Friday, June 22, 2018

Géraldine or Every Picture Hides a Story



Many years ago, when I was collecting illustrations for my musico-theatrical books, I haunted e-bay. Bought something weekly. But then they changed. Got more ‘professional’. To make a purchase, you had to have a credit card (I don’t) or belong to that thing called Paypal (I won’t, and they refused me anyway) ... so for the last 15 years I haven’t been an e-buyer. And won’t be.

However, my friend A*** is a devotee. So I started looking at the listings again. Mainly to give him information on ‘who was who’. Because e-bay vendors are merely merchants: how can they be expected to know that the millionth Adelina Patti or Christine Nilsson ain’t worth tuppence, but that a plain-looking Mlle Géraldine, an Edward Connell or a Herbert Bond (especially when wrongly identified or labelled) is a wee treasure to we who KNOW … 


Last night. I can’t remember which bit of teckery got me to ebay France. Ah, yes, an unidentified (but known to me!) photo of an original Parisian Offenbach cast member…  Well, I hadn’t been on French e-bay for ages, so I poured another glass and browsed. The French are MUCH more knowledgeable, by and large, than the anglophones as to what and who actors and actresses are. And much better spellers. But their prices are ludicrous. Gone are the days when I bought CdVs for 50p. Now they ask 50 euros. So I wasn’t shopping: just window-shopping.

Nice things. Really nice things. I’d like the Dupuis, the Pradeau, the splendid Marie Cico which must have been taken just before her death of sexual misbehaviour …

and good heavens, is that Mlle Géraldine ..  I alerted A****.  Ebay alert! Rarity!

 Mlle Géraldine was the creator of Offenbach’s Paméla in Le Voyage de MM Dunanan. Never had I seen a photo of her! 

 So I went looking on the web. Well, there are three photos of her (but not this one) in French museums. But with very little information on her life and/or career attached. So … I dug.


It appears that the lady was born Clémentine Boudin. Well, you wouldn’t lie about that, would you? Orange Pudding? Nothing is ever ventured in the nosy French press of the mid-C19th as to her parentage or her family life, except that she bore a son in 1852 and married (before or, I suspect, much after) a ‘music publisher’.

Her early career, too, is misty. I see her in 1846 making a nervous wreck of La Part du Diable, before being hired to play in Les Chansons populaires de France at the Vaudeville. The press was not impressed: ‘a pretty enough voice … with practice, she might make a good understudy’. They weren’t about to find out. Someone died – father? mother? – and the young actress gave up her part ..

The three-line entries in French ‘biographical dictionaries’ then tell us that she ‘went to the Opéra-Comique’. Wow. What they don’t tell us is that, after three well-received performances of Le Châlet, her 3-year contract was terminated. She sued, the employer (state-subsidised, so what did he care?) didn’t even turn up in court … she got three years' wages.

For a number of years, France didn’t see ‘Mlle Géraldine’. She was in Russia. I know no more. But she got sued later, in France, for unpaid bills for expensive gowns which she claimed were bought for her by a Russian Prince … well, we all know about ‘Russian Princes’ and French actresses .. I guess this is where the son occurred ... 

In 1856, she returned to France, where she became ‘première chanteuse’ at the adventurous little Folies-Nouvelles. The Folies-Nouvelles existed, as the law at the time insisted, on a diet of spectacles-coupés, and Géraldine created a mass of the little one-act, three-handed pieces that made up the programmes of the day, teamed with such famous-to-be players as José Dupuis, Joseph Kelm, Camille Michel and Tissier, singing the music of Montaubry, Laurent de Rillé ...

The first seems to have been Fréluchette and afterwards I spy … Une Devinette, Le Revanche de Vulcaine (‘une ravissante Venus qui joue aussi bien qu’elle chante’), Aimé pour lui-même, La Mauresque, Achille à Scyros, L’Île de Calypso, Le Sultan Myapouf, Le Pacha, Le Souper de Mezzatin, Le Moulin de Catherine, Les Chansons populaires, Le Jugement de Paris, Vendredi (L’Ile Robinson) … and, doubtless, many others I have not spotted.

From the Folies-Nouvelles she moved to the Déjazet and thence to the Bouffes-Parisiens. I won’t detail her career at the Bouffes, except to say that it was there that, between pieces such as Une Fin de Bailand Daphnis et Chloe, she created the role of Paméla in Le Voyage de MM Dunanan et fils, and took a trip as leading lady of the Bouffes to Vienna, Amsterdam et al in loco Lise Tautin (Croquefer, Le Pont des Soupirs, Orphée aux enfers, MM Dunanan, et al).

She continued at the Bouffes, while taking summers at such as Baden, and in 1866 took part in the major revival of Orphée aux enfers, Playing Diana to the Eurydice of Tautin. Then she took to the provinces: playing the Schneider-Tautin roles with huge success to Rouen, Nice et al, before, in 1869, she took a longer step and headed for South America. Valparaiso and Lima, it appears, got their first taste of opéra-bouffe from ‘Géraldine’. And they were bowled over …

When she returned to France, she continued to work. I see her at Nice in 1875, playing Lange in La Fille de Madame Angot. After which … 

I’ll chase up her ‘whatever happened to’ some day. But it’s nice to have a story to go with the photo, which is heading its way, as I write, to Australia …

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

The Black Crook, or How to Invent History

In 1928 Sacha Guitry wrote a delicious musical entitled Mariette, ou comment on écrit l'histoire. ‘Originally written by Sacha Guitry as a vehicle for Sarah Bernhardt, but ultimately rewritten for the benefit of his then wife, Yvonne Printemps, and himself, Mariette presented its star as a 100-year-old actress recalling her past to a journalist. Since her past is not quite what she would have liked it to have been, she improves on fact, and invents for herself a romance with Prince Louis Napoléon (Guitry). Her tale of that non-existent romance makes up the remainder of the show’ (Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre).

Yes, ‘history’ is not a precise science, and it can be invented with ease. Read, as I once did, the reports of the Battle of Marathon written by the Greek historians and the Persian ones. You would think each side won by a clear five goals. No penalty shoot out!

Why these musings? It’s that wretched Black Crook thing again. The world of theatre history is gradually coming round to realising that ‘received knowledge’ on the subject is a lot of bunkum – I notice that the Wikipedia article on the subject has been recently updated – but it is a hard job convincing folk that old lies are just that: lies. Some ‘Mariette’ has done her or his job effectively! 

The Black Crook is often considered to be the first piece of musical theatre that conforms to the modern notion of a "book musical"’.(Wikipedia)

By whom? They must have some odd notions! Does Gerry Boardman and Richard C Norton’s American Musical Theatre begin with this show, then? Of course not. There are pages and pages of earlier shows listed, many much, much more vertebrate than The Black Crook, and with scores of original music, rather than the patchwork of old and new that made up what passed for a ‘score’ at Niblo’s. James Gaspard Maeder had a heap of American ‘book musicals’ produced in the 1850s from San Francisco to Lynn, Mass and the Broadway Theatre …

The Black Crook is often considered a prototype of the modern musical in that its popular songs and dances are interspersed throughout a unifying play and performed by the actors’ (quoted in Wikipedia)

Again, by whom? Have these folk READ the hotchpotch that passes for a libretto …? Unifying balderdash. The Black Crook was simply a thrown-together imitation of the French opéra-bouffe féerie, lots of nubile teens in short skirts, a bit of melodrama, and – above all – lashings of moving scenery. Anything less ‘unified’ it would be hard to find. It was a virtual variety show, with an ageing British music-hall singer, equipped with a song from home, as its topbiller.

 ‘The Black Crook, the “First” Broadway Musical, (Playbill 2016)’

Well, at least my 20 years of trying have, nowadays, got quotes around the ‘first’. But why are writers so determined to pretend that the show has any such significance? 

Folk do love a ‘first’. In Britain, The Shop Girl got the label ‘the first musical comedy’ pasted to it. And when that got set to rights, I came along positing Burnand and Musgrave’s Windsor Castle as the starting point for my British Musical Theatre. In America, phony ‘firsts’ have got attached to pieces from Showboat to ‘the Princess Theatre musicals’. But, mainly, alas, The Black Crook.

So, how did it happen? How did this bit of facile ‘first’ nonsense gain currency? Well, I’m afraid we historians have only our own kind to blame. When, first, Gerry Boardman and, then, I, took to the subject seriously, in the 1970s, there was very little literature on the musical theatre about. France had the still unsurpassed Florian Bruyas, Hungary, Austria and Germany had produced agreeable books, but England? Nothing. America? America had begun. Dear, departed Stanley Green was taking the first important steps towards putting America’s show history in order. But the problem there was the ‘American’. America in isolation. Which it wasn’t. I’d estimate 90 percent of Broadway produce of the mid-19th-century was ‘foreign’. And ‘Broadway’? The USA is wide. New York was just another touring date for many companies. And the most internationally-successful American musical of the era came out of Boston. Stanley had quite a task, especially as research facilities in those days were nothing like they are today. So he had to fall back on the simplistic. And The Black Crook was pinned in place.

Betty Rigl
Why The Black Crook rather than the hugely popular The Naiad Queen (1841) from a quarter of a century earlier? The older piece was more coherent, had as much spectacle and as many legs as it successor? Why? I suspect it all comes down to statistics. The Black Crook (under ‘special’ conditions) stayed at Niblo’s Gardens for longer than was usual at this time, when ‘long runs’ were usually not good business. A month in New York and get off to the waiting, fresh audiences in Philadelphia and Boston: that was the wise course. But The Black Crook camped its tent at Niblo’s and stayed there for 16 months. It became a familiar name, and a ‘feature’ of New York’s theatre and … well, it was all set up to get remembered. But from there to being a ‘first’ anything …  

Julia Turnbull in The Naiad Queen
In the 1960s, of course, the ‘long Broadway run’ had become the be-all-and-end-all of theatrical production. So, commentators looking backwards saw the 475 (?) performance run of The Black Crook, and without really comprehending, marked it with a white stone. From there, it was a short step to endowing the show with some – any – sort of significance. It wasn’t significant, it wasn’t anything but a skilfully staged bundle of bits, in a theatre wholly built for spectacular display, which happened to stay in that theatre for an unusually long time. 

No first anything. No ‘unification’. Just lots of scenery, lots of legs, a simple melodramatic story, easily comprehensible among the scene changes, one popular song (do the others survive?) …

Please can we adjust warped ‘history’: give the works of Maeder, Eichberg and their contemporaries their right due, and just refer to the Crook by its only rightful claim to fame: ‘long-running’. 

An 1860s Mousetrap or Fantasticks.

Afterthought: Stanley once penned a little book which he called The Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre. It should really have been called The Encyclopaedia of the Broadway Musical. But Broadway was the musical theatre to him. Decades later, I did the same: only mine was three vast volumes and covered much of the world. Stanley would have enjoyed it. I wish he could have seen it. After all, he started the ball rolling…
I wonder if, in another three decades, someone will produce a six-volume work. Alas, I won’t be round to see it …

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Ivy: the girl who married Sherlock Holmes

Today is market day. And I have a dinner outing with the family scheduled. So I decided I wouldn’t do an article today. Tidy up the house. Tidy up the computer. Put away some of those having-been-used files which are cluttering my desktop …

What’s this? Oh. The ship-list for the D’Oyly Carte Utopia Limited company, going to America, in 1894. Many a name which means nothing or little to me. Ephemeral chorines, long-serving chorines … well, there is just one amongst them that I know rose above the ranks: Ivy Hertzog. So, maybe, just peek and see if the web has anything to say about her and about her actor husband, ‘Julian Royce’. Oh, dear. She is nowhere, but he has one and a half lines in Wikipedia and the IMDB: ‘Julian Royce (26 March 1870 – 10 May 1946) was a British actor. He was born Julian Gardener in Bristol and died in London at age 76’. Is it really possible to make four mistakes in 1 ½ lines …

 That’s me a goner. I don’t suppose anyone cares much, these days, about ‘Ivy’ and ‘Julian’, but  egregious errors of fact, as the theatre-history world knows, get on my wick. So…

‘Ivy’ first. She was born in Greenwich, in 1870, as Bertha Emilie Herzog. Yes, obviously no ‘t’. Her father was Frederic Eberhard Herzog (1844-1907) a wood-engraver from Stüttgart and her mother the very young Lavinia née Sandwell from Rotherhithe. She began on the stage as a chorus girl with Carl Rosa, George Edwardes and D’Oyly Carte, and on her return from the Utopia jaunt, went out on Edwardes’ tours in Britain (A Gaiety Girl) and to South Africa. She played in The Gay Parisienne in London, at Fulham in Milton Bode’s Aladdin … but her chorus days were coming to an end …

In March 1898 she turns up at Oldham cast as Norah, the juvenile heroine of Sporting Life starring Leonard BoyneIn April they are playing at Hull (‘with great tendresse and grace’) and Nottingham (‘a delightful performance’), and in May at Edinburgh and Newcastle (‘a very winsome heroine’). The role of the evil Malet de Carteret was played by 32-year-old ‘Mr Julian L Royce’. Yes, enter the husband-to-be.

 So, Mr ‘Royce’. Yes, he was born Gardener. Yes he was born 26 May. No, he was not christened Julian, no it wasn’t Bristol, and no it wasn’t 1870. So 40% right? He was born (26 May 1866), or at least christened, in Chorlton-upon-Medlock, by the name of William Leonard Gardener, and under that name he was married, in 1889, to a young actress, Elizabeth Mary Day (‘Nora Day’), who had just started on a very promising career. I see them touring and advertising together in 1891, ‘aristocratic, heavy and juvenile leads’. Already ‘Julian’ and ‘Nora’. In 1897, they played together in The New Magdalen with Nora in Ada Cavendish’s great role as Mercy Merrick (‘genuine emotional power’), and in January 1898 they appeared in Sporting Life at the Shaftesbury. Julian was de Carteret, Nora was Lady Belton, and Sybil Carlisle played Norah. In February1898, while Julian went on the road in his villainous role,  Nora took the star role in In the Ranks(’with fervour and true womanly feeling’): on 26 June, she died, of cancer, aged 40, at 26 Wilton Street, Manchester.

Now, I’m not going to detail Julian’s career because it is detailed minutely in The Eraof 9 April 1898, along with a photo which shows him behind a ferociously fashionable moustache. 

When the next tour of Sporting Life went out, Julian was cast opposite Vera Beringer, but I see Miss Iva Hertzey still in the cast – understudy, perhaps? Anyway, round about the same time that Julian dropped the L from his stage name, he was married to Miss Herzog (29 July 1899), and they continued on their careers together …

 In 1900, the couple travelled to America with Mrs Langtry, and played Sir William and Lady Saumarez in The Degenerates, on their return Ivy went back to the Gaiety to play the naughty Lady Punchestown in The Messenger Boy. When the show went on tour, Julian joined her, to play the villainous Pyke.

Villains were clearly Julian’s speciality (thus, doubtless, the moustache) but he cleaned up decisively when Charles Frohman cast him in William Gillette’s famous role of Sherlock Holmes on tour in Britain. Ivy played nasty Madge Larrabee, through 1902-3. And so it went on. I see them touring with Mrs Patrick Campbell, visiting America again in 1912 to play Passers-By for Frohman, and again in 1919 … 

Ivy went into retirement in the 1920s, but Julian played on, and the reason that he is included on the IMDB is that he appeared in a good handful of 1930s movies. Julian died at Hailsham 10 May 1946, aged 80 – not 76 – and Ivy followed him just a few months later, after two successful careers and nearly 50 years of marriage.

Well, I’m glad I followed up Mr and Mrs Gardener. I think their story is a nice story. I must find a picture of her… there will surely be one in the Messenger Boy edition of Play Pictorial …

Honey ...

A frustrating day. I got led astray. Checked into e-bay. Nothing interesting. Just ‘rare’ Adelina Pattis, Christine Nilssons and Maud Branscombes (not even identified!). These vendors are pretty pathetic! But don’t get me on to treacherous e-bay ‘descriptions’ …

So, I looked back to yesterday, when there was a nice photo, but at a ridiculous price, of George Honey. Of the original Pyne and Harrison company. Should I ‘do’ him. Just check first and make sure someone else hasn’t. Eh? What? Here’s a nice little piece on him, with a picture of his grave. Someone who evidently isn’t a theatre specialist, rather a graveyard specialist, has nevertheless put together a well-researched piece. Perhaps I won’t ‘do’ George. But what is this? A tentative suggestion that he might have been connected to the well-known Mrs [Laura] Honey? Oh no, that can’t be.

So that was me hooked. And I’ve wound in and out of the Honeys all day. Firstly, blow me down, Mrs Laura Honey is in the Dictionary of National Biography. Well, OK. The more the merrier. And she got quite a detailed obituary in a couple of papers when – like James Dean and Marilyn Monroe – she died young, at about 26 years of age. Put the one with the other and that means, yes! She has a Wikipedia article. Well, there isn’t a heck of a lot of room, in 26 years, to go wrong, but … here’s my version.

We start with a Hampshire shoemaker, by name Frederick Bell, who had a little daughter whom he christened Anne. She was a pretty little Anne, and she sang delightfully, and in her early teens she began singing in public. The biogs say the first was at Gosport in 1814, but the first sighting I have made is, a little later, at a Benefit for one legged man who had broken his other leg … ‘Miss Bell sung several airs in a most inimitable manner, and was warmly and deservedly applauded’. By 1817, I spot her singing Julia Mannering (‘sung her songs in a style that gave great satisfaction’) at Southampton’s Theatre Royal. However, Miss Bell’s venture into the big world was fraught with peril, and on 6 December of 1816 or 1817 (the articles don’t agree, and I have no evidence) she gave birth to a little Lauretta Martha Rosier Bell. 

I can only assume that ‘Rosier’ was the father, unless she was conceived behind a rose bush. Fast forward a bit. 28 November 1823 Anne got legal. She married one John Young, and produced some legitimate children. I spot only a John William (6 March 1831) and a Fanny (1834), before Mr Young evidently clocked out. And by which time Laura was a married woman and well-and-truly established as a delightful singing soubrette on the London stage.

Laura had married, 13 October 1831, a lad around town by name William Honey. The two had a daughter, after which Mr Honey went boating on the Thames on the 8-ton Lady Emma. The boat tipped over, off Lambeth Palace, and most on board were drowned. Including William. 17 July 1836, Laura was a widow. 

She was also a favourite actress. But I’m not going to detail her career. She was simply another beautiful girl, with a good voice, and winning ways, who – I am convinced – owes her enduring ‘fame’ to her early death. And a certain etching …

Laura got herself another man. A gentleman this time. His name was Ernest Gaston, he was ‘independent’, he wrote, apparently decidedly tuneful, songs from time to time (some heard in the London theatres), and he gave Laura another child. I think. And here’s a puzzle…

Laura died in 1843. Mr Gaston survived her. And so did her two children. Her will -- yes, at 26, she made a will, three months before her death? don’t tell me that she didn’t know she was doomed – nominates Gaston as guardian of her children, Laura (legitimately born 26 May 1834) and ?Ada. Mr Gaston in the 1851 census is looking after just ‘Anne, born Jersey, aged 10’.

But mother! Mother is still going strong! In 1840 she is acting and singing at the Grecian, and on the bill is a fairly lowly tenor, by name Tom Woollidge. I wonder if he’s the same person as the Tom Newman, with whom she is living in the 1841 census. Anyway, she married the man. And as Mrs Woollidge she would remain, through her long career, until she was laid low by a stroke, after nearly half a century on the stage, in 1861.

End of story. Oh no.

(1) Fanny Young. Mrs Honey’s legitimate younger sister. Fanny also made something of a theatrical career, and played for a bit in London. But she made her home in Bristol, and worked largely in the Bath and Bristol theatres, up till her death, aged 29 (39 Queens Square Bristol 8 March 1860).

(2) Laura Dalton Honey. Yes, I’m curious about that ‘Dalton’. Laura’s legitimate daughter by William? It appears not. Anyway, she, too, went on the stage. The name must have helped. She did all right in Britain, before she married a certain Mr Samuel Wentworth Stevenson. And went west. (He promptly died). Well … there’s an article on the web under ‘Canada’s Early Women Writers’ from Simon Fraser University, which purports to tell the story of ‘Laura Agnes Stevenson’. Canada? Why Canada? Is it for real? Is it mixing up, partly, one Laura with another? Her latter day Californian career is rather … well, she WOULD write … anyway, she died 25 December 1884, officially as Mrs [John] Henry Church. She left two sons, by Mr Church: Arthur and Thomas ...

PS, yes, there were other ‘Laura Honey’s. It was a buzzword name. See the one (Mrs Fred Caddick) who sang on the English music halls, played with the Gaiety Theatre company in Australia, and mothered singers Sara Beryl and Leila Roze …

(3) Actress ‘Marie Dalton’. CLOSE relation to Mrs Woollidge ... presumably not legitimately, or … but why did Laura jr have Dalton for her middle name? Well, it appears that there is a man at the bottom of it. One David Dalton Kennedy. And Laura jr wasn't the daughter of Mr Honey. I wonder who knew that. But who is Marie Dalton, attached to the previous generation. Honestly, what a family..

And I have spent a whole day on THIS?

Well, here it is, for what it is worth. But if you want to put ‘Mrs Honey’ into a book or on to a webpage, these are the facts as I know them …

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Mary Wells: From Boucicault to burlesque to "The Black Crook"


I’ve found a new way of picking my ‘subject for the day’. See what the best picture is on ebay and go for it!  Today, the grand Mary Wells turned up … and I was feeling shopping’n’sunbathy … so I decided on her. Because I’d already sort of ‘done’ her, when I was writing my Lydia Thompson biography, and prepared little biogs of Lydia’s co-workers, which in the end I didn’t use. So here is Mary in character … as…?

And here is a brief resumé of her career which includes her period as …


The stock company at Wood’s Museum was not made up entirely of wannabe actresses related to the manager. There were also some capable and established local performers amongst the troupe and, given the range of roles to be covered, not all of them were sweet sixteen years of age. In fact, the ‘first old woman’ of the company, ‘tall and stately’ Mary Wells was all of forty, and long a well-known player in class companies, when she appeared for a little while with the Thompson troupe.

WELLS, Mary (b Lincoln, England 11 December ?1827; d 436 6th Avenue, New York 16 July 1878)

I’m pushing it a little classing Mary Wells as any sort of a ‘Blonde’, but the fact remains that she did play in burlesque for a time with the Thompson company at Wood’s Museum, and therefore must not be ignored.

Mary was born in England – in Lincoln, so her long Clipperobituary said, affirming at the same time that the event took place 11 December 1829. An English paper picking up the news, made it 1820. I can’t find either. But I cannot see why one would profess to be born in Lincoln if it weren’t true.

The same obituary says she made her first stage appearance on 3 December 1850 at Albany. An excellent book on the Albany Theatre says she was born 1827 and made her first appearance on any stage as Fanny Tubbs in The Ocean of Life on 28 December 1850. Only a programme would decide who it right! The same book says she ended her time at Albany 14 June 1852.

I first pick her up in Buffalo and Rochester in 1853 (‘tall and stately and while not handsome had an interesting face’). She is already, in her twenties, playing the ‘old woman’ character roles which would become her speciality.

In 1856 she joined Laura Keene’s company for her first New York appearance, playing Mme Deschapelles in The Lady of Lyons and she remained with Ms Keene, playing mothers and madames and statuesque dames (Mrs Mountchessington in Our American Cousin, Hippolyta in A Midsummer Night’s Dream &c) for three seasons. 

From Keene’s, she moved on to Niblo’s Garden where she took the part of Missisarris ‘a duenna ready to do anything to hitch with Peddagogus’, as played by Davidge, in the burlesque The Race-course of Love, otherwise She Stoops and Doesn’t Conquer,which had once been Talfourd’s Atalanta.She was to stay for seven seasons at Niblo’s, playing character roles from Mrs Candour to Lady Franklin in Money, Shelagh in The Colleen Bawn, Regan in King Lear, and Elsie of the Glen in The Connie Soogar, while also appearing when the occasion demanded in burlesque or extravaganza. In that way, she appeared as another vain duenna, Dame Barbara, in a critically panned, but leggy, new Niblo’s show entitled The Black Crook.

She played Queen Safronilla in The White Fawna more coherent attempt to repeat the Black Crook formula at Wallack’s Theatre, and then in 1868 joined the company at George Wood’s new theatre. She didn’t take part in the original Blonde show of Ixion – the role of Minerva which she would later play was taken by Harry Beckett – but when it was followed up by Ernani she was there as, of course, ‘Jacinta, a Duenna, appointed to take care of Elvira, but by no means disinclined to take care of herself’. 

When the Thompson troupe moved on from Wood’s, Mary said goodbye to them, and went on to engagements at the Lingards’ Theatre Comique, at Philadelphia’s Arch Street, at Selwyn’s Theatre, Boston, and in 1870 at Booth’s Theatre playing the shrewish Gretchen to Jefferson’s famous Rip van Winkle.

In 1871, she had time out for an operation for breast cancer, but she returned to Booth’s management to appear in such roles as Tilly Slowboy, Audrey, the Duchess of York, Martha opposite Wallack in The Bells, in Arragh na Pogue, as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet, Betsy Trotwood, Mrs Squeers, Mistress Quickly, Lady Sneerwell, Widow Melnotte, La Frochard, Lady Creamly in The Serious Family… 

Just occasionally, she came up against other and blonder ex-Blondes. Emma Grattan joined the Booth’s Company … Edith Blande that at the Fifth Avenue … But these were the real singing, dancing, be-tighted blondes of yore. Mary Wells wasn’t that. I don’t think I ever see her listed for a song. Although she was known to break into a merry jig in an Irish play. She was simply the classic duenna of the American Victorian Theatre. The prototype of the Katishas and Lady Janes to come in the next decade.

But Mary didn’t make it to the next decade. The cancer returned, and she died at her home in New York ‘aged 49’ in 1878. So I guess the English report was an error. But she was given her due in sizeable obituaries by the theatre press: ‘one of the best “old women” in the New York Theatre’.
I don’t know whether Mary was born as Mary Wells or not. The name was that of a well-known English actress who died in 1829, so maybe it was simply a nom de théâtre. She died as Mary Stapells or Stoepels, the wife of hairdresser turned theatrical treasurer and agent Richard Stapells (apparently né Staples 1832-1891) whom she married, as Mary Wells, at St Clement’s Church, New York, 13 June 1867. His aunt, Eliza Ann Staples (Mrs Richard F) Medhurst, widow of another hairdresser, was witness. 

But in 1858, already, the press refers to Mary as a married woman. So was Mary twice wed? I’m working on that one. I wonder who is the 17 year-old Susan Burgess living with the couple in the 1870 Boston census.

I see, on the Findagrave website, that Mary lies in Cypress Hills Cemetery. She is buried as Mary Staples … born 1829 …  oh, well.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Dinner for one please, James ...


Or, rather, Charly.

One of the glorious things about my Winter Palace (and there are plenty of glories!) is that you can get so well fed. And that is, to me, one of the basic necessities of life. I’ve related before, how that great gourmet, Gerry Bordman (American Musical Theatre), berated me – after taking me on a tour of the best restaurants of the Côte d’azur, in the 1980s – ‘you don’t CARE about food’. Well, dear Gerry is dead and gone, but if he could see me now … he’d be proud. I care hugely about food. I am a devoted ‘foodie’. And I don’t mean complex, show-off, ‘Masterchef’-style food, I mean glorious, fresh, tasty food with a real, home-made touch …

So, last night, after having demolished a delicious Gordon’s gin, with fresh limes from the market and home-made ice, on the Palace patio, I decided to treat myself to dinner out.

We are just days away from the Winter solstice, so it’s dark at 5.45pm …. But the fingernail moon was out, and there are restaurants just beyond ‘my lawn’ (well, it’s really the village green) so I grabbed my trusty walking-stick and set gallantly forth.

Hmm, the Italian and the Burger Joint have gone on winter hols. Good old Tom, the Chinese, is gamely open, and I’m saving Sunny and Rams’s Indian for when my vegetarians arrive. Which leaves, tiens! How did you guess? What a coincidence. The French Pan Tree.

Now, I’ve written about the French Pan Tree before, but when Cyclone Renee heard I was headed that way, she messaged: ‘take photos, that way I can pretend I’m there!’. So I did. And here’s my evening in pictures.

Settled in my little corner table and … a glass of very nice blanc de blanc …

The delicious beef carpaccio of the house, glistening with citrus …

Another glass of that blanc de blanc please ..

Goodness this is supposed to be the off-season. The place is filling up. I asked the granny with her little girl if I could photograph them (it’s so good to see the young being introduced, as in France, to Good Food) but she looked at me as if I were an heterosexual deviant and said ‘no’.

Main course. Jewfish. Oh my! Oh my, my, my.

Blanc de blanc no 3 …

Am I just in a good mood, or is that just THE best bit o’ fish I’ve eaten in aeons?

Can’t finish there! A little heap of Comté … a little glass of calvados …

Pop out the back and hug the chef. And his wife. That was one perfect ‘me’ dinner. Sigh.

Now down the hill … the moon’s still there, with its bright star … there’s Orion … er … wait a moment … how many moons does this planet have …

100 metres to go … and home.

And what! Nephew Harry has arrived in town .. well, come Wednesday I might have to introduce him to these delicacies! OK, OK, Renee .. he’s your son! So you can come too … but I think we may have to book. The news is clearly getting around ...

Ever-lovin' Adelaide: Baltimore's prima donna

‘The singing of Miss Adelaide Randall is so natural and full of soft melody that, together with her sweet handsome face, and fairylike movements, one could almost imagine that her song was a sweet note from Heaven falling on the mortal ear…’ (Wheeling, Illinois, 1876).

Gosh. Quite a rave. Yes, I have passed by Miss Randall many a time, on the way to other things and folk, but she somehow didn’t inspire me to deviate and dig. Until today.

When I chanced on that marvellous photo of Laura Joyce, on ebay, the vendor had, alongside it (also with the ridiculous postal charge, which stopped me buying either or both), this delightful photo of Miss Randall. It’s still available, if damaged, so go for it … 

And I thought, well, I had better spend 24 hours on this pretty lady … Here’s the result.

Adelaide was never a major star. To start with, she was a light mezzo-to-soprano. But she could play the lighter roles of the operatic soprano repertoire, was a charming, sparkling actress (‘good voice … chic and verve of a popular actress’), and was the picture of a comic opera heroine. So she, wisely attempting nothing more hefty, had a fine career all around America for over two decades.

[Jane] Adelaide Randall was born in Maryland. Probably Baltimore. I can’t prove the exact date, but she’s not yet born in the 1850 census, is 8 years old in the 1860 one, so let’s say 1852. I say ‘probably Baltimore’, because her father, George H Randall, originally from Virginia, was a printer and journalist in that city, before moving to Westminster, Md, to run the Carroll County Democratthere. 

Now, I have uncovered two newspaper ‘biographies’ of Addie: one from the 70s, one from 20 years later. They don’t quite agree in their details, but the earlier one (on searching) proves the more exact, the later more lyrical and mildly indiscreet. George, it appears, was a bit of a wastrel. His wife, Emmeline, apart from supplying him with and bringing up five children and a grandchild, plus a couple of extra Kentuckians by name Mattingley, apparently kept the newspaper afloat too, doing everything from writing to typesetting while George … well, I don’t know what he was doing. But doing it, whatever it was, down by the branch railroad of the Baltimore and Ohio railroad, one dark-of-night in February 1862, he ‘fell under a train’. So Emmeline was left to bring up the family. Which she was doubtless doing anyway.

We see them in the 1870 census, in Washington, Emmeline 50, eldest son George M[attingley?] D (d 1892) aged 25, printer, Adelaide aged 19, youngest sister Clara V aged 13, what seems to be eldest sister, Fanny Hagger 30 and her fatherless daughter Emma, 5, and Joseph A Mattingley, carpenter, 32. Three of this bunch would end up on the stage.

By the 1880 census, the family is in New York, and I suspect has been there a while, because Addie is said to have studied with Signori Torriani and Steffenoni, and begun her career. To which we now move.

My first sighting of Addie as a vocalist is 3 June 1874, and she is the alto part of a ‘Schubert Vocal Quartet’ performing at Bridgeport, Ct. But by 20 January 1875, she is making her ‘first appearance this season’ (hmm) at Philadelphia’s Academy of Music singing Siebel to the Marguerite of Annie Tremaine-Beaumont with Clarence Hess’s Kellogg Opera Co. In April, I see her with Maretzek’s Italian Opera as Gina in L’Ombra and by June she in in San Francisco in L’Etoile du nord, again for Hess. In October she supported no less a star than Therese Titiens in concert at New York’s Steinway Hall.

Mr James Redpath of the Lyceum Boston sent out a little ‘opera company’ in 1875-6, playing Marthaand L’Ombra.The cast wasn’t listed, but I suspect Addie was of it, for in 1876 she can be seen in its successor, ‘E S Payson’s English Comic Opera Co’, playing Nancy in Martha, Manuelita in Vertigo (a version of the Offenbach Pépito) and Philip a strange piece called ‘Gounod’s The Love Test’ which appears to have been, apparently built on Longfellow’s A Student’s Tale. Mr Payson apparently toured more successfully than Mr Redpath and the engagement stretched into 1877, when she turns up in California with Hess once more singing the eternal Martha.

She toured in opera with Anna Granger Dow, joined a Mr Ruben for a season at New York’s Grand Opera House (it wasn’t) singing everything from to the Gipsy Queen to Lady Allcash to a light mezzo Azucena, and in 1878 returned to Hess and his latest project: the Emma Abbott English Opera. The repertoire was just Addie’s line – The Bohemian Girl, Faust, Fra Diavolo, MarthaMaritana, Mignon, Les Cloches de Corneville – and I spot her singing the obvious Siebel, Lady Allcash and Lazarillo. When Miss Abbott subsequently put out her own extremely successful troupe, Addie was again hired. She shared the mezzo and contralto roles with the deeper-voiced Zelda Seguin, but she was still cast as Emma’s mother, Mme delaTour, in Massé’s Paul and Virginia.

In 1879, she spent time at Haverley’s Lyceum, and dates beyond, playing Hebe in HMS Pinafore, before a fresh tour with Miss Abbott, and then a venture in a 3-part role with Tracy Titus in an attempt at an American musical, U S Buttons. She also got married. Her husband was Charles T Atwood, at the time business manager for Shook and Collier. The following year, he managed the Berger Family, and I see Addie singing with them in Canada.

In 1881, however, she was back with Hess, starring in his Acme troupe as Bathilde in Olivette and in the title-role of La Mascotte (‘She not only sings it admirably but acts it in a very acceptable way’). The company tried another semi-American musical, The Widow, and showed it briefly at New York’s Standard Theatre, but quickly returned to the safety of their French repertoire. In between, however, Addie took a turn in the most successful native piece to date, when The Doctor of Alcantara was given a showing at the Metropolitan Alcazar. Hess played Fra Diavolo with Addie as Zerlina, MaritanaMartha, Les Cloches de Corneville, La Mascotte, Olivette, The Bohemian Girl … Addie, Rose Leighton, Lizzie St Quinten, Emma Elsner and a lady named Cora R Miller led the female casts.

In December 1882, Addie got to dip again into the Gilbert and Sullivan repertoire. Iolanthe was produced at the Lyceum, Philadelphia, and she was cast as … Phyllis! When Broadway’s Phyllis, Sallie Reber, got ill, she was switched to New York, and the press was not shy to say that she was an improvement! But she had been engaged for another new semi-American piece down Philly way, so she had to give up the role and return. The piece in question was Fortunio, a re-setting of Planché’s popular extravaganza by local musician, Francis Thomas Sully Darley. In spite of a good cast, it went the way of all such pieces.

In 1884, she was hired by Kerker and Donnelly as leading lady for a season of comic opera at the Bijou Theatre, playing Les Cloches de Corneville, Fra Diavolo, The Bohemian Girl and Maritana, and went out with a fallible ‘New York Ideals’ company … but in the end she seemingly took matters into her own hands. In 1885 the Bijou Opera Company went on the road. Manager: C T Atwood. Star Mrs C T Atwood. Comprimaria: Miss Clara Randall. For three successful years, Adelaide Randall and her troupe toured America, playing La Mascotte, HMS Pinafore, The Mikado, Les Cloches de Corneville, Billee Taylor, Giroflé-Giroflà, The Doctor of Alcantara, The Bridal Tap (Serment d’amour), Le Princesse de Trébizonde, Madame Boniface, The Bohemian Girl until the enterprise was put to bed in July1888. 

Addie moved on to feature with Gustav Hinrich’s ‘New American Opera Company’, to play Paolawith J C Duff, to visit Milwaukee’s Schultz Park, and in 1890 to even try another American musical, this one with music by Hinrichs. Onti-Ora (28 July 1890) died swiftly.

And then mystery struck. Mr Atwood, who had recently been managing Maggie Mitchell’s troupe, but had undertaken a very unfortunate theatrical tour to Canada, which was rumoured to have caused a breach with his wife (her money?), was found in the streets of Chicago: demented. He was taken to Cook County Hospital where 7 November 1891 he died. Demented? The usual cause of dementia in young men in these times was syphilis …

Addie did bits and pieces for a couple of years. It was as if the oomph had gone out of her. She penned little stories for ladies’ magazines, played summer season, tried a theatre in Denver, but found her best shop playing ‘the Opera Queen’ in John T Kelly’s farce comedy McFee of Dublin. Then Rush City. I see her in 1896 playing Minna in The Black Hussar for
Maurice Grau, in 1898 writing a cooking column …

In the censi of 1905, 1910 and 1920 I see her sharing what seem to be decreasingly-sized homes with sister Clara, but in 1930 – well, I guess Clara must have died – she is alone, in one room …

Addie Randall died in NYC 25 July 1933, aged 81. Maybe hers had not been a glamorous life and career, but as theatrical ones go, I think it can be judged pretty successful.

Clara had a bit of a career, largely as a chorine. However, niece (?) Emma Hagger did rather better. Between 1884 and 1894, she worked as an actress with Janauschek, Gus Williams, Rose Coghlan, Sol Smith Russell, Thomas Q Seabrooke, Milton Nobles, Mrs Bernard Beere et (doubtless) al. ‘A pretty and vivacious little lady’. They seemed to run in the family. ‘A southern girl, of Spanish extraction …’. Er, what? Born Maryland, mother from Kentucky ..  Southern?  Do I have something else to discover about this family? Spanish?  Anyway, I’ve no idea what became of Emma after the age of thirty …