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Editor: Frederick Wilkins
Suffolk University, Boston

Vol. VIII, No. 3
Winter, 1984


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"MY YOSEPHINE": THE MUSIC FOR ANNA CHRISTIE

In Anna Christie as well as its earlier version, "Chris Christopherson," when old Chris enters the saloon of Johnny-the-Priest, he bursts into a song which he tells the bartender he learned from an "Italian fallar" on another barge:

"My Yosephine, come board the ship. Long time Ay vait for you.
De moon, she shi-i-i-ine. She looka yust like you.
Tchee-tchee, tchee-tchee, tchee-tchee, tchee-tchee."

The song recurs through the play in fragments, at intervals when Chris is feeling elated.

There is no copyright recorded for a Josephine song with these words, and an extensive search through a variety of sea song collections proved fruitless.

However, the somewhat unexpected origin of the song is revealed in a letter written by Eugene O'Neill to his wife, Agnes from New York City. The letter is undated but was probably written December 2, 1919. In it, O'Neill tells of a visit to the Hell Hole saloon, suffering now because of prohibition so that all hands are reduced to drinking sherry. His lament ended, he continues to tell Agnes that Lefty, one of the Hell Hole bartenders, is excited because his "Josephine" song is going to be in "Chris":

...he swears - (and I believe him) - that Josephine is his own stuff, a song he made up when he was singing in a tough Wop cabaret -- "my own bull-s - t" [sic], he exclaims proudly. That it is to be heard on Broadway is a great event in his life. He offers, as soon as rehearsals start, to go up for a couple of hours every morning to instruct Corrigan how to sing it -- without desiring pay for his services! All he wants is two seats to take his girl to surprise her with his song -- on Broadway!

This little incident of the song seems to me quite touching in a way. Don't you think so? And quite characteristic. It sounds rock-bottom and I think all the hours seemingly wasted in the H[ell] H[ole] would be justified if they had resulted only in this.*

Agnes was amused and remarked in reply that Lefty's fortune was likely to be made as a great song writer. She added that the song was going to make a hit and that its story would make good publicity. "Really," she added, "there is something touching about it."

"Chris" did not make it to Broadway and Emmett Corrigan who first played him was not cast by Arthur Hopkins in "Anna Christie." There is no reason, however, to suppose that a new tune was found the next year when George Marion played the role with Pauline Lord. Marion was a perennial as Chris. He played the role in the silent film opposite Blanche Sweet and again in the sound film with Greta Garbo and Marie Dressler. There the song was preserved, sounding to be sure more like a polka than an Italian song:

Marion sings the line "Long time I'm vait for you." He does not sing the "tchee-tchee" words which were presumably to be sung to the same tune as Chris forgets the rest of the lyrics.

--Travis Bogard

* Eugene O'Neill to Agnes Boulton, December 2, 1919. Quoted by permission of the American Literature Collection, The Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.

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