Sullivan the Storyteller

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Highlighting Historical Romance with Saralee Etter who would invite a composer to dinner if she could.

If I were to give a dinner party, famous composer Sir Arthur Sullivan would be right at the top of my guest list. He’s best known as the musical half of Gilbert & Sullivan, the duo who revolutionized musical theater with comic operas such as HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance, and The Mikado.

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Sir Arthur Sullivan

Sir Arthur was a charming man, blessed with great intelligence and a bright sense of humor. He must have been great fun at dinner parties, because he had lots of entertaining stories to tell.

My favorite story is about a funny thing that happened as he traveled across the American continent during the summer of 1885.

During the early months of 1885, Sullivan was busy with The Mikado, which opened in London on March 14 of that year.  It was a huge hit. The initial run lasted for an astonishing 672 nights, the most of any Gilbert & Sullivan production. So Sullivan took the summer off to visit his wards, the children of his brother Fred, who lived in Los Angeles, California.

This was during the wild, wild days of the Old West. As he told his biographer Arthur Lawrence, along the way he had a little adventure:

Well, … some of my experiences have been very curious. Amongst them was one I will relate to you if you will permit me, in which arose a most curious case of mistaken identity, more or less gratifying to me as a musician.

I was traveling on a stage in rather a wild part of California and arrived at a mining camp, where we had to get down for refreshments.

As we drove up, the driver said, “They are expecting you here, Mr. Sullivan.”

I was much pleased, and when I reached the place I came across a knot of prominent citizens at the whiskey store.

The foremost of them came up to a big burly man by my side and said, “Are you Mr. Sullivan?”

The man said, “No!” And pointed to me.

The citizen looked at me rather contemptuously, and after a while said, “Why, how much do you weigh?”

I thought this was a curious method of testing the power of the composer, but I at once answered, “About one hundred and sixty-two pounds.”

“Well,” said the man, “That’s odd to me, anyhow. Do you mean to say that you gave fits to John S. Blackmore down in Kansas City?”

I said, “No, I did not give him fits.”

He then said, “Well, who are you?”

I replied, “My name is Sullivan.”

“Ain’t you John L. Sullivan, the slugger?”

I disclaimed all title to that and told him I was Arthur Sullivan.

“Oh, Arthur Sullivan!” he said. “Are you the man as put Pinafore together?” – rather a gratifying way of describing my composition.

I said “Yes.”

“Well,” returned the citizen, “I am sorry you ain’t John Sullivan, but still I am glad to see you anyway – let’s have a drink.”

What a great story! I think it’s hilarious that the short, dapper and sophisticated Sir Arthur Sullivan was mistaken for “The Boston Strong Boy,” heavyweight boxing champion John L. Sullivan. 

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John L Sullivan

I like this story so much that it inspired me to start working on a Weird Western, a fantasy novel in which my heroine travels across the Wild West and encounters demons, monsters and eldritch creatures from legend and lore. She, too, will have some stories to tell when – and if – she returns home.

What about you? Which Victorian notables would you like to invite to dinner, just to hear their stories? Let me know.

Christmas in July Sale!

My sweet Regency romance, A LIMITED ENGAGEMENT, will be on sale for 0.99 from July 25-28, 2019!

The engagement wasn’t meant to last…
When Miranda Luce’s father dies and leaves her penniless, the spirited young miss decides to become an actress. She joins the theater troupe belonging to her sister Mary and her husband Edward. But then Edward is unjustly thrown into debtor’s prison. Miranda and her sister must raise the money to save them all from ruin.

Lord Justin Devereux needs a fiancée—in a hurry! Justin doesn’t want to get married, he just wants to take control of his inheritance and escape the upper-class London social scene. His solution: Hire an actress who can play the role of his fiancée at one important family dinner.

But Lord Justin’s trustee isn’t satisfied and Miranda’s role must be extended. The longer the masquerade lasts, the more complicated it becomes. Will the deception be unmasked before each gets what they want? 

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About the Author

After years of writing newspaper articles, public relations releases, and legal briefs, Saralee Etter has published four sweet Regency romances. Currently she’s working on her Weird Western, involving an older heroine who battles demons and monsters as she travels across Wild West. You can learn more at

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Caroline Warfield, Author

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