Keepapitchinin, the Mormon History blog » Oh, You Bean!

Oh, You Bean!

By: Ardis E. Parshall - June 24, 2009

Orestes Utah Bean was a Richfield schoolteacher in the 1890s. He became enchanted with “Corianton,” a tale by Mormon general authority B.H. Roberts, based loosely – very loosely – on a Book of Mormon story about an ancient missionary who succumbed to the wiles of the harlot Isabel.

Bean dramatized the story. He added sword fights and a melodramatic love interest, and framed its speeches in bad imitation of Shakespeare: “Relia dear, thou lovest me; for thy heart speaks when thy lips would fain be mute.”

It was a dreadful script, but Bean believed in it. The force of his belief shaped his lifelong view of himself as a remarkable playwright, and thousands of Utahns fell under his spell.

Utah’s faith in Bean, and Bean’s faith in his play, led to its 1902 production on the Salt Lake stage, followed by a Midwestern road tour and countless productions in Utah’s tiny rural opera houses. Bean took his play to Broadway in 1912 (where his friends called for “author!” while drama critics cried for “ether!”). It became a movie in 1931, failing as quickly as it had on Broadway.

Bean never wrote another play, but in his mind he remained forever a playwright. He so described himself to census enumerators, journalists, and even to the clerk who issued his license to marry a woman who changed her name to that of a character from the play. Bean dressed the part of the artistic gentleman, “natty” and “dapper” frequently appearing in news accounts.

Bean’s obsession led to his involvement in multiple lawsuits over the years. During a 1933 court appearance in Salt Lake, the judge became impatient with one of Bean’s interminable, artistic, and irrelevant speeches. The judge demanded that Bean come to the point. Bean ordered the judge to shut up. The judge ordered Bean to report to the Salt Lake jail on Monday, to serve a five-day sentence for contempt of court.

Bean, one journalist noted, “walked out of court, swinging his cane.”

The sound of that cane rapping smartly against the jail door on Monday morning signaled Bean’s arrival.

In the days before orange jumpsuits, prisoners served in their own clothes. Bean’s dress, however, was a problem. Exactly where could jailer Mike Mauss house a prisoner wearing a morning coat and striped trousers, as if he were the groom at a society wedding? Putting the dandy in with hardened jailbirds would no doubt lead to blackened eyes and broken bones. Assigning him to shovel coal with the trusties seemed impractical. Mauss finally placed Bean in the hospital ward.

Having been jailed by order of the court, Bean proceeded to hold court of another kind, granting audiences to a parade of newspapermen. “Mr. Bean crossed one leg, encased in well creased dark blue trousers, over the other,” wrote one awed journalist. “He straightened a dark red tie and flicked a bit of lint from his double-breasted coat” while pondering the answer to a question.

The beds were comfortable, Bean acknowledged, and the food was fine. “However, I haven’t eaten much of it. I’ve been busy contemplating.”

His version of the contempt of court charge? “I told Judge Schiller I came as a native son and a gentleman. Judge Schiller remarked that I might be a native son, but that I was no gentleman. So I told him to shut up.”

Bean bowed low at the end of his interviews, and gallantly assisted his callers with their coats.

On the morning of his release, Bean stood patiently adjusting his cravat until jailer Mauss opened the door, then strode down the street, swinging that cane.



  1. This is fantastic, Ardis. If only modern-day hacks (including myself) carried themselves with such style.

    Comment by Wm Morris — June 24, 2009 @ 7:54 am

  2. Something to aspire to, Wm. Add Cary Grant to your Netflix queue. 😉

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 24, 2009 @ 8:29 am

  3. I’m well acquainted with the work of Mr. Grant.

    Sadly, I have a ready-to-wear budget — and a downscale one at that. More Costco and Penney’s than Nordstrom and Macy’s.

    I am considering acquiring a cane, though.

    Comment by Wm Morris — June 24, 2009 @ 9:05 am

  4. This was a fun read! I loved your inclusion of some old terms, like “dandy” and “cravat” and “trusties.” Good work, AP.

    How’d you think up the title (“Oh, You Bean!”)? Is there some allusion I’m missing?

    Comment by Hunter — June 24, 2009 @ 11:33 am

  5. Hunter, the author usually went by his initials: “O.U. Bean.”

    It doesn’t mean anything but silliness on my part — I thought we could use something light and laughable after some long, heavy posts lately.

    Comment by Ardis Parshall — June 24, 2009 @ 11:48 am

  6. If I recall, BYU Studies had an issue about Mormon Cinema within the last year, and it included some information about Bean and his Corianton movie, including some stills. Like some current Mormon filmmakers, he remained unrepentant to the end (tongue firmly in cheek).

    Comment by kevinf — June 24, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

  7. what a funny ol’ coot. and it brings to the fore the age old question of which you would prefer: to be a genius and believe you’re a goofball or to be a goofball and believe you’re a genius?

    Comment by ellen — June 24, 2009 @ 3:17 pm

  8. What a great story!

    We call our middle son Bean. Everyone does, as a matter of fact- I’m not sure some people know his real name. He has a knack for awesome outfits- from glitter mary-janes with velvet pants to today’s ensemble- cowboy boots with shorts and a pirate shirt and a cape. Perhaps there’s something to a name…

    Comment by Tracy M — June 24, 2009 @ 3:46 pm

  9. …Bean…..Bean…. I know that name from somewhere! I wonder what his less outlandish relatives thought of him.

    Great story. It is fun to see more on characters we have come to know.

    Comment by Bruce Crow — June 24, 2009 @ 5:13 pm

  10. Totally fun story. Your telling was so colorful, I could picture everything about him as if I knew him.

    Comment by Maurine — June 24, 2009 @ 10:55 pm

  11. 🙂

    Comment by Ardis E. Parshall — June 24, 2009 @ 11:19 pm

  12. Bean Lives!

    Comment by Bill MacKinnon — June 25, 2009 @ 1:47 am

  13. I bet it was a sword-cane, so he could duel with cheeky reviewers.

    Comment by Floyd the Wonderdog — June 25, 2009 @ 4:47 am

  14. Somehow I can see Bean being played by Rowan Atkisson 😉

    Comment by Kent Larsen — June 26, 2009 @ 5:16 am

  15. […] in a screamingly funny essay over on Keepapitchinin, and follows up with an equally entertaining essay on Orestes Utah Beane, the writer of the play and film. Seriously, go read her posts, they will give you a much better […]

    Pingback by Corianton – An Unholy Review | Times & Seasons, An Onymous Mormon Blog — September 20, 2009 @ 10:37 am

  16. […] must read about Corianton, the Story of Unholy Love. If not from Paul, then read about it here and here from Ardis […]

    Pingback by The Book of Mormon, A Biography « Latter-day Commentary — August 14, 2012 @ 7:57 pm

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