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 (né Smith), 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 ...
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' (Mrs Nellie McCartee née Lemon). 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 ...