The cast of “Too Much Johnson” included several members of his Mercury troupe: Joseph Cotten, Arlene Francis, Howard Smith, Edgar Barrier, Mary Wickes and Welles’s wife at the time, Virginia Nicholson, billed under her stage name, Anna Stafford. The music was composed by Paul Bowles (who later wrote “The Sheltering Sky”); legend has it that an aspiring comedian named Judith Tuvim, later Judy Holliday, was one of the extras.
There are no heroes in “Too Much Johnson” — only a frantic womanizer from Yonkers named Augustus Billings (played by Cotten). Billings has been carrying on an extramarital indiscretion under the invented identity of the owner of a plantation in Cuba named Johnson — a figure who, inconveniently enough, actually exists, as Billings discovers when he arrives in Santiago, in the company of his wife (Nicholson), his mother-in-law (Wickes) and a jealous husband (Barrier).
Each act of the play — written by the celebrated actor William Gillette as a vehicle for himself — was to begin with a film segment. The first (and most nearly completed in the rediscovered print) was a chase across Lower Manhattan shot in the style of a silent comedy, complete with Keystone Kop-like pursuers, a suffragist parade to barrel through and Cotten tottering on the edge of a skyscraper like Harold Lloyd in “Safety Last.”