My Official Wife

My Official Wife is an 1891 novel by Richard Henry Savage, popular in its day, soon after adapted for the stage, and for silent films in 1914 and 1926, and a German-language film in 1936.

My Official Wife
Cover for 1892 English edition
AuthorRichard Henry Savage
CountryUnited States
PublisherHome Publishing (United States); Routledge (United Kingdom)
Publication date
May 1891[1]
Media typePrint (hardcover) (231 p.)


Savage wrote the first draft of his first novel in 1890, while recovering in New York after being struck by illness in Honduras. Encouraged by friends who lauded his five-chapter tale of adventure set in contemporary Russia, Savage was inspired to rewrite and expand the story into a novel. First published by Archibald Clavering Gunter's Home Publishing Company in May 1891, it was a quick best-seller, and was translated into multiple languages,[2] but not Russian, as it was reportedly banned in Russia.[3][4] Though not every review was so glowing,[5][6] The Times in London notably called it "a wonderful and clever tour de force, in which improbabilities and impossibilities disappear, under an air that is irresistible."[7] Buoyed by the novel's success, Savage began producing more books at a rapid rate, about three a year.

In 1913, the Bookman noted that while few Americans may know Pushkin, Chehkov, or Korolenko, "very many Americans have, at some time in their lives, dipped into the pages of Colonel Savage's perfectly trivial story."[8]

An 1896 synopsis of the novel:

This clever skit is permeated by a Russian atmosphere, in which visions of the secret police, the Nihilists, and social life in St. Petersburg, are blended like the vague fancies of a trouble dream.

Colonel Arthur Lenox, with passports made out for himself and wife, meets at the Russian frontier a strikingly beautiful woman whom he is induced to pass over the border as his own wife, who has remained in Paris.

At St. Petersburg, Helene, the "official wife", receives mail addressed to Mrs. Lenox, shares the Colonel's apartments, and is introduced everywhere as his wife. But he has learned that she is a prominent and dangerous Nihilist, and is in daily fear of discovery and punishment.

Lenox frustrates her design to assassinate the Emperor; after which Helene escapes by the aid of a Russian officer whom she has beguiled. Meantime the real wife has come on from Paris, and endless complications with the police ensue. The Colonel secures his wife's release by threatening the chief of police that otherwise he inform the Tsar of the inefficiency of the police department, in not unearthing the scheme for his assassination.[9]

Many claims were made regarding the basis for the novel's heroine, all of which Savage denied.[4] For example, some papers reported that a Sophie Gunsberg, executed in 1891 in Russia, was the inspiration.[10]


My Official Wife
Written byArchibald Clavering Gunter, from Savage novel
Date premiered23 January 1893 (Broadway)
Place premieredStandard Theatre
Original languageEnglish

The novel was adapted for the stage by Gunter, and under the management of Frank W. Sanger, first performed in Utica, New York on November 7, 1892.[11][12] After out of town warm-ups,[13] its Broadway debut occurred at the Standard Theatre on January 23, 1893. Minnie Seligman starred as Helene, and her wealthy husband but novice actor Robert L. Cutting, Jr. also played a role. While the overflow crowd at the debut "enjoyed themselves immensely," it was not well-regarded by the critics.[14][15] Cutting's very poor acting was especially noted.[16][17] The play ran on Broadway for about three weeks.[18]

In 1896, the New York Times commented that the play "was a pretty bad play, very badly acted except as regards the title role," yet that did not stop Die Officielle Frau, based on the German translation from Hans Olden, from appearing at the Irving Place Theatre.[19] The German play was censored in Vienna, which drew more attention to it when performed in Munich at the Staatstheater am Gärtnerplatz.[20]

The authors of the 1895 English play The Passport, B. C. Stephenson and William Yardley, also gave credit to the novel for inspiration.[21]

1914 film

Vitagraph Studios issued a 1914 silent film version of the story directed by James Young and starring Clara Kimball Young, Harry T. Morey, and Rose E. Tapley.

Out of the Depths (1919 film)

A German film directed by Georg Jacoby, and starring Ellen Richter.

1926 film

My Official Wife
Title card
Directed byPaul L. Stein
Written byGunter; Graham Baker (scenario)
StarringIrene Rich, Conway Tearle
CinematographyDavid Abel
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures, Inc. (as Warner Brothers Production)
Release date
  • October 16, 1926 (1926-10-16)
Running time
7,846 feet[23]
CountryUnited States
English intertitles
Box office$315,000[24]

My Official Wife was again filmed in 1926, directed by Paul L. Stein (his first American film), and starring Irene Rich[25] and Conway Tearle.[26] The storyline was updated to include World War I.[23][27][28]

Film Daily compiled newspaper review quotes upon the film's release (as it did for many releases), citing the New York American as stating it was "repulsive ... players are badly miscast." The Daily News called it "worth going to see ... well acted, well directed and nicely dressed up bit of screen hokum." The Evening World called it a "matinee picture for unhurried chocolate munchers ... too long and too slow moving," and the Morning Telegraph dubbed it "first rate entertainment ... our interest never for one moment lagged."[29]

According to Warner Bros records the film earned $219,000 domestically and $96,000 foreign.[24]

1926 film cast

Eskapade (1936 film)

The German language film Eskapade (alternate titles: Seine Offizielle Frau and Gehemagentin Helene) based on the novel was released in 1936, starring Renate Müller, Georg Alexander, and Walter Franck. It was directed by Erich Waschneck.[30]


  1. (17 May 1891). Current Literate, Brooklyn Daily Eagle, col. 2. (noting new publication)
  2. Vollmer, Clement. The American Novel in Germany, 1871-1913, p. 26 (1918) (German translation is Meine offizielle Frau, which "became well known and cherished by German readers in the following years.")
  3. (5 July 1891). Literature, The Morning Call, col. 3
  4. Mathes, George P. (July 1894). Won Sudden Fame, The Bookseller's Friend, p.15
  5. (7 September 1891). New Books (review), The New York Times (this review ran in September 1891, when the book had been out a few months, and was described as "wild, rough in part, and slangy, but for all that no means wanting in effectiveness .... The dramatic elements in Russia are not wanting; they are overwhelming.")
  6. (13 July 1891). With the Books, St. Paul Daily Globe, p. 4, col. 6 ("one of the most entertaining of the lighter books of the season ... just the book for hammock weather")
  7. Current Opinion, p. 177. Current Literature Pub. Co, 1891
  8. About the Continent in One Hundred Novels, The Bookman (August 1913)
  9. Library of the World's Best Literature, Ancient and Modern, Volume 44, pp. 263-64 (1896)
  10. (18 October 1891). Literature, The Morning Call
  11. (8 November 1892). "My Official Wife" In Utica, The New York Times
  12. Chatterjee, Choi. The Russian Romance in American Popular Culture 1890-1939, pp. 91-92, in Americans Experience Russia: Encountering the Enigma, 1917 to the Present (2013)
  13. (8 January 1893). The Chicago Playhouses, The New York Times (played at the Schiller Theater in Chicago)
  14. (28 January 1893). My Official Wife (play review), Evening World ("Sossher is played by Mr. Robert L. Cutting, junior -- exceedingly junior ... Manager Sanger, when he goes to the Standard Theatre, should blush with shame.")
  15. (24 January 1893). My Official Wife (opening night review), The New York Times
  16. Elsmere, Jr., Bob (January 1899)(As to The Cuttings, Broadway Magazine]], Vol. II, no. 10, p. 738
  17. (24 January 1893). The Plays Last Night (review), New York Press
  18. (12 February 1893). The Theatrical Week, The New York Times (reporting a well-attended matinee on February 11, 1893; but The Sportsman debuted on February 14)
  19. Die Officielle Fraud. A New Season, a New Policy, and Semi-New Play in Irving Place, The New York Times
  20. (1 September 1896). Echoes from The Green Room, The Theatre, p. 172
  21. (4 May 1895). Dramatic Family Likenss, Punch, p. 205.
  22. (23 October 1926). Stein's Next for Warner's Will be "Matinee Ladies", Motion Picture News, p. 1582 (nothing release date of October 16, 1926)
  23. (17 October 1926). My Official Wife, Film Daily
  24. Warner Bros financial information in The William Shaefer Ledger. See Appendix 1, Historical Journal of Film, Radio and Television, (1995) 15:sup1, 1-31 p 5 DOI: 10.1080/01439689508604551
  25. Kobal, John, ed. Publicity Shot of Rich for film, in Hollywood Glamor Portraits: 145 Photos of Stars, 1926-1949, p. 15 (1976)
  26. (7 March 1927). Elmwood - My Official Wife, Buffalo Courier-Express, p. 4, col. 4
  27. Kennedy, Thomas C. (23 October 1926). My Official Wife: Love and Romance in Imperial Russia, Motion Picture News, p. 1594.
  28. (12 November 1926). When All Dukes Were Grand One, Greenpoint Weekly Star
  29. (3 November 1926). Newspaper Opinions, Film Daily
  30. Goble, Alan (ed.) The Complete Index to Literary Sources in Film, p. 409 (1999)
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