Sunday, August 9, 2020

Billy: the far-famed Cartesian Clown


Billy has been neglected. In the 117 years since his death, his celebrity has faded. And yet, he was an actor for more than thirty years, including one with D'Oyly Carte at the Savoy and on the road, and a star comedian on four Continents for twenty of them .. 

It wasn't ever the habit of the Carte organisation to 'borrow' established stars from other areas of the theatre. Very occasionally, from Mrs Howard Paul to Florence St John, but never -- in the company's heyday -- I think, in the roles of the leading comedian. Frank Wyatt was probably the closest. But in 1897, Mr Carte hired Billy Elton. The all-dancing, all-singing, leading low comedian of the Gaiety Theatre, London, of Wallack's Theatre, New York, and of unlimited colonial stages. Billy played Baron Puck in La Grande-Duchesse and the Duke of Plaza Toro in The Gondoliers and, then, returned to musical comedy and America and farce for the final years of his career. Yes, his Savoy experience had come, unlike so many, not at the beginning of his career, but at the age of fifty, with a huge career and thousands of delighted notices behind him.


William ELTON [SHUTTLEWORTH, William John] (b Salford 1 May 1847; d Blackheath, Kent 27 January 1903) was the son of William Shuttleworth (surgeon) and his wife, Eliza Anderton née Brown. 

In the course of the his much-interviewed life and career, Billy told his career story a good number of time to the press. It wasn't always quite the same story -- a good anecdote was not to be missed -- and, obviously, the interesting bits were included to the exclusion of the less jolly -- but I have checked it all with contemporary sources and it adds up reasonably accurately. Here's one of his summaries

And another

And here's mine. Which, of course, repeats some of the above.

But, firstly, I should say that it will be, almost all, about his professional life. His personal details have been decidedly difficult to winkle out. I see him, aged 3, with his mother 'annuitant', 'visiting' in a humble home in Manchester in 1851. But the only time I see any of them again is when Billy marries. His father is not marked 'deceased' but there are no Shuttleworths at the Everton wedding ..

Adding together all the interviews, we have him starting out in 1859, and/or 'as a 9 year-old' at the Liverpool Adelphi as the Old Man of the Sea in Sinbad, and/or at the Theatre Royal Bolton, or in Hop o'my Thumb ... I know it isn't life-threatening that those don't agree, but I do like to know, so...
The minor Liverpool Adelphi Theatre did Sinbad at Christmas 1853. In 1862, they did Hop o' my Thumb and the giant ogre of the seven league boots, in which is supposed to have played Hop. Fifteen years earlier 'Tom Thumb' had played the same role on the Adelphi boards. As for Bolton, well they did Sinbad there in 1855 ... only a programme would tell us for sure. Master Shuttleworth? Master Elton?

Liverpool's Adelphi in 1863

Then the fuzzy bit: 'an orchestral player' 'actor in fit ups' 'bones in a minstrel company', 'opéra-bouffe' .. a corrorobating ancedote when he tells of being plucked from among the extras when a cornet solo was needed ... and then Roebuck. Just when, is variously dated, but he was a member of the United Services Company before Christmas 1869, after which all is clear .. Mind, you, I do see a Mr John Shuttleworth singing at the Accrington White Horse Music Hall in 1866. But also a comical 'Mr Elton' at the Britannia as early as Whitsun 1862 (The Idolators, The Perilous Pass) and for years thereafter, another (I suspect) at Scarborough with Katharine Hickson, in 1863 and 1864, playing both The Honeymoon, The Lady of Lyons, The Lottery Ticket, The Marble Heart, Still Waters Run Deep and a burlesque Hamlet and Cinderella. There is a Mr Elton singing Hecate and playing Shecabac in Bluebeard ('deserves a far better part .. sings capitally') with the Bath and Bristol company in 1864-5, and probably the same one at Rosherville and at Bolton (ha!) in 1867-8 as Sebastian in The Tempest and Lodovico in Othello, and what! Here is 'Mr Elton Grayston' playing bones in a minstrel company at York. Mr Elton as Dame Nursery in the pantomime at the Queen's, Manchester who scored by 'the frequent and rapid use of the clogs' 'to the air of 'Skedaddle': this must be he (although there's a Mr Elton also at Exeter!), as, I suspect are many or most of the others, clearly excepting the Britannia one, and the Mr Elton 'motto vocalist' and the Mr Elton ... this multiplicity may be the reason that Billy decided to become 'Mr W Elton'.

'Mr W Elton' appears to my eyes for the first time in 1869, playing the Tyrant in Little Goody Two Shoes at Cheltenham 'with his customary excellence'. He was plain 'Mr Elton', shortly before, playing Abanazar in Aladdin 'with considerable ability' and Black-Eyed Susan alongside Lottie Venne and Emma Ritta. Roebuck's company was changing its identity from its Society Amateur origins, and among the professionals engaged for the pantomime was Pietro Carle, of the well-known dancing family, as Clown. But Mons Carle fell ill, and Billy took his place. His eccentric dancing brought down the house. 

Lottie Venne and Walter Fisher, two other stars en herbe, were also in the cast, and Billy told another tale: when Lottie was unable to play Black Eyed Susan (see above), he popped on a frock and depped for her.

Roebuck's troupe occupied much of Billy's time between 1869 and 1873, but between seasons he spent time at Newcastle as first low comedian with W H Swanborough, (Kind to a Fault, Cinderella, Rob Roy, The Pretty Horsebreaker) and even in the music-hall ('a gentlemanly comic'), with the Liverpool Prince of Wales opéra-bouffe company (Vanderprout in Geneviève de Brabant, pantomime), in Elliot Galer's play Alone in the World, et maybe al. The cast at the Prince of Wales included a young lady by the name of Fanny Eliza Lewis (b St Clement Danes x 17 April 1850) who swiftly became Mrs Shuttleworth-Elton: they would have two children, after which Fanny seemingly left the theatre.

Roebuck's company played a vast repertoire of every kind of play and burlesque, and Billy not only played in Lady Audley's Secret, Griffith Gaunt, Aurora Floyd, Spanker in London Assurance, John Chedd in Society, East Lynne, Masks and Faces, Siebel in Faust and Marguerite and the ilk, on a nightly-changing basis, but used his 'wonderfully elastic powers of dancing' as the Inspector in the burlesques Don Giovanni, Dick Whittington, Brown and the Brahmins or as Don Floriono Pomponio Disraelio in The Rows of Castille in which he indulged in the currently popular politician-parody imitation. In 1870, he was Clown for Roebuck in the Bath pantomime. He finally resigned from the Roebuck company in 1873, when the Captain decided to go on an extended African tour, and instead joined Sefton Parry's troupe at Hull. The fare offered there was similar (but less hectic) to that to which he was accustomed: I see him playing in drama and also as Minerva in Ixion, doing his Disraeli in The Happy Land and playing Buttoni ('exceedingly funny') and Harlequin in Cinderella.
He played with Charles Mathews in Dublin, giving Jenny Lind at Last with Agnes Markham as a forepiece; he toured (with Fanny) with L J Sefton's troupe in Pygmalion and Galatea and The Palace of Truth, accompanied by Richelieu Re-dressed, in which, this time, he played the Cardinal as Gladstone, then settled at Sefton's Sheffield Theatre for Christmas as the King of Spades in Twinkle Twinkle Little Star ('the life and soul of the pantomime'), The Octoroon (Pete), The Ticket of Leave Man (Melter Moss) et al, until it  was time to return to Liverpool for more of the same, including a Whitsun Special of a rewritten Black Crook, in which he played Dandelione alongside operatic mezzo, Jenny Pratt ('Mdlle Prati').

Fanny having been delivered of her second child, they now decided to go back to Africa with Roebuck, whose season down there had been stretched vastly by success. Billy went down a treat (and in local theatrical history) with his performances, and it was October 1877 before they returned to Liverpool and Frank Emery's Prince of Wales Theatre (Plot and Passion). Next stop was Brighton, where Billy played Dame and Harlequin in Jack and the Beanstalk ('displayed high-class talent as a singer, comedian and dancer'), Pierre in The Two Orphans ... and was spotted by capitalist Lionel Levy, who mentioned him to his partner, John Hollingshead: as a result, Billy was hired for a three-year stint in the London Gaiety company.
He seems to have made his first appearance there, alongside Kate Lawler, in the old Middy Ashore (equipped with his hornpipe), and went on to play in such as Stage Struck ('exciting incessant merriment'), The Serious Family (Aminadab Sleek), Boulogne (Count Navariski) but, most notably, in burlesque, frequently in a team with Nellie Farren and Edward Terry (Mephistopheles in Little Doctor Faust. Tremolini in Jack the Giant Killer, Beppo in Young Fra Diavolo, Pretty Esmeralda, Rashleigh in Robbing Roy. When a vocally undercast version of Leccoq's Le Grand Casimir was staged, he played the Clown. When they visited Brighton, he starred as Conn in The Shaughraun.


He took a hitch in his Gaiety engagement, in 1880, to voyage to America as chief comedian at Wallack's Theatre. Here, it was all comedy and comedy drama -- and outstanding success. Theodore Macclesfield in The Guv'nor, Mo Jewell in The World ... The Upper Crust, Forget-me-Not, The Money Spinners, The School for Scandal (Moses), The Parvenu et al, from East Coast to West, before a quick trip home to the Gaiety, where he appeared as Ben Barnacle in Billee Taylor. He returned to Wallack's (The Queen's Shilling &c) and toured with Wallack into 1883, and then it was time for London and the Gaiety again ... Nubbles in Virginia, Barnacle in Billee Taylor, Whiskerandos in The Critic, Mr Galatea in Galatea and Pygmalion Reversed, the Shah in Camaralzaman, The Goose with the Golden Eggs, Ali Baba in The Forty Thieves, more Young Fra Diavolo, Chinkible in A Wet Day, Old Sinnery in Called There and Back. He visited the Prince's Manchester to give another Ali Baba in pantomime ...

Then, in 1885, Wallack called again, and Billy and his family were off across the Atlantic. They would be away for six years, but only the first months were spent in New York... Edward Walker in In His Power, Marplot in The Busybody, Ben Chibbles in Hoodman Blind, a repeat of his triumph in The Guv'nor .. and then, in May 1886, they arrived in San Francisco and boarded the Mariposa, direction Australia. Under contract to Williamson, Garner and Musgrove.


Unlike Wallack, Messrs W, G & M produced comic opera, so Billy put on his dancing shoes and tootled up his tenorish tones and made his first appearance in Australia an Ben Barnacle in Billee Taylor, with Alice Barnett as his Eliza, and in Joe in Charity Begins at Home. He 'carried local playgoers by storm', reported the press, 'At one point, Miss Barnett lifts the clever little man up, puts him under her arm, and walks easily off stage with him, amidst shrieks of laughter from the audience'. Billy made as big a hit in Australia as he had elsewhere, but playing now in thoroughly mainstream musical theatre -- Pataques in Pepita, Poupart in The Old Guard, Jack Point in The Yeomen of the Guard, Plaza Toro in The Gondoliers, King Gama in Princess Ida, Lurcher in Dorothy, Laurent in La Mascotte -- through Australia and New Zealand.

This is the last time I see Fanny. I can't find her death anywhere in the British records ... but I'm pretty sure she left Australia 3 October 1891 with husband and children. She has got mislaid ..

Back in London, Billy took the part of the Seneschal in The Wedding Eve at the Trafalgar Square Theatre, and when it was replaced by a revival of Dorothy, repeated his Lurcher. A third short run was that of La Rosière at the Shaftesbury, before he joined Augustus Harris at Drury Lane to play the Jew money-lender, Scasi, in A Life of Pleasure. That one was a hit, tranferring eventually to the Princess's Theatre, where it was followed by a revival of The World ...
But Billy decided to return to Australia. He bought the rights of the hit musical comedy Morocco Bound, and, with a cast including Wilfred Shine, Elsie Cameron, Nannie Harding and Aggie Kelton, produced it down under. It wasn't a total flop, but it lost money steadily as it headed doggedly round Australia. Billy ended up in court later, sued by a lady who had 'loaned' him money to keep the ship afloat. 
He took a job at the Melbourne Bijou (Esther Sandraz, The Judge, The Foundling, The Wife's Ordeal, The Thoroughbred), at the Sydney Criterion (The Guv'nor), he returned to musical comedy to play Hooley in The Shop Girl and, next, in the local musical Djin Djin ... and then he went home. 'He is resting in his cottage in Blackheath, Kent' reported the press. But rest was not for long. In February 1897, he headed back to South Africa, for Ernest Searelle. He didn't stay long, and by April he was booked to play Major Treherne in Osmond Carr's new London comic opera The Maid of Athens (3 June 1897). It ran 27 performances. Next, he gave a grand performance as Adam Pembleton in Shadows on the Blind, but it tardied coming from Liverpool to London and when it did, manager Edward Terry took to star role ..

My WC wall ...

And then someone thought to hire him for the Savoy. So, 4 December 1897, Billy became a Cartesian. The wonder is that nobody had thought of 'the gentlemanly comic' with his superior dance skills before. If the Act I finale from the original Grande-Duchesse were retained ... was it? Billy Elton (Baron Puck) in a can-can ...! He followed up by repeating his Plaza Toro ... but he didn't stay. I see him next witnessing daughter Fanny Eliza's marriage (1898), taking over from John Le Hay in the role of Christopher Potter in Little Miss Nobody (1899), playing in Lydia Thompson's Benefit ... and then he was off again. Back to America. And the non-musical theatre.

He starred in W S Penley's role in A Little Ray of Sunshine at Wallack's, in Naughty Anthony at the Herald Square, in My Daughter in Law, with Ada Rehan in Klaw & Erlanger's Nell of Old Drury and as Triplet to the Peg Woffington of Rose Coghlan (1901) and in 1902, he was playing Jimmie Noonan in Robert Emmett at the 14th Street Theatre. All was going well. Except it wasn't.

Billy had stomach cancer. He went home to die.

Papers on four continents recorded his death, and recalled his career (more, or less, accurately) ... for it had been a marvellous one. But now, forgotten. I suppose he didn't create that one outstanding role, which was the lot, for example, of Penley. But, as the Australian obituarist said 'There were quite a lot of ham-fat comedians we could have better spared'.

As I said, I lose Fanny. But daughter Fanny (b Liverpool 1873) married bank-clerk John Triston Barnard and had a son who was killed, aged 19, in the war. Son, George William (b Sheffield 22 March 1875) became a durable performer as 'George Elton'. He played the chorus role of 'Time' in The Arcadians and, apparently, never missed a performance in all the show's vast run. In 1936, he appeared at Drury Lane, as the Chinese priest, Lao-Lin, in Careless Rapture.

  








Friday, August 7, 2020

Cartesians: Who WAS Janet Edmondson ...?


Back a bit, before I became (temporarily!) a rabid exhumer of ancient D'Oyly Carte players, and was just a nice, ordinary musical historian, I used to pass by the occasional baritone or soprano and think 'hey, where did he/she suddenly spring from'. You know, a name you've never seen before, and bang! playing leading roles in good productions to fine reviews and the re-bang! Gone again. Name changed? Dead? But where did they COME from? I have, this week, re-bumped into a couple of these, in D'Oyly Carteland. So, I thought ... well, my grand bit of teckery on the Beauty Stone boyos is going to be a hard act to follow! .. I'd have one ... more ... last ... try ...

And bingo! I caught a fish!

Janet EDMONDSON. Springs to life in the 1880s, plays Leonora Braham's roles in a great chunk of the Carte repertoire, mostly in Boston, alongside folk such as Brocolini, Tom Karl, Henry Dixey, Arthur Wilkinson, Alice Carle ... then switches to starring herself in Canada, writing ... and by the end of the decade is gone again. Married? Name changed? Dead? Damme, it's too bad: who was she?  All I had were these delicious notices, David Stone's summary of her G&S career, and this photo ... such a sweet little Arcadian shepherdess .. a year on so into her career, and all of, doubtless, twenty years old.
Like Hell. Madame was thirty-four, a wife and the mother of six ... but it's taken me half a day to find that out. First, I had to work out where 'Miss Edmondson' came from. Scotland? America? England? Ah, yes! She advertises 'pupil of Randegger'..
And there she is, June 1880, at St James's Hall, London: singing Elizabeth Philps's 'Forget-me-not' at that lady's very elegant concert. Mrs Edmondson. No, no. That can't be. She's always 'Miss' in America. See: in August a snippet in the US trade press saying that MISS Edmondson 'studying for the operatic stage and singing in concerts in London' has arrived back in America? Back? Slowly, as I worked through the career, little tips surfaced: she had a daughter ... she had a sister, Mrs Lillie ...  mentioned in a surviving letter ..
Signed Janet Edmondon Walker. Yes, around 1900 she becomes Mrs Walker. But the daughter ...?
Plod on.

1881 playing Petrita in Donna Juanita with H B Mahn and Jeannie Winston. 1882, with the Boston Ideals, no less, as Angela to the Patience of Marie Stone, with Lillian Russell in the same role (and, I doubt not, understudying in each case)

Then off to Boston, as leading lady of the troupe which was to baptise the new Bijou (ex-Gaiety) Theatre. 'Sweet-voiced' Janet took the role of Phyllis in Iolanthe ....
The Bijou followed up with the new musical Pounce, with Janet again as ingenue, then mounted The Sorcerer in which she scored as Aline. When she missed a couple of performances, she was depped by ... Geraldine Ulmar. Next up was the Edward Solomon piece Virginia, with Janet in the title-role, which was then taken on the road ...  Back in Boston, in February 1884, she took the title-role in Princess Ida, for John Stetson, and she scored again while, down south in New York, in Carte's own production, Cora Tanner was doing rather poorly. 
Finally came the news: Miss Edmonson was to put together her own company, and had taken the Chrystal Opera House in uptown Montreal for the summer. Janet opened 8 June 1885 with a good company -- Fessenden, Arthur Wilkinson, Joseph Greensfelder, Alice Carle, Percy Cooper -- and a new musical: J C Robinson and C J Bush's A Very Odd Trick. It was far too tricky -- a clever but rather University Common Room piece based on the game of whist, in which Janet played the Queen of Hearts -- and was swiftly replaced by The Sorcerer, The Pirates of Penzance, Princess Ida, Iolanthe, Patience, Neuendorff's The Rat Charmer of Hamelin ... Janet quickly got out of the Chrystal and moved to the Theatre Royal, but it was no use. She closed her season, and headed home to Boston.

Back home, she sang in concert with the Boston Pops Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. she took part with the old pals, headed by the Wilkinsons, in a season at Oakland Garden, she penned pieces for the papers, and in 1889 she joined the Wilkinsons one more time, playing Bettina in La Mascotte in Portland ('a fine singer and actress'. And that was pretty well it. But now she is referred to as 'Mrs Edmondson Walker'. Hah! I thought. She has married, and retired.

Wrong. She had been married 20 years, She would be officially married for another ten. And she was really Mrs Edmondson Walker. Though she had never been Miss Edmonson. Her birth name was Janette Eldridge White, known as Nettie, and she had been married, at nineteen, to a young lawyer ...
So we can now write Janet EDMONDSON [WHITE, Janette Eldridge, Mrs WALKER] (b Binghampton, NY 5 October 1846; d ....). Well, it's an improvement with space for more improvement.  
Father, James E White, was a Judge of the NY Supreme Court, mamma was Rhoda Elizabeth Waterman, daughter of a general. Her ten brothers and sisters included another judge, another general, a senator, a nun of the Sacred Heart, London, a writer of textbooks on mythology ... Mrs Lillie wrote too, so it was little wonder than Nettie, in later life, lifted a pen ...
She didn't have much time in her young days: she was busy with Llewellyn John (1867-1925), Gerald Griffin (1869-1909), Katharine Anne (1870-1900), Cecil Thomas (1872- ?), Rhoda Janet (1877-1970, Mrs Edwards) and Ellen Constance (1879-? Mrs Morse). But hey! What's this? Ellen says she was born in Austria ... so Janet was already on her travels, pregnant ... in 1879! I wonder where the other 5 babes were...
Here is Jeanette in Huntingdon Avenue, Boston in 1900 'vocal teacher', with Rhoda and Ellen, both 'teacher of languages', all chopping years off their ages ..  Nettie says she is a widow. She isn't of course.  Anymore than she is 46. Hubby is back over in Iowa, where he's been since before 1885, and they are in the process of getting divorced. And she is 53. Since she stopped performing, she rather oddly began calling herself Mrs Janet Edmondson Walker, but since it was, until 1900, correct, why not!
As well as writing (The New Governess, Fortune by Land and Sea), Nettie also took up directing amateurs, notably those of Harvard University for several years, but she would swap Universities in 1905, for the family removed to California. Alameda, it seems, for that is where Ellen married Captain Morse of the US Army in that year. And Nettie started directing the productions at Berkeley. I see them doing The Mikado and, goodness!, The Grand Duke ... 

I don't know what happened after that. My last sighting of Nettie Walker or White is crossing the Atlantic in 1912. She says she's a widow and chops ten years off her age. I thought I'd chase up the children to see if she was living with one of them... well, Llewellyn went to Iowa with his father and became a printer; Gerald too ended up in Iowa as a lawyer; Katharine died in Boston of a haemmorhaged gastric ulcer, presumably with her mother, aged 29; Cecil started off as a stenographer, but found his way into stocks and bonds and ended up as the C T Walker Guarantor Trust, a banker and a Who's Who chap: he was still going strong in Buffalo in 1940; Rhoda seems to have had a very jolly life skimming around Europe, and Ellen got to go to the Phillippines as an army wife. But what became of Nettie?






Thursday, August 6, 2020

The David and Jonathan of the Savoy Theatre


You notice how carefully that is worded. I am not saying that my couple indulged in ho-mo-sex-ual activities ... though I'll bet that they did ... but as a wise man once said 'you can't say someone is gay unless you've been to bed with them', and even I am too young for this pair. They were dead before I was born.

So, who were they, where did they come from, and what did they do at the Savoy? Well, their names were Edwin Schutt ISHAM (b Dunkirk, NY 1 January 1867; d Manasquan River 6 October 1937)  and George Edward DEVOLL [?DAVOL] (b Fall River 16 October 1864; d Brielle, NJ 2 February 1933). They came from New York (together), via vocal finishing lessons from Sbriglia in Paris, and were engaged in London to play knightly characters in The Beauty Stone. Edwin the baritone as Guntran of Beaugrant and George, the tenor, as Philip, Lord of Mirlemont. Both had actually been on the stage before -- Edwin in The Wizard of The Nile and George in the ephemeral Leonardo, in New York -- but the stage was not really their thing: they were parlour vocalists, polite concert singers, and their future career (together) would show it. But one can see (if not hear) why they were hired. Edwin was a six-foot-two, 31 year-old baritonic 'knight', and, well, where Edwin went, the fractionally older and less lofty, but capably tenorious, George went too.
So, what had they done until they came together ... Edwin, first, for the simple reason that there are lashings of information scattered everywhere about Edwin (Survey of the Ishams by Homer Worthington Brainard). Why? Well, he came from a small town, of which the newspaper greedily chronicled every afternoon teaparty (and there were lots) at which he sang, and that because he was the grandson of a local personality. Edwin senior had been a much-liked local businessman who put all his considerable savings into Miner's Bank, only to see the bank fail. His father, George Pierpont Isham apparently went into tobacco and property, and, it seems, that young Edwin didn't want for anything. He attended Cornell, the Boston Conservatory, and, for two years, the New York 'National Conservatory' (is it possible to do all three?), sang at local gatherings (at first as Edwin Isham jr, 'It is enough'), and then, in 1891, headed for England. I see him singing Godard's 'Arabian Song' and Gluck's 'Diana, unforgiving' (Iphigenia in Aulis) at Waldemar Mayer's violin concert (St James's Hall 20 May 1891, 'Mr Isham has a fine voice and it is obvious that he a singer of much refinement and taste, particularly in music of the lighter school'), but that is all. It may have been a short stay.

In the first meanwhile, George was in Boston. Studying? But a member (1st tenor) of the Lotus Glee Club ('Before the Dawn' &c), then 'tenor of the Apollo Club and the New York Art Society' singing the tenor role in The Creation at New Haven. And putting a toe in theatrical waters as the hero of the amateurish Leonardo ('sang with nice discretion'). I see him singing 'Der Sängers Heimgesang' and (oyoy) Godard's 'Arabian Song' at a concert in Brooklyn (13 February 1895) where the instrumental soloist was one V Herbert. He cello-ed 'The Swan'. The Godard song makes me wonder, had Edwin and George already met? I think so: because in February 1896, Edwin and George set sail for Europe (together) 'to study for the opera'. They enrolled with Sbriglia in Paris and .. (dot dot dot) .. from there ('they have left Sbriglia for concert enagements in London') moved to England. Where the Savoy Theatre awaited ...

In August 1899, they arrived back in New York (with one Theodore Flint, wonder where he fits in). George took a job as tenor lead in the under-sung Frank Daniels musical The Ameer  ('there was but one member, Geo Devoll, who proved vocally competent, but his manouevers on stage could hardly be called acting'). After a while, George chucked the theatre in and went off concertising with Edwin. And they conquered the tea-party and Women's Club circuit to the extent that Mrs Roosevelt invited them to sing for her hen party at the White House. In 1903, a journo summed them up: 'Messrs Devoll and Isham are the mildest of gentlemen. Their offerings are as tea at five o'clock in gentlest Boston, or mush at a girls' school far from the strenuous world. The gentlemen are neatly synchronised, very neatly and accurately indeed, but they seem to feel too much for manly utterance; which is deplorable  in a day a trifle overfond of vigour'. I have to prevent myself from reading between the lines, but ...

Well, there were plenty of takers for polite, gentlemanly entertainment. Mostly ladies ... ah! this is what I wanted. What they sang (1903). Programme: George solo: Mendelssohn's 'On wings of song', Chaminade's 'Immortality', The Queen of my heart', 'O sleep why dost thous leave me', 'Nevermore Alone', 'The Forsaken Maid'; Edwin solo: Faure's 'Au bord de l'eau'. Augusta Holmes's 'La Belle du roi', Messager's 'Lomg Ago in Alcala', 'O let night speak of me', 'Come into the Garden, Maud' (!!!), Cowen's 'Border Ballad'. Duets 'The Sea'. 'The Path of Love' (Brahms), 'Colmette', 'Passage Bird's Farewell' and, to finish, the Pearlfishers duet. Always.

I think that list sums up who they were and what they did. And they did it for many a year. From ladies' club to Piano advertising to genteel soirée.

In 1911, George married. His wife was Joanna Müller .. Isham. I haven't investigated her, but she is clearly a young sprig of his (boy)friends family tree. She seems to have fitted in finely, and I see her journeying with the boys in the 1910s and 1920s....

Is that the end? Nope. In 1919 Edwin and George purchased 17 West 67th Street. Then the garage next door. George was secretary of the '67th Street studio Building Association'. Oh no, the boys did not depend on Schubert and Messager for the daily caviar. In the same year, their collection of silver and pottery was put to auction

200 lots. Were they selling up their old Bachelor(s) pad ...? And moving into .. well, I think it was 27 West 67th. And Mrs Devoll came too. I see the three of them voyaging  to Europe together in 1928 ... 


Thanks to the family, I have this beautiful photo of the pair in older age. Edwin's mother, with whom he was latterly wont to travel, had died in 1927. But the boys (and Joanna) kept travelling. At some stage, Edwin (unmarried) 'adopted' a young 'distant relative' ... yes ... 

His legend, in typical American fashion, mythologised ...

Lambert Hall. Sounds grand. In fact, it was. He inherited property, in Manasquan, from an aunt, built an English Mansion there ...

Anyway, apparently, they all (all passion spent?) lived together in the greatest, wealthy, harmony ... until death did them part.

Oh, obituaries! 

There is heaps more to be said and found on these boys ('boys' is what TV now calls gay men of no matter what age) ... but this is a Cartesian blog, so I herewith retire ... and I shall dream of those two wonderful old men ... 

Were they lovers or just 40 years live-in pals?

Well! I didn't expect to come across a story like this in my Cartesian hunt!










Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Cartesians: B is for Broadway ..


The British nineteenth-century performers who played roles in the works of Messrs Sullivan and Gilbert did so, per se, pretty well entirely under the management of Richard D'Oyly Carte. Outside Britain, however, it was quite a different kettle of kippers. Carte brought companies, or too-often-underwhelming players, from England to give his definitive Savoy productions before American audiences, but he and his helpers, from E E Rice to John Stetson, also cast local artistsl, artists Anglo-American or plain American, who did not bear the stamp of the Savoy and all who steered her. A good number of both 'nationalities' who worked under such legitimate producers (I speak not of the provincial female Rackstraws and the male Buttercups) made a fine success. 

Up to now, I haven't included many of the breed in this series of wee pieces. I had enough to do weeding through the opaque seas of Savoy. But the other day, glancing through the G&S archive, I saw well-known (to me) names sitting untouched amongst the sludge of undecipherable chorines, and thought... errm. For some reason, I was in Letter 'B'. 'B' is a big letter, but apart from the wilfully obtuse ones such as Annie Bernard (what WAS her identity?) and G S Bradshaw, the ones whom I've covered in my Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre, and such as Fred Billington who have been written about, at length, by others, most of the principal players who were left to be 'uncovered' were folk from the left-hand side of the Atlantic. So ... perhaps, time for a little cleaning of the B-stables?
Whom to choose? Baker, Barry, Barton, Benitz, Branson, Broderick, Burnham ...

Go...

Emma Mabella BAKER (b Aurora, Ill 18 July 1853; d Aurora 16 October 1936) is very often described -- then and now -- as the first Katisha in America. That is really nothing to boast about. The production concerned was a pirate one, which was shunted off Broadway after one performance. Emma Mabella would play Katisha (well) many times, around America, in the next 20 years, but her 'first', statistically correct as it may be, is worthless.
Miss Baker was born in Aurora, the daughter of Leonard H Baker, variously described as a milkman or a painter, and his wife Clementine née Dunham (b New York 29 January 1828; d Aurora 13 May 1920). She studied at the Jennings Seminary in that place, and settled down as a church choir singer and a music teacher. She was 27 years old, single while her two younger sisters were married and breeding, when -- I wonder how -- whoever was putting together the company to support pianist Mrs Rivé-King in a concert tour, happened on her. She was hired, along with Mme Laura Bellini 'her first appearance in America ... three years leading soprano at La Scala' (she was Miss Laura Woolwine from Lebanon Ohio, and she'd not been near La Scala) and baritone George H Broderick, to tour from 8 November 1880 at Boston ...
 

It went rather well, and Miss Mabella and Mr Broderick moved on to other like engagements. I see them in Kansas with Litta, 

... as half of the Chicago Lyric Opera Company (4 singers, one piano), the Redpath Lyceum's Chicago Madrigal Club, Hayden and Davis's Chicago Church Choir theatre company, and, on 26 June 1883, the pair were married. Emma started a scrapbook, which recently came up for sale on ebay


I hope it went to a good home. It commemorated a grand marriage and good, often joint, professional career of twenty-two years, before George died of a stroke/pneumonia in 1905.

They worked largely in the theatre, in so many different cities and towns and productions and shows that I am not even attempt to be all-embracing ... I see them in the Chicago Museum Opera Company, playing Princess Toto and at Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia in Polly and as Crab and Eliza in Billee Taylor. On 6 July 1885, they were Pish Tush and Katisha in that flung-together Mikado, with Alice Harrison and Roland Reed, and in November they were playing the same piece with John Templeton's Company, with Lucille Meredith and W H Seymour. In 1886, they took part in Philadelphia's The Mystic Isle, and in 1887 they went out with their own company, playing, of course, The Mikado. George was now Pooh Bah. 

Emma and Helen Lamont in Ruddigore

In 1888, they played with E C Stone's company in Philadelphia, and with a company organised by Stetson which played The Yeomen of the Guard and Ruddigore, featuring Washington soprano 'Helen Lamont' (Nellie McCartee). Miss Lamont staged a summer season at Albaugh's in which the couple played Ruth and the Sergeant in The Pirates of Penzance, more Ruddigore, Yeomen, Mikado plus The Black Hussar, Amorita, Queen's Lace Handkerchief, The Beggar Student, A Night in Venice, Erminie, Nanon et al. Emma had some fine roles to play, from Palmatica to the Princesse de Gramponeur. She was developing a fine line in comedy, which would lengthen her stage career significantly.


She was briefly seen at Dockstader's in the home-made The Tallap[al]oosa , before they set out on another Stetson tour, this time playing the Duchess and the Inquisitor in The Gondoliers in a production voted in many ways better-cast than the Carte one on Broadway. When summer came it was back to Miss Lamont, Albaugh's, and another run of roles including Orlofsky and Blind in The Bat. 
1890 found them touring in Ina and Musette with Lotta and W S Rising, 1891-2 in The Little Tycoon, then summer season in Baltimore, before Emma was hired to play Ultrice in The Mountebanks (George was Elvino) with Lillian Russell. It didn't do wonderfully, but very much better than another home-made Philadelphia comic opera, Richard Stahl's Shing Ching, daughter of the moon (2 October 1893). In 1894, they toured in Philadelphia's Princess Bonnie, and the following year came to rest in San Francisco at the marvellously eclectic Tivoli Opera House. There, they appeared in such pieces as The Black Hussar and The Royal Middy, but also appeared as Mephistopheles and Martha in Faust and Emma 'carried the house by storm' as Minerva 'with an owl perched above her corkscrew curls' in good old Ixion.


In 1897 she played in New York in an American version of Drei Paare Schühe (At the French Ball), The Circus Girl and in 1898 took the role of Bianca in The Bride Elect, before they went off to Long Branch for the summer and an HMS Pinafore on a ship.
In the twentith century, I see her/them in Chris and the Magic Lamp (1900), The Burgomaster (1901), Sis Hopkins (Ma Hopkin, 1902) before they joined the touring company of A Chinese Honeymoon. It was a good engagement, a long engagement, but it was George's last. Emma, thoroughly established as a grande dame comedienne, carried on: two years with Anna Held in A Parisian Model, much less with Eddie Foy in Mr Hamlet of Broadway, The King of Cadonia (1909), Chicago's The Girl I Love, The Three Romeos (1911) ...
The Brodericks had long since retired back to Aurora, and it was there, a quarter of a century on from the effective end of her career, and over thirty years as a widow, 'Mabella' died in 1936.

George H[enry] BRODERICK (b Philadelphia 6 May 1855; d Aurora, Ill 10 May 1905) was one of the four musical sons of a Pennsylvania Irish shoemaker, who started his wokring life apprenticed to a house painter. He went on to a fine, solid career, as a singer in the theatre, working mostly alongside his wife, but his obituary made some of those common colonial claims of Euopean success which, as usual, don't stand up to investigation ..  The investigation, in this case, is befogged by the basso-operatic exploits of his brother, William Broderick, and the initial-muddlements of the newspaper establishment. But if he did, indeed, appear with Mapleson's troupe in America (Ferrando in Il Trovatore 1887, or was it William?), I can find no evidence of him playing in Europe.


I do see him, in 1888 singing with the so-called National Opera Company, playing the High Priest in Die Königin von Saba, Reinmar in Tannhäuser, Balbillus in Nero, and maybe the King in Aida (William is credited, but I think he was Emma Abbotting at the time). The experience seems to have been brief, and the underpar National Opera Company sank also. 



He clearly had a fine bass-baritone voice, which can be heard to this day on the recordings he made in 1900, and he proved himself capable of taking operatic roles, such as Mephistopheles, during the couple's time at the Tivoli, but it was in comic and light opera that he made his career. And that, I feel, in spite of a certain lack of humour in his playing. In the hundred or so reviews of his performances that I have read, it is almost inevitably his voice (and his looks) that gets spoken of ... but that is only a guess on my part. After all, he was playing A Chinese Honeymoon at his death ... and his photo as Pooh-Bah doesn't look too stick-like ...



Another to have a long career, was tenor turned comedian, Phil Branson. So why do I not have a portrait of him? Just a sketch of him and his wife in the older and tubbier years of his second career ..


The artist, in gentlemanly fashion, didn't go down to Mrs B's waistline!

Of course, Philip Frederick BRANSON (b St Louis 23 October 1858; d Ridgefield Park, NJ 20 or 21 July 1932), the son of clerk/book-keeper William W Branson and his wife, Carolina née Garthauser, started out, like all of us, as a slim, young vocalist, in his home town of St Louis. I see him in 1877 being appointed to the Jewish Temple at 17th Street and Pine, I see him in 1878 singing the tenor solos in the Mozart Requiem, alongside elder sister Ada (soprano), I see the pair of them singing at the local Church of the Messiah, and in 1979 he is singing Bruch's Odysseus at the Arion des Westens. I see the whole family at 1911 Hickory in the 1880 census, where Phil is firmly labelled as 'tenor singer'. As yet, an amateur. But Moritz Strakosh would put the skids under that. He hired the young man to support Emma Thursby in a concert tour. Just SHE, he, a violinist and a piano. He sang a solo ('Salve dimora' et al), and duetted with the lady as his contribution, and then went home. Back to the church choir, to local concerts and, in 1882, the other local lads in a quartet party. And he took part in his first musical, a local piece entitled L'Afrique (19 May 1881) produced at the Olympic, St Louis with a cast of the town's church singers. John McCaull picked the show up, produced it at New York's Bijou Theatre, and young Branson had a three-weeks taster of the lights of Broadway. 'The best tenor St Louis has had' was on his way.
He went out on the road with the Ford Opera Company, singing alongside what had become of Alice May and her husband, Louis Raymond, as lead tenor in a whole array of comic operas (The Beggar Student, The Merry War, The Queen's Lace Handkerchief, Les Manteaux Noirs, Nell Gwynne, The Little Duke, Fra Diavolo &c), and then joined up with the Thompson Opera Company, playing a similar repertoire. The company included a May Branson. Apparently Phil had married a statuesque lass from Cincinnati. It would not last long. The Thompson company produced a new musical, Manette, to star Carrie Godfrey (Mrs Thompson), but Manette didn't get seen much. When they got to Chicago's Highland House for the summer they played The Mikado (Nanki Poo, May was Peep Bo, Mrs T was Katisha) and almost all other operas were shelved.
However, Phil was either being a bit silly or had found an inimical journo: stories appeared about his ayttacking his wife in a drunken fit, or stalking out of the company over an imagined slight over precedence. Well, if he stalked out, he very quickly stalked back in, and the next week-month-year he was still playing The Mikado with Thompson. As well, understandably, as The Beggar Student and Erminie with their top duenna roles.


Then, in 1886, he was hired to play Cyril in John Stetson's production of Princess Ida at the Fifth Avenue Theatre. That was soon done, and he went on the road with Stetson's company playing Dunstable in Iolanthe (which he had already played with Thompson) and Dauntless in Iolanthe as well as Princess Ida. Somewhere along the line, young Phil had learned to dance rather comically, and his hornpipe as Dauntless cuased Boston to acclaim 'a delicious combination of harmony, in both his voice and his legs'.
In 1887 the Stetson comedian A W F McCollin took out an 'opera company' and Phil went along as tenor for the duration, into 1888, when he appeared for E E Rice in The Pearl of Pekin at the Bijou. He spent summer at home, playing in theUhrig's Cave summer season, then joined the Conried Opera Company (1889), before retuning to Stetson for The Gondoliers (Marco) and Iolanthe (Tololler) at the Boston Globe. The Gondoliers went on the road, with William Mestayer, Lillie Grubb and Theresa Vaughan sharing the billing, and when summer (at Memphis) was over, he joined the Mestayers production of Grab Bag. Rather far from Odysseus and the Mozart Requiem!

In 1891, he (and McCollin) joined the company at the famous Tivoli Opera House. Phil was top tenor, and he was seen as Marasquin in Giroflé-Giroflà, Rupert in Satanella, Barinkay in The Gipsy Baron, a local Amina or the Shah's Bride, Symon in The Beggar Student, Benozzo in Gasparone, Nanki Poo in The Mikado ...  The local press noted that his voice was sounding tired: 'give him a rest'! But he wasn't likely to take a rest in that role: Yum Yum was being played by a plump little Australian Jewess by the name of Tilly Salinger, and whatever went on behind that fan ... And on he went: Valentin in Olivette, Trombonius in Prince Methusalem, Don Luis in Les Manteaux Noirs .. until he was 'off'. The tenor department was well-covered at the efficient Tivoli, and the ever-changing programme rolled on. When Phil returned, Billee Taylor was produced and Arthur Messmer took the title-role while Phil played a comical Felix Flapper. When The Yeomen of the Guard was put up, he played Jack Point to Tillie's Elsie; when it was The Merry War he was Sebastiani to Tillie's Violetta. But when Trial by Jury was put up, he was still good for the Defendant to Gracie Plaisted's Plaintiff. Clover, the burlesque Beauty and the Beast (he was the Beast and Tillie was Beauty), Brissac in Les Mousquétaires au couvent followed, and Phil went to court and got a legal divorce from Mae/May on the grounds of desertion. The reason was clear to see... Just the time to get The Queen's Lace Handkerchief and Lecoq's The Hoolah (La jolie Persane) on the stage, introduce them as Jervaulx and Indiana in Indiana, him as Ange Pitou and the Prince in Boccaccio, and in the rather contrasting Ship Ahoy (Tillie was 'holidaying at the World's Fair), and a reprise of A Trip to Africa (Miradillo and Titania), and Mr Branson and Miss Salinger became man and wife (26 October 1893). Phil is said to have joked that, he being an Irish Catholic and Tillie an Australlian Jewess, they decided to get wed in San Francisco's Unitarian Church. And married they were, until death did them part.


But the mill at the Tivoli kept on turning: La Princesse des Canaries (Inez and Inigo), A Night in Venice, Said Pasha, Die Fledermaus with our couple as Eisenstein and Rosalinde, The Island of Jewels, The Beggar Student (Jan, this time), Nanon (Hector and Ninon), more Hoolah (Nadir and Namouna) and Ship Ahoy , then Geneviève de Brabant, repeats of The Merry War and Clover, The Tar and the Tartar, The Gipsy Baron (in which Robert Dunbar sang Barinkay, and Phil was now Homonay), Iolanthe (Tololler and Phyllis), Patience (Colonel), a local Lallah Rookh for Christmas 1894, Jakobowki's Paola ... when HMS Pinafore was staged, Phil was Beckett, when The Brigands went on, he played Falsacappa, .. and then, after a marathon five years, which had seen Phil gradually turn from tenor to comedian, he left the Tiv, and headed east.

They played in a Philadelphia opera, The Sparrow, they toured with a 'Lyric Company of New York' in company of Tivoli colleagues, Francis and Alice Gaillard (The Bohemian Girl, Giroflé-Giroflà, Boccaccio, Olivette, Les Cloches de Corneville), they played at the Chicago Gaiety ... and returned to the Tiv. They made their rentrée as Florestein and Arline in The Bohemian Girl and the mill started a-turning again: The Geisha, Rip van Winkle. Mother Goose (Mr Branson dances, but he also sings and speaks which is not so agreeable'), Paul Jones  (Petit Pierre), The Pearl of Pekin .. with rather failing voice and increasing girth. He hung in there until 1900, then left. He related than Mrs Kreling, the manager, said to him 'come back any time', but he didn't. The mill was turning a bit too fast for fat and forty-plus.

They visited Honolulu with a company put together in San Francisco, and there was talk of their going to Australia. But they didn't. They went to San Jose, where Phil took a job as a clerk at the St James's Hotel. It looked like the end, but it wasn't. A couple of years later, he was spotted in San Jose, and next thing he was in Washington, playing for the Chase Company. And he found a new management which had seemingly unlimited faith in him: as a comedian and a stage director. The Aborn brothers would be his (and Tillie's) principal employers over his next fifteen years in the business, as he toured in The Fortune Teller, The Serenade (Colombo), The Tales of Hoffmann (Frantz), The Mikado (Mikado), Erminie (Brabazon), Fra Diavolo (Allcash), Carmen (Remendado), The Bohemian Girl (Florestein) and above all, as the Sheriff of Nottingham in Robin Hood. Tillie was now Dame Durden. In 1920, he played Robin Oakapple in Ruddigore under the Aborn management.


But in between the tranches of Aborn, he also appeared in Henry Savage's production of The Man from Now (1906, John P Pennypacker), in the long tour of The Prima Donna with Fritzi Scheff (1909-10), in The Girl on the Train, Gypsy Love (Niklas), and in 1914 in Dancing Around with Al Jolson. They toured with a deKoven Opera Company, in 1919 with Oh Boy! ...

 
And then they rested. And went to live in Ridgefield, NJ. Phil became an insurance man. Tillie died there in 1930. Two years later, Phil walked in front of a train.

Another to have a fine, full career in the musical theatre -- with its important dose of Gilbert and Sullivan, and a turn by the Tiv, was N[icholas] S BURNHAM (b 30 November ?1856; d 141 West 147th Street, Brooklyn 30 January 1925). Statistically, he's been a bit of a problem to me. He keeps getting muddled up with a Nicholas Stickney Burnham from Maine, train conductor cum grocer; he didn't marry (so no document); and he's supposed to have died in three different places on the same day. Actually, I don't even know whether 'Burnham' was his right name. Towards the end of his career, he appeared in some moving pictures, and he seems to be documented or 'documented' more there than in a theatrical connection. Anyone got Who's Who in Hollywood? All I can find is that he, allegedly, died aged 69, and was buried by the Actors' Fund.

Similarly, the beginnings of his career are rather cloudy. He is said to have played in a Pinafore company in Brooklyn in 1879. Hah! There were dozens. I've combed the professional ones, the amateur ones, the children's ones, the all-boys cast of the Apollo Club, the Cortada Amateur Glee Club (when Hebe interpolated 'Little Maid of Arcadee') one ... but it is apparently the barely professional one given by Henry Laurent at the Court SquareTheatre. Messrs Laurent (RR), Sol Smith (JP), Vincent Hogan (CC), A D Barker (DD), Harry Chapman (Bill). So, is he 'Harry Chapman'? Or merely under-billable.

In 1879 he seems to have joined the company at Daly's Theatre, then at Booth's, but we are on more traversable territory by 1883 when he joins E E Rice's tour of Pop playing the parts of Charles Page and then Jem Smart. The Rice Surprise Party followed up with Cinderella at School (chorus) and A Bottle of Ink (Pete), into which a large piece of Princess Ida was interpolated (Florian), with further long-running success.
He switched from Rice to Stetson to play the title-role in The Mikado, and scored a personal success. He would repeat the part many times over the years to come. This time it served him for a long tour, alongside such as J W Herbert, Brocolini, Mary Beebe/Geraldine Ulmar, Harry Allen, Alice Carle et al. When Stetson switched to Princess Ida, he was cast as Guron, when Patience was added he was Bunthorne's Solicitor, in Ruddigore, Old Adam, in The Yeomen of the Guard, Sir Richard. He spent summer with E G Stone (the Grau Comic Opera Company) where his Mikado was brough out once again.


He made it to the capital of comic opera in 1889, cast as the Duc della Volta in The Drum Major and the Chevalier de Brabazon in Erminie (both roles more comical than vocal), toured with Mestayer Grab Bag, and returned to town to play Max Culmbacher, alongside J W Herbert, in a 'sanitised' (by David Belasco) but successful version of Miss Helyett. Long stints on the road in Princess Bonnie (Captain Tarpaulin, 1893-5), an Americanised The Lady Slavey (Artemus Snipe, 1896-7), and The Telephone Girl (Ebenezer Fairfax, 1897-9) was relieved by a season at Koster & Bial's (The Koh-I-Noor), before he took up the part of Eucevious Bartavel in In Gay Paree (1899). He flung in another Mikado before heading back on the road, playing a long while as Samuel Rodd in Miss Bob White (1901-3), with time out for a summer season (featuring, of course, The Mikado) at Washington.


He appeared in the play The Bad Samaritan, and in 1906, he returned to the Casino Theater, to play in the musical comedy My Lady's Maid (Lady Madcap as was) as Palmer, the butler, but he was soon back on the road playing Ben Cobb in the long-touring comedy The Travelling Salesman (1908-10). Plays were now his field: The Daughter of Heaven (1912), Who's Who (1913), Lew Fields's The High Cost of Living et al, but he returned to the musical theatre in 1916 to play in the Hungarian musical Miss Springtime.
And, well, here's a pretty thing! Mayhap his real name was indeed Burnham. I see him in a New York census at West 164th Street, living with organist John N Burnham. John is blind. And he was born in Massachusetts of a Maine father and a Nova Scotian mother c 1867. 'Church organist'. So ...


As I said, Nicholas or Nick (no longer N S) Burnham appeared in films. There must have been a few of them for him to be included in so may filmish books, but I can only find one or two, notably a Legend of Sleepy Hollow arranged around the Rip van Winkle of Will Rodgers.

Not all the American 'B's had quite such substantial careers. J[ohn] J[oseph] BENITZ (b Pittsburgh 15 October 1848; d Pittsburgh 17 June 1887) didn't have time. But he left us a perfect set of data on his gravestone:


and a photograph ...


Born in Pittsburgh, the son of immigrant Bavarian parents, he studied in Munich, taught music in his native town, married, had a son .. and went on the stage as an operatic baritone. I see him in 1875-7 with the Richings-Bernard company singing in Letty or the Magician's Revenge (ie The Devil's In It), Le Brasseur de Preston, The Marriage of Figaro Eichberg's The Rose of Tyrol (Berthold), A Summer Night's Dream (15 October 1877, Fifth Avenue Theatre), then with Emelie Melville and the Hess Opera Company in Les Cloches de Corneville (1878). I see him on the road, as Ben Barnacle, with Brocolini and Eugene Clarke, in Billee Taylor, and as the Pirate King in Pirates of Penzance in 1880 ... and the next time I catch up with him is in the graveyard.

That's me B-ed out for now. I've opened a whole Pandora's Box of folk .. maybe I'd better retreat to the Savoy for my next trick ...

The sun's been over the yardarm a while now (OK it's winter, the sun goes down at 5pm!) and Wednesday is a wine day. I reckon I've earned it ... 



Sunday, August 2, 2020

Cartesians: The Great Nunnery Scandal at Hull


Yes, that is where my latest delve into Carte-land has led me. To the piteous nunsense that took place in a Yorkshire Convent in the 1860s, laid the 'profession' open to ridicule, and which in the end occupied the Lord Chief Justice and the learned gentleman of the Queens Bench Court for nineteen whole days (Saurin vs Starr and Kennedy) ... but let us start at the beginning.

Around 1842, an Irishman by name John Connolly, his wife Roseanna, and the yearling son, Peter, emigated to the mainland, to Kingston-upon-Hull, where John had a job on the docks. The following year, they had a daughter whom they named Bridget. Bridget was sent to a local convent school, where she became a pupil teacher ...
The convent itself, a little enclave off well-off Irishwomen, was, some years later, to be the centre of much legal discord when Sister Mary Scholastica, otherwise Susan Maria Saurin, sued the others for, basically, squeezing her out of the place. Many a slightly soiled wimple was aired in court as the senior nuns (two) tried to justify their conduct, relating the tiny misdemeanours and disobediences of la Scholastica. One of these accusations of alleged gross misbehaviour involved the school clock. It had apparently been altered by Susan Mary, to allow sufficient time to finish her chores. Unthinkable! But Bridget came into court and 'confessed' that it was she who had fiddled with the hands ... It was now 1869, and Bridget had left the school at the dawn of the 'sixities. 



and she was now no longer 'Bridget', she was

Bessie ARMYTAGE [CONNOLLY, Bridget [?Elizabeth]] (b Hull c1843; d Brentford 22 May 1918), contralto, popular singer on the music-hall stages of northern England.

There are a couple of versions of Bessie's beginnings as a singer, the most popular being that she 'ran away' from the convent to go singing with Annie Tonnellier (by which I assume the H C Cooper company aka the British Operatic Association is meant). Well, I don't reckon she 'ran away': there was a gap between her convent days and her first steps as a professional singer, but I do spot her for the first time in the company of Madame T. The occasion is a concert at the Tipperary Steeplechase Meeting Concert (29 May 1865) where Annie, Bessie and Mr O'Donaghue of Limerick were the vocalists. They continued on to Queenstown, Youghal and then Annie went back to her operas and Bessie ...? 
I next spot Bessie touring round Wales (1866) with pianist, Fanny Sebri before (1867) coming to rest at Day's Crystal Palace Music Hall in Birmingham ... 'a young debutante with a sweet and well-cultivated soprano voice of extensive compass and a pleasing manner'. She was to stay nine months at this most classy of midland music halls, singing ballads and joining in the operatic selections, of which I have picked up The Slave, Martha, and The Barber of Seville. Annie Tonnellier and Cooper spent time there, as did a young Irish tenor named Tom Carroll. He would later become 'Tom Karl' and have a fine international career.

Annie Milner 'Tonnellier'

I see her, thereafter at the London Music Hall, Sheffield ('enthusiastic reception'), the Alexandra Hall, Manchester ('sentimental vocalist'), the Shakespeare Hotel, Belfast, the Borough Music Hall, Longton, at Nottingham, the Burnley Concert Hall, the Wakefield Concert Hall, in Scotland (Adalgisa to the Norma of Pauline Vaneri in the selections), at the Grand Concert Hall, Birmingham supporting Harry Rickards, at Hanley, Colchester, Walsall et al, to invariably grand notices for her fine contralto voice. At Christmas 1872, she ventured on to the pantomime stage in Little Red Riding Hood at the Queen's Manchester, and seems to have stayed on to appear with the company in ... East Lynne!
But then it was back to the Halls -- the Temperance Hall at Rochdale, the Victoria Great Grimsby, the Argyle Birkenhead, Hanley, Gordon's Music Hall Southampton, the Bristol Foresters, the Birmingam Concert Hall, the Cardiff Victoria Rooms, the Northampton Alhambra, the Dublin Grafton...  


For a while, in 1875-6, she teamed with soprano Annie Adey, but it was soon back to business as usual ... Edinburgh with Annie Tonnellier, the Belfast New Coloseum, singing Irish songs at Barrow, the Preston George Concert Hall, Stockton and even an engagement at Stockton as part of 'Professor Grant's Funny Folk Concert Party, and a date at the Alexandra, Walsall, sharing a bill with 'Tiny Tim' and 'Little Sunshine. 


And then after some fifteen years as a music-hall vocalist, Bessie Armytage took to the comic opera stage , as principal contralto with the D'Oyly Carte touring company. Over the next five years she appeared in the theatres of the British provinces -- 'wonderfully successful' as Little Buttercup, as Mrs Partlett to the Sangazure of Madge Stavart, as Ruth, and as Lady Jane in Patience ...



But Bessie was not to stick exclusively to comic opera. At the end of her time with Carte she returned to the Halls (I see her at Warrington, the Folly Variety Theatre of Manchester), she visited Margate's Hall by the Sea in concert and operetta (Dr Porter with Augustus and Gladys Cramer), she did a stint with Ilma Norina's opera company (1889) and, after some more music-hall dates, with Richard Cummings's company, playing The Doctor of Alcantara (Paquita).

In 1896, she was seen, with old Carte colleague Mary Duggan, in J J Dallas's One of the Girls (Miss Taplow), in 1899 she played the Duchess in Alice in Wonderland, and in 1900 toured as Lady Caroline Pontefract in A Woman of No Importance. In 1902 she played for Frederick Mouillot in The Man from Blankley's, played Queen Henpeckina in panto at Hastings, and (1903) in Wilfred Cotton's production of Mice and Men. 
Could she be the Bessie Armitage who can be spotted playing The Honeymoon Baby in 1913 ...?

Tidy-up time. Miss Saurin won L500, the defendants being found guilty of libel and conspiracy to eject her. The charges of assault and false imprisonment were rejected. The former Sister Mary Scholastica, the 'heroine' of 'almost the only authenticated nunnery scandal on British soil since the Reformation', died in London in 1878 at the age of 46. Single, of course. She left a sizeable L21,000 ... and some very bad-tempered Roman Catholic papers who, nevertheless, rejoiced that 'nothing prurient had been proven'.