Sunday, November 29, 2020

The Jacobson girls of "Bleak House", Victoria

Lazy day today. Bit worn out with sneezing and itching. Didn't spot any more actresses with murdered mothers on today's ebay: just a lot of really impossible listing  .. you know, Peter Paul Rubens under 'theatre' etc. So, winnowing through the pictures for sale (rule 1: ignore aything that claims 'rare', rule 2: ignore anything that has stamps or watermarks over the item, rule 3: ignore anything that doesn't present a clear, frontal picture of the item. Caveat emptor, otherwise ...), I picked a charming Australian photo, and thought I'd have a wee play with it ...

Taken in Fitzroy in 1900. But who are they? The back labels them as Annie E Jane, Carrie Isabel and what I finally deciphered as 'Rosey', plus 'mother'.

A bit of teckery and I should be able to sort them out. I mean 'Carrie Isabel'? Humph! do you know how many Carrie Isabels were around Melbourne at the turn of the century? And no censi to help ...

And to unhelp, daughter number one was born plain Ann Elizabeth with no 'Jane', daughter two was born plain Caroline, with no Isabel, and called herself 'Karie'. and 'Rosey' was born Emma Rosilla. But to me, used to dealing with fibbing theatricals, those little foibles weren't too huge a hurdle.

So, it just remains to tell you who they were.

Mamma was born as Caroline Robins in Cornwall, around 1835, the daughter of carpenter from Green Wotton, Kenwyn. She lost her mother soon after her birth. I see her, aged 16, and her father still in Cornwall in 1851. But sometime in the following years, father (aged 68) remarried, and Caroline left her aged parent's home, and headed for Australia. There, she married a fellow immigrant, Jens Jurgen Jacobson (b 7 December 1826, known in Australia as 'James Jacobson') from Larvik, Norway, some short time after his arrival in Australia. They settled in Williamstown, on the Esplanade, at a home curiously named 'Bleak House': James became a stout member of the local Presbyterian Church, and for over three decades was an employee of the Customs Department. Between 1861 and 1876, Caroline gave birth to seven children: these three daughters, and four sons, the last of whom died as a baby.

So, we have (back left) eldest daughter Annie, born at Bleak House in 1863. I see her working as a saleswoman in 1903. Annie remained single, moved to Footscray, and died there 3 December 1944.

Next (back right) is Karie. Born 1868 in Williamstown, married 30 April 1907 Mr Frederic Reed of that place. She is classed in 1903 as a milliner. Reed died at Moonee Ponds on 11 July 1913, and Karie lived forty years a widow, latterly in Footscray, where she died 31 October 1953.

Front right is 'Rosey'. Rosey (born 1874) worked as a dressmaker, and was the first to wed, in 1904. Her husband was Mr William Campbell (1872-1947) 'of the Public Works Department', 'eldest son of Mr John Campbell of Fitzroy' and they had issue: Nance Caroline Campbell (b 1909) and ...? Rosey died in 1951.

And mamma: Mamma, widowed in 1908 (9 July), lived until 1921, and died at Sonoma, 1 Moore Street, Footscray 26 September 1921. The local paper saw fit to give her a wee paragraph, commenting on 'her very amiable and pleasant disposition'. 'The relict of James Jacobson familiarly known in maritime circles'.  'The family are all highly respected'. That's nice. But she looks nice. They all do. Thats why Ive spent the last couple of hours with them.

I wonder if George Frederick (b 1861), Ernest Albert (b 1865 who seems to have gone into timber in Western Australia) and Benjamin James Barnard (b 1871 'railway employee') had issue ... and how this picture found its way to ebay and to ... Denver, Pennsylvania?

Nicky Cunningham, family historian ... surely you would like it back!

Saturday, November 28, 2020

Murderous Marguerite of Park Lane: 1872


The other day, a really splendid photograph came up on ebay. It was said to be a Miss de Brena, but I knew better: it was quite simply the best photo I've seen of the actress and courtesan Marguerite Debreux whose colourful tale I told a while back ( 

Of course, I immediately went to the vendor's e-bay 'shop' to see if there were more pictures of the same kind there. And there were. But the names on all but one meant nothing to me. Miss Farringdon? Mlle Stolle? Miss Watkins? Miss [Etty?] Mortimer? Miss Strangeways? All pretty ladies. Actresses? Courtesans? Why are they in a bundle with Mlle Debreux. Are they cut from a book? None of them has the photographer's name, or identification other than a pencil-scribbled name on the verso.

Miss Strangeways

The one name that I did recognise was Mlle Riel. I didn't know a lot about her, just that she had played ingenue roles at London's St James's Theatre with Raphaël Félix's French troupe in 1872. But here she was ...

I know rather more about her now. Not her career, for it was seemingly cut very short, but about her life, and about the 'Murder in Park Lane' which catapulted her into the floodlights of actuality in 1872.

Caroline ka Julie Riel (b Paris 4 April 1847; d Boulevard Pereire, Paris 16 May 1921) was the daughter of Jules Richard Riel (b 1808) and his second wife, Marie Caroline née Besson. Mons Riel was a 'merchant' and 'commissionaire', and mamma had a modiste's salon in the rue Lafitte where, according to the gossip press, she sold chic hats at vast prices to customers ranging from Cora Pearl to the Empress of Austria. According to the same press, she sold up for 45,000 francs in 1866 to devote herself to preparing her daughter for the stage. Maybe. In any case, she was not without means. And the daughter was not without beauty or, it seems, a stack of stage-ability, to make what seemed like being a fine career.

Briefly engaged at the Gymnase, she then joined the company at the Théatre du Vaudeville, and in 1870 went to England with the Déjazet company which opened the Opera Comique with Les Prés Saint-Gervais (Friquette to the star's Prince &c). The Déjazet London season was to be a long one, lasting till March 1871, and it was followed by another, at the Lyceum (Marthe in Les Pattes de mouche) for Félix and yet another at the St James's, from November, and, at some stage, mother and daughter were 'loaned' a house in Park Lane by a friendly Lord. Maybe mother ('widow') had made him some hats. One paper characterised him as an 'admirer' of Julie.  Anyway, they were there already in the April 1871 census, so he was being very friendly. But when trouble came, Lord Lucan III (yes, that family already) was necessarily involved. 

Trouble came in the form of one Marguerite Dixblanc, a French or Belgian cook who got herself hired for the house. Mlle Dixblanc had been somehow involved with the Communards in Paris, got herself in favour with the Catholic clergy, and by the influence of one such channel-hopped when things got difficult and a job in a Soho confiserie. She was there noted for drunkenness and petty thievery, so goodness knows why she was taken on in Park Lane. Not really the kind of person you would want cooking your dinner.

The French season was a repertoire one. Julie played la Baronne in Frou-Frou, the title-role in Christiane, Agathe in La Camaraderie, Laure in La Fiammina, and some nights she had 'off'. At the end of March, she had a whole week off, and decided to visit Paris, leaving mama alone at 13 Park Lane with their little dog and the three servants. What happened next was quite simply that the cook murdered Madame Riel. Over that fact there was never any dispute. The stories of how the deed came about depended on which side you were on. And which newspaper you wrote for. And whether you were a Communist or a Catholic or a Do-Gooder or not. Mlle Dixblanc's defence, when she came to trial, was that she had killed Mme Riel in a 'passion' because she had been horrid to her. Which really didn't explain why she had run off to Paris after the event taking with her bonds, papers and a very large amount of money from the safe, nor why she had dragged the body from the cellar, where the murder had taken place, with a rope round its neck and attempted to string it up in the pantry ... where Julie found it, behind locked doors, when she returned to London.

The police tracked the murderess down, in St Denis, in just a few days, and after the usual shilly-shallying over 'of what country was she a native', 'could she be arrested in France for a crime in England', was removed to London for trial. The newspapers of the world reported, sometimes quite imaginatively, on the latest developments in 'The Park Lane Murder'. Doubts were cast over the sex of the assailant. Julie was upped to being a member of the Comédie Française... the French papers waxed even more fancily than the British ... Lord Lucan admitted to having been the source of the money. He had 'cashed a bill' for Mme Riel. No one asked why she kept so much cash in her pantry.

Mlle Dixblanc was found guilty of murder and sentenced to be hung. But she wasn't. She was commuted to life imprisonment. There was an outcry over the 'Miscarriage of Justice' but the Queen had spoken. The murderess still, apparently, had friends in high places. Well, I just hope she didn't get into a passion while in prison. If she went there. If she stayed there. Where? She made it into Madame Tussaud's though

and, twenty years later, the Black Museum (which exhibited the knotted rope with which the deed was done) as the tale was told over at length (with the 'benefit' of hindsight) in The Illustrated Police News, illustrated with line drawings of murderess and victim. And the rope ...

I don't find any signs of Julie back on the stage thereafter. But a decade down the line she married in the theatre. Her husband was François Victor Arthur Gilles (b Paris 12 January 1832; d Courbevoie, 16 July 1899), known for the theatre as Mons Saint-Germain, a very fine and popular comic actor, latterly of the Gymnase

They had a son the following year. Thereafter, all I know is that StG died in 1899, Julie in 1921. Lord Lucan was long gone ... and Mlle Dixblanc? 


Friday, November 27, 2020

Blackpool Pier to Covent Garden


Well, what a farrago I got myself into today. Out of my field, out of my period, into a whirpool of lies and worldwideweb false statements ... more showbiz mythology falsely crystallised for (semi)eternity! 

And all this because ebay didn't turn me up any nice new pictures today. And because it didn't I had a nice wander through the sheet music ... there! I fancy that one! Good old Blackpool North Pier. Nice bit o' pierrots and semi-professionalism ...

A plumpish tenor, and a soprano with no style, just pearls and a provincial hairdresser. And a ukelele accompaniment. I imagine they disappeared from showbiz annals pretty quickly. Oh, no. How wrong can you be.

On With the Show (1927, second year) was your typical end of the pier show. One sop (above) one tenor, one comedian, Fred Walmesley, Mr Walter Williams (manager) and Miss Winnie Collins, 'the Irrepressibles .. Irene and Phyllis', the six Fisher Girls, and Jan Rafini and his Band, in 'a concert party entertainment, under the direction of Ernest Longstaffe. One of a thousand like entertainments which thronged the seaside resorts of Britain in the 1920s and even until my day. Yes, I was offered a job on a pier in the 1960s ...

So who were Stella and Stanley, and what had they done before they came to Blackpool.

Stella was improbably christened Anita Stella Hilda Christine Brown, and she was born in Hackney 17 January 1904, the daughter of Samuel Arnold Brown, an insurance company branch manager, and his ?wife Anita Caroline. Yes, read my lips, pure-bred Stoke Newington. Not Brazilian, Swedish, French or from any of the other places she would later claim. I see her performing first in variety in the small print under Whit Cunliffe and Muriel George in 1924, and then not again till the 1926 edition of On With the Show with Thorpe Bates. At twenty-two, she had time to get a makeover. And she would.

Stanley was William Stanley Rouse Vilven (b 30 May 1891), the son of the well-known Bath florist, William Vilven. He was vowed to music and getting his name in the papers from an early age. At the age of eleven, a pupil at Kingsholme School in Weston-super-mare, he passed his Grade I and 2 music exams. Yes, that made the hometown papers! By 1904 he was a solo chorister at Bath's Christ Church, giving 'Hear my Prayer', 'O for the Wings of a dove' and 'Angels ever bright and fair' and other treble favourites, in concert. By 1910, working in his father's flower business, he was a tenor. I see him giving 'The Lord is my Light', 'How Lovely Are Thy Dwellings' et al at local concerts, and playing Luiz with the Operatic Society. 

At some stage he took lessons with Plunkett Greene. In the war years (1915) he left England. He would later call it a 'world tour', but I think it must have been a non-singing one. He arrived back in England, from Natal, in 1920, and started his career in earnest. I see him first cast as Filch in a tour of the Lyric, Hammersmith The Beggar's Opera, then as Mr Ducat in Polly at the Kingsway, before, in 1925, he joined Walter Williams troup for a couple of seasons of the revue Ps and Qs. This led to On With the Show.

So there we are, nothing very remarkable, all round. But On with the Show turned out to be not quite your average seaside show. Not just for Blackpudlians. A recently-created organisation named the British Broadcasting Service was making waves, and had not long, by 1927, got the ability to relay live concerts to the corners of the country. And one that they chose was On with the Show, live from the North Pier. Stanley and Stella got more exposure than they could have dreamed of. Over the coming years, Stanley in particuar was heard on the radio as principal tenor in the Tommy Handley 'revues' and with the BBC light orchestra ...

So, what did he go on to? An average but solid career in stage, radio, and latterly film. He played in The Rose and the Ring in London and onthe road, he played Cupid and the Cutlets on the Hippodrome circuit, he took part in the broadcast perversion of Love in a Village (as Love in Greenwich Village) with Anona Winn and two pianos, he appeared in the films Channel Crossing, Chelsea Life (1933) and Old Mother Riley in Paris (1938), visited South Africa with a dramatic troupe, joined the aged Seymour Hicks in It's You I Want and played in The Painted Smile at the New Theatre ...

In the 1940s I see him playing in Lady, Be Careful with George Gee and Chili Boucher, I Call it Love with Derek Oldham and Loreley Dyer, touring in Twin Beds and in See How They Run. In the 1950s, he is in the small print for the films Something in the City and Burnt Evidence.

Stanley married the widowed Gladys Evelyn Godwin (née Allen) 1 August 1922. It seems to have been an uneventful marriage. They are still together in 1933, but seem to have parted before her death in Sussex Square, Brighton 11 March 1942. Stanley 'of Kenilworth Court, Putney' died 22 December 1963 in Putney Hospital.

I think he could have got a better photo for Lawrence Wright.

Stella was to have a much more eventful post-Blackpool life and career.

She carried on into more revue-cum-summer show with Julian Wylie, and then -- to the accompaniment of much bugle-blowing ('Better than Edith Day') from producer Edward Laurillard, she was plucked from a pier and cast in the leading role of Kathie in a Piccadilly Theatre revival of The Student Prince opposite Donald Mather. Unfortunately, London, which had already rejected the show once, rejected it again, and it closed after 60 performances. Stella returned to pantomime at the Dominion, with Ella Retford and Nellie Wallace  ('If archness be a virtue in Principal Girls, then Miss Stella Browne acquired inordinate merit; she certainly sang very well'). Exit 'Stella Browne'. Marriage, I pondered. No, she had been married since before Blackpool days to businessman Paul Daniel Comoy. The answer was: a remake.
The arch principal girl of the principal piers in Britain vanished from Albion's shores to -- I wonder why! -- Stockholm, where we are told that she studied with one Adelaide von Skilondz. She studied to such effect that she was engaged at the Stockholm opera, and is said to have made her debut there in 1932 as Gilda in Rigoletto, under the name of Stella Andreva. 
In 1936, she voyaged to America to sing at the Metropolitan Opera House (Olympia, Waldvogel, Shepherd in Tannhäuser, Woglinde, Rosina with John Brownlee, Musetta. Philine, Dew Fairy) and she was reengaged there on occasion between 1940 and 1942 (Oscar alongside Jussi Björling, Papagena, Momus in Phoebus and Pan). 

In between, she sang at Covent Garden (Rosina, Esmeralda in Bartered Bride) returned to the BBC in a rather different capacity than of yore .. 

Tiens! Alongside Tauber and my old singing teacher, Grahame Clifford!

On the private side, she is said to have remained the (apparently separated) Mrs Comoy. It was as such that she applied for American naturalisation in 1943. However, an odd document exists which shows the Mexican marriage, at Chihaua, dated 21 December 1939, of Mrs Comoy with one Moses T Stark. Which this document seems to confirm:

Well, all I can say is that she got a marginally better stylist in America

But only marginally. She clearly got a new life ...

And, well, her operatic career, which Kutsch and Riemann ('strange errors have been known ...') have approximated in their large work, seems to have included all sorts of international dates. I just know that she was Tauber's leading lady in the unfortunate attempt to stage an English Das Land des Lächelns (Yours is my Heart) in New York in 1945.  
I haven't followed Mrs Stark into the 1950s, though I see she has acquired a daughter, Nina. Presumably legitimate because Mr Comoy remarried in 1945, before his death in 1948.

But, still, from Mr Vilven to Tauber and Björling is a mighty step for a soprano. As is Blackpool Pier to Covent Garden. Good on you, Nita. Example to young singers who want to start 'at the top'. Learn your trade in the provinces.

Well, Stanley and Stella have filled my day. And I love 'em both. 8.30pm, bottle of Selak's Reserve rosé and relax .. Midsomer Murders is more enjoyable than the (fake) news ...  and, tomorrow, back to the C19th!

PS there is a recording of Ballo with Björling and Milanov, where Miss Browne sings Oscar. See you tube. No Blackpool rock!

PPS baby pictured above in Miss Nina Andreva Stark (b 19 June 1943),  temporarily Mrs Andrew Lee Morris, of La Jolla, San Diego. Here she is in the Bryn Mawr yearbook.

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

Why oh why oh why oh! Burleycue in Ohio.


This picture looked to me like a rather nice American girlie entertainment from the 'twenties.

Wonder what it is, thought I. Cleveland, Ohio. 1922. The Bandbox Revue. Yes, well 'revue' in America means and meant something different to what it did in Europe and Britain. A sort of a mixture of burleycue and variety show. With one 'straight' man to serenade the ladies with singing spots, and be dummy to the comics. And not always in such tasteful productions as this ... nice, simple, cheesy variety programming, with lots of pretty chorines, for the tired office-working man. 

OK. The photo says it is Manheim's production. The review says it is a Vail/Manheim show. Well, Willy Vail had been the head honcho at the Cleveland Star burlesque house previously. Where did Mr Manheim come in? Just thought I'd check.

Samuel William Manheim was the Ohio-born son of central European immigrant Jews. Born ... wait for it ... 28 April 1893. In the 1920 census he desribes himself as a 26 year-old 'theatre owner'. Here he is, in that year, with wife, posed for passport.

And here is his advertisement of 1922

I wonder whence the money came! Apparently they got an interest in a dozen or so. Briefly. Manheim is still 'Manheim Productions' in 1925. But his name disappears soon from the public eye, and by the 1930 census he is no longer an 'owner' (what did he own?) but a 'theatre operator'. By 1940, he is 'manager for a theatrical equipment firm'. I think perhaps the tale of the bullfrog might be relevant. 

One of the little notices of the Star burleycue shows noticed that the chorus girls were the prettiest lot in years. So I looked a little closer. And by gosh, they were right. I'd take most of them. Except the one in the middle on the right who can't keep in line. And maybe the mature blonde on the front end of the line. Give the smiling bowling girl kneeling on the right hand end $1 a week extra and a step-out ...

98 years ago, this photo was taken. I love it. This is theatre for the people ...

Oh, I see Mr Manheim died in 1969. I wonder if he got into movies, I wonder if he stuck it in show business, I wonder if it was he who picked those chorus girls. You never know: after all it was my job for some years to pick chorus girls ...

Henri the hero of the Halls


Today I've been been on a visit to 'the Halls'. And I stayed there a whole working day, because a little piece, which I thought would be straightforward, turned out not to be 'at all, at all'. 

I thought it would be straightforward because the photo I turned up was of a decidedly well-known performer, acclaimed in the 1870s as being one of the classiest and best comic singers in Britain: Henri Clark[e].

A quick check of the worldwideweb left me amazed. There is virtually nothing about him anywhere. Plenty of G H MacDermott, Vance, Arthur Lloyd, George Leybourne, Tom Maclagan ... yes, Henri was in their league. So why is he ignored? Well, you know how I love a challenge. Especially when I win. And I finally did win, so I shall tell you all about 'Mr Clark[e]'. Yes, those brackets say it all. The inconsistent spelling of a surname nearly always heralds 'pseudonym'. And it was.

'Henri Clark[e]' was born as Thomas Gardner, 13 January 1840, at no 24 Paddington Street, Marylebone, the son of a Scots upholsterer, Peter Gardner (1788-1865) and his second wife Elizabeth Jane née Green (d 1875).

The parents had already produced Elizabeth (19 August 1829) and Alexander (15 April 1834-seemingly d 1874). Tom would be their last and youngest. The family settled at 36 Gower Street, where father and Alexander upholstered, mother embroidered, and Elizabeth kept a shop. Tom was 'a scholar' in 1851, but by 1861 he has become 'tenor singer'. I wonder where. And under what name.

Well, it wouldn't be long before he became 'Henri Clarke'. Why. Well, there was a dancing chappie around in the early 1860s who called himself 'Eden Clarke'. He was evidently a perfectly good dancer, performing as a soloist in the minor music halls, and as a member of the Nottingham Theatre company (Harlequin, 1862). But in 1863 he changed his act: he became a ballerina, performing a Taglioni burlesque, and to top that off he gave falsetto 'imitations' of Grisi and Piccolomini. And he decided he needed a partner. Tom the tenor got the job. And, as the act was billed as 'the brothers Clarke', he became Mr Clarke. My first sighting of the double-act is in May 1864 at Cooper's Hall in Leicester's Gladstone Street, the next at Uncle Tom's in Bradford, and 18 July the 'brothers ... in their new and original burlesque sketches .. duettists and dancers' were on the bill at London's Sun Music Hall. Under the aegis of agent Ambrose Maynard they toured good dates thereafter -- Day's Crystal Palace in Birmingham, Manchester, Thornton's in Leeds -- until Henri apparently decided to go single.

Eden carried on his double act with another 'brother', and I see him last in 1866 doing a travesty Leah in the provinces. And Henri ... well, Henri was on the fast track to fame. But first ...

In 1866, among continued dates as 'the most Legitimate Comic Character Patter Singer of the Day' (advertisement), he went north for 'a tour through Scotland'. And, while he was there, he married, at Tradeston, the teenaged 'distinguised vocalist and danseuse' (advertisement) Catherine Maud Oxlee (b Southwark 11 October 1849) ka [Mrs! qickly rectified!] Kate Oxlee. Apparently a daughter, Catherine Elizabeth, was born the following year. Catherine, too, came from an upholstery family, but she was to turn out an adept performer.

Scotland provided Henri not only with a wife and child, but with a rather classy engagement. Louisa Pyne was doing a little northern concert tour, with her sister Susan, tenor Ambonetti and pianist Emile Berger. And for the comic element, Henri was hired ..

In 1866-7, he appeared in Scotland on bills with Edith Wynne, George Perren, Helen Kirk, Duncan Smyth, Gustave Garcia and Linas Martorelle, and even with the normally self-contained Harry Clifton party. His material seems to have been tried-and-true stuff ... 'The Musical Party', 'The Hurdy Gurdy Man', 'Kafoozelum', 'The Dancing Barber', 'The Singing Lesson' ... but he showed obvious class.
On the odd occasion 'Mrs Harry Clifton' appeared, too. I see them on a programme at Glasgow's Whitebait Rooms (with Lloyd, Leybourne, Maclagan and Georgina Smithson), and in another 'Scotch Festival' Mrs Clifton is advertised to perform a Highland Fling.

Between Scots engagements Henri went south ('the great provincial comedian') to make his London debut as a single, at Sam Collins Music Hall. The bill included Harry Sydney, Mrs Brian, Emma Kerridge and a little lady who would outshine them all in the end: Constance Loseby, here half of her double-act with her mother. Alas, I haven't found a notice detailing what he sang, but elsewhere he gave an uncredited piece called 'Rummy funny Indians' which survived a number of years in amateur concerts. His first big success was coming however. 

In the meanwhile, he went 'double' again: Mr Henri Clarke and Miss Kate Oxlee went to the country through 1867 and 1868, after which Kate dumpexd her patronymic and became 'Kate Bella'. 1869 sees Henri back in town, at the Cambridge Music Hall, the Metropolitan and the Philharmonic. He has a new agent: the all-consuming Charles Roberts, and much success: ‘produces some specimens so far above the Music Hall style of comic songs that we expect to find him shortly taking a leading part in the highest circles of these places of amusement’. There was only one song that this critic didn't like: a piece by Fred Albert entitled 'The Mad Butcher' of which he disapproved on the ground that it made fun of mental 'illness'. Very twenty-first-century critic, eh? I wonder what he thought of Lucia di Lammermoor. Anyway, it was, of course, 'The Mad Butcher', with its mad-for-love hero, which became the big hit, and Henri's theme song for some years

I've tried to track down as many of Henri's songs of the next couple of years as I was able: alas, most of them are uncredited, don't seem to be in any Collections, and are just names. But I'm still trying.

But I can proffer, up till now, 'The Frenchman's Tabby Tom Cat' (1870, G W Hunt) 'The Grocer's Boy' (1870, Fred Albert), 'Tom the Tinker', 'Joey Jones the Cabby', 'The Recruit', 'The Ulster Wrapper', 'The Doctor's Boy', 'Dolly Dot' (Hunt/Harry Hunter), 'Cheerful Joe', 'Down among the Coals' (Hunt), 'Sweet Mrs Tickle' (1871), 'Mary Ann and the Waiter', and, most effectively, '[Come to] Peckham Rye', the story of a pious quaker, Zachariah, who invites a lassie to that sinful place after the hours of daylight. We know the author of 'Peckham Rye' because Henri went to court to stop it being pirated, and recounted how he had bought the song for two pounds from writer Frank Elton, after it had been refused by publishers. He won the case, and got ten pounds damages.

His next big success was with 'The Frenchman [of Leicester Square]' ('Tra la la, bon bon') (1872), a tale of Mons Alphonse de Granville who got into trouble with the lady who sang in Leicester Squre, which he would still be performing a decade on, as 'First she would and then she wouldn't' (Hunt), the popular 'The Moral Young Man' (who professes to be shocked by the ways of the 'wicked world'), 'The Margate Mermaid', 'Wait till you get it', the story of 'Ephraim Fox' -- a Yankee dandy with memories a chorus girl who wore 'a little bit of blue' --, 'Something in the City', 'The Heathen Chinee', 'I Won her Heart at Billiards' (1875, Chas Coote/G P Norman), 'It's My Turn Next' (Edwin V Page/Vincent Davies), Rolling on the Grass' (1875), 'The Fellow that's Just Like Me' (1875), The Custom of the Country (1876, Hunt), Belinda B, or the walking dictionary (1876, Page/Davies), 'I'm not such a saint as I look (1876, Hunt), 'Mercenary Matilda (1876 Page/Davies)  followed one upon the other, and he culled reviews such as 'without doubt one of the best artists of his class'

And, in the meanwhile, what of Mrs Clarke. I guess that was Ms Oxlee-Bella. Anyway, in 1877 she came out as 'Mrs Henry Clarke' in a two-handed entertainment The World We Live In.

The show seems to be largely repeats or remakes of Henri's earlier successes, Kate's material ... I wonder? Anyway, it toured merrily through 1877 till 1880 ... and I see them in the 1881 census with .. a daughter Catherine Elizabeth ... and a few months later, I pick up in the registry for Thanet, Kent, the death of Catherine Maud Gardner, née Oxlee (b London Rd, Southwark 11 October 1849), died, aged 31 .... oh, dear.

In the later 1870s and 1880s, Henri continued with more of the same. 'The nautical swell' (Hunt), 'When she says she will, she does' (1877, Hunt), 'The Sandwich Man', 'Jemima Wants to Know', 'Let Go the Anchor, Boys' (Tabrar), 'LSD, LSD (that's the thing for you and me)', 'It's my turn next' (1880 Page/Davies), 'Just as you are for ninepence', Harry Hunter's 'Railway Porter Dan' (1884), 'The Fashionable MD', 'The Waiter', 'The Awistoquatic Actaw', '[she does] The Fandango all over the place (1884, Hunt)', his 'terribly real impersonation of' 'The Maniac', 'The Goblins in the Churchyard', 'The English, the Irish and the Scots', and a nameless song about 'the difficulties of courting a Spanish girl with a fierce father and a complete ignorance of English'

I see Henri's name on other sheets of music. Some like the popular 'Jessie the Belle at Bar' are numbers which were sung by other artist, before and after him; others borrowed, such as Herbert Campbell's 'The Pirate Bus' (John Crook/Fred Bowyer), and I know there are some I have missed. Michael Kilgarriff's listings give a bundle other titles, of which I can exhume no trace. On the other hand, my little dip of today has revealed almost as many which he doesn't include! Of course, the effective life of a song could sometimes be measured in weeks or days ... there are probably as many, again, that neither of us have found.


Henry didn't stop performing in the 1890s, but he eased off. He played a couple of pantomine roles -- Idle Jack in Dick Whittington and the title-role in Bluebeard; he spent periods as manager at the Metropolitan and at the Eastern Empire ('opposite Bow Street Station'), but he was still liable to pop up on a variety programme with such as Vesta Victoria, Tom Wootwell, Marie Lloyd and Kate Carney, running a series of smoking concerts at Ladbroke Hall, or taking a company of comedians to Southall ...

He died in Woolwich in December 1905, aged 65, 'after a short illness, and was buried as 'Henry Gardner'. I don't know what happened to his daughter ... I might even investigate Kate Bella, get that Thanet death certificate, and find out of what she died, so young ...

Well, that's my best effort. At least now there will be some fullish and accurate info on 'Henri Clark[e] on the www. Do let me know if you find more sheet music ... I may as well keep this as complete as is possible ...

Monday, November 23, 2020

A Naughty Gaiety Girl ...


When you 'live' in a certain 'world' -- in my case, that of the C19th musical theatre -- when you become imbued with its atmosphere, it facts, its alliances and its people -- sometime the dots join up in the most unexpected and surprising way. That's what happened today.

Once upon a year .. a 20th century one, round about 1979-80, I think, when I was spending all my wages on any music, programmes, ephemera that I could lay hands on to go into the making of my The British Musical Theatre, I scooped up a few autographs. Now, I don't usually bother with autographs. Apart from the fact that I know how many star signatures I have signed 'on behalf of', they don't actually tell you anything. Unless, of course, they are attached to a letter or other document of some interest. But in 1979, I was young, eager, foolish, had 135L a week to splash about ... bought quite a bit of nonsense, but fluked a few nice things....

So. I was glancing through an old folder of letters ... some wonderful stuff! Pradeau, Julia Baron, Levassor, John Hollingshead, George Sims, T P Cooke ... and a pencilled scribble from Ivan Caryll on Gaiety Theatre headed paper and in a Gaiety envelope. Remember envelopes? And lovely headed paper from Smythsons ..

So I read the scribble. What fun! A missive to a chorus girl, chiding her for chatting up what seems to have been a fellow in a stage box, or maybe a pal next to her on stage, while the jeune premier was singing his solo!

No doubt as to any of the folk involved, I think. Ivan Caryll alias Felix Tilken, the grand composer for so many musical plays which made their way around the world -- America, Europe, Australasia -- in the turn-of-the-century decades. Walter Louis Bradfield (1866-1919) the handsome baritonic light comedian who played leading roles all around London for many years. And Miss Frazer (recte: Fraser)? 99% surely the beauteous dancing showgirl Margaret [Campbell] Fraser, longtime Gaiety chorine. I say 99% because her sister also trod the boards briefly, but this is pretty surely Margaret. And the show?

Annoyingly, Ivan didn't date his note. And Bradfield and Miss Fraser appeared together at the Gaiety (and elsewhere) in more than one show. Both sisters played in In Town at some stage, as front-row dancers, they travelled to America with the Gaiety Girl troupe in 1894, and between 1895 and 1900 Margaret was seen in slightly featured parts in An Artist's Model (Geraldine, solo dance; and then in the second London edition in an added 'role'), The Geisha (Louie Plumpton), My Girl (Miss Veriner), The Circus Girl (Rose Gompson), A Runaway Girl (Agatha) and The Messenger Boy (Lady Winifred). All she was required to do was to look beautiful (which was evidently no problem at all), dance and high kick as required, and wear clothes magnificently ...

After some eight years under the Edwardes management, during which she spawned a thousand postcard pictures, she moved on to a little part in Bluebell in Fairyland (the juvenile Dorothy Frostick got the featured dance), before, all of 26 years of age, she gave up show-ponying for the dramatic stage.

And she seems to have found a fan in the female-proof J M Barrie. She was cast in the little role of Fisher in The Admirable Crichton, understudying the lead juvenile role of Lady Mary. 

Apparently, she went on as Lady Mary, and must have done well enough, for the following year she was cast as Eleanor Gray in Barrie's Little Mary. And a few years later, after a few odd jobs (2nd Lobster in Alice in Wonderland), she was cast as Tiger Lily in the 1909 production of Peter Pan. Finis, I think.

But who was this lovely young lady? Where did she come from and what became of her?

The second question is answered in the press. Margaret lived to the age of 96, and died 1 September 1972, at 21 West Heath Drive, London NW11. And no, she was no longer 'Miss Fraser', she was the widow of a good and honoured man, with two daughters. But let's start at the beginning.

Margaret was born, not in Scotland, as is said on the web, but in Paddington 14 August 1876. She was the daughter of the former Kate Brutton Ray, who had been foolish enough to wed a real rotter of a divorcé by the name of William Thomas Fraser, an officer in the 42nd Highlanders. To whom we shall return. Anyway, Kate too divorced him, and he went on to a third wife and a number of concubines ... yes, well, Margaret first.

Margaret made her beauteous career, survived the perils of the Gaiety backstage, and, in 1914, married Captain Francis Jenkins of the Coldstream Guards. They had two daughters: Margaret (31 January 1916; d 1974, Mrs Geo L Evans) and Elizabeth Anne (1918-2009). Captain Jenkins had a fine career as a soldier and an administrator, in Nigeria and in Barbados (and Margaret went too) but died, too young, in 1927. An honourable life, career ... 

After her husband's death, Margaret seems to have shared a home with her widowed sister, Helen (d 1966) with whom she can be seen in the 1939 census.

Okay. The scandalous bit. According to the family historians (never to be totally trusted) father Fraser had nine children. Maybe. By Kate? Undoubtedly not all of them. Because I have encounted little Willie Fraser before. In my D'Oyly Carte delvings ...

Rita Presano (née Tacagni):

"In her D'Oyly Carte days she had got mixed up with a 'swell' -- a heavily married father of several -- named William Thomas Fraser. This is he. Looks a wimp, I reckon.

The result was a small Rita (7 November 1884). The baby was taken on by a couple named Robbins, Fraser's wife (Kate) divorced him, he went on to other ladies, and Rita sr remained single. Officially. I see in the 1901 census she is the 'wife' of Scots violinist and conductor Alfred Ernest Print. They officially wed in 1924. Maybe he was previously 'spoken for'. (note: he was). There were no children.

What a wally. Can the Black Watch not do better?

Well, lovely Margaret did better. Nearly two decades as a stage glamour girl and an almost-actress. And I reckon she kept that little note from her Gaiety days and Ivan Caryll ...  until 1972 ...  soon after which it fell into the hands of Gänzl, K. Who has preserved it for forty plus years before handing it on to the next generation ...