Thursday, October 27, 2022

A bearded lady: or, you're a century too late Glenda


I posted the other day photos of the travesty, black-faced sopranos Eugene and Francis Leon, and commented that there was nothing new in the current rash of shows involving travesty. It has all been done before. Here's another example.

Shakespeare in travesty. Oh plenty of actresses had a crack at playing Hamlet down through the centuries. Nothing novel in that. And I remember, in my youth, when the British actress Glenda Jackson decided to play King Lear. But I think Mrs Mary Macready (b Pennsylvania 15 May 1829; d Marshall NY 20 September 1873) of Pennsylvania was probably the most curious of them all.

Mrs Macready (and she was, indeed, Mrs, with a son) was a 'fair' actress who made her mark giving Shakespearian recitals. Those recitals went beyond the usual Hamlets and Rosalinds: Mrs M fancied herself as Shylock. And not just reciting the Jew's verses, but dressing for the occasion ..

Even Charlotte Cushman and Felicita Vestvali didn't boast such a wardrobe.


Shylock was Mrs M's last appearance (1872). She died the following year, aged 44. I feel their might have been a figure on top of her gravestone. A weeping Willie (Shakespeare), perhaps ... or an angel in trousers?

Saturday, October 22, 2022

Fanny Stockton: what might she have done ..

This photo popped up on ebay this week, so since I had, way back, penned a wee article about the lady I thought words and photo ought to go together ...

STOCKTON, Fanny or Fannie (b New York c 1839; d Manhattan 24 December 1870).

A thoroughly useful American performer, who didn’t seem to mind alternating between topping the bill and playing comprimaria roles, during her truncated career.

Miss Stockton (if that were, indeed, her name) was said to have been born in Saugerties, NY and/or Tivoli on the Hudson. Or both. There’s only a river in between. Others said England, but I’m pretty sure that’s bunkum.

She trained with Signor Carlo Bassini (d Irvington, NJ 26 November 1870), a violinist turned vocal coach and pundit (a subsequently revered ‘vocal method’ book), but he seemingly went off half-cocked with Fanny. She was brought out (11 February 1858) at the Hope Chapel at a concert of the ‘American Music Association’ alongside Clara Brinkerhoff, William Candidus, Guillmette and violinist Henry Cooper. And then, on 6 April she launched a concert of her own at Dodsworth’s Rooms. The press noted ‘a stout, pretty, young lady with Circassian eyes, hair and complexion ... her voice is a good pure sympathetic soprano – not grand or dazzling, but winning and mellifluous …’. This, it is said, was not the take-off hoped for, and Fanny went back to her studies, and appeared only occasionally in public in the next few years. I see her just in some church concerts, and at the Palace Garden Music Hall (‘I’ve been roaming’, ‘The Orange Girl’, ‘Comin’ thru the rye’, ‘Kathleen Mavourneen’).

In 1862 she resurfaced, singing at the Gottschalk concerts at Iriving Hall, under Theodore Thomas, and alongside William Castle, and then in 1862 she was hired as a minor principal in the Jacob Grau opera company (the goatherd without the song in Dinorah with Cordier, Ines in La Favorita with Guerrabella) continuing on the next year in the Maretzek Opera Company. Angiolina Ortolani Brignoli and C L Kellogg were the principals, Fanny was given Flora in La Traviata, Martha in Faust, the unloved role of Donna Elvira with Medori and Kellogg, and Oscar in Ballo in maschera: ‘Miss Fanny Stockton appeared as the Page and sang [well] enough to show that, when she learns the part, she will be a worthy successor to the best Oscar we have had here—of course we refer to the lamented Isabella Hinckley.’

Isabella Hinckley

In 1864, the Maretzek company included Carrozzi Zucchi, Elvira Brambilla and two rising star American sopranos, Laura Harris and Jennie van Zandt, but Fanny was there as Miss Useful, taking the parts other people didn’t want. She also appeared in concert at the Academy of Music, in the company of some of the stars, ‘by permission of Maretzek’.

Then, suddenly, she was promoted for a tour to prima donna. Not with Maretzek, or the Italian opera, though. Messrs Castle (tenor) and Campbell (baritone) launched their own company, and Fanny was their leading lady in The Bohemian Girl, Maritana, The Rose of Castille.

In 1866, she returned to Maretzek and also took time out to play Inez in a season of The Doctor of Alcantara at the French Theatre. She played more Donna Elviras and Lisas with Clara Louise Kellogg and Minnie Hauck, took the role of the fairy alongside Kellogg and Giorgio Ronconi when Crispino e la comare was produced and Henrietta in I Puritani, before quitting the company for an engagement at the Olympic making ‘her first appearance on the dramatic stage’ for Jefferson, top-billed opposite George L Fox as Oberon to his Bottom in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Her singing was a feature of the production.

Her success as Oberon doubtless led to her next top-of-the-bill engagement, at Niblo’s Garden. The Black Crook having closed, the Garden was trying another piece on similar, but more coherent lines: an adaptation of the famous La Biche au bois as The White Fawn. Where The Black Crook had had mezzo-soprano Annie Kemp-Bowler as its operatic fairy, The White Fawn had Fanny Stockton as Aqualina, singing Howard Glover’s ‘The Bridal Morn’. And she was the hit of the show. During the run of The White Fawn Fanny appeared in a Benefit play Blanche in Glover’s Once too Often.

From The White Fawn, she continued to another starring engagement, repeating her Midsummer Night’s Dream in Chicago (‘This lady has made a genuine hit’) and Cincinnati, then migrated to the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia where she co-starred with Alice Oates in a version of the glamorous burlesque The Field of the Cloth of Gold.

And then, having established herself as a leading lady in the musical theatre, she did a volte face. She took an engagement as a mezzo-soprano seconda donna in opera once more. However, the company was one of the best ever to visit America: that led by Madame Parepa Rosa, with Rose Hersee as its alternative leading lady.

But before the Rosa company began its season, in August 1869, Fanny apparently took the step into wifehood. She became Mrs Smith. Who was Mr Smith? ‘A machinist from Philadelphia’. That is all the usually ravenous-for-gossip theatre press could come up with.

Fanny played the Gipsy Queen in The Bohemian Girl, Marcellina in The Marriage of Figaro, Lisa in La Sonnambula, Jacintha in The Black Domino, Jessie in The Puritan’s Daughter. She was becoming a useful and versatile soprano-to-contralto operatic seconda donna. But it wasn’t to be.

Fannie S Smith died in New York on Christmas Eve 1870. They didn’t say of what, even though her passing even got a mention in Paris’s Le Guide Musicale (‘miss Fanny Stockton, chanteuse bouffe’) alongside the death of Hervé. One of those C19th post-marital deaths, it seems. Sad.

So we actually know very little about Fanny Stockton the person. Was she really ‘Stockton’. Her father was said to have died on the eve (or the morning, or during!) of the opening of The White Fawn. Only her death is recorded. I suppose a certificate might tell something …

Postscriptum: One US paper says she was Mrs Charles B Smith. Alas, that leaves me none the wiser. Another says she died ‘of consumption. And a third, of a stroke.

Where A LOST CHORD can lead you, or the Misses Armstrong

Today I was doddling along trying to clear up some minor details for Bryan Kesselmann's A Lost Chord project.

Well, he/we sorted out the identity of the lady who called herself 'Rita', I found out that William Pinney of Exeter, who may have been the first to set Miss Procter's words, was the father of Sir Herbert Beerbohm ka Tree's mistress and thus the grandfather of Carol Reed and the great-grandfather of actor Oliver Reed, and that left me with Annie E Armstrong.

So I dove. And after an hour or so something started to appear familiar. Sister Jessie Fearon Armstrong? Not many of those about. I had been here before. Years ago .. but before ... so I dove a little deeper ...
into my very ancient notes ...

ARMSTRONG, Eleanor (b Camberwell, 19 August 1839; d National Hospital, Queen Square, 10 February 1896) Thomas Armstrong ex Elizabeth Ann nee GARDNER

notice in Deal C41 Henry 80 Eleanor 75 Gardner w dtr Eliza 35 also Elizabeth Armstrong 30 (mama) Charles 3 and Alfred 7mths

C51 6 Trinity Square Lambeth: Eleanor Gardner 34 boarding house keeper; b-i-l Thomas A Collector gas company b Paddington; Eliza A wife, Emma 15 Charles 13 Eleanor 11 Alfred B 9 Harriet 7 Jessie F 6 Catherine 3 

C61 at 36, Osnaburgh Street, St Pancras, London:
Anne E Armstrong abt 1853 St Pancras, Middlesex, England Daughter St Pancras Middlesex
Catherine Armstrong abt 1847 Newington, Surrey, England Daughter St Pancras Middlesex
Eleanor Armstrong abt 1839 Camberwell, Surrey, England Daughter St Pancras Middlesex
Elizabeth Annie Armstrong abt 1810 Deal, Kent, England Wife St Pancras Middlesex
Jessie Fearon Armstrong b 26 March 1845 Camberwell, Surrey, England Daughter St Pancras Middlesex
Thomas Armstrong abt 1805 Marylebone, Middlesex, England Head St Pancras Middlesex
Eleanor Gardner abt 1813 Deal, Kent, England Sister-in-law St Pancras Middlesex
Thomas is an "auditor & accountant", Eleanor Armstrong is "vocalist", Jessie, Catherine & Anne are "scholars". Eleanor Gardner is "housekeeper" as well as sister-in-law.

C71 Thomas 65, Elizabeth 60, Jessie 26, Anne 17, Edith granddaughter 5 at 60 Burlington Rd

C91 Elizabeth with Harriet C Bartlett 47 dtr both widows plus sister Jessie authoress, Annie E composer

Annie, composer. That's she.

And here's the story of Eleanor, who was not the least among Victorian Vocalists

ARMSTRONG, Eleanor (b Camberwell, 19 August 1839; d National Hospital, Queen Square, 10 February 1896)

A decidedly capable soprano, Eleanor Armstrong was appreciatively heard in the London and provincial concerts through the 1860s and the 1870s.

Miss Armstrong was born in Camberwell, the second daughter of London-born Thomas Armstrong, a collector for a gas company (and later an accountant and auditor in his own right), and his wife Elizabeth Ann née Gardner, who hailed from Deal in Kent. She was given her vocal training by Frank Mori, and appears to have made her first appearance on the concert stage at the age of 20 (27 November 1858) at the Crystal Palace, The Portuguese soprano Maria de Villar shared the vocal duties for the occasion, and gave ‘Robert, toi que j’aime’. Miss Armstrong stuck, more modestly, to ‘Deh vieni non tardar’ and her teacher’s song ‘The Syren’, and was gratified with approving notices (‘a sweet soprano and sings pleasingly’).

Frank Mori

Ten days later, she encountered tougher competition, when she made her first appearance at St James’s Hall, alongside not only Miss de Villar but Georgina Weiss, Harriet Tennant, Georgina Stabbach and Charlotte Dolby, as well as Tennant, Weiss and Sims Reeves. She gave her ‘Syren Song’ again and the ‘very young aspirant’ ‘produced a favourable impression’.

Eleanor Armstrong was heard in a number of concerts during the 1859 season, and on 30 June the young vocalist mounted her first own concert at the Hanover Square Rooms. Isabella Amadei, the Belgian tenor Edmond Depret, Allan Irving, Harriet Henrie and Paul Standish were her guests, and her own contribution won her sterling notices. ‘A young singer of much promise’ ‘decided ability’ ‘Her voice is a true soprano, not very strong but clear and telling. Her accomplishment of ‘Batti, Batti’ was more than creditable and well deserved the encore it obtained’. Eleanor’s other items included Balfe’s ‘The Power of Love’ and Miss Augusta Cowell’s ‘The Lonely Harp’. For the next fifteen seasons, Miss Eleanor Armstrong’s Concert would be a fixture of the concert calendar.

In 1860 (16 May) Laura Baxter, W H Cummings and Herr Eibenschütz of Pesth, shared the bill and Eleanor delivered ‘Non temer’, ‘Flow on, o silver Rhine’ and duetted ‘Dolce conforto’ with Laura Baxter, in 1861 (7 May) George Perren and Miss Baxter shared the vocal duties and in 1862 (9 January, Westbourne Hall) Miss Armstrong produced a larger bill including Louisa Vinning, Miss Poole, Annie Lascelles, Matilda Bradshaw and John Morgan. Her own contribution ranged from an aria from Roberto Devereux and ‘Parigi o cara’ with Morgan to ’Kathleen Mavourneen’ and ‘A thousand miles from thee’. On 1 July she mounted a second concert at the Hanover Square Rooms with Perren, Suchet Champion, de Fontanier and Miss Lascelles.

In those same years, she was seen in various personal concerts (Miss Baxter, Oberthur, Henry Morley, Phineas E van Noorden, J Theodore Petters &c) and she also returned on a number of occasions to the Crystal Palace concerts, giving pieces such as the Dinorah Shadow song, ‘Where art thou wandering, little child?’, ‘Bel raggio’, ‘Ah fors’è lui’, ‘L’amor suo’ ‘The beating of my own heart’ and ‘Flow on, o silver Rhine’ to consistent praise: ‘one of the most promising beginners we have heard in a long time’, ‘a high clear soprano with a good deal of natural flexibility’, a highly promising singer’ ‘exhibited such good taste and skill and showed such a nice voice withal that the audience were delighted’.

I notice her, in 1862, singing the title role in The May Queen in one concert and taking the soprano part in The Messiah at Windsor (‘she is a great favourite in Windsor’). By and large, however, she limited herself to concert appearances, and if most of these were in the less showy and less Italianate performances of the year, I do spot her in one of Howard Glover’s vast affairs, in 1863, singing his ‘We have wandered through the meadows’, duetting Norma with Emily Spiller and taking part in a quartet with Miss Spiller, Eleonora Wilkinson and Emily Soldene. In 1863 she gave a matinée musicale at Conway Lodge with the Weisses, Miss Baxter and Thomas Dyson and, in 1864, another Hanover Square concert (11 June) in which Perren, J G Patey and Annie Lascelles featured, This time Eleanor gave ‘Non credea mirarti’, ‘Jungfrau Maria’, ‘The Merry Flowergirl’ and ‘I Naviganti’, and the soloists joined in the Rigoletto quartet. She brought out her Sonnambula aria again for her 1865 concert (23 May, ‘a charming voice and a highly commendable style’) and also ventured Ganz’s celebrated ‘Nightingale’s Trill’ with ‘marked success’. In 1866 (23 May) it was ‘Qui la voce’, ‘The Days That are no More’ and the Trill.

Miss Eleanor Armstrong was tackling the warhorses of the coloratura soprano repertoire with consistent success, but she also introduced a number of less known pieces including new songs by Charles Fowler, by Francesco Berger (‘Song for Twilight’), by Henry Morley (O, Sister Sing the Song I Love’), Walstein (‘We will not forget thee’) and the ‘Deep in my soul’ composed by Catherine Armstrong. Catherine (1847-1898) was Eleanor’s youngest sister – of the other Armstrong girls, Jessie, so the censi tell us, became an ‘authoress’ and Annie a ‘composer’ -- and she would have a modest career as a vocalist and a composer of songs. Annie wrote 'gel's stories' and set bits of Hans Andersen, Dickens et al, as well as having a crack (post-Sullivan) at 'A Lost Chord'.

In between her London engagements, and her teaching, Eleanor Armstrong regularly visited other parts of the country, performing on a number of occasions in Edinburgh and over an extended period in 1870-1 as vocalist with Charles Halle and Mme Norman-Neruda in their concerts throughout the country. Her annual concert remained, however, her principal shop window. In 1867 (22 June) she held it at the Marchioness of Downshire’s home (‘Robert, toi que j’aime’, ‘Quanto amore’ ‘The Lover and the Bird’, ‘Deep in my soul’, ‘Legères hirondelles with Jules Lefort), in 1868 (24 June) at the Beethoven Rooms (‘Jours de mon enfance’, ‘Quanto amore’, Catherine’s ‘Vieni’), in 1869 at the Hanover Square Rooms (‘a very pleasant sympathetic voice, wanting perhaps in power but strong enough for the ordinary concert room’) with a bill including the Pateys, Elena Angele, Edith Wynne, Mme Liebhart, Carl Stepan, Edwin Ransford and Harley Vinning. In 1870 (24 June) Mathilde Enequist, Megan Watts and Lefort were among the performers, and in 1871 (20 June), Anna Drasdil and Trelawny Cobham joined other old friends in a concert in which Benedict’s The Legend of Saint Cecilia was featured. ‘One of our most agreeable young vocalists’, nodded the music press after her performances of ‘She wandered down the mountainside’, ‘La fioraja’ and some concerted music. In 1872 (5 July) she mounted a fashionable bill of Drasdil, Lefort, Caravoglia and Cobham for a matinée musicale at 69 Eaton Square.

The 1873 concert (27 May, St George’s Hall) was the occasion for Catherine to make her first appearance as a professional vocalist, on an almost identical bill, and the next year (20 June, Hanover Square Rooms) she again appeared. In 1876 (27 June), the concert was announced as being given by the two sisters together. The two hosted the annual event again in 1878 and 1879, at 6 Cromwell Houses.

Eleanor Armstrong had now been before the public as a singer for twenty years, performing ‘with excellent effect’ and always to pleased notices for both her voice and her style. If her career had not been as colourful and glamorous as some, and she had, of course, never attempted the stage, she had nevertheless been a well-liked presence in the British musical world for two full decades. Now, however – for she was not the ‘Mademoiselle Elena [actually, Helen] Armstrong’ who toured briefly with the Campobello opera co in 1881 -- she faded from the scene, leaving Catherine to continue just a little longer in the field where she had shone.

She spent her latter years housekeeping for her brother, Charles, at 23 Ipplepin Road, South Tottenham, and died in Holborn’s National Hospital in 1896, recordedly of the rare condition of a sarcoma of the sphenoid bone. The trade press failed to notice the occasion.

But I bought her death certificate. As well as this beautiful piece of Victorian sheet music.

Tuesday, October 18, 2022

The family china has to go ...

When my grandmother left Austria for New Zealand, after the second war, she didn't bring much with her. But she brought the family dinner set. So beautiful. Plates, tureens ... the whole shebang. I gather from the internet that there were originally 54 pieces. Dad loved it. He remembered the day when it arrived at their home, all wrapped in straw in a wicker hamper. I loved it. But we seldom used it. Too precious. No, not valuable, but precious. But we did use it. Then John and I went away to become writers on the other side of the world, and well, what does a housewife do with a 16-place dinner set?

When father died, mother downsized. And a little weasel of an 'antiques dealer' chatted himself into her confidence and walked out with many of our prize pieces. The big tureens and vegetable servers (and our other great grandpa's oriental jugs) ... I screamed from the other side of the world ... but I didn't want to upset her...

So, now I have 16 large dinner plates, 9 'bread and butter' plates, one ?serving platter, one oblong meat dish, one gravy boat with saucer, and a dear little 2-egg carrier ...

Unused. In the cupboard. For we are just two ... and will never have 14 for dinner ...

So what is or was this set? It is Czech. Date circa 1919? When they had returned to Vienna from Hungary. (Unfortunately Nana's diaries are in Sütterlin). From the EPIAG factory, Pirkenhammer ...
Which only became EPIAG in 1918 though it had existed for over a century. The design "Parma" I can't find on any of the Epiag sites ... the number 5732? The precise pottery mark?

Sigh. I've lived with this pottery for many decades, but now I have an itch to know its veritable identity.

Oh among presumably my grandmother's nachlasse, also, was this pretty wee plate.

It looks like a Pirkenhammer, but it doesn't say so ..

So I guess its just 'in the mode of'. But it was pretty enough for three generations of my family to keep it, and it sits on my bookcase alongside other lovely things (well, I think they are) ...

Well, what am I to do with the remnants of a 16-piece dinner service? It mustn't be condemned to further decades unused ... whatever it was in 1920 (and I think it was just middle-class ware) it is now a piece of splendid elegance ... and, like my mother, I sha'n't use it. It needs to be in a classy restaurant ... any takers?

Monday, October 17, 2022

The great minstrel 'prime donne'.


In the 21st century, when it is considered oh-so-trendy for boys to dress up as girls, the trendy ones (and their directors) are inclined to forget, or to ignore, the really great age of female impersonation, a century and a half ago. It has all been done before, guys and gals. 

Probably the greatest of the performers of the genre came from the minstrel shows of America. These men didn't mime to recorded tracks. They sang. Operatic selections and ballads. Without, of course, the aid of the microphones which, nowadays, can boost an underpar voice into a boom. The minstrel 'prima donnas' could throw off the Trovatore 'Miserere' or 'Non più mesta' in a fashion which were a pure facsimile of their white-faced female equivalents. Oh, of course, these were minstrels, so they were black-faced.

There were two men who excelled all others at the art: Francis Leon of the internationally successful Kelly and Leon partnership, and 'Eugene' (pictured above, and below) of the team of Eugene and Unsworth.

I was going to compile a biography of Eugene, but this is 2022 and anything perceived as 'queer' is à la mode, so other folks have got there before me. Here is one such at 

Eugene D'Ameli aka Theodore E. Ameli (June 4, 1836 - January 18, 1907) was acclaimed for his "delineations of female characters that were so finished, so true to life, that the Germans in Berlin during an engagement there in April, 1862, were emphatic in their declarations that he was a woman." He and his partner, John Unsworth, appeared in principal music halls of England, France and Germany, creating a furore. 

When “The Great Eugene” took the stage – and he took the stage always as a woman – men, in particular, seemed to find themselves singularly rapt in attention and admiration at the spell that the talented female personator was casting over them. The Great Eugene, otherwise known simply as Eugene, was named Eugene D’Ameli as a child. He was born in Manhattan on June 4, 1836, the son of an Italian confectioner, and, according to The New York Dramatic Mirror (the Broadway rag of the time), he made his first debut at the tender age of 17 in 1853 at Wood's Minstrel Hall, playing what he would end up playing the rest of his career – a “prima donna” – a persona which “he improved and perfected until it was considered the best of its class.” His partner, “Johnny” Unsworth, of 700 Macon Street, recalled Eugene’s beginnings in the minstrel theatre. “Because he was so small and slight and built somewhat like a woman Gene started female impersonations, always in black face, as a minstrel show specialty.” In the San Francisco production of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Eugene was cast as Topsy, and from all accounts he made a big hit with the part. The miners at times became so enthusiastic over his performance that they would throw gold coins and nuggets on the stage, all of them completely unaware that Eugene was actually a man. “He was,” Unsworth noted, “what, in those days, they called a ‘scream.'”

Eugene D'Ameli began with Wood's Minstrels where he was joined by George Christy in 1853 and ended his career thirty years later with the Leon and Cushman Company in 1883. During his career, "Eugene" traveled with many different minstrel troupes throughout the US, Europe and Asia. He returned to America in 1868 and played with Bryant's Minstrels in New York and with Hooley's in Brooklyn. In May, 1884, he made his last appearance on any stage. 

He was found, when off the stage, to be a neatly dressed and very good looking gentleman, somewhat under the medium size, but of “as fine a general figure in the manly attire of everyday life as he was in the gorgeous wardrobe of the sable prima donna at night.” He was, according to many, one of the most thoroughly artistic personators of burlesque female actors ever seen.

Never married, Eugene retired from the stage in 1884, after 31 years. For many years afterwards he was in poor health until, as his obituary noted, “he was attacked by dropsy.” He died in Brooklyn, N. Y., January 18, 1907.

At Eugene’s funeral, Unsworth recounted Eugene’s career, how they met, which minstrel groups they worked with, and how Eugene was singular in his “personations” of women. “You see, he even had a soprano voice down pat, besides looking the part,” Unsworth smiled through moist eyes. Then Unsworth told how he had cared for D’ameli morning, noon, and night in his final sickness, and how, in his dying days, he would sing to him the old minstrel songs they used to perform together. “I’ll tell you, son, I feel pretty lonely now that Gene has gone,” Unsworth said. It isn’t recorded how Unsworth mentally dealt with the passing of his partner, but it must have been tough for the old bachelor to see his dear friend pass. An occurrence 17 years later, though, may lend us a clue to his state – as well as to the importance Unsworth placed on his relationship with Eugene. When Unsworth himself died, he had left a will. In that will, everything he had owned went to a favorite niece of Eugene’s.

I guess that's pretty correct, although I find him only as Ameli rather than d'Ameli. And the 'favourite niece', Elizabeth Jane Ameli, had looked after Johnny since Eugene's death.

Here is a squib on the duo's first appearance in Britain (1861)

Oddly this refers to 'James' Unsworth. As does the cast list for Bryant's Minstrels of 1858. When 'John' would have been 14 years old. Then one paper refers to "Joe" Unsworth the banjo player. Then its "James" again. In 1860 it's James Unsworth and Master Eugene. And again, firmly, James. And again, and again, and again ... are there two Unsworths?  YES!  James Unsworth died 21 February 1875 in Liverpool Workhouse. Left everything to Eugene. 'My brother John ...'.  So its JAMES the minstrel. JOHN his brother. JOSEPH another brother ...   Eugene shares a gravstone not with his longtime partner, but with that partner's brother.

Another link with 2022 when Disney and Really Useful are vying to see which of them can murder the tale of Cinderella to the worst intent. Here is our boys' version, well over a century earlier  ..

Interesting to note that the character of Pedro has already joined the cast list. Pedro is known these days as Buttons. So, here we have a black-faced travesty Cinders. Beat THAT, 2022. 

Francis Leon in white-face

Addendum:  I have come upon this set of photos which are apparently some of Eugene and Unsworth's colleagues in coalface in Manchester et al ...

Fred HILDEBRANDT I knew not, but I see him in November 1858 at at Jude's in Dublin with a Mr Smith advertised as 'two real genuine American Niggers'. In 1859 it's The Great Frederick C Hildebrandt and Sam Ormond 'the black comedians'. And he's playing clown in pantomimes from Astley's to Edinburgh.  I see a Frederick Charles Hildebrandt 'comedian' marries a Harriet Mitchell in Manchester 1865 ...  But born 1841 in the Workhouse to tailor Mr Merry and Miss Hildebrand ..? Of course, he was no more 'American' than Chinese, unless America had annexed Lambeth and no one noticed.

W[illiam] J[oseph] COLLINS (b Liverpool 25 December 1846) appears subtitled 'the Black Cloud' in 1867. 'Banjoist and eccentric dancer' 'the Great American comedian and stump orator'. Collins died 'aged 29' at Drummond Road, Bermondsey 9 November 1876, leaving a wife, Isabella née Worth, and a daughter, Harriet.

Henry Templeton [PULLUM, Henry Ebenezer] was a well-known minstrel manager who has been carefully written about at than which I cannot do better ...

Tom Crossling [CROSSLER, Thomas] was a 'clever Nigger Delineator and dancer' who flourished 1865-1873. He seems to have worked as a single rather than a Minstrel. He seems to have died in Liverpool Workhouse in 1909 aged 60. Two days later, at the same Workhouse, there died James Unsworth aged 70 ...  

I'd better peep again, and see if there are any more of these ....

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

MOTUKARARA MURRAY. A titan among friends ...


Yesterday evening, Wendy and I lost one of our very dearest friends. I had known Murray Edmonds for some twenty years, Wendy a good deal longer, since the days when they were young harness-racing folk together. And, like so many people in the business, we loved 'Motukarara Murray' muchly.

He was only 62, but the demon cancer stops at nothing ...

I see that he won 377 races as a trainer during his memorable career ...  the seven of those were for me.

Five wins, during 2010-11 with SEPPL -- three at Addington, the others at Kaikoura and Bank's Peninsula --

One at Marlborough (2016) with Seppl's little brother MONTMORENSY ... whom he then sent south where he picked up a brace of others at Forbury Park for Darryn Simpson

And then, finally, just weeks ago, back at Addington with EMILY ...

But this time Murray wasn't in the cart. He was in hospital watching the race from his bed ... Thanks be to all the gods that she did win ...

Murray, thank you for the thrills you gave us ... and the horses you educated, trained, raced and drove for us ... but most of all, thanks for many years of the sort of friendship that's hard to find. We sha'n't forget you as long as we live ... Good bye, old pal.

My first meeting with the Edmonds family. Their ALL SUNDON won my Knights of the Yellow Wheels trophy at Nelson.  (Murray was gearing up the next horse!)  

Monday, October 3, 2022

The Gänzl-Gallas brothers hit gold!


Brother John and I have been writing and publishing books (something like 25 volumes apiece) for some forty years. We've both been lucky enough to have had some fine reviews from some fine reviewers. I have a vast Maisie Fielding scrapbook full of mine, from the London years ...   

But things are different in the 2020s, and any type of review is hard to come by, much less a really authoritative and knowledgeable one. But the pillars of informed criticism still exist -- if you can get them to notice you -- and at the head of the list of pillars comes the Times Literary Supplement.

Now the TLS isn't going to bother with yet another theatre book by Gänzl, K. He may be turning out all sort of original research, but he's old news. And he doesn't take 21st century fashionable angles on his subject manner. No politics, no feminism, no homosexuality ...

And as for Gallas, J, his slim volumes of exquisite and/or hilarious poetry ... well, for all that his first volume was called Practical Anarchy ...

But put the brothers together, the punctilious historian and the poet ... and .... this was the result.

And this one caught the eye ... and this was the result ... a TLS notice from scholar Sarah-Jane Zubair:

“The metal that boils in the crucible must fling forth its slag: the poetry that boils in my heart has slung its dross – / Behold!” Petrus Borel’s preface does not open Rhapsodies (1831) so much as kick the door in. His promise of molten dynamism is fulfilled on every page: his poetics seethe and snarl in a manner befitting a self-described “Lycanthrope” (a moniker, John Gallas explains, that Borel invoked to reflect his “own opinion of his powers and desire to attack conventional society, tyrants, Classicism, [and] traditionalism”). Nowhere does Borel seek a lofty, spiritualized sublime; rather, “poverty ever keeps my feet upon the earth”, and he takes aim at “barbarous luxury, whose aristocratic bent, whose ecclesiastical flummeries and sonnets-in-chains are like listening to hair-shirted hacks bum-branded with their armorials, clutching a rosary or a rattle in their fists”. His epilogue too is a wrathful catharsis: “Work! for howling Destitution baits / each thought that comes like hope in solitude. / What says my lute in answer? – only Food!”.

Yet Borel is not a one-note poet. Among his condemnations of institutions, corruption and an effete ruling class, there are tender lyrics such as “Benoni: lament for my brother”, with its haunting leitmotif (“He is sleeping, my Benoni”) and legato lullaby rhythm. Musical repetitions also appear in “The Olden Captain”, “The Baron’s Daughter” and “Thirst for Love”, which has a silky, crooning refrain: “Come quickly hither, pretty maid, / that on thy breast I may forget / my madness”. Even at his most amoroushe retains his gothic-Romantic bite: “Now you weep: and I am drunk with joy! / Your quiet sobs sugar my bittered heart, / and in the burning circle of your arms I choke with ecstasy!” (“The Ramparts”).

The poems are all rooted in bodily experience: only the faintest of movements beyond the corporeal occur, in the religiosity of poems such as “The Adventurer” and “Daydreams”, where he broods on death and mortality (“Tell me where the rotted trunk of the old oaktree goes – / it goes in smuts to fatten up the earth: and you, brave stump, / a monster by the name of God has held you for a later fate!”). And once, gazing at a beautiful woman in “At the Window”, the poet describes a moment of quasi- religious transport:

Ecstatic and intoxicate, no worldliness remains,
and through my weightless flesh my flooded soul
turns, drop by drop, to dew: and like the bright strings
of a silver lute that throbs beneath the hand
of some grace-leaning angel, all the earth trembles and dissolves.

The reader can almost hear Le Lycanthrope licking his fangs as he tears through everything from records of moonlit trysts to invectives against perceived injustice (“To the Court that Proposed the Abolition of the Death Penalty”; “On the Wounds of the Institute”). In “Patriots”he relishes scenes of revolution: “The night is done, and dawn is near, / so quick, ye dogs, lickspittles, rats, / bring forth your hunting horns, your hounds – / the Devil wants more blood!”

Borel’s verse is fiery and has a strong musical pulse. It is perplexing and regrettable that Rhapsodies and his prose fiction did not establish him as an important literary voice during his lifetime. Appreciation of his work seems to have been limited to his bohemian social circle (which included Théophile Gautier), posthumous acknowledgements of his influence by Charles Baudelaire and André Breton, and a full-length biography by Enid Starkie in 1954. Yet two centuries on his voice has lost none of its revolutionary energy. It is refreshing today to encounter a collection that confronts its audience rather than grovelling for the reader’s admiration.

In translating these poems, Gallas and Kurt Gänzl have presented a reliquary of gems that glint and glare and burn, successfully evoking the energy of Borel’s verse. Produced through a two-step process of translating and “repoeming”, the book is a credit to Gallas’s poetic instinct, which colours and sculpts Gänzl’s initial translations. These translations may even rival the original French versions in verve and flourish. Perhaps Petrus Borel, who died in anonymity of heatstroke in Algeria, will finally have a more fortuitous moment in the sun."

Thank you Ms Zubair. Would that all notices were so enlightened and understanding.

And maybe the brothers G-G and Carcanet Press really can bring Borel back to life and the notice of the literary world and press.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Entertainment in the Lambeth Marshes 1856


Cold spring morning. Fire on. And my friend Jeff Clarke from Opera della Luna sent me a scan of this delightful 1856 playbill. 1856. My best period .... and I haven't heard of a single person is the cast lists! There is a good reason, however. The bill is from Mr Victor Isaac Hazelton's Bower Saloon,in Westminster Road, down on the Surrey side. A 250 seat house pendant to his Upper Marsh pub 'The Duke's Arms', not famed for classy entertainments. Or classy casts. You could enrol as a 'pupil' with 'appearance guaranteed'. It spent much time housing amateur productions.

It is also a bill for a one night Benefit performance ... a mish-mash of 'popular' bits and pieces ... melodrama with trained dogs, dancing, mime-drama, a contortionist and a version of Der Frieschutz (note the spelling!) with a cast of four men and no singing. The singing was confined to a 'grand concert' which was apparently made up largely of comic songs.

I was curious, however, to know who were these folk appearing on such a programme. Were they professionals? Did they have careers in the theatre or the music halls? Or, were they so insignificant as to defy any kind of research? I started at the top ... the Beneficiary ...

Richard Henry KITCHEN or DUNN (b Ann Street, Lambeth 25 June 1830; d Langton Rd, Brixton, 30 June 1910) was a dancer, a ballet master, swordsman, a pantomimist and clown, who worked for over half a century on the stages of Britain, in -- it seems -- just about any capacity. In the 1860s, he teamed with Tom Lamb and his performing dogs doing dog dramas (The Woodman and his Dog, The Forest of Bondy &c). He married Emma Elizabeth Burry, and one of their sons made a considerable name for himself as a musical comedian as Fred Kitchen (1872-1951).

Thomas LAMB (b Chatham 27 September 1818; d before 1895) was on the bill too, along with his original partner *** CHAPPEL. I see them as early as 1851 'with their wonderful dogs' at Manchester, and thereafter largely in Music Halls and Theatres in the northern part of England. By 1860 Mr Chappel has been succeeded by Mr Kitchen and Tom's little son (who would later dub himself 'Tom Melrose') is featured. I last see Lamb and Kitchen together performing at the Victoria (The Life of a Tramp, Tom and Jerry) with dog Carlo in 1870. Lamb and Carlo are back at the Bower in 1872 ...

There may have been a closer link between Kitchen and Lamb. Lamb married Jane Dunn, daughter of an East End beadle. Kitchen also went by the name of Dunn. Odd. I don't know what became of Lamb. But when the son died, aged 44, in 1895, he was referred to as 'late'.

Of the concertgivers, I cannot discover Miss S Pitts or Josh Bowmer, but the others leave more or less trace.

Selina PEARCE was a child actress. I see her in 1854 playing Topsy to the Eva of the Eva of Clara St Casse at the Theatre Royal, Newport. 'An intelligent child about 7 years of age'.

Albert GORDON was a tenor gentleman apparently from Dover where I spot him in 1855. He played Tom Tug in The Waterman at the Bower, Osbaldistone in Rob Roy at the Victoria (1856) and I see no other.

Henry WAITE (b Bristol 1829; d Brixton 8 January 1900) was a 'comic vocalist and delineator of Hibernian Drollery': in another words an Irish stand up comic. The son of a Bristol publican, he turns up around 1857 singing his comic songs in suburban London: Clapham, Marylebone, Poplar, East London, Camberwell, Islington, the Green Gate Saloon in the City Road ... sometimes in the company of such notables as Elijah Taylor, W G Ross, Ambrose Maynard, the Barnum children. Harry was a married man, with a stepson and two daughters, Nettie and Emma, and in the early 60s wife Harriet (née Gibbs) and then the daughters joined Harry in the act. 
Harriet withdrew after a decade (she would die 321 Albany Rd, Camberwell 13 December 1886) and Harry soon after, by which time it was clear that the main attraction of the group was the girls. Each Christmas they were topbilled in good class pantomimes, and in 1874 they visited America and topbilled at Tony Pastor's (Hattie, Nettie and Emma, the Waite Sisters) and the Chicago Theatre.
In 1878 Nettie married William Nelson Govett, better known as Will Poluski, with whom she had starred in several pantomimes, and in 1886 Emma wed another performer, Thomas Andrew Harlow. On her marriage certificate, she described her father as 'grocer'. 
The Poluski daughters continued the tradition as 'Ethel Love' and 'Lottie Walton'.

Master D Moore, was Daniel MOORE (b London c 1847; d Aston 12 June 1874) and was a genuine juvenile. He would have been nine or ten years of age at the time of this concert, and it is the first engagement I see in his young life. In 1858 he played four months at Chatham in a double act with his father and, here again, it was clearly the youngster who was the feature 'very clever dancer and player of the violin and banjo' 'clog dancer and violinist', 'duettists', 'American negro delineator, vocalist and instrumentalist', 'negro comedians', 'sketches of life', 'spade dancer', 'duologue artists', 'songwriter' ('A sporting life for me') ... young Dan turned his talents to whatever the latest fashion demanded.  Alas, at the age of just 27 he fell ill of 'consumption' and died ...

Further down the list 'Young Devani!'. Yerrrm. How young? There are several, all related and all in the same line of business. Gymnastics, especially contortionism. 'The greatest Bender in the World'. Their name, of course, was not Devani and nor were they in any way exotic. Their right name was Longstreeth and they were a pure product of the Lambeth Marshes. Father was Isaiah James LONGSTREETH (b 1839; d Lambeth 1888), mother (who didn't contort) was Jane Frances née Moore. So Isaiah would be 17. That's 'young'. Looks good, but then who is 'Mons Devani' in 1850 in Ireland, 1851 in Birmingham, 1852 at Cremorne ...? And which Devani visited Australia with the Risleys in 1859? Isaiah, surely. Not his sons, who both followed the bending trade -- Leon (b 1861) and  Eugene (b 1867). So I am pretty sure that Isaiah was 'Gabriel Devani'. When he had finished bending, he became 'clown and pantomimist'.

In smaller print is Richard Henry MENDHAM (b Ipswich c1823; d Stangate 31 March 1874). Mendham was employed to be stage director and play bits. I see him performing as far back as 1848, and he went on to play drama, pantomime and comedy at the suburban theatres, and to produce seasons in Monmouthshire with H R Stephens ..  He married actress Rose Archer in 1857, but she died in 1862 and he the following year.

So, in larger print, but lesser nevertheless than the dogs Nero and Carlo, we have Mr A Saville, Mr H Hall (with his little son Tommy) and Mr J Hicks.

To my surprise, Mr Saville turns out to be Alfred SAVILLE (b Colchester 26 November 1812; d London 27 June 1885) otherwise Alfred Faucit Saville, of the well-known theatrical family (think, Helen Faucit). Alfred had a long, solid career in the provinces and above all the suburbs playing character/'old men' parts at such as the Victoria, the Pavilion and the City of London in such potboiling thrillers as The Lonely Man of the Ocean, The Soldier of Fortune, The Soldier's Bride, Woman and her Master, The Lighterman  of Bankside, The Prisoner of Rochelle, The Vow of Silence, The Lucky Horseshoe and just occasionally in Surreyside versions of Shakespeare (Gloucester in King Lear, Stephano in The Tempest) with the likes of N T Hicks. 

Hicks. So, Mr J Hicks? Surely not Julian Hicks, the well-known scenic artist. But I think it is! The father, not the son. Julian Shurlock Bult HICKS (b Islington 2 March 1836; d Camberwell 24 December 1882). Rather than the pianist and concertina-player touring with Sam Cowell?
Anyway, our one is playing at the Pavilion, Whitechapel Rd in 1854 (Woman and her Master), at the Victoria in 1855 (Ned Cantor) alongside Saville, but by 1860 is painting the scenery at the Haymarket and ... the Victoria. And from there, he continued to the peak of his profession. Of course, there may be a third Mr Hicks, but I give myself a 90% chance of being right!

Harry HALL and his little son Tommy escape me. The only Harry Hall I know in the 1850s is the famous equestrian painter. I spy them just once more in 1859 ...

Mr Fernandez? I guess he's the Mr F in the company at Gravesend earlier in the year. Then at Reading. By 1858 he is at the Surrey playing young lover parts, on one occasion opposite the great Henry Phillips in Auld Robin Gray, and he soon begins to rise up the bills as he progressed to the Grecian, then back to the Surrey (Cassio to the Othello of Creswick, Phoebus to his Quasimodo). So he's James FERNANDEZ (b St Petersburg 1835; d 1 Carlisle Place, London 13 July 1915) son of Thomas Fernandez of the Stationery Office, husband of Georgina Robertson, 'juvenile trgedian and light comedian' and by far the -- eventually -- most memorable participant in Mr Kitchen's Benefit.

Well, I'm finding more folk here than I expected. And here's another!

[John] Charles RIDGWAY (b Portsea 1828; d Fletton 11 August 1859) specialised in 'music, dancing and calisthenics'. He was a skilled violinist, and specialist player of Pantaloon ... alas there is more than one Mr Ridgway around. Surely he is not the one in the Adelphi panto in 1842. Or fiddling ('Master Ridgway') with his elder brother in Portsmouth in 1843. Ah! Master John Ridgway of Portsea .. deputy leader of the band at the Windsor Theatre ... his brother Joseph professor of the harp is leader at the Dorchester Theatre, md at Guildford , harping at Ryde ... Master John has formed an amateur band at Portsea ... he has left Portsea to join Mr Theodon, Theatre of Arts, Stamford ...
So when do the dancing and calisthenics come in?
Perhaps it is he dancing at Glasgow in 1850. Ah! No, that's Mr T Ridgway 'the celebrated clown'. Mr C is playing Pantaloon at Hull. So it is Mr T choreographing the Grecian panto of 1851. And Mr C who moves to Stamford and Spalding to teach, play, concertise ... 'of the Italian Opera, His Majesty's Theatre'. But here's Mr J Ridgway 'of the Italian Opera and pupil of Mr Coulon' teaching the schottische in Southampton ... six private lessons for one guinea. And Mr and Mrs Ridgway teaching the new dance 'Pop Goes the Weasel' in Birmingham. 
Well our Mr J C had indeed just got married to one Eliza Nelsey. So I imagine that's them. Or is he the Mr Ridgway dancing harlequin at Brighton? The Birmingham one seems to be Mr J H. But it is definitely he in Stamford. 

He was Pantaloon at Reading in 1853, at the Marylebone Theatre in 1855, at Portsmouth in 1857.
Things did not go well for Mr Ridgway. His wife was delivered of a baby boy who died in infancy. Then he went for a swim in the River Nene ... and drowned. He was 31.
And who, may I ask, was the dancing Marion Ridgway? Eliza?

Alfred Shaw, Mr Morrison, Mrs and Miss Collins, 'Mis Brunette', W Dean,  ..  enough. Now, at least this playbill means something. Performers from the minor theatres putting on a show ... one night only.

Next day, Bryan Kesselman writes ...   "There was a Joshua Bowmer (musician) who married Harriet Gill Turner in 1842 ... in 1863 .. entertaining in Cape Town - Mr and Mrs Josh Bowmer's utophic (sic) entertainment in addition to their comic singing was much applauded"

That's he!  Joshua Bowmer (b Brixton 1823; d London 1884). Son of an exciseman. Brother Henry was also a musician. I see by 1881 Josh has become a house painter.

Look what's surfaced! The Forest of Bondy on the southside again. And with T P Cooke in the cast!