A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from December 06, 2022
“Chew the scenery” (to overact)


Wiktionary: chew the scenery
Etymology
Its earliest reference is listed in the Random House Historical Dictionary of American Slang as being used by Mary Hallock Foote in Coeur D’Alene in 1894.
Verb
chew the scenery
(third-person singular simple present chews the scenery, present participle chewing the scenery, simple past and past participle chewed the scenery)
1. (idiomatic, performing arts) To display excessive emotion or to act in an exaggerated manner while performing; to be melodramatic; to be flamboyant.

(Oxford English Dictionary)
scenery, n.
colloquial (chiefly North American). to chew (the) scenery: (of an actor) to perform in an overly theatrical manner; to overact.
1878 Cincinnati Commerc. Tribune 3 Nov. 12/3 The Henck’s Opera-house Company goes out on the road this week to Maysville, Lexington and Louisville, Ky. ‘Roaring Ralph’ Douglas will chew scenery..in each of the above named places.
1880 Fort Wayne (Indiana) Daily Gaz. 24 Nov. 1/1 Mrs. Hattie Morris, wife of the manager, is playing an engagement at the Coliseum, Detroit, where she is nightly chewing scenery in support of that stentorian-voiced histrion, Mr. J. Z. Little.

scenery-chewing adj. and n. colloquial (chiefly North American) (a) adj. (of a performance, etc.) characterized by overacting; melodramatic; excessively emotional or sensational; (of an actor) that overacts; (b) n. the action or practice of overacting.
1894 Davenport (Iowa) Daily Leader 20 May 9/5 They are refreshing in so far as they differ from the stilted and scenery chewing methods that fate seems to have resigned us to in plays now turned out for popular audiences.
1901 Munsey’s Mag. Feb. 778/1 He follows the prompt book without any of the scenery chewing that others might think went with the lines.

TV Tropes
Chewing the Scenery
ACTING with EMPHASIS. Nearly any emotion will do here, so long as it’s EXTREME!

A common term for a scene where an actor’s acting so damn hard that they’re picking bits of scenery out of their teeth for days. Sometimes scenes can actually require this, but more often the actor and/or director just has the character go over the top. This can include Berserk Button, Freak Out, and other exaggerated emotions.

Theatre Geekery
Tuesday, September 25, 2018
Chew the Scenery - Theatre Etymology - Part 13
(...)
Most sources seem to cite that the phrase comes from a 1930 article by Dorothy Parker in which she wrote, “more glutton than artist . . . he commences to chew up the scenery.” However, there are earlier evidences of the phrase being used. The first printed occurance of the phrase seems to be from March 1, 1891 in Rocky Mountain News. It read, “The Antony of Mons. Dermont was quite devoid of dignity and real force. He was inclined to ‘chew scenery.’” This was part of a review of Cleopatra by Vicorien Saroud that starred Sarah Bernhardt and took place in New York. The next occurance of the phrase seems to be from 1894 from the novel Coeur D’Alene by Mary Hallock Foote. She wrote, “Lads, did ye hear him chewin’ the scenery, giving’ himself away like a play-actor?

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityMusic/Dance/Theatre/Film/Circus • Tuesday, December 06, 2022 • Permalink