Monday, May 29, 2023

An exceptionally curious Cartesian: Elaine Gryce.


Yesterday's success in outing Mr Rowlands encouraged me to have another half-day dip into D'Oyly Carteland. And ... well!  

I have met some strange stories in my years of wading through the characters of Victorian music and theatre. But that of the young woman who called herself 'Elaine Gryce' (why, I wonder ..) has got to be up there amongst the oddest. Miss Gryce was a very brief Cartesian -- depping for Kate Rolla in the title-role of Mirette -- she was later, also, accused of sporting very brief costumery -- but her history, and that of her family, could one but write it up fully, would not be brief at all, at all.

Miss 'Gryce' was in fact Annie Mary (sometimes Steele) VERITY. She was born 18 April 1867 one of the six daughters of a fellow by name Charles Henry (sometimes Steele) Verity and his second wife Henrietta Maria Murch. And Mr Verity, into whom I am not going to delve further, was apparently a scion of the family of the Duke of Rutland. I suppose it was all younger son of younger son (you can look up Burke), but anyhow the respectable part of his branch of the family was esconced in Bridgend. Not Charles though. He was disowned, kicked out, disinherited for his bad habits and dissolutenesss. I see him down in Weston-super-Mare (why?) in the 1871 census professing to be a 'broker', with his brood of lasses. A son (by wife one) had emigrated in the 60s to Australia. I don't know what became of him, but apparently wife (2) dumped him, and in 1875, when what I assume was his eldest daughter married, she said he was 'deceased'. Otherwhere, I hear he died in the workhouse. In 1893, when 'eighth' daughter, Emily Claudine, died she was 'granddaughter of' the Bridgened gent. 

Anyway, the family clearly got on without him. But I do wonder who paid for what followed. Three of the girls opted for the stage. Elizabeth Steele Verity ('Lisette Steele') and Emily Claudine were dancers. Annie is said to have gone to to Milan -- alone? as a teenager? -- and studied and sung in public. Yes. Well, we've heard that tale a million times. Very maybe.

In the 1891 census she is not in Milan, but in Jersey. Married. To a one-time law student (later 'actor'! as 'Tom Carling') named Willliam Astor DADSON,  allegedly from the Astor family (I suspect not THAT one) who ... oyyyy! Sorry, not going there! Except to say that they don't seem to have bred, and he died in a lunatic asylum in 1916 (26 October). Fast back.

In the 1891 census they are in Jersey: Annie is calling herself 'Adrienne A Dadson, operatic vocalist'.

And then she turns up, singing ... in America and Canada. How? Why? In 1892 she is playing in Les Cloches de Corneville opposite one Hamilton Tetley, sometime of the D'Oyly Carte. Then in an Operette troupe of dubious value with on Samuel Gryce. I see her in Canada, in 1893, with a manager yclept Ernest Hagger... then as 'the Canadian prima donna' on a variety bill at the Union Square featured in a version of La Jolie Persane. She/they left for home in early 1894, and I spot her, lavishly billed, alongside her sister in a charity fête at Leamington Spa. .

The Arion & Boston Company existed. A tiny, underpowered, ephemeral group ... but Leamington didn't know that. As for  Miss Greig's 'podigy' ...

At one stage, The Era thought it well to devote a wee para to Elaine...

Hmmm. Well I can't speak for the 9 year-old at Covent Garden, nor the education (under which name?), nor even the Hogarth engagement. Yes, USA/Canada is correct though vastly exaggerated. 

I also don't know how she picked up the week's employment with Carte, before the splendid Florence St John replaced the miscast Miss Rolla ... but I guess it qualifies her as a 'Cartesian'!

Obviously, she did NOT play Carmen at Drury Lane. She was one of several who sang Frasquita in Carmen for Augustus Harris. 

She omits to mention here her appearance as Miss Pattie Buttre in Little Boy Blue ... probably her most successful assumption.

Yes, she toured as Lady Dodo in The Shop Girl ... I missed The Sign of the Cross .. but caught the odd panto ... the odd music-hall engagement .. a trip to America in 1897, then Cora Angélique in The Belle of New York (1901). My last sighting of her is in Brixham at a volunteer concert billed as 'of the Savoy Theatre', in 1902, singing 'Home sweet Home' and 'Sing Sweet Bird'.

But this is far from the end of Annie Verity. Because Annie, in what seems an almost unbelievable exercise, reinvented and cloned herself.

I have not found Annie in the 1901 census. Though we know she was touring. Nor, indeed in the 1911 census. But Lord knows what she was calling herself by that time.  However, in the 1920s a lady named 'Miss Verity-Steele' turns up, not in the theatre, but at the posher dog shows. Exhibiting and breeding of Pekingese dogs. 'Prices from 10gns to 100gns'. And as the authoress of The Book on Pekingese ('illustrated'). And look at this! 81 Lansdowne Road, Worthing in the 1939 census. Dorothy Slater (b 16 October 1888), Queenie V Steele (b 18 April 1876, authoress), Annie M Dadson (b 18 April 1867, retired authoress). Dorothy Slater was another dog fancier who revised/updated the famous book in later days. I feel 18 April gives it away. Mrs Steele and Mrs Dadson are one and the same person.

I notice, down the way in Shepton Mallett, a Sister Mary Hyacinth teaching music at a convent. The good sister is the former 'Lizzie Steele' sometime dancing girl and sister to Miss Gryce, as was.

By the time Annie-Queenie died, in 1947, she had reverted to being Mrs Astor-Dadson. Or even plain Dadson. The days of Gryce were decades gone. The light of other days was faded. Woof.Yap.

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