Wednesday, November 15, 2017

LILLIE LANGTRY (October 13, 1853 - February 12 1927)
The Lily of Jersey, from American Vaudeville Its Life and Times
by Douglas Gilbert, published in 1940

Most of the high profile legitimate actors from the stage performed in sketches and playlets in American vaudeville between 1893 and 1925.
They included Sarah Bernhardt, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, all of the Barrymores and Mrs. John Drew.  But according to Mr. Gilbert, who was a reporter for Variety, the 'cream of the quest' was Lillie Langtry."

Here is an excerpt from his slightly satirical views about the Jersey Lily.

"Those who remember her sigh deeply at the recollection. She was the most glamorous woman of her time--and its most awful actress. Her appeal was based solely upon her beauty; enough for portraits and photographs; a vacuum for art.
           But what a name! What desire!  Oscar Wilde said: "I would rather have discovered Lillie Langtry than America!"   America discovered her in 1882 when she made her New York debut under Henry E. Abbey.  While the critics 'crucified' her, she carried back to England sixty thousand pounds!
                           Her vaudeville debut happened in 1906 (she was 54 and still a flower), and thereafter she dipped often into vaudeville's lush till, coming over in 1912 (now sixty) and again in 1915 at sixty-three.       Her 1906 offering was a sketch (the word annoyed her; "tabloid tragedy" she called it).   "Twixt the Nightfall and Light" by Graham Hill garnered the following reviews.
"She is still beautiful" a reviewer from the old Telegraph wrote.  Alan Dale observed: "While it would be absurd to say that her work was promising, it can be truthfully said that it fulfilled all promises."
        In London audiences hooted her off the stage but her American tour was a tremendous success.
Everyone knew she was Edward Vll's crown jewel.  In 1912 she returned to vaudeville under the Central Production Company headed by Martin Beck.  She played a sketch called "Helping the Cause", a suffragette theme. It was frightful.
                        In 1915 she came over with a legit show called "Ashes". It failed to draw and she folded it immediately in Richmond, VA.  Her leading man was Lionel Atwill to America then unknown.  Returning to New York, she called Albee and said she had a good one-act that could be done cheaply with her and one other player and she had hired Lionel Atwill.  They opened at Percy Williams's Brooklyn Orpheum--Brooklyn knew and loved vaudeville.  Monday night after the opening matinee Eddie Darling, Albee's right hand, went there to check. 'She's wonderful and the women are crazy about Atwill. The schoolgirls swoon over him.' He went backstage to congratulate Lillie. "And your leading man is splendid." She replied, "I've given him the sack. He goes a week Saturday.'  Darling asked her what was wrong. 'He's impossible.' 'But, Mrs. Langtry, you do not understand American audiences; leading men like that mean a lot of business.'  She replied."I'm paying him a very large salary, more than he ever got. In England he only got six pounds; I'm paying him 70 pounds. And he won't look after my luggage.'       Darling suggested, 'Perhaps if I spoke to Mr. Atwill?" 'You can talk to him, but he is an impossible man!'
                        Darling went to Atwill's dressing room and laid down the law. 'It isn't nice for a woman of her position to look after her trunk checks and scenery and hire 'props' he said. Any man would do that for her.'  Atwill promised to attend to these details and saved his job.


Langtry hated managers generally, especially those in the provinces. She was a constant enigma to them. A Midwestern manager once asked her,
"What do you do?"  She said, "I ride a bicycle on a tight rope."
"Aren't you afraid?"  
"Oh, no I have fallen so many times."

God bless her."    END OF MR. GILBERT'S EXCERPT.

#lillielangtry  #lionelatwill  #martinbeck #HenryEAbbey #EddieDarling
#SarahBernhardt #Mrs.PatrickCampbell #PercyWilliams  #EdwardVll
                                      #AlanDale  #OscarWilde

Tuesday, September 26, 2017


(1865 - 1936)

Born in Philadelphia, the daughter of Captain Palmer, a gentleman of English birth and an American mother who was the daughter of a Supreme Court judge.  The family moved to Vienna when she was 8 and she was taught music and to speak German. In Paris she learned dancing and French.  When the family moved to New York she was sent at an early age to the Convent School of the Sacred Heart at Manhattanville.   After her continental and educational experiences she made her first stage appearance in 1876 at the tender age of 11. Followed by her first New York appearance at the Park Theatre, Brooklyn in Kisses by A. R. Cauzarn.  But the first real break occurred in the Booth Theatre's production of Dan'l Druce under the management of Henry Palmer, a relative.  From then on becoming a serious actress was her life's goal.  Other roles: Dot in The Cricket and the Hearth; Minnie in Engaged and Louise in The Two Orphans (a huge success) and in the 1879-1880 theatre season she attained real stardom in Minnie Palmer's Boarding School, a two act comedy written for her. After touring the United States for two years, writer William Gill wrote My Sweetheart which gave fuller scope to her talents.
               From a chat with Minnie Palmer, she was quoted: "I was born in Philadelphia, made my debut when quite a little girl at Ford's Opera House, Baltimore as Titania in Midsummer Night's Dream, then played ingenue parts at Abbey's Theatre in this city for a year. I became a star and toured all over the country in Minnie Palmer's Boarding School, then came My Sweetheart in which I appeared for nine years. During that time I played in the United States for several seasons and then Australia and England.

          John R. Rogers, a theatrical manager, married Minnie and brought her to more audiences in America and abroad.  "No actress as reported in Stars of the Stage photogravure series, has been more consistently 'boomed' and her manager is regarded as a good and past master of keeping his star's name before the public. She is deservedly a public favorite."  (1887)
         In 1884 Mr. Rogers purchased a South African diamond weighing just under 50 carats. He was the co-owner. They needed another investor.  Enter Minnie Palmer described as a pretty, pert, petulant, pouting bit of humanity with the step of a fairy, the carol of a bird and the exuberance of a schoolgirl."  There are various accounts how she came to acquire the Cleveland Diamond, named after President Grover Cleveland. One of them states that she purchased it from a London dealer for 8,500 pounds after having it cut to a weight of 42.5 carats and had it mounted in claws of gold with a reversible frame on a moveable brooch with a center fitted with a mechanism like that of a watch, worn at the right side of the waist in front.  Another account claimed she received it as a gift from one of her many admirers. However, verified documentation asserts her path to ownership began with John Rogers who was already known for dabbling in the diamond business as a sideline.
        Infatuated with Minnie who shared a common bond with him about fine jewels they were married.   He had the diamond fitted into a brooch and gave it to her to add to her collection. She flaunted it on stage. Was the gesture done out of love or as a publicity stunt to further her career?

According to the New York Times (1890) she narrowly escaped death when she was assaulted by her husband who brandished a large carving knife. She received minor injuries to her face and her hand. He was angry because she had ignored his edict that she stay away from her  mother (who had objected to her marrying a man 20 years her senior). Upon her return from a horse show with her parents, he attacked her. A possessive man, he had already written many insulting and abusive letters to Palmer's friends in an effort to keep them away from her. However Minnie was not media shy. She gave the Times reporter a very detailed story about the violent incident and problems in her marriage which they were happy to print. She sought a divorce. Desperate to rid herself of the explosive Rogers she agreed to, among other things, divide their jewelry collection in halves. She then sailed to England leaving lawyers working out the details. There were attempts at reconciliation but he lived to the age of 92 without it. Minnie died at the age of 76.

     When she was asked in an interview what she would do in the future, she replied: "Nothing one has done is ever quite so interesting as what one is about to do. I am going into vaudeville. If vaudeville likes me, I shall like vaudeville indeed. I have brought over two little one act plays with a full equipment of scenery, for my engagement here and I have great faith in both of them.
    One of them was Rose Pompon with Frank Conway. According to the NY Dramatic Mirror's review in 1899, "Minnie Palmer's debut at the Palace takes place in a French Marshal's quarters. A Red Cross sister asks for an audience as he is reviewing death warrants. She wants a reprieve for a man who has killed a man in a duel for a 'worthless woman' named Rose Pompon.  When he leaves the room, it is discovered that the Red Cross sister is Rose, who has repented her ways. Under her cloak is an old stage costume and on the marshal's return she purrs and pouts and sings and dances and uses 'tricks' to obtain the pardon.  Ultimately he grants it. The play is pleasing. Frank Conway is excellent as the Marshal.
#MinniePalmer #RosePomponinvaudeville #ClevelandDiamond #vaudeville #NYDramaticMirror

Resource:  Wikipedia

Friday, July 28, 2017

Ethel Barrymore at age 10


An excerpt from John Barrymore's mini-autobiography entitled WE THREE (published in 1935).


"It was Ethel who decided we should just put on a show. Even at the age of ten she was consumed with ambition.
"Grandmother Drew (Mrs. John Drew) was a great actress in England when she was eight years old! Here am I getting older every day and I haven't done anything!"

Ethel had little idea what the title role of Camille demanded of the actress, but she realized that every great actress at one time or another had played it. To actresses in those days it was the part of parts in the play of plays.

Matilda Heron as Camille
The best was none too good for our first appearance on any stage (albeit in a boarding house). Ethel decided to produce "The Three Barrymores in Camille."    She got one of the older boys who had seen the play but who had forgotten most of it, to write it for her. The adaptation retained little of the original version.

The first that Lionel and I knew about Camille was when Ethel produced a sheaf of pages covered with pencil scrawls, and told us that here were our parts.  "It's about time we were doing something in the theater", she said.

Lionel and I looked upon it as good fun. To Ethel it was the beginning of a career.

Georgie Drew Barrymore with children
Lionel wanted to play my part because I wore an imposing, droopy black mustache, but I wouldn't give up the part or the mustache, which I loved.  He complained bitterly because as Armand he had to play a lover.  That was the first and last lover that Lionel ever played on any stage. Lionel despised love scenes and hated them with all his heart and soul.

Our show was to be a grand surprise for a number of guests, including my Uncle John Drew, who were coming to spend the Fourth of July. Only the actors and the author were in on the secret.

Modjeska as Camille
About all that Ethel knew about Camille was that she had a magnificent cough.  Old actresses who had played Camille often boasted without reservation about the shudders that ran through the audience when their coughing got really under way.

      So Ethel began to practice her cough. She liked best to lock herself in the one bathroom that the big boarding house provided and to do her coughing in secret.  My grandmother heard her once or twice and became quite upset. "Something must be done about that child," she said in alarm. "She's started to bark like a dog!" The climax came one Saturday night when Ethel locked herself in the bathroom and tried out her two kinds of coughs. First she would cough in high soprano, then in what she thought was a hollow, sepulchral tone, while angry boarders in bathrobes and slippers, towels over their arms, stood outside in line, waiting to get in for their Saturday night bath.
      My grandmother heard the noise and cried "My God, she's got a bone in her throat!" and hammered on the door. Ethel came out, red-faced, and in order to keep my frightened grandmother from sending for a doctor, was forced to confess that it was all a rehearsal for Camille.
        It worked out splendidly.  The news about Ethel's cough spread to all our friends, and when we appeared, we had a crowded house.  The box-office receipts were thirty seven cents, the price for orchestra seats being one cent each.  My grandmother protested bitterly after the show, saying we had charged entirely too much.   Ethel, manager, producer and star, gave Lionel and me a dime and kept the rest.  We felt we deserved more but didn't say so."
#JohnBarrymore  #EthelBarrymore  #Modjeska  #MatildaHeron #LionelBarrymore #GeorgieDrewBarrymore  #Mrs.JohnDrew  #Camille  #JohnDrew

Thursday, July 13, 2017

(1816 - 1875)

According to Odell's Annals of the New York Stage, Ms. Crampton performed the role of Mazeppa on January 3, 1859 at the Bowery Theatre.  History remembers Adah Isaacs Menken as the most popular Mazeppa. Now we can set the record straight that Charlotte, according to a handbill, " was the FIRST actress to attempt the part with her two beautifully trained horses--Alexander and Black Eagle executing the most intrepid feats ever performed by a lady." While La Menken appeared to be nude in flesh-colored tights, Ms. Crampton didn't appear nude nor was she tied to the horse's back which gave Menken the 'edge'.
                                                                           June 3, 1861.
"If she was but a foot taller, she would startle the world."  William C. Macready
Macready was not known to shower praise on anyone but himself, but indeed Charlotte must have been quite the talented lady to receive this accolade from him.

            Born into a theatrical family, she was well-educated and was capable of reading, writing, and speaking several languages.    From her theatrical debut at the Columbia Street Theatre in Cincinnati, Ohio at the age of 15, she made rapid progress in the acting profession and overcame a short, stout, stature by hard work, her natural histrionic ability and according to historian/actor Joseph Haworth, a 'touch of genius'.
          She acted in nearly all of the principle theatres in the United States and was a leading lady to both Edwin Forrest and William Macready.  Her interpretation of Lady Macbeth was unanimously praised but she was also convincing in 'britches' parts--Richard lll, Iago and Hamlet.

       Her first husband was Charles Wilkenson; next spouse was Charles B. Mulholland, a well known comedian.  That alliance produced a son.  During the early part of the Civil War, she heard that her son, a Union soldier, had gotten into trouble. It is reported she walked from Wheeling, West Virginia to Washington, D.C. to solicit favor for him from President Lincoln.  Shortly afterwards she enlisted in the Union Army, administering aid and comfort to sick and wounded soldiers.

      After the Civil War she lectured on the temperance circuit for a while but she missed acting and was soon traveling with a small company on the New England circuit. She reclaimed her career in larger theatres. At the time of her death she was playing old women and character roles. However, a few days before she passed away, she was playing Gertrude in Hamlet at Macauley's Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky.


As a boy, Joseph Haworth had applied for acting work at John Ellsler's Academy of Music, Cleveland, Ohio.  When Ellsler offered him 'extra' work, he declined. But when his father, a government surveyor died in 1865, he had to leave school and work for a newspaper office. He was tenacious about being hired by Ellsler for onstage work. In 1873 Ellsler relented and let him contribute a recitation at a Monday evening amateur night.
     His rendition of the ballad "Shamus O'Brien" closed out the evening and brought down the house.  Charlotte Crampton, then in residence at Ellsler's, saw his performance from the wings and was so impressed that she offered him the role of Buckingham in her production of Richard lll. She was playing the title role. Joe received rave reviews in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

    He became a member of Ellsler's company as a utility man, playing a variety of roles.  Ms. Crampton became his first great mentor, teaching him all the stage business of Edwin Forrest and William Macready. These tutorials became the basis for his technique and he was able to bridge the classical style of Macready and the heroic style of Forrest throughout his long career.

Crampton as Hamlet
Boston Daily Advertiser, 1887   Interview with Joe Haworth
"My first appearance in Cleveland I played Buckingham at age 20 opposite Miss Crampton as Richard. She made a wonderful Richard. She had a very masculine voice and I remember how she dressed for the part.
     She used to wear a small moustache and goatee which gave her a rather demonic expression. I was nervous when I stepped on the stage, but I did not forget my lines.  When I finished my scene I looked in the wings and saw Miss Crampton there crouched up waiting for her cue and looking as though she was ready to spring to the stage. I was almost frightened to death. I gave a loud shriek of fright which took many days to forget.
     ....I remained with Ms. Crampton a year and then accepted an offer from Mr. Ellsler to play in his theatre in Cleveland.  At the conclusion of the season I was given a benefit; I picked out Hamlet as the play.  Ignoring advice from friends against this role, the house was crowded and pleased.  Until the closet scene.  I had just finished the lines 'look upon this picture' etc., when I looked across the stage and there stood Miss Crampton in that Richard lll costume glaring at me exactly as that unforgettable night.  THE WOMAN HAD BEEN DEAD A YEAR!
       I stood transfixed with horror and couldn't speak. The audience thought I was acting and gave me numerous rounds of applause. The apparition vanished slowly and when I closed my eyes for a moment, the demonlike figure had vanished.

Haworth as Hamlet
"I am not a spiritualist, and I cannot account for that horrible experience.  Call it an optical illusion or anything you will, I shall never forget it.  Miss Crampton was buried in a little Catholic burying ground in Louisville. I remember when I was playing there I visited her grave.  A small stone marks her resting place, but when I am rich this shall give way to a more substantial monument.
      It was very strange indeed, but lying on her grave, I found a long, rusty looking knife.  I do  not know how it came there. I examined it and returned it to its position. I assure you that I did not like the looks of it, and often since then have I thought of how it came there."
    End of interview from the memoirs of Joseph Haworth.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Amelia Bingham Actress Manager

(March 20, 1869 - September 1, 1927)

"I was convinced that 'the play's the thing'. Authors could not comprehend that I wanted a play, not a part. I wished people to leave the theatre talking about the Amelia Bingham company rather than about Amelia alone."
    Lewis Strang, Famous Actresses, Amelia Bingham

Amelia Swilley Bingham's stage career began in Hicksville, Ohio where her father was not only the Methodist minister but a hotel manager.  While waiting on tables in the hotel dining room, it is reported that the handsome leading actor from a touring company was attracted to her. After a short courtship she became Mrs. Lloyd Bingham in 1890.

For the next three years he guided her through apprenticeships around the country.  She made her New York debut at the People's Theatre, 199 Bowery in the melodrama, The Struggle For Life.
                      Her popularity peaked in 1897 when she tallied 9,000 of the 30,000 votes cast in a newspaper competition for the title of American Stage Queen. Earlier stars like Lillian Russell,
Ada Rehan and Fanny Davenport only received one hundred votes each.
                   Under Charles Frohman's management, she appeared in several plays on Broadway (most of them forgotten today).  A visit to London in 1901 changed her destiny.  She met actresses who were their own producers.  As a result she launched the Amelia Bingham Company.  She cast
Bijou Fernandez in Clyde Fitch's play, The Climbers, a play Frohman and other producers rejected. As Lewis Strang reported: "Miss Bingham's enterprise has been conducted with business acumen, good sense and considerable artistic enthusiasm."  The play was a resounding success and also toured throughout the country.
                According to Ms. Bingham:  "When I announced my intention to establish my present enterprise, my friends attempted to dissuade me, telling me that I could never act a part, manage a theatre, and supervise my household. They declared my health would not stand the strain. Not only have I found time to take care of myself physically, but I have performed all my duties, and entertained my friends, read many plays and kept abreast with the larger interests of the day. I am much interested in politics and finance, have continued my acquaintance with the best literature, and devoted considerable time to painting and music.  
              What are my ambitions?  It is my hope that some day the Amelia Bingham company will take the place of that organization directed for so many years by (the late) Augustin Daly who has always been to me the most admirable figure in the theatrical world."

"My father was a strict Methodist and I was brought up to believe, that outside of the Methodist church and Sunday school, salvation was not thought of.  I don't believe a member of my immediate family had ever been to a theatre, much less known an actor, before I startled and almost broke the collective heart of the town by marrying my husband.
    Those first visits home were painful. People turned their heads as I walked down the street. My old Sunday school teacher had the courage to come to see me and when he went away, he took my hand in his and said: "Amelia, I hear there are some good men and women on the stage. I hope so for your sake."    Eventually her family and the townspeople warmed up to them.

Cabinet photo early 1900s

In 1904 she toured with Gilbert Miller in Olympe and starred with
William H. Crane and Douglas Fairbanks Sr. in The New Henrietta, prior to World War 1.

She also achieved success both on Broadway and in vaudeville in her adaptation of Big Moments from Great Plays (1909 on).

"I love work, hard work. No conscientious actress with the interest of her manager at heart can get on without work. People who imagine that an actress can maintain a prominent place in the front rank of the vast theatrical army without ceaseless industry are misinformed. She must read, hear good music, become acquainted with the works of fine artists, do everything to stimulate that necessary quality--IMAGINATION!"


On April 23, 1902, famed actor Joseph Jefferson purchased the mansion for $40,000 in foreclosure actions. He sold the house in 1905 to a financier and his wife.  After a period of intense renovation, the title was transferred to Amelia Bingham. She set about sprucing up the outside.  On two small balconies above the first floor (now gone) she perched three heroic-sized statues and two large busts-the one directly over the entrance being of Shakespeare.  The redecoration prompted the New York Times to call it "one of the really unique residences in the city."

It became a sightseeing attraction called "The house with the statues".   In 1916 the New York Central Railway proposed laying tracks below Riverside Drive along the Hudson.  Amelia was enraged.  She hosted a meeting of the Woman's League specifically to protect Riverside Park.    "We must turn to these splendid men (oh, let's say they're splendid) and tell them to have mercy on our happiness. But if they persist I shall sell my home for what I can get and move where I won't have to listen to steam shovels for ten years.  I tell you there are lots of us who can't wait the generation it will take the trees to grow again in our beautiful front yard."

A year later she was in danger of losing her view not because of the New York Central Railway but because her home was in foreclosure. She had failed to pay a second mortgage of $25,000 and when she was ordered to vacate the property or pay rent of $250 a month, she refused to do either.

     The crisis passed but in 1925 two young robbers gained entrance and forced the maid at gunpoint to lead them upstairs. There Amelia, her seamstress and her maid were bound with silk stockings while the robbers ransacked her bedroom, making off with $1,500 of jewelry and valuables.         In the meantime, the quick-witted Amelia sat on a bag containing $20,000 in cash and valuables and chatted casually with the thieves to distract them. When questioned about her calm in the face of danger, she said, "It was just like the stage."

                   She died in the house after a long illness on September 1, 1927. Her sisters sold the house the next year.   While earlier in her life she had wished to be buried in the family plot in Hicksville, she was buried at the Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx after a funeral which took place at the Little Church Around the Corner.

Strang, Lewis  Famous Actresses, second series. 1902  Amelia Bingham

Wednesday, April 12, 2017


April 14, 1865 is a day that will always be a painful reminder of the assassination of beloved President Abraham Lincoln who was killed by an actor, a member of the prestigious Booth family, the brother of Edwin Booth---who liked to be referred to by his friends as just Wilkes.

In her autobiography, one of three, entitled Life on the Stage (1902), she recalled her connection to him. She had portrayed the role of Gertrude at the age of 16 to Edwin Booth's Hamlet ("All girls have their gods; mine was Edwin Booth!") circa 1863 at Ellsler's Academy of Music in Cleveland. When John Wilkes Booth appeared there, she was most impressed with his talent and physical attributes. The Booths were revered by the theatrical community. While Edwin was quiet, reflective, intense and the perfect Hamlet; John was theatrical, magnetic, sexual, fiery and charismatic.

Clara shared her memories of John Wilkes Booth and from her experience describes his acting style and his chemistry on stage and off.

BEFORE THE ASSASSINATION                                        

" figure stands out with clearness and beauty. In his case only there was nothing derogatory in being called 'beautiful', for he was that bud of splendid promise, blasted to the core before its full triumphant blooming--known to the world as a madman and assassin, but to the profession as that 'unhappy boy' John Wilkes Booth.
        He was so young, so bright, so kind.  He was, like Edwin, rather lacking in height, but his head and throat were truly beautiful. His coloring was unusual, the ivory pallor of his skin, the inky blackness of his thick hair, the heavy lids of his glowing eyes, were all Oriental and they gave a touch of mystery to his face when it fell into gravity. But there was generally a flash of white teeth behind his silky moustache and a laugh in his eyes.

        The fair sex was in love with John Wilkes Booth. At depot restaurants those fiercely unwilling maiden-slammers of plates and shooters of coffee cups made to him swift and gentle offerings of hot steaks, hot biscuits, hot coffee, crowding round him like doves about a grain basket.
       At hotels, maids had been known to enter his room and tear asunder the already made bed (to make it better.)
       At the theatre our smiling faces turned to him, old or young, for the little daughter of our manager (Mr. John Ellsler) who played the Duke of York in Richard lll, came to the theatre each day, each night of the engagement, arrayed in her best gowns and turned on him eyes that might well have served for Juliet.  The manager's wife waved and fluffed her hair, softened her brow line and let her keen black eyes fill with friendly sparkles---yet it was because of him.

    His letters from flirtatious women and girls were legion. I remember with respect that this idolized man--when the letters were many and rehearsal already on--would carefully cut off every signature and utterly destroy them, then pile the unread letters up and would remark to me, "They are harmless now, little one." And when a certain free and easy actor, laughingly picked up a very elegantly written note and said, "I can read it, can't I, now that the signature is gone?" He answered: "The woman's folly is no excuse for our knavery. Lay the letter down please!"

        I remember hearing the older members of the company express their opinion. Mr. Ellsler, who had been on terms of friendship with the elder Booth (Junius Brutus), was delighted with the promise of his work. He greatly admired Edwin's intellectual power, his artistic care, but JOHN! he cried, "has more of the old man's power in one performance than Edwin can show in a year. He has fire, the dash, the touch of strangeness. He often produces unstudied effects. I question him, "Did you rehearse that business today John?" He answers: "No, I didn't rehearse it. It just came to me in the scene, and I couldn't help doing it, but it went all right, didn't it?" Full of impulse, like a colt, his heels are in the air, nearly as often as his head, but wait a year or two till he gets used to the business and quiets down a bit, and you will see as great an actor as America can produce!"

     That was an awful time when the dread news came to us. We were in Columbus, Ohio. We had been horrified by the great crime in Washington. My roommate and I had bought some black cotton from our small earnings, at a tripled price, as all the black material in the city was not sufficient to meet the demand, and as we tacked it about our window, a passerby told us the assassin had been discovered and that he was the "actor Booth!"  Hattie laughed so she nearly swallowed her tack that she held between her lips and I, after a laugh, told him it was a poor subject for a jest and we went in.
     Mr. Ellsler came by to leave a play with us on his way home.  He is a very dark man, but was perfectly livid, his lips were blanched to the whiteness of his cheek. His eyes were dreadful, glassy, and seemed so unseeing. He sank down, wiped his brow, looked at me and said faintly, 'You...haven't....heard...anything?  Hattie stammered. "A man (he lied though) said that Wilkes Booth...but he did lie, didn't he? And in the same faint voice Mr. Ellsler answered: "No, no he did not lie. It's too true!"
     Down fell our heads and while our sobs filled the room, Mr. Ellsler rose and I heard his far, faint voice saying: "So great, so good a man destroyed and by the hand of that unhappy boy! My God, My God!"  Mrs. Ellsler, whom I never saw shed a tear for any sickness, sorrow or trouble of her own, shed tears for the mad boy who had suddenly become the assassin of God's anointed, the great, the blameless Lincoln.
    We crept about, quietly. Everyone winced at the sound of the overture. It was as if one dead lay within the walls, one who belonged to us.

    When the rumors about Booth being the murderer proved authentic, the police feared a possible outbreak of mob feeling, and a demonstration against the theatre building or against the actors individually.  But we had been a decent, law abiding, well behaved people, liked and respected, so we were not made to suffer for the awful act of one of our number.
       That the homely, tender-hearted "Father Abraham" died at an actor's hand will be a grief, a horror, and a shame to the profession forever.  Yet I cannot believe that John Wilkes Booth was the "leader of bloody conspirators!"
        Who shall draw a line and say: Here genius ends and madness begins! There was that touch of strangeness. In Edwin Booth it was a profound melancholy; in John it was an exaggeration of spirit, almost a wildness. There was the natural vanity of the actor who craves a dramatic situation in real life. There was his passionate love and sympathy for the South. Undoubtedly he conspired to kidnap the President. That would appeal to him. But after that I truly believe he was a tool. Certainly he was no leader.
      Those who led him knew his courage, his belief in fate, his loyalty to his friends, and because they knew these things, he drew the lot, as it was meant he should from the first. Then, half mad, he accepted the part Fate cast him for, committed the monstrous crime and paid the awful price.

We can only shiver and turn our thoughts away from the bright light that went out in such utter darkness.

Source:  Morris, Clara. Life on the Stage. 1902

#ClaraMorris  #JohnEllsler #JohnWilkesBooth #EdwinBooth #AbrahamLincoln



Thursday, March 23, 2017



           Scene:  The Shubert Theatre in New York City,  before a full house of celebrated theatre folks
and members of the adoring public.   Julie Harris talks about Helen Hayes at her memorial tribute.
            "She was the light of my life. She was an inspiration to me, now and always.
            I first remember seeing her on stage as Viola with Maurice Evans in Twelfth Night.
Helen Hayes in 12th Night
I took a picture of her---she was so charming, so beautiful, so glamorous, absolutely adorable, every bone in her body.
       Fast forward many years later.   I was in  I Am A Camera, a play by John Van Druten. The producers were giving me a beautiful party at the Empire theatre to celebrate my stardom because my name was over the title of the play on the theatre.
      Helen came with our press man, Barry Hyams, and she came to the stage door and my dressing room and gave me a white envelope with a letter inside.    In the letter she wrote that she was giving me as a talisman, a little handkerchief, in the corner of which were the embroidered initials SB.

This had belonged to Sarah Bernhardt and had been given to the American actress Annie Russell on one of Ms. Bernhardt's farewell tours.  And since Annie Russell had it, it had been passed on from person to person as a talisman and had been given to Helen's daughter Mary MacArthur.  Helen gave it to me.

And I remember thinking, what if I lose this handkerchief? I better find someone to give it to right away.    So later on that season I saw Susan Strasberg in The Diary of Anne Frank and I passed the handkerchief to Susie.

Now many years later, Helen and I were sitting back stage at the Wilbur Theatre in Boston. It was the occasion of the Elliot Norton Awards and we were sitting right in the wings on a little bench and Helen turned to me. She was going to be specially honored that night and Mr. Norton was making a speech about her. She was sitting quietly next to me. She had just come from a grand tour on a ship and she looked sparkling, charming, beautiful, electrifying, dazzling (I couldn't take my eyes off her) and she turned to me and in a very quiet voice said, "You know I don't miss the stage at all!" And I said, "No, I suppose not. You have had this wonderful career in the legit. You must have done all the things you wanted to do.' And she looked at me quizzically and said, "Yes, I suppose that's it."  And then we heard Elliot Norton say, "And now Miss Helen Hayes".  And Helen, like a ten year old child, strode across the stage and she didn't need any lights at all.  She was luminous. She just lit up the whole world with this radiance.  And she made the most wonderful speech to the audience. At the end she said, "You
know I miss the stage!" And then she said, "Let me do something for you."  She recited the whole last scene from Victoria Regina!
                                                           I said to her after, "You don't miss the stage at all, do you?"
Mary MacArthur
Annie Russell

  I miss her. I will always miss her. But I will always have that radiance inside my heart forever and ever. I am going to say a prayer of  St. Teresa of Avila for all of us actors and for Helen.

"Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you. All things pass but God never changes. Patient endurance attains all things. He who possesses God is wanting in nothing. God alone is enough."
           You are enough for us Helen, always forever and ever.
           We love you!

Source: Transcript of the Helen Hayes Memorial Tribute by Mari Lyn Henry                                                                  

Thursday, February 23, 2017

(January 18, 1867 - January 9, 1951)

The English Bernhardt has been forgotten, rarely referenced and yet was involved in one of the  most controversial episodes in theatrical history when her starring role in Clyde Fitch's Sapho (adapted from the novel by Alphonse Daudet) was at the center of a sensational New York City indecency trial.   The incident is considered a notable step in the transformation of American society's attitudes regarding gender roles and public depictions of sex in the 20th century.

She was born in London, of Spanish descent on her mother's side.  Her father was Henry Nethersole, a solicitor. Her stage debut occurred at the Theatre Royal, Brighton in 1887.
Her powerful emotional acting made a great impact in Carmen which she performed in America in 1906.
Other roles include The Second Mrs. Tanqueray (Odeon, 1904); Magda, Adrienne Lecouvreur and Camille at the Sarah Bernhardt Theatre.

Theatrical critics at the turn of the century attributed her Spanish ancestry to the passionate intensity of her acting methods.  She was known for her 'ferocious' emotionalism in climactic scenes.
   Her personal life was very ordered and most professional. She was known for her punctuality, strict health regimens concerning exercise and diet, and for her self-conscious mimetic artistry.  She advocated for the plays of Ibsen, Shaw and Gorky and was willing to appear in controversial projects.

When she began performing on the English stages at 17, her international reputation was acclaimed when she played a supporting role in
The Dean's Daughter at the St. James Theatre.  Her unbridled emotional approach to roles was noticed in Agatha (1892), prompting  conventional critics like Clement Scott to remark with surprise that 'women seldom let themselves go on the English stage.' When she alone made The Transgressor, a tedious, preachy play about marriage laws, a gripping experience in 1894, she debuted with this play in America the same year.
                                  Acclaimed Broadway producer Augustin Daly is responsible for branding her the "English Bernhardt".  The New York audience was not overwhelmed and critical opinion was undecided until she performed Camille in which her subtlety was embraced and she continued for many years to cross the Atlantic regularly in plays featuring a female protagonist.

When a conference was held at the Athenee Theatre in Paris in 1908, Robert Eude said that it was Olga Nethersole who invented the soul kiss (an especially long kiss for which Maude Adams had held the record.)


The NYSSV was an institution dedicated to supervising the morality of the public, founded in 1873 by Anthony Comstock and his supporters in the YMCA. It was chartered by the New York State legislature, which granted its agents powers of search, seizure and arrest, and awarded the society 50% of all fines levied in resulting cases.
   Anthony Comstock (March 7, 1844 -September 21, 1915)
was a U.S. Postal Inspector and politician dedicated to ideas of Victorian morality. The terms 'Comstockery' and 'Comstockism' were used for his extensive campaign to censor materials he considered indecent and obscene, such as birth control information.  (Note:  How relevant to today's political climate.)

In 1873 he successfully influenced the U.S. Congress to pass the Comstock Law, which made illegal the delivery by U.S. mail, or by other modes of transportation, of "obscene, lewd, or lascivious' material as well as prohibiting any methods of production or publication of information pertaining to the procurement of abortion, the prevention of conception and the prevention of venereal disease.
    George Bernard Shaw used the term comstockery in 1905 after Comstock had alerted the New York City police to the content of Mrs. Warren's Profession which caused the play to be closed after opening night.
     Comstock aroused intense loathing from early civil liberties groups and intense support from church-based groups worried about public morals.  He was made a special agent of the USPS, with police powers including the right to carry a weapon.
    During his career, he clashed with Emma Goldman and Margaret Sanger. In her autobiography, Goldman referred to Comstock as the leader of America's 'moral eunuchs' He had numerous enemies and in later years his health was affected by a severe blow to his head by an anonymous attacker.   He lectured to college audiences and wrote newspaper articles to sustain his causes.
  Before his death, he attracted the interest of a young law student, J. Edgar Hoover, who was interested in his causes and methods.

Olga Nethersole had asked Clyde Fitch to adapt Sapho, telling the story from the point of view of the lead female character rather than the male character as was done with the original novel and play.  She produced, directed, and starred.
Sapho is a 'problem play' centering on a woman who has love affairs with men to whom she is not married.  The lead character, Fanny LeGrand, seduces a naive man named Jean Gaussin. In the scene that caused the most furor, the two characters ascend a spiral staircase together, presumably toward a bedroom though that is never shown or staged. In the end LeGrand leaves Gaussin to reform and marry the father of her child.

After out-of-town tryouts in Chicago and other cities, the play opened in New York at the old (1882-1904) Wallack's Theatre on Broadway and 30th St. on February 5, 1900. Reviews were negative and the press predicted it would flop.  The show's notoriety kept it going and it ran for 83 performances.
 From 1901-1913 she toured in American cities and in London and Australia.   The play remained controversial, with municipal authorities in some cities banning performances entirely or insisting on changes in dialogue or costumes.
       Under pressure from the NYSSV, the Society for the Study of Life and the New York Mother's Club who protested the play's language and immoral costumes, New York D.A Asa Bird Gardiner ordered Olga Nethersole, her co-star Hamilton Revelle, and two managers to be arrested on February 21.  Police closed the theatre on March 5.    Following a two-day trial, the jury spent 15 minutes acquitting her and the others.  The play reopened on April 7.

The Sapho indecency trial is a well-known step in the transition from the era of Victorian morality as it existed in America, particularly regarding attitudes toward onstage depictions of gender, intimacy and sex.  According to Olga Nethersole's 1951 obituary (NY Times), "During the Comstock era...when a public kiss on the mouth was considered an indecency...Nethersole typified the growing revolt against prudery and was a staunch advocate of women's rights and intellectual indepencence."

Some historians theorize that the authorities treated her more harshly than women appearing in other "courtesan" plays (Camille, The Second Mrs. Tanqueray) because she was a manager in addition to an actress, which upset other contemporary social norms regarding the roles of men and women.

      She served as a nurse in London throughout World War 1 and later established the
People's League of Health, for which she received the Royal Red Cross (RRC) in 1920. She combined her theatre work with health work for the rest of her life.  She was created a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBD) in 1936.

She never married but dedicated her life to the pursuit of human rights, advocating for women and their independence and giving her all to every role she chose to play.


#olganethersole #Newyorksocietyforsuppressionofvice
#anthonycomstock  #georgebernardshaw #Hamiltonrevelle
#Jedgarhoover #saphotheplay  #alphonsedaudet #clydefitch
#augustindaly  #clementscott #Britishredcross
#People'sleagueofhealth #emmagoldman #Margaretsanger

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

MARY MARTIN (Dec. 1, 1913 - Nov. 3, 1990)
From Venus to Nellie to Maria to Peter Pan

Her life was filled with adventure, heartbreak, hard work, professionalism, discipline, discovery, and an unbreakable bond with the best of show business!

Born to a prominent middle class family in Weatherford, Texas before the first world war, she became the apple of her parents' eyes.  Her family supported her in her creative endeavors, her desire to dance and sing like an angel, comedic instincts and timing and her ability to take risks.

She said that her daddy could turn her into an angel with just one look. She began singing outside the courtroom where her father worked every Saturday night at a bandstand where the town band played.  She and her sister and a friend would dress in bellhop uniforms. "Even in those days without microphones, my high piping voice carried all over the square."  She had a photographic memory as a child making it easy to memorize songs and pass her school tests. She also had a talent for mimicking famous celebrities like Ruby Keeler and Bing Crosby.  While she was at a finishing school in Nashville, she enjoyed impersonating Fanny Brice at singing jobs.
At 17 she was married to Ben Hagman and had a baby (Larry Hagman) But ultimately she  didn't enjoy being a wife. Then her sister Geraldine suggested she should teach dance.  She created her own moves imitating the famous dancers she watched in the movies. "I was doing something I wanted to do---creating."

Her father advised her that she was too young to be married.  She left her baby with her family and went to Hollywood, subsequently divorcing Ben Hagman.

In Hollywood, she had so many auditions that she became known as "Audition Mary". At one particular audition she sang "Indian Love Call" after which a tall rather craggy looking man who towered over her said he thought she had something special. Her first real encouragement came from none other than Oscar Hammerstein 11, marking the start of her career.

    In the late summer of her second year of getting the big Hollywood break, she was asked to sing on a Sunday night talent show at the famed Trocadero nightclub. She chose what she would wear and what she would sing.  For openers she selected "The Weekend of a Private Secretary" (music,
Bernie Hanighen, lyrics, Johnny Mercer). Her second number was "Il Bacio" (The Kiss) in a jazzed-up, syncopated version.  "You could have heard a pin drop,' she reports in her autobiography,"From there I began to swing the be-daylights out of it.  When I finished--- it started: shouting, whistling, calls of bravo, people standing on chairs, on tables. I knew I had made it. In ten minutes my life had changed."   Jack Benny was in the audience and invited her to a table where she met
Laurence Schwab, one of the most important producers on Broadway who was to become a friend for life. He called her, offered her a role in a new musical comedy he was planning to do and, as an afterthought, suggested she get her teeth capped.
        "All through the years young people have asked me what  makes the big break happen. I have always answered the same:  work. Work and work and work.   Be ready when the break comes. It could be one break, or forty, or a hundred and forty. I had hundreds of auditions, but I was not ready until that fateful Sunday night." (My Heart Belongs....)

     She would audition for Cole Porter, Sam and Bella Spewack (composer and book writers of the hit Leave it to Me) in which she was cast as a strip teaser who sang only one number, which became her signature song and enjoyed around the world.   My Heart Belongs To Daddy.  The show's stars included William Gaxton, Victor Moore and Sophie Tucker.  "Sophie Tucker used to watch me all the time in the wings.  Once after I had sung "Daddy" in rehearsal she came over and said, 'Kid, do you know what you're singing? Do you know what the words mean?"  I said of course but she persisted. "Do you know that Daddy is not your father?" "I know that he's a man who takes care of me." But Sophie shook her head: "But do you know what you're singing?"  I wasn't all that sure. I didn't have any idea what finnan haddie was until somebody told me it was a fish. Finally Sophie explained, "It is a naughty song, a risque song. There's one thing I want you to do. Each time you sing a lyric you don't understand, don't know exactly what you're singing, tell it to your audience. I mean like, 'If I invite a boy some night to dine on my fine finnan haddie, I just adore his asking for more, 'but, on the last line, never look at the audience. Look straight up to heaven, fold your hands, and sing 'but my heart belongs to Daddy.'"  The song became a show stopper.   Fun fact: One of the eskimos who was back up in that number was Gene Kelly in his first Broadway job.  She said that his drive and determination were boundless.

   In 1943 she starred in the new Kurt Weill musical One Touch of Venus.  After a disappointing sojourn in Hollywood where she made a few films, she returned to Broadway where she met one of the most special women in her life--Cheryl Crawford.  The show had been originally written for Marlene Dietrich, her theater debut in America.  But she decided not to do it.  She believed at first that she could not play Venus (if Ms. Dietrich was the original choice).  But when she heard the score in Kurt Weill's apartment she was hooked especially with the the song "That's Him". The renowned couturier fashion designer Richard Mainbocher was approached to design her wardrobe. He had never designed clothing for Broadway but when she sang That's Him to him he promised to do her clothes and created the color 'Venus pink', pale and glowing"as the inside of a seashell."
     When Oscar Hammerstein 11 saw One Touch of Venus, he said that the moment at the end of the musical when Venus reappears as a mortal from Ozone Heights, he wanted to write a part for the innocent, eager little girl in the white-pique blouse, pink polka-dot skirt, and matching rolled-brim hat. He wrote it too--Nellie Forbush in South Pacific was a descendant of Venus.

  On April 7, 1949 Rodgers and Hammerstein's  South Pacific, produced by Leland Hayward, directed and choreographed by Josh Logan, opened on Broadway starring Miss Mary Martin and
Mr. Ezio Pinza,  famed opera singer. She was terrified of appearing on the same stage with him.  After seeing him perform in a concert in Brooklyn she phoned Rodgers imploring him not to have them sing together. And they never did except for  "Wonder How it Feels' in counterpoint.  The score still is one of the most beautiful for the way it sounded and moved the narrative. In particular she was proud of the way she approached "I'm Gonna Wash that Man."   "Honey Bun", she recalls, was one of the most joyous moments for her.  When the curtain came down, the "audience not only refused to leave the theatre, they all stood up and crowded toward the front, shouting and clapping and calling for more, more, more."  Time magazine wrote:  "Hammerstein and Logan have contrived a shrewd mixture of tear-jerking and rib-tickling, of sugar and spice, and everything twice".  Richard Watts Jr., New York Post: "nothing I have ever seen her do prepared me for the loveliness, humor, gift for joyous characterization, and sheer lovableness of her portrayal of Nellie Forbush..Hers is a completely irresistible performance."

"Honey Bun"


Peter Pan is perhaps the most important thing, to me, that I have ever done in the theater.  I cannot even remember a day when I didn't want to be Peter. When I was a child I was sure I could fly. In my dreams I often did, and it was always the same: I ran, raised my arms like a great bird, soared into the sky, flew."

Her dear friend Jean Arthur was the first Peter on Broadway in 1950. Mary and her husband, manager, and best friend Richard Halliday were approached about a new musical version of the show.  They could pick the composer, director and choreographer. They talked a young
Jerome Robbins into staging the entire production.  Captain Hook would be played by the famed British character actor Cyril Ritchard; the flying instructor was a young Brit named Peter Foy, whose family had 'flown' all the stage Peters for fifty years.  Foy planned the whole thing like a "military campaign' making charts of stage positions, calculating what can only be called trajectories of people in midair.'
"I wish I could express in words the joy I felt in flying. I love it so. The freedom of spirit, the thing Peter always felt, was suddenly there for me.

"I have so many priceless memories of Peter Pan and his fans. There was the day Princess Grace of Monaco brought little Caroline back stage to meet me, and Caroline was so bashful she just stood, silent and big-eyed, looking up.  
The day in San Francisco when a tiny little girl got away from her parents in a theater box, which was within crawling distance of the stage, and suddenly appeared onstage. Three feet tall, all in white with a straw hat, clutching a bouquet of flowers wrapped in lace.  Everyone saw her. She looked terrified. I got down on my hands and knees and crawled across the stage to her. She backed away, so than I backed off and she came toward me. It became like a ballet, back and forth, back and forth. It was clear she longed to touch Peter, but didn't dare. Finally she came close enough to hold out the flowers, which were a little limp by then. Her tiny hand came out. I said, Thank you, little one. May I pick you up?" She shook her head but didn't say a word.  I did pick her up and carried her back to her mother and father. They asked if they could come backstage after the show and I agreed.  We started the show all over again.  Backstage that afternoon the little girl walked in, put her arms around my neck, and kissed me. When I asked what her name was, she didn't reply. She was a deaf-mute, and when she climbed out of that box and walked onto the stage it was the first thing she had ever done all by herself, with no direction.
         Such is the magic of Peter Pan.   For her, for all the thousands of other children, I made a point of never getting out of costume until they had all left the theater. So many of them came back, and it would have been too awful for them to see plain old Mary Martin standing in the dressing room.
         We used to give them all fairy dust; we must have dispensed tons of it.

THE SOUND OF MUSIC      November 16, 1959      A THIRD TONY AWARD
   In her biography My Heart Belongs..... she writes: "The Sound of Music was not a demanding show physically, except for the sheer distance I had to cover. The theater was built on two stories and had a two-story set. My main dressing room was on the second floor of the theater itself, but I also had a quick-change room on the second story of the set, and two other quick-change rooms on either side of the stage itself, in the wings. My darling Richard, who loved statistics, put a pedometer on me once and we found that I walked-ran-three miles at each performance, six miles on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
       In my whole two year run in Sound of Music I missed only one performance. That is not counting the time I almost missed the whole theater. When my car broke down, I had to get out and get a taxi. Driver asked where I was going.  I didn't know. I never knew addresses, never could remember the name of theaters.  So I said, Well, uh, wherever Sound of Music is performing, do you know where that is? He didn't . I couldn't confess I'd been playing it for two years and didn't know where the theater was, so I just said,' Let me out please', jumped into another taxi whose driver  knew where it was and he delivered me there on time."

Mary as Maria 
"Everyone in every profession has little secrets. tricks of the trade. I began to learn mine in One Touch of Venus. The walk, the rehearsal in costume. I had fifteen costume changes  and I always rehearsed in muslin copies of each costume.  I also learned that one can change one's size. Sono Osato, a young ballerina in the cast, could see I was nervous about not looking like Venus. I am only 5'4 1/2 inches and I longed to be six feet tall. Sono came to me one day and said: "you can make yourself an inch taller by the way you stand, the way you think.  Rehearse always in the highest heels you're going to wear in the show. Think tall. Keep your head up; think tall from your solar plexus up. Never relax. Stand straight, think tall. In the audience they'll think you're the tallest person they ever saw."  The high heels which helped me look tall disturbed my precious motion. They clicked. I was sure goddesses didn't click. I had tiny rubber caps put on the heels, and from that day forward I have always had rubber-capped heels in the theater. I can move freely without a distracting noise.
  I also had a gesture I did with a long scarf and while I sang I threw it around in grand, sweeping gestures.  My husband Richard complimented me on the way I threw the scarf. I didn't know what moment he was talking about, what gesture.  As a result the next time I couldn't make the scarf move. Richard was devastated and swore he would never again tell me when I did something specific that he liked.
             My close dear friend actress Janet Gaynor gave me an inspirational book she read every day, Around the Year by Emmet Fox.  There is a poem from it which I have never forgotten.
"Do not dissect things too much.  By the time you have dissected a living thing, you have killed it. And you no longer have the thing you began with.."  And she advised me when you start analyzing something, then you aren't you anymore."

Resources:  Mary Martin. My Heart Belongs. Warner Books. 1977

Mary Martin washing that man out of her hair.
Still:  South Pacific