Saturday, July 25, 2020

Cartesians: Murder, she said ....

A nice Cartesian (you are a Cartesian if you are listed in David Stone's archive) photo appeared on e-bay this week ... an 'American' chappie, whom I had passed by many times, but had never investigated. So, this seemed a good moment to do so. I had no idea to where his story would lead me, nor of the folk I would meet there ... and, I guess you know by now that when I get a bone, I worry every skerrick of meat from it, before letting it go!

So here goes, and here he is ...

John E[dward] NASH (b Finsbury c1863; d Los Angeles 5 November 1934). 

Mr Nash gave a good few variations of his background, and family historians have pasted together a few more, so I can't do better than 'Finsbury c1863', which is what he himself said in the London 1911 census. Well, the British records do not show a John Edward Nash in the birth lists for 1863, or anywhere near. There is a plain John in Islington (of which Finsbury is a part) in 1862, and a John Alfred in 1864. There is a John born to an unmarried mother in Lambeth workhouse in 1863 ... oh! and one born Queen St, Islington 14 September 1863 by William (carman) ex Ann ...  It is all the more confusing in that he says, variously, that he emigrated to America in 1874 and/or 1879.  And that he was married in 1891, 1899 and/or 1901 ...  The family historians attach him to the William/Ann, and give his date of baptism as that of the workhouse babe. So... take your pick. William and Ann died 1875 and 1877 in London. So ... emigration 1874? Or 1879? Aged 11, or 16? His obnubilated background becomes more confirmedly so, when, in the 1910s, he and wife cross the Atlantic. She gives her precise date of birth, he leaves a blank.

It was definitely no later, for my first sighting of Nash on the stage is in America in that year of 1879. He is touring with a Norcross company, star Lisette Ellani (Ellen Hatch), playing HMS Pinafore and Trial by Jury. He is in the cast and .. aged 16? .. company treasurer! In 1880, he succeeded to the part of Samuel in The Pirates of Penzance at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, and I see him next in summer season in Massachussetts, again doubling as player and box-office manager. In 1882, he was at the Fifth Avenue with signora Ellani in A Checkered Life, and at the Bijou as the Colonel in Patience. Harry St Maur was cast as Grosvenor and judged vocally appalling, so maybe Nash substitued for this photograph.
Over the years that followed, I spy him playing Gregoire in Prince Conti with Catherine Lewis, Coqueilcot then Marvejol in Olivette, Freddy Bowman in The Merry Duchess, Bob Becket in HMS Pinafore, Testaccio in A Night in Venice, Pericles in A Trip to Africa, Luigi in Gasparone, Rollux in The Twins and visiting San Francisco with John Duff's company. Whien Duff produced Dorothy (1887) he was Tom Strutt.

At the (supposed) age of 25, he took a turn into directing, and staged The Queen's Mate, and staged The Queen's Mate, with Lillian Russell and Marie Halton, for Duff, and followed up by directing Paola, Iolanthe, The Mikado, HMS Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance -- cast with some of the country's best comic opera performers: J H Ryley, Digby Bell and Laura Joyce Bell, Lilly Post, Chauncey Olcott -- before moving over to Palmer's Theatre to direct James Sauvage and Marie Tempest in The Red Hussar. He was, for a period, stage director for the Bostonians (The Knickerbockers, The Maid of Plymouth &c), then for the Tivoli in San Francisco, from where he was sacked for neglect of duty: he spent too much time at the horse races. He sued Mrs Kreling for wages, and won, but he had made a gentlemen's agreement on the two-year length of the contract, so lost that suit in absentia contractis. He took employment as general manager for one-time Tivoli soprano, Gracie Plaisted, and 'adapted' Dorothy to her purposes under the title Chanticleer Hall, but he was soon back in New York, directing Brian Boru for Fred C Whitney (1896).  In 1898, he turns up at Koster & Bial's Music Hall, directing their burlesque In Gotham.

And, somewhere in here, he got married. At least once. In one of the many approximate documents that spice his life, Nash said he was first married at the age of 28. Which, if his say so is correct, means 1891. Before he was naturalised American (San Francisco 18 May 1893). When the San Francisco gossips rumoured that he was to marry Gracie Plaisted, he countered that he was already married. His wife was in New York. Hum. Is this the same wife whom he was suposed to have wed in 1899? Or in 1901? We know who she was. But the family historians don't bring out any proof. And there is no notice of marriage, that I can find, in the trade papers ... but from 1902, and for the next quarter of a century, they called themselves Mr and Mrs Nash, so that's good enough for me. (PS found! John Nash (sic) married Lilian Wolfe 23 November 1900 at Bridgeport, Conn, so I guess she had a predecessor).

The Mrs Nash we 'know', was known as Lil[lian] HAWTHORNE (b Nashville, Illinois 4 July 1877; d 196 Hastings Street. Brooklyn 22 March 1926), one of four sisters, daughters of a New Orleans gentleman (well, he was a real estate agent latterly) by the name of Tazwell Wolfe ka Hawthorne (d 27 July 1912) and his wife Adrianna or Andrewanna or Ada née Rogers, a farmer's daughter from Pontotoc, Mississippi. Three of the girls Eleanor, Lillian and Adelaide, were to make a name in the world of showbusiness: as Nellie Hawthorne, Lil Hawthorne and Lola Hawthorne, they performed for a number of years from America to Britain to Europe, as 'the Sisters Hawthorne'. From what I can work out, that was the order of seniority: Nellie b Oakdale, Ill 2 March 1875; Lil next, and Lola b Illinois 30 April 1879). 

My first stage-sighting of Nellie is in Charles Hoyt's The Tin Soldier, at the Bijou Theatre in 1890. Also in the cast was a Welshman known as Robert Courtenay Vernon. They were married three months into the engagement, 10 April 1890, at ... Anaconda, Deer Lodge, Montana. Nellie said she was 21. They must be blind or accommodating in Montana. At the end of A Tin Soldier they went out with Lewis Morrison's Faust company, then Fannie Rice's A Jolly Surprise, Joseph Gaites's The Wild Duck, The Spider and the Fly etcetera, until the sister act began in 1895. Vernon latterly gave up the stage and became a champagne salesman until his death (29 August 1917). 

However, Lillian had already begun, in 1889, when she was cast in a small boy's role in the comic opera Paola. Aged 12! Director; J E Nash. Then she and Lola joined the Bostonians. Director: J E Nash. I see them playing Leila and Fleta in Iolanthe with Henry Dixey's company at Palmer's Theatre in 1892. Director: J E Nash. And in the Bostonians's The Knickerbockers, Robin Hood, and The Ogallalas. Little Lola was featured as a dancer in Carmen. In Eddie Foy's Off the Earth, Lola played the Queen Dowager and Lillian was Gavotte.
In that same year, the three sisters got together as an act, and their success at Koster and Bial's ('Sporting Girls') and in The Twentieth Century Girl (1895) set them on the path they would follow. The act, sometimes with two of them, sometimes with three, would make them great variety favourites ..

The trio were interpolated into Morocco Bound, played the London Palace (November 1895), the Canterbury, the Tivoli '... three tall, graceful and striking American girls, with great refinement of style, and possessing cultivated voices which harmonise very effectively in their first trio. Their second is a coon song, which is redolent of the humour of the cotton plantation, and which is followed by a very pretty and dainty dance ...'. 

They performed 'She's the daughter of Officer Porter', 'Up to Dick', their coon trios, but one of the most successful features of the girls' act was a scena titled The Story of the Willow Pattern Plate, with music by the not yet Florodora-ed Leslie Stuart. The whole scene was set in blue and white, with a little bridge upon which stood, at curtain rise, the three little maids in all blue and white. The press amazed that they looked as if they were part of the scenery. Then the music began, they stepped down from the bridge, and gave their song. 'The sister voices harmonise delightfully' commented the London critic. The scena, although buky to travel, remained in their act, two little maids or three, for a number of years and Francis, Day & Hunter published the music with the girls' picture on the cover.

They popped back to America, to play in In Gayest Manhattan (1897) at Koster and Bial's (director: J E Nash) and to introduce their Willow Pattern scena, which by its simplicity and novelty won huge approval ('An English artist painted it, and his work is in marked contrast to the glittering effects to which home talent has of late been so generously devoted'). Lola (now Mrs Lawrence Joseph Rodriguez) made headlines by getting knocked over by a horse on Broadway. The trio were soon back in London with their latest scenas 'The Ladies' Fire Brigade' and 'Sleighing'. 'They come behind the footlights in a sleigh drawn by a good nag driven by a coachman in a smart uniform, and form an attractive picture as they stand on the stage, set with a specially-painted snow-scene. Their svelte figures are well set off of plum-soloured tunics and skirts trimmed with white fur, the costumes being  completed by toques to match.' The Penny Illustrated Paper printed a large interview with the sisters who avowed coming from Dallas, Texas, where father and grandfather fought in the Civil War and lost their all, so the girls had to go on the stage ... it did reveal, however, that Ellaline Terriss's Shop Girl hit 'I want yer, my honey' was a version of the 'Bully Song' and that the girls had actually been the first to sing it in its popular version. 
At Christmas 1897 they went to Dublin where they headlined in Michael Gunn's pantomime Aladdin, but the following year it was just Lil, appearing solo. Lola and Nellie had gone back to America, and were singing Leslie Stuart's 'Lily of Laguna' at Koster and Bial's. Lil was singing 'Take it home and give it to the baby' (as a doll-vendor, see above), 'Sweet Rosie O'Grady' and 'I'll be your sweetheart' to Londoners. 

Henceforth, the three-sister act was over.

Lil went to Berlin's Winter-Garten, popped over to fulfil an engagement in America, back to Britain to play the Alhambra, then Edinburgh and Glasgow, and principal boy in Cinderella at Liverpool ... so, I wondered, did she marry while there? For in February 1900, she came into court, in Liverpool, with Nell, Vernon and Nash ... and on the occasion she was named as Lillian Nash. She wasn't. Not yet.

Nash directed the American The Whirl of the Town in its London production, though I wonder if the 'Percy Nash' who directed Lil in Puss in Boots at the Shakespeare at Xmas 1900 is a typo. He seems to have spent most of his time, from now on, managing and promoting Lil. Although one article says that he owned a houseboat, Adrianna, moored on the Thames, opposite Hampton Court Palace, where teas were served. .  Anyway, for the next decade Lil was a splendid feature of the music-hall stage ... until ... there came a murderous little man ...

Lil was a staunch member of the Women's Music-Hall Guild, where one of her friends was ...

Their involvement in this famous case turned their lives upside down. 

Lil and John at Crippen time

After a couple of years spent in Brooklyn, Lil returned to performing in England, but, around 1915, the couple left Britain and returned, finally, to America and to Manhattan Beach. After some varied entrepreneurial activities (beach catering, owning a garage), however, Nash found a new area of showbusiness in which to get involved: the film screenplay market. I see him credited with Madame X (1920), Under the Lash (1921)  'he is scenario-writing for Goldwyn...'.. 

Lil died in 1926, of heart trouble, aged 49. Soon afterwards, John married Beatrice Wilkinson Rudd, the widow of a Brooklyn taxicab operator. They moved to Hollywood's 4649 Sunset Boulevard, and John worked as a screenwriter and actor for hire for the last years of his life. 

His obituaries were typical of the showbiz nonsense of the time and place

Well, well. Who knew that Pinafore was produced in 1881, that Sullivan was Sir and Gilbert was not, that the teenaged Nash produced Patience in 1882 .. who knew that Robin Hood was produced in 1891 rather than 1890 ...

Lola's husband, 'Rod' Rodriguez worked as manager for Julia Marlowe, and for a tour with Sarah Bernhardt. They were apparently divorced, for when he died in August 1926, his death certificate avowed that his widow was Julia Bernhardt Marlowe. Was somebody joking. Anyhow, Lola remarried Mr George Doerschuck, brewer, and she died of the same heart trouble as Lil (plus a few liverish things) 15 July 1928. There was a son, Jack Rodriguez.

Nellie kept on working after the end of the vaudeville act, but she too retired. In 1930, with John gone Hollywood, just she and mamma Adrianna, a hearty 84, remained in Brooklyn. Mamma died in Coney Island Hospital 5 April 1933. And her death certificate shows that daughter no 4, Lizzie, was still alive. I don't know what became of Nellie Hawthorne Vernon. I leave her in Beaumont St, Brooklyn for now ...

We've wandered a long way from Leila, Fleta and Archibald Grosvenor, but that's what happens sometimes. And who knew that we'd meet Mr Crippen -- more 'celebrated' than any of them -- on the way ...

PS Lil made a number of gramophone recordings and can also be seen on film

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