Tuesday, July 14, 2020

Cartesians: A body in the Hudson River

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Yesterday started with a lackadaisical wander round Letter M.  I picked up Gertrude MACAULEY (b Bishops Stortford, bapt 10 August 1864; d 28 Marloes Road, Kensington 16 May 1937) whose career as a Cartesian, and cover to Rosina Brandram, seems to have had a limited span. Daughter of Irishman Daniel Macauley, vicar of New Town, Bishops Stortford and his wife Hannah née Wiley, niece of Richard Church (commercial clerk) of Regent's Park, she only a wee while professed to be a 'professional singer'.

Then there was Isa[bella] McCUSKER who may have been the thus-named born in Glasgow in 1870, but maybe not, and who was billed for only a few years.

And Septimus MARSLAND (b Walworth 25 February 1869; d Bridgwater, Somerset 13 August 1947), son of solicitor Benjamin Marsland, who only professed 'professional singer' for a while before becoming a marine auctioneer (1901) and a surveyor (1911) ...

I was not even out of the MA-Mc section of the archive when I came upon Wallace McCREERY or Macreery or ... whatever. It was pretty surely a stage name (the, frequent, alternative spelling is usually a giveaway), and I'm sure I had his real name 40 years ago, before the dousing of my old computer in Dorper lambjuice put an end to those old notes. Anyway, a real McCreery was at that time a fashionable politician (along with a Mr Wallace) ... I may be being too suspicious, but I think not ... anyway, I have no birthdate for Mr McC. No census sightings. No official records. Just a death date. 11 May 1905. Place, the middle of the Hudson River.

His life was foredoomed to end in disaster, for Mr McCreery was, from early in his ruined career, a confirmed alcoholic. For a decade, he went from one company to another, often sacked ... why did managers continue to hire him? Because when on song, he was good. But too often he wasn't, and the press didn't hesitate to mock him for 'singing in whis-key'. When he had a fall from a balcony in San Francisco, he was unhurt: it was reported 'alcoholic limpness saved him'.

McCreery, by any other name, started his singing life under another name: 'Signor V Talberti'. I wonder if his birth name was Talbert. As Talberti, he was announced for Strakosh's company in 1877, but I only see him over the next couple of years in the odd concert: the Dime Sacred Concerts at the Cooper Institute, in New Jersey with Arabella Root, at D L Downing's concert at the Grand Opera House, at Booth's Theatre (29 September 1878) supporting what was left of Ilma di Muska. And then he got his big break. As Pinafore-mania struck, he was cast as Rackstraw in the Standard Theatre's production of the all-consuming comic opera, and -- no longer 'Talberti' -- he scored splendidly. The Standard company went a-touring, and McCreery went with them ... alongside Signor Brocolini (recte: John Clark) and Lisette Ellani (recte: Miss Hatch) playing HMS Pinafore and Trial by Jury, and a series of fine jobs in fine shows followed -- with Emilie Melville in The Royal Middy, as Gaston in Donna Juanita, Valentine in Olivette, Pietro in Bocaccio, at the Casino in The Queen's Lace Handkerchief, in The Snake Charmer, Hand and Heart, on tour with the Duff Company, which included Lakmé in its repertoire ... and somewhere in there, the rot set in. Cast as Hilarion in the New York production of Princess Ida (1884), he was hissed from the stage for being drunk and incapable ...


He crossed the continent, and took a job at San Francisco's Tivoli under another pseudonym: 'Walter Temple'. No one was fooled, and he was frequently 'off', but he stayed in California for more than two years. Thereafter I see him intermittently for a few years ... with W H Hamilton's 'New York Church Choir Company', in Ship Ahoy, The Khedive, playing Corcoran now in HMS Pinafore, in Atlanta, Georgia, in a small company (1894) ... and then, nothing, until that day in May when he boarded the Weehawken Ferry ...


Most of my day, however, was spent with my seriously genealogical garb on. No, not trying to figure out Mr Talberti-Temple-McCreery (I gave upon him), but chasing after the family story of Fred[erick] MERVIN [MARVIN, Charles] (b Leicester 1844; d 151 Camden Rd, London 22 May 1897). In this case persistence only partly paid, but I tried long and hard, because I have spent much of the last weeks trolling the cemeteries of Leicestershire, searching for the stories behind the gravestones for brother John's current project, and spots like 'Barton in the Beans' and 'Higham on the Hill' have become familiar to me. Fred wasn't shy about admitting his real name, and he told the census takers he was born in St Mary's. OK. The British records show that it was in the first quarter of 1844. His obituary tell us that his father was a 'gentleman farmer in Leicestershire'. So ... I immediately bethought me of Charles Marvin of Frolesworth House, but no. He was dead. 
1851 census: there is our 7 year-old Charles, with sisters Sarah Ann (13) and Maria (11) and mother Ann in Leicester's 14 Upper Brown Street. No papa. So back to the 1841 census. Sarah Ann (3), Maria (1), mother Mary. No papa. Hang on, 'mother Mary'? Occupation: FS. 'Female servant'. I tried lengthily to rationalise. Gentleman farmers don't usually send their wives to work as servants. And why has she changed her name between time? VSE? Or ... I checked the death registers. A Mary Marvin died in Leicester in the first quarter of 1844. Looks like a case of childbirth. So Papa Marvin then married Ann, from Higham on the Hill, then died before 1851 and left her with three stepchildren? Well, that is my best if still rather dodgy scenario. And it doesn't solve papa at all ... or why Maria was born in Liverpool ... or ...
Oh, and Ann (d 25 November 1868) wasn't a servant, she was a 'coal merchant'. And Sarah a 'preparer of wool for spinning'. By 1861 Ann is still coaling, Sarah is married, Maria is a silk-winder, and Fred/Charles ... where? Gone to seek his fortune? Well, I have tried. Lord knows, I've tried. Let's just say that Fred's background is not straightforward.

It is 1868 before I pick him up again. He's 24, Fred and Mervin, an actor, and much easier to follow. My first sighting of 'Fred' is at South Shields where he is playing in Lost in London for T H Glenney, before going on (1869) to play with the Cheltenham Dramatic Company in Swansea, at Nottingham (Harry Garden in Daddy Grey, Reuben Butler in Jeanie Deans, Richard Hare in East Lynne, and at Scarborough with Wybert Reeve (A Serious Family, Robert Macaire, Won and Lost, The Old Post Boy, London Assurance, The Bonnie Fishwife &c). In 1870, he toured with Edith Sandford and her horse as Maurice Lagarde in Firefly, and made his first London appearance when the show played the Britannia. He played a second summer season at Scarborough, during which Mrs John Wood guested and Fred played Powhatan to her celebrated Belle Sauvage. Weeks later, he joined Mrs Wood at her London base at the St James's Theatre where he played in Fernande, Robertson's War, Albery's The Two Thorns, the burlesque Vesta et al, and then took a tour with the company (Dick Duggs in Milky White &c).
In April 1872 he appeared at the Holborn Theatre as Tom Gadfly, teamed with J A Shaw as Jack Sprightly, in La Vie Parisienne (in London), then joined Emily Soldene at the Philharmonic, taking the part of Frederick Penmore in A Cabinet Secret, and covering the comedy leads in Geneviève de Brabant.
More than a year in the stock company at Hull, (1873-4), was followed by an engagement at the Prince's Theatre, Manchester, during which he created the role of 'Admiral' Sneak in The Sultan of Mocha, and played King Cockalorum to the Jack the Giantkiller of Nellie Farren, Pomponnet in La Fille de Madame Angot, and Puck in La Grande-Duchesse, a brief appearance in Zerlina Zerbini's musical Una .. and then he was gone. 19 August 1875 he sailed on the SS Hankow for Calcutta. He was there for the better part of a year, and Manchester was surprised when he turned up in June 1876 'rumour had slain [him]'. He was in Manchester, this time, as a member of D'Oyly Carte's four-prima-donnas company, playing Don Andrès in La Périchole, Duke Ulric of Duffendorf in The Duke's Daughter, the Judge in Trial by Jury. 
The fine engagements piled one upon another ... Three Millions of Money with Mrs Wood, Led Astray with Helen Barry, Annibale in Marjolaine  with Kate Santley, Fatinitza at the Alhambra, Henri in Les Cloches de Corneville at the Globe, Hector in Madame Favart and, in 1880, a return to the Alhambra to play the Drum-Major, Monthabor, in La Fille de Tambour-Major. Old playgoers, looking back years later, seem to agree that this was his finest role. George Musgrove of Australia clearly thought so. He hired Fred to go to Australia to repeat his part, alongside Pattie Laverne (one of Carte's four-prima-donnas), in a no-expenses-spared Johnny Wallace production that would go down in Australian musical-theatre history. 
He also played Madame Favart in Australia, and it was not till June 1882 that Manchester and 12 Keppel Street, Russell Square, greeted him again. He was hired for the Strand Theatre (Frolique, Eloped, A Comedy of Errors, Ethel's Test), then for John S Clarke's season at the Opera Comique, before the Alhambra called again. If The Golden Ring (Cleon) was little more than a glamorous Christmas show (1883), the next production was anything but run of the mill: Millöcker's exciting Der Bettelstudent, with Fred cast in the plum comedy role of Baron Ollendorf (1884).
In November, he crossed to the Avenue to play Leonard Lavender in old friend, Harry Paulton's Lilies, then back to the Strand for a strongly-cast revival of the grand musical comedy Nemesis alongside Marius, Lottie Venne and Arthur Roberts, and back again to the Avenue, where Violet Melnotte was producing a revival of Les Manteaux noirs. Marion Hood was the Girola and Fred took the role of Don Philip, created by Marius, with great success. So, what more natural than, when Miss Melnotte mounted her new musical, written by and starring Harry Paulton, at the Comedy Theatre, than that Mr Mervin was again called upon. And, thus, at the age of 40, he created the role of the Marquis de Pontvert in Erminie.


The Comedy Theatre kept him through a revival of The Beggar Student, and the comedy The Barrister (with time out to vocally decorate Mr Charles Dickens's readings), before he, uncharacteristically, rolled into a year of non-hits (Babette, Coward Conscience, Bob) which ended when he joined Arthur Cecil and Mrs Wood at the Court Theatre. Their production of Aunt Jack, in which he played Colonel Tavenor ('one of the best exponents of peppery colonels and irritable old men that we have on the stage'), ran for some 240 performances.
Fred now had a second string to his lute: he had started directing (Toole's Theatre, Strand etc) but he continued to perform. He took part in several matinees and short-lived plays, toured for Augustus Harris as Major Joseph Marshall in The Late Lamented, and got in on the ground floor of another huge hit when cast as Major Fosdyke in the original The Gay Parisienne. He played his role for some two years, with a little time out for producer William Greet's unsuccessful Buttercup and Daisy
In 1896, he directed the London production of Monte Carlo, in 1897 he managed J S Clarke's season at the Strand ... 
There was to be no retirement. Fred Mervin died that same year. I have only found brief obituary notices. He deserved more. He had been involved in some of the most successful English musical productions of his era, he had been seen from Melbourne to Calcutta to China to Kingston-on-Hull, and he had given performances -- Monthabor, Ollendorf, Pontvert -- which may fairly described as 'of anthology'. Ah, well ... perhaps he would be better remembered today had he married someone (he never did) interesting, and/or got involved in a scandal, of if he had jumped off the Weehawken ferry ... all he did was once get fined 10s for losing his tuppenny tram ticket ... but he got a good write-up in The Era for it.

And I haven't given up on father ... maybe another go next week ... and a photo ... there must be a photo somewhere ... Australia? Calcutta?


1 comment:

Unknown said...

I have just read your blog on George Temple. I am doing a one-name study of the Rexworthy Family and found it most interesting

Rosemary