Struck Oil

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Struck Oil is a comic melodrama by Clay M. Greene (1850-1933)[1]

The original text

Based on a one-act play called The Dead, or Five Years Away by an itinerant Irish miner and amateur playwright named Sam Smith, which told the story of about John Stofel, a Dutch shoemaker, and had a plot somewhat similar to Rip Van Winkle. The American actor J.C. Williamson (1845-1913)[2] came across this text and bought it outright for $100. He then had it rewritten by his friend Clay M. Greene, who retitled it Struck Oil. Though Williamson claimed that he had re-written the last act himself, it is usually credited to Clay.

The new work is a melodramatic comedy telling the tale of the travails of John Stofel and his a daughter Lizzie during the US Civil War, when John is wounded and loses his mind, returning to find that oil had been discovered on the farm he had bought before the war and the previous owner now wants to repossess the farm. They are ultimately saved when he recovers his memory and finds the deeds to the farm.

The play was first performed in Salt Lake City, Utah, on 23 February 1874 and became a very popular vehicle for Williamson and his wife Maggie Moore, one they toured with for years.

Translations and adaptations

Made into a 1919 Australian silent film directed by Franklyn Barrett (not a success at the time and now considered a lost film)[3].

Performance history in South Africa

1892: Performed in the Vaudeville Theatre, Cape Town, by the visiting Emilie Bevan Comedy Company as part of a three-and-a-half month season of 20 plays which began on 8 August.

1903: Performed in the Good Hope Theatre, Cape Town, by Frank Wheeler (as "John Stofel"), assisted by what D.C. Boonzaier (1923) describes as "a shockingly bad scratch company".


D.C. Boonzaier, 1923. "My playgoing days – 30 years in the history of the Cape Town stage", in SA Review, 9 March and 24 August 1932. (Reprinted in Bosman 1980: pp. 374-439.)

F.C.L. Bosman. 1980. Drama en Toneel in Suid-Afrika, Deel II, 1856-1912. Pretoria: J.L. van Schaik: pp.394-5, 417 and 428

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