The Tobacco Road Incident

Erskine CaldwellThe novel Tobacco Road had been out for 21 years, a play based on it ran on Broadway for 3,182 performances, and a movie had appeared in 1941, but when the stage production of the book by Erskine Caldwell (photo) on life in the southern USA hit Vancouver in 1953 there was one hell-thumpin’ ruckus in these here parts.

Tobacco Road was about the trials and tribulations of Jeeter Lester and his family, folks for whom the phrase “poor white trash” was invented. The language was crude (for the time) and at one point Vancouver actor Doug Haskins, with his back to the audience, appeared to be peeing into a cornfield.

Someone complained to the police and on January 16, 1953 members of the Vancouver Police walked out on stage at the Avon Theatre during the third act and arrested five members of the cast on obscenity charges. The audience, nearly 1,000 strong, protested loudly, then—after brief remarks by the director, Dorothy Davies—settled back into their seats to wait.

Ninety minutes later, bail of $100 each having been paid, the five performers returned and finished the play. The charges were later dropped.

The Avon Theatre, at 142 East Hastings, is still around and, under its original name, the Pantages, may be slated for rehabilitation.

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