Horse Opera (1847)

Bapopik at AOL.COM Bapopik at AOL.COM
Sun Jan 7 05:32:14 UTC 2007

I sent that e-mail right before the Dallas Cowboy game. What a way to waste  
an entire season, on a play with a 95% success rate.
Again, any other "horse operas" welcome, but it appears to be from at least  
1847--possibly from the Bowery entertainments in NYC.
Horse Opera
The “horse opera” was an early name for the western (in radio and on the  
movie screen), dating from at least 1923. 

The term “horse opera” had  long been in use before that, meaning an 
entertainment featuring horses. This  “horse opera” use dates from at least the 
1840s. Adam Forepaugh’s circus (a  rival of P. T. Barnum) contained Wild West acts 
and used the term “horse opera”  in the 1870s. 

The term “soap opera” (for dramatic serials) originated  later—from 1939. 

_The  Circus in America_ 
Circus: Adam Forepaugh Circus, 1867-1894  
The Adam Forepaugh Circus, founded by Adam Forepaugh, was a major competitor  
of P.T. Barnum and Ringling Bros. Recognized for innovation in a highly  
competitive industry, the Forepaugh Circus initiated a dual roundtop system,  
dividing the menagerie from the circus performance. Thousands of audience  members 
convened under a half-mile round tent to see spectacles like “The Light  of 
Asia” (a “white” elephant), “Battles of the War for Freedom,” and “ ‘Jack’  
the Only Boxing Kangaroo.” While independently successful for twenty-seven  
years, audiences grew wary of his shows, where grifting, short-changing and  
pickpockets ran rife. Forepaugh’s unscrupulous business practices created a  
market niche for “Sunday School Shows” like Ringling Bros. and P.T. Barnum,  
shows that would eventually outshine and outlast the Forepaugh Circus.  
Alternative Names: 
Forepaugh’s Circus 
Great Forepaugh Show  
Adam Forepaugh Circus, Adam Forepaugh Sr., Proprietor 
Forepaugh &  The Wild West 

(Oxford English Dictionary) 
horse opera colloq.  (orig. U.S.), a ‘Western’ film or television series 
1927 Motion Picture  Classic 2 July 26/1 *Horse an opus of the West 
where men are  cowboys. 
soap opera 
colloq. (orig. U.S.). 
A radio  or television serial dealing esp. with domestic situations and freq. 
 characterized by melodrama and sentimentality; this type of serial 
considered as  a genre. 
[1938 Christian Cent. 24 Aug. 1011/1 These fifteen-minute  tragedies..I call 
the ‘soap tragedies’..because it is by the grace of soap I am  allowed to 
shed tears for these characters who suffer so much from life.] 1939  Newsweek 13 
Nov. 44/2 Transcontinental Network bubbled up out of the  ‘soap operas’. 

(Historical Dictionary of American Slang) 
horse  opera n. 
1. an entertainment featuring trained horses; (hence,  disparagingly) a 
circus or carnival. 
[1857 in Dictionary of  Americanisms: The denizens of the Bowery, who prefer 
the equine opera, will  do well to make the most of present opportunities.} 
1864 in Dictionary of  Americanisms: Those fond of “horse opera”—and who is 
not?—will have an  opportunity to gratify themselves—by visiting the 
1867 in  Dictionary of Americanisms: Of course all our people, old and young, 
will  visit the “horse opera.” 
1931 Amer. Merc. (Nov.) 352: Horse  opery, n. Jocular for any circus. 

2. a cowboy film, esp. if  undistinguished; (hence) a radio or TV western. 
1927 in OEDS: Horse an opus of the West where men are cowboys. 
1928 N.Y. Times  VIII (Mar. 11) 6: Horse Opera—A western cowboy picture. 

8  September 1847, Weekly Wisconsin (Milwaukee, WI), pg. 3, col. 3:  
“...but you have geeve me von dem tickets to de Opera la Cheval—vot  you 
call de horse opera—de dem Sarecuss.” 

18 April 1860, New York  Times, pg. 4, col. 5: 
NIBLO’S GARDEN.—The latest novelty at this  establishment is a veritable “
horse opera”—produced on Monday night with  unbounded success. It is none other 
than AUBER’s “Bronze Horse,” adapted and  mounted for equestrian purposes, 
but retaining much of the music and nearly all  of the striking situations of 
the original version. 

_Making  of America_ 
July 1863, Atlantic Monthly, pg. 90: 
She was quite  ashamed that he detected her once in going to the Horse-Opera, 
he must think her  taste so low. 

13 November 1868, Galveston (TX) Daily News, pg. 1,  col. 3: 
The circus is coming—Ames’ Circus, of New Orleans. It will be here  next 
week. Garry Oldis, advertising agent for the concern, is already here. A  small 
menagerie is connected with the horse opera, in which the “king of  beasts,” 
the lion, and his master, the elephants, figures conspicuously.  

_Making  of America_ 
9 July 1870, Punchinello, pg. 229: 
The OATES  troupe now performing at the Olympic Theatre must not be 
confounded with the  Horse Opera.  

23 August 1877, Nevada State Journal (Reno,  NV), pg. 3, col. 3: 
Not a few noble red men and a sprinkling of Chinamen  completed the throng 
that lined our streets yesterday—and all because 4 paws big  “horse opera” was 
here. When a circus ceases to draw, then comes the millennium,  sure. 

9 June 1910, Van Wert (OH) Daily Bulletin, pg. 2, col. 2:  
The reigning favorites among Prima Donnas of horse opera. The leading  
proponents of equilibrism upon the bare backs of swift horses. 

10 July  1910, Washington Post, magazine section, pg. 3, col. 1: 
“‘Truth is  stranger than fiction’” is an old and rather trite saying but 
it goes just the  same,” said an old-time advance agent who has piloted 
everything from horse  opera to grand opera through the country for a great many 
years, to a group of  friends in a Broadway cafe the other evening. 

17 October 1917, Lincoln  (NE) Daily Star, pg. 7, col. 4: 
Vola Vale, the only girl playing in  William Hart’s second Autocrat 
picture,has been elected by Mr. Hart and his  thirty cowboys as an honorary member of 
the “Horse Opera Troupe” as Mr. Hart’s  company is called. 

16 April 1918, Fort Wayne (IN)  Journal-Gazette, pg.22: 
“The Hammerstein of the Horse Opera.”  

6 February 1923, Los Angeles Times, pg. II11: 
Colin Campbell  is about to start work on “The Grail,” a new Fox feature, 
which promises to  rival “The Spoilers,” which Campbell made some sever years 
ago, and which is  again to be done by Hampton. 

“‘The Grail’ is a western story,” explained  Mr. Campbell, the other day, “
but it isn’t a ‘horse opera.’ It is a very big,  human story.” 

The American Dialect Society -

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