Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model

Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model is a play written by Owen Davis. A Broadway production of it by A. H. Woods opened in 1906 and was a huge hit. The story is a melodrama, and it was often cited as an archetype of the genre.[1] Reata Winfield originated the title role in the Broadway production.

Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model
Written byOwen Davis
Date premieredDecember 31, 1906 (1906-12-31)
Place premieredWest End Theatre
Original languageEnglish


Nellie Grey is a young woman who works in the cloak department of a department store. She lives in a boarding house with her abusive great uncle and his handicapped son, Tom. Long separated from her mother, she is unaware that she has a fortune coming to her. Her nefarious cousin, Walter Hilton, hopes to secure the money for himself. He first intends to marry Nellie, but her co-worker Hortense Drake has her own eyes on Walter, so Hortense convinces him that it is better to dispose of Nellie completely. Nellie is then subjected to four acts of plots against her by Walter and Hortense. They tie her to train tracks, but she is rescued by Jack Carroll, a handsome young man who lives in the boarding house. They try to crush her with an elevator, but Tom saves her. Walter ties her to the mast of a yacht, but a co-worker from the store frees her. She is blown off a bridge with a bomb, but Jack pulls her from the water. Only in the fourth act is Walter finally thwarted, and Nellie is reunited with her mother.[2][3]


The Broadway production opened on New Year's Eve in 1906 at the West End Theatre. A. H. Woods produced and Reata Winfield played the role of Nellie. After a long run on Broadway, the play moved to road companies, where it continued to pull large audiences.[2][3] A production on Manhattan's Lower East Side ran for five years.[4]

Dramatic analysis

Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model was a classic melodrama, one of the most popular of its day. It contains a number of elements that were typical of the genre, and especially of the melodramas written by Davis, a prolific author who turned out several such scripts per year. (Nellie was his seventh production that season.)[5] Among these common elements were the poor heroine who is secretly the child of a wealthy family, the scheming relative trying to steal her inheritance, and the dramatic physical perils she faces (tied to train tracks, explosions, etc.).[3][6] Davis estimated that Nellie faced death 17 times during the course of each production.[7] Even the title was typical, reflecting the main character's affinity to the expected working class audience.[8]


The Broadway production was a hit, pulling in $4000 per week at the box office.[9] At the time, the New York Dramatic Mirror complimented Winfield's performance on Broadway as "a natural and spirited rendering".[3] The Scranton Republican described the action as "nerve-wracking" and said it taught the importance of honesty "in an intelligent, plausible way".[10]

Literary critics tended to dismiss the play, calling it "formulaic",[11] "far-fetched",[3] "cheap melodrama",[12] and "one of the most perfectly bad plays of its era".[13] A review in The Sun said Davis had just written the play "several nights ago", suggested a press agent did the casting, and mocked an adult actress for playing Nellie's young male cousin.[14] Franklin Fyles called it a "bum play" with plot points that were "worn out", but nonetheless predicted it "would draw in women like a bargain sale".[15] A review of a road production in the Los Angeles Herald said it was "impossible to take seriously" and "utterly lacking in cohesiveness, continuity or ethics".[16]


In 1924, Emmet J. Flynn directed a silent movie adaptation of the play for Goldwyn Pictures. Claire Windsor starred as Nellie.[17] Following the movie, a novelization of the story by Grace Miller White was published by J. S. Ogilvie.[18]


  1. Benét, William Rose, ed. (1948). The Reader's Encyclopedia: An Encyclopedia of World Literature and the Arts. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell. p. 763. OCLC 788680.
  2. Adams, Franklin P. (July 1909). "Beautiful Nellie". The Green Book Album. 2 (1): 202.
  3. Kabatchnik, Amnon (2009). Blood on the Stage: Milestone Plays of Crime, Mystery, and Detection: An Annotated Repertoire, 1900–1925. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press. pp. 66–73. ISBN 978-0-8108-6123-7. OCLC 190860037.
  4. Lewis, Robert M., ed. (2003). From Traveling Show to Vaudeville: Theatrical Spectacle in America, 1830–1910. Baltimore, Maryland: The Johns Hopkins University Press. p. 189. ISBN 0-8018-7087-9. OCLC 50844219.
  5. Bordman, Gerald (1994). American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1869–1914. New York: Oxford University Press. p. 602. ISBN 0-19-503764-2. OCLC 25787552.
  6. Bryer, Jackson R. & Hartig, Mary C., eds. (2013). "Davis, Owen". Encyclopedia of American Drama (3rd ed.). New York: Facts on File. ISBN 978-1-4381-4076-6.
  7. Hartt, Rollin Lynde (1909). The People at Play: Excursions in the Humor and Philosophy of Popular Amusements. New York: Houghton Mifflin. p. 187. OCLC 11723142.
  8. Hartt, Rollin Lynde (1909). The People at Play: Excursions in the Humor and Philosophy of Popular Amusements. New York: Houghton Mifflin. p. 160. OCLC 11723142.
  9. Wagenknecht, Edward (1982). American Profile, 1900–1909. Amherst, Massachusetts: University of Massachusetts Press. p. 254. ISBN 0-87023-351-3. OCLC 44959479.
  10. "Nellie, Beautiful Cloak Model". The Scranton Republican. January 19, 1908. p. 6 via
  11. Wainscott, Ronald Harold (1997). The Emergence of the Modern American Theater, 1914–1929. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. p. 77. ISBN 0-300-06776-3. OCLC 35128122.
  12. Adams, Franklin P. (March 1911). "Interesting People: Owen Davis". The American Magazine. 71 (5): 609.
  13. Kunitz, Stanley (1935). Tante, Dilly (ed.). Living Authors: A Book of Biographies. New York: H. W. Wilson. p. 94. OCLC 1002984.
  14. "Sorrows of a Cloak Model". The Sun. 74 (124). New York. January 2, 1907. p. 7 via
  15. Fyles, Franklin (January 13, 1907). "Society Bred Girl and Daughter of the Slums Open Simultaneously in Slum and Society". The Washington Post (11, 174). p. 4.3 via
  16. "Lurid Melodrama Is 'Nellie, The Beautiful Cloak Model,' at Grand". Los Angeles Herald. 34 (231). May 20, 1907. p. 3.
  17. Roberts, Jerry (2003). The Great American Playwrights on the Screen: A Critical Guide to Film, TV, Video and DVD. New York: Applause Theatre and Cinema Books. p. 135. ISBN 1-55783-512-8.
  18. "Nellie, the Beautiful Cloak Model: A Thrilling Story". WorldCat. Retrieved May 4, 2014.
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