been considered serious discussions of, of the human condition, and of that maybe one percent might even be called possibly radical. And, but, of course, Congress didn't want to hear anything like that. The Committee didn't, at least. So it did no good for me to present Hallie with all these statistics. She wasn't even allowed to present most of them.

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QUESTION 20
INTERVIEWER:

Did, did you and, from what you got from her during that period, did you have a sense early on that, of that Hopkins and the higher-ups might abandon the project, or how did it look originally? How did it look when you were first, when she was called to testify.

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Oh, almost from the beginning, we were aware that the wagon train was surrounded. There was a woman named Kerr who was in charge of, in Washington, of the, of all of the projects, that is above the arts level, and on the political administration level. She had been a very good fundraiser for the party, and she was rewarded with this job. She was a knowledgeable woman, but when it came down to a question of whether it was politically advisable to do it or not to do it, she was on the side of the politicians, not on the side of the artists. And Hallie was constantly fighting that battle, which had nothing to do with her job. Her energies were taken frequently, and more and more frequently. And even Harry Hopkins, who certainly was at the beginning one of her staunchest supporters and a believer in what we were up to, gradually, since he was also had to, had to think politically about the welfare of his, of his boss, the president, more and more, not opposed us, but he, he was no longer the shield that we needed, and, so that—

INTERVIEWER:

—hadn't Hopkins been quite enthusiastic about theater, specifically?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Yes, yes, I guess so. I, I had never known him before I met him here, but he was, he was very enthusiastic about we'd been doing. Yes, he was all for it, but, political considerations took over, of course.

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QUESTION 21
INTERVIEWER:

Well, I read that, that the first time the committees met that Hallie Flanagan wasn't even allowed to testify the first time, that, that she was almost reined in, the—

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

I don't remember that, but I do recall that she wasn't allowed to give all the testimony that she wanted to give. They didn't want to hear the good things.

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QUESTION 22
INTERVIEWER:

Did, did, did you see it as just an attack on the arts or did you see it as something bigger?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Oh, it was an attack on the arts as, as something that society's always suspicious of. And here was a great opportunity for the demagogues to tie it up with communism and so on, something that's never threatened our country either in, from the inside or from the outside. [laughs]

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QUESTION 23
INTERVIEWER:

I mean, how would you react when you'd hear that the theater project was full of Reds and doing subversive plays? How would that strike you?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Mostly lies. I just, I was always on the defensive with, with civilians who didn't know what was going on, and I had all the statistics to prove it. I developed them. But, of course, I wasn't called to testify at all. And as for my friends and acquaintances, well, they thought, "Well, if good ol' Bob is doing it, it can't be too bad." [laughs] And, but I don't know if that answers your question or not.

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QUESTION 24
INTERVIEWER:

Well, I mean, let me sort of ask another question which is related. I mean, did, how did it feel when you're there fighting and, and presenting theater and, and doing good stuff, and audiences are reacting? Did, did you feel like you were being sacrificed or what, what, how did it...?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

You know, I must say that you remind me of your colleagues in the news world who, who watch, come up to a woman who's just seen her son killed by a car and says, "How do you feel about this?" How do you think I felt? I was, of course, mad. I was angry. I, I felt, yes, I felt abused. I felt that we were being used by demagogues, or misused. Sure, what else would I feel? Particularly with the personal loyalty that I developed to Hallie, as so many people developed a loyalty to her, quite beyond professional respect.

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QUESTION 25
INTERVIEWER:

I've heard that in 1938 when these hearings were starting that—

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

We have 40 feet.

INTERVIEWER:

OK. That—

CAMERA CREW MEMBER:

You might get a quick one.

INTERVIEWER:

—that Hopkins had, had serious political ambitions, that Roosevelt was grooming him to replace him. Do you think that could have been a factor?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Oh, I don't know. I, I really wasn't, either I've forgotten it or, or I wasn't that deeply involved in the interior cuisine of the Democratic Party.

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QUESTION 26
INTERVIEWER:

Well, I mean do you think, do you think he [Hopkins] felt that by sacrificing you, he could save the rest of the WPA?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Oh, I, I think, I don't know whether he, he thought he could, I think he hoped, It was a start. We were really the baby thrown overboard to lighten the sleigh, with the wolves running afterwards. The theater was the first arts projects. Then the rest of the arts projects went. And then, of course, finally the whole WPA went.

INTERVIEWER:

OK. Let's change right here.

[cut]
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QUESTION 27
[slate marker visible on screen] [change to camera roll 318:12]
INTERVIEWER:

So that was it. The, the theater project was sacrificed and, and the great experiment was over. If you—

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Excepting for the experiment, the great experiment was not over because its affects on the American theater are still being felt.

INTERVIEWER:

Well, what, help me try and understand what those affects were.

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Well, the major affect was the idea of expanding out of the three-sided box into, sometimes into the audience into different type of things, the, of course, the Living Newspaper technique has been adopted widely by authors for years now, but that was a novel technique in those days. And the modern dress expanded, although it had been done now and then, the modern dress version of, of classics and therefore the adaptation of it, perhaps to contemporary life, the adaptation of the script of modern life. And, also, I think the regional theater which now, of course, is a great factor in, in our theater, got a new boost. Many of the units were, continued to exist, were supported locally, because the people in Squeedunk Corners or wherever it was, decided that they wanted this to continue. They'd had enough good out of it to continue. So, I think there was a, a value, yes. It didn't just stop like that.

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QUESTION 28
INTERVIEWER:

But, try, sort of, I mean, I know you were a theater person, you continue to be a theater person. You weren't a politician or a New Deal brain truster, but how do you think, how do you think this whole work in the arts fit in with what the New Deal was doing in terms of changing the country and the way people worked during the decade.

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Well, as you say, I am, I am not a political authority. I, I, all I can—is it was part of something that I believe was very good for the country and, and many features of which should have been continued even though we did go to war, and particularly after the war should have been picked up again.

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QUESTION 29
INTERVIEWER:

Did the war, I mean, was the war something that sort of put everything on hold, or was that really the end of the era? Once the war was over, was it all gone?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Well, your political reading will tell you better than I can. I, I guess, certainly it was a new era, wasn't it?

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QUESTION 30
INTERVIEWER:

But specifically, let's talk about artists and theater people. Once the, the art project was cut, what, what was their fate? Did they go back on relief or...?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Well, by that time employment was picking up. And, also, many of us went into the service, also. And there the government shamelessly uses, used the arts to maintain morale, among other things, or to teach the technique of shouldering a gun or whatever. The arts, although the mob don't know it, the arts are a very important part. I would like—

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QUESTION 31
INTERVIEWER:

The arts did sort of make a transition from the Depression to the war themselves?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Yes, and after the war, of course, the GI bill was used. A great many—I became, when I came back I was a counselor to veterans who wanted to re-enter the theater, or who, having gotten a taste of it overseas, thought that they wanted to make it their careers. And among other things, Hallie was then dean at and head of theater at Smith. I helped her establish the first male students at Smith College. There's quite a group of guys who for a long time were kidding me and they said they got their MA in Theater at Smith College, because they only men in a woman's college then. Of course, all the women's colleges, or most of them now, have long since accepted men.

INTERVIEWER:

Let's cut for a minute. I want to check [inaudible]

[cut] [slate marker visible on screen]
ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Talking about after the war, also the theater wing developed a lot of courses for, for the men wanting to go back into it.

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QUESTION 32
INTERVIEWER:

Let's go back to the prewar period. I mean, you were pretty much involved with the Federal Theatre Project through its whole history, weren't you from '36 on?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Pretty much from '36 on to the end, yes.

INTERVIEWER:

To '39. At what point, even though your, your focus is on the theater, at what point were you personally getting involved, or aware of the fact that a war is coming, that America can't stay out of trouble? Wen do you have a sense that there's war clouds?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Oh, well, I, I think that, anybody who had an interest in, in the daily newspaper knew for years that we were going to have to get involved. That is one thing when I talk to people who don't want to bother with the AB General Education, I point out to them although I, I majored in something entirely different than theater, my, my education has given me a lifetime interest in all sorts of other things. And to me, the daily papers have always been more interesting than a novel.

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QUESTION 33
INTERVIEWER:

But when you'd read the daily papers, were you thinking, were you worrying about Hitler and the war in Europe, or were you worried about Asia?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Oh, of course. In the first place, although I come from a line of atheists on both sides, way back on one side I'm German Jewish. On the other side, Italian Catholic.  [ gap: ;reason: unintelligible ]  atheist. So I was certainly aware of what Hitler was up to and that it was something that had to be stopped.

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QUESTION 34
INTERVIEWER:

And then, but apart from reading the newspapers, is there a certain point later on in '38 or '39 when it starts getting closer when you feel like...?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

I don't know. I was very much involved then, 'cause, I, after a year's intermission after the, after the Federal Theatre closed, oh, I guess two years' intermission, I was out in, speaking of west of the Hudson, I was in Kalamazoo directing a community theater. And it always seemed to me, you know, if you played Kalamazoo and Peoria, you were a trooper, but I found a very lively group there interested in community theater. And then I came back and, and I became assistant to Hallie at Vassar. And then that was the year that she got the offer to go to Smith. So I was deeply involved first in settling in as her assistant at Vassar and then in helping her transfer to Smith. So, but then, of course she was the, she offered the Waves as soon as they were created, the use of the North Hampton Campus, so we had the first group of Waves training officers, naval offices training there. And, they were a bunch of bright women, and we, we got involved with them and their theater work and our, our theater work.

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QUESTION 35
INTERVIEWER:

I have, I guess, just one more general question. Again, people's experience with the Depression depends on what they did and how well they were working, how much they were working. Did you have a sense in '36 and '37 that, that the US was going to get back on its feet, or did you think, did you feel like the Depression was just going to go on?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

Oh, I, in the first place, I was young, and I've always been optimistic. And in the second place, those of us who were working at something that we believed in were surely, surely believed that it was going to, things couldn't help but get better.

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QUESTION 36
INTERVIEWER:

And they did. But I mean, but looking back, were you surprised that it was the war that made things better as opposed to the New Deal?

ROBERT SCHNITZER:

I don't think I gave it a great deal of thought.

INTERVIEWER:

Well, why don't we stop right there? I think that we have probably done it all.

[cut]
[end of interview]