The men had more ambitious plans for the theater, including historic Italian plays and a Russian version of “Uncle Tom’s Cabin” recast as anti-capitalist propaganda. But for reasons
none of them understood,“The Drunkard,” which opened July 6, 1933, kept drawing huge audiences and was selling out weeks in advance.
Strangest of all, people kept coming back to see the play, so that the producers abandoned the rest of the season. And not just regular theatergoers but movie stars, like Boris Karloff
songs (who suggested old-time to be performed during the olios), Mary Pickford and John Barrymore.
W.C. Fields adored the play so much that he not only saw more than 30 performances, but he also built the 1934 film “The Old-Fashioned Way” around a production of “The Drunkard,”
taking the role of Squire Cribbs and using many members of the Los Angeles cast. (That’s Jan Duggan “The Bowery Nightingale” with
a ping-pong ball in her mouth getting whacked by Fields with a ping-pong paddle in “You Can’t Cheat an Honest Man.”)
To everyone’s amazement, the play kept running week after week. The production marked its first year. And then another. Some cast members left for road shows of “The Drunkard.”
Understudies took on leading roles and became stars of the show. As the years passed, actors who began as children outgrew their roles and had to retire.       By 1940, there had been 16 weddings among the cast members.
On an unpainted cupboard in the women’s dressing room, someone tracked the number of performances and various historic events. On the night of the 2,245th performance, Hitler
invaded Poland. On the 3,088th performance, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. Through the war years, the Theatre Mart staged
special shows for men and women in uniform. By its 7,085th performance on July 6, 1952, “The Drunkard”
had been seen by more than 2 million people.
Finally, the Fire Department cut back on the size of the audience allowed per show from 340 to 260 and the play was no longer financially viable.
On Oct. 17, 1959, “The Drunkard” closed with 9,477 performances.