Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Aida: from chorus girl to leading lady

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Aida Jenoure was around in the (mostly) British theatre for nearly half a century. Only her youthfulmost days were spent singing under the management of Mr D’Oyly Carte, but she toured to America and to Europe with his companies for three years and, later, probably her biggest success of all came in a piece – The Mountebanks – written by Mr W S Gilbert. Thus she has made it to George’s want list, and has tardily awakened my inquisitiveness.

Aida Jenoure. Originally, I am sure, pronounced ‘Ada’: she didn’t start putting an umlaut on her ‘i’ until Mr Verdi’s opera came out. Jenoure? Not a common name. Should be easy to find. Well, that was a waste of an hour! The name apparently belongs somewhere in her family (it was her half-brother’s middle name) but … oh, dear, that family. Yes, I’m, going to tell you all about it.

In 1860, a notice appeared in the British press announcing the marriage (8 November 1860) at the Paris British Embassy of Maurice Louis Gerrard only son of James Lund Gerrard Esq late of Lamberhurst in the county of Kent, but now of Nice, to Sidney Augusta, eldest daughter of Joseph Gutteridge Stevenson Esq of Oxford Terrace, Hyde Park. Sounds straightforward? Wasn’t. Later, when it was time for dirty linen, the courts were told that Mr Gerrard and his bride had ‘run away from (her) school to Paris’ to get married. They ran so fast, that Sidney’s mum and dad were there to witness the event and sign the French certificate for their 19 year-old daughter’s marriage. So, why the fuss? Well, I think I may have the answer. Three years earlier, a Mr Maurice Louis Gerrard, son of James, had wed a Miss Rose Elizabeth Jane Harding at Kingston. Maybe there were two MLGs. Maybe not. Miss Harding doesn’t appear anywhere I can suss after her wedding, perhaps she died. But Maurice put ‘bachelor’ on his Parisian wedding certificate. Odd.

Now, Mr Gerrard had been a leisured lad all his 30-odd years, but now he got a job. With the mounted police in India. So the newly-wed couple headed for the east. But Mrs Gerrard didn’t flourish in India, and so she (and, some of time, he) returned to England, and there on 13 November 1863 was born, in her father’s absence, Adelaide Marion Gerrard. Yes, it’s Aida.

Now, for the past some years, the Gerrards’ friend and neighbour, lawyer Oscar Ullithorne (sic) ‘of Staples inn, Holborn’) had kept a kindly eye on Mrs Gerrard in loco husband. And the predictable happened. When Mr Gerrard found out, he was mighty wrath. He put his returning wife straight back on the P&O to England and sued for divorce. The Gerrards were divorced in 1866, and in 1867 Sidney (d 1920) and Oscar were married. And, in the course of time, a half-sister and two half-brothers arrived to share the Belgravia home of the Ullithornes.

Mr Ullithorne, Aida’s stepfather, is a whole other story. Charles More Ullithorne, broker, of Red Lion Square, was bankrupted in 1835 and died in 1840, leaving his wife Jane with three sons and a daughter. Sons Frederick and Alfred disappeared off to Australia, to people that sunny land with Ullithornes, their sister Louisa married Edward Witherington Joseph Temple, broker, and died in 1865, but Oscar … Oscar took to the law, and made much money. He also spent much money, on a rich and colourful lifestyle from his home in Eaton Square. So much, indeed, that when he died at 38 South Eaton Place 30 June 1889 his personal estate was declared as just 23L. Lawyer’s calculation, or verge of destitution? 

By 1889, however, Aida was a working girl. In 1883, she had enrolled at the London Academy of Music – I see ‘Miss Ullithorne’ in concert 20 April at St George’s Hall (‘Si tu m’aimais’) – in 1884 at the Victoria Coffee Hall, in 1885 playing in The Sleeping Queen, and taking a gold medal for voice and a bronze for elocution. I see her out in public at Emil Mahr’s concert (16 March 1885), Nellie and Kate Chaplin’s (June) et al, as she transformed into ‘Aida Jenoure’. And took a job …


David Stone takes up the tale: ‘….[she played] in the chorus with D'Oyly Carte's First American Mikado Company in New York City in August 1885.  She then toured Germany and Austria in the chorus of The Mikado with Carte's Continental Company from June 1886 until January 1887. In February 1887 she gave two performances at the Savoy as Zorah in Ruddigore.  She then went to New York as Zorah with Carte's American Ruddygore Company. The run lasted two months.  In May 1887 she was back at the Savoy, replacing Josephine Findlay as Zorah for the remainder of the run there, and in August filled in briefly for Geraldine Ulmar as Rose Maybud.  In November 1887 she joined the ‘Continentals’ again, playing Lady Ella in Patience and Peep-Bo in The Mikado for audiences in Germany and Austria.  She returned to the British Isles in February 1888 and toured with Mr. D'Oyly Carte's C (Repertory) Company until June 1888, appearing as Ella, Peep-Bo, and Amanda in The Carp, a one-act Frank Desprez & Alfred Cellier ‘whimsicality’ that played on the bill with H.M.S. Pinafore’.

In 1888 she appeared as Penelope to the Ulysses of Lydia Thompson for a week at New York’s Star Theatre in Solomon and Stephens’s burlesque Penelope, and later played in The Pearl of Pekin and Robin Hood in an unsuccessful attempt by H J Leslie and J C Duff to stage a Blanchard pantomime, Babes in the Wood, in America.


Back in Britain she appeared in a curious Shakespeare in Maidenhead, and then moved to the Lyric Theatre to create the plum role of Nita in The Mountebanks opposite John ChildShe won a decided personal success, especially with her 'Put a Penny in the Slot' routine, and was referred to in the press as ‘the toast of the town’. She segued into the Lyric’s next production, Incognita, as Josefa, the soubrette, to the disastrous Micaela of another thin, high, American soprano from the Marchesi manufactuary. After shredding the prima donna, the reviewer continued on to Aida: ’It would be difficult to say too much in praise of the sprightly performance of this young lady. All her actions in her maddest moments are marked by refinement and she is excellent as singer and dancer alike. It is certainly not too much to say that no Josefa could possibly do more for the opera…’. Miss Sedohr Rhodes (who LET her..?) was replaced by Florence Darley, then Nellie Stewart and then … Aida: ‘For this character an actress in emphatically needed and the sprightly young artist to whom it is now entrusted amply fulfils every requirement. The comedy of the plot is now for the first time realised and Miss Jenoure also deals successfully with the music’. Incognitahad a good run, and was then replaced by Albeniz’s The Magic Opal, again with Aida delightedly featured. However, at the time, she was more featured in the gossip columns, as a ‘number’ with the journo Justin Huntly McCarthy. But it was all right, he wed Cissie Loftus instead. Actress mad.


Next up, she went to the Court Theatre to play farce, as Madame Champignol in an English adaptation of the hit Champignon malgré lui, before moving to George Edwardes to replace Lottie Venne as the central Lady Virginia Forrest in The Gaiety Girl. She played the role in London and on the road and then returned to the Prince of Wales as Lady Dorcas Chetwynd in Arthur Roberts’s Claude Duval season. Roberts’s next piece was the hugely successful Gentleman Joeand his leading ladies were Kitty Loftus (soubrette), Kate Cutler (juve) and Aida Jenoure as Mrs Ralli Carr, the now (since A Gaiety Girl) highly fashionable ‘young widow’ type.  She repeated the dose in Monte Carloat the Avenue Theatre, went touring with Roberts and introduced with him, in another role of the same ilk, the part of Lady Catherine Wheeler in his next big hit Dandy Dan, the Lifeguardsman 


And she appears next as Lady Garnet in the Drury Lane drama The Great Ruby on the road ..

The young D’Oyly Carte chorister had become, if not quite a ‘star’, a popular leading lady on the London and British stage. Why did I not include her in my Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre? I should have.

Anyway, I shall stop at 1900, when she’s appearing at the Palace with Thompson’s Elephants. But she didn’t. In 1927, I see her playing in You Never Can Tell with Charles Macdona’s company.

Oh, Aida did marry. In 1904 she toured with Charles Frohman’s Billy’s Little Love Affair. Amongst the cast, playing her toyboy husband, was a minor actor named ‘Howard Williams’. She wed Mr William Sutherland Howard Cochran (born 1873) on 30 July 1904. I see him living in Little Kimble in 1935, and when he died there 5 May 1937 Aida was named executor of his modest estate. Were they still together?

She herself shows up in the 20s and 30s at various addresses in London and Cheltenham, in 1939 she is a widow in a residential hotel in Eastbourne . She seems to have died in Cheltenham in 1958. Seventy years on from those Cartesian chorus girl days. 

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