Critics, On and Off the Bench

In Cherry v. Des Moines Leader, 114 Iowa 298, decided by the Iowa Supreme Court in 1901, the defendant published a theater review reading, in part:

Effie is an old jade of 50 summers, Jessie a frisky filly of 40, and Addie, the flower of the family, a capering monstrosity of 35. Their long skinny arms, equipped with talons at the extremities, swung mechanically, and anon waived frantically at the suffering audience. The mouths of their rancid features opened like caverns, and sounds like the wailings of damned souls issued therefrom. They pranced around the stage with a motion that suggested a cross between the danse du ventre and fox trot,—strange creatures with painted faces and hideous mien. Effie is spavined, Addie is stringhalt, and Jessie, the only one who showed her stockings, has legs with calves as classic in their outlines as the curves of a broom handle.

Addie sued for libel, but the court held:

If there ever was a case justifying ridicule and sarcasm,—aye, even gross exaggeration,—it is the one now before us. According to the record, the performance given by the plaintiff and the company of which she was a member was not only childish, but ridiculous in the extreme. A dramatic critic should be allowed considerable license in such a case.