I blogged, a couple of years ago, about finding hidden treasures inside vintage books from a second-hand bookstore. I have returned several times since then, most recently for Christmas presents, scoring an entire shopping basket of Youth Fiction (at already fabulous prices) that were reduced even more as a Buy 2/Get 1 Free sale. :)
One of the books that I purchased for myself, a first edition 1911 hardcover of George Bernard Shaw: His Life and Works by Archibald Henderson, caught my attention because it included dozens of vintage clippings and images from turn-of-the-20th-century plays and actors.
At first glance, I assumed these photos (which were pasted onto the pages) were part of the original book. Regardless, as someone who is fascinated with vintage photos, letters, and bits of people’s lives that are tucked into books and forgotten… I HAD to get this copy!
I’ll confess that I haven’t read the entire book yet; I did skim a few chapters that piqued my interest. I poured over the photographs of theatre costumes and hairstyles, obscure plays and actors, with a hunger to learn everything I could about them.
With further study, I realized that these photos and newspaper clippings were not original to the book: some of them were glued over the original text and pagination, and the pasted photos had no relevance to the chapter topic.
The title page of the book only mentions “33 illustrations, including two plates in colour, two photogravures, and numerous facsimiles in the text”. An index of the original illustrations was included as well.
Someone who owned this book had used it as their personal scrapbook of theatrical events. I began researching these clippings on Google, and discovered (via online archives) that they were from magazines and published articles dating between 1912-1918. Very cool! I love this stuff! :D
This is an excerpt from a magazine called “Theatre”, published by Meyer Bros. & Co. Whomever owned my book must have had a subscription, because clippings from the Theatre are common throughout. This is from Vol. 21, circa 1915.
The article speaks about the 1878 play “A Celebrated Case”, starring Sara Jewett as “Adrienne”. There was a writer/poet, Sarah Orne Jewett, who lived from 1849-1909. This isn’t her. But understandably people confused the two ladies, as they both lived and worked during the same era. :O)
The play also starred Charles Coghlan as “Jean Renaud”, Linda Dietz as “Valentine”, Eva French “Little Adrienne”, Margaret Cone as “Julie”, and H.W. Montgomery as “Sergeant of the Guard”.
Another article clipped from Theatre magazine, Vol 15, published in 1912, spotlights the play “Le Donne Curiose”, starring Geraldine Farrar as “Rosaura” and Hermann Jadlowker as “Florindo”.
And another celebrating “All Sorts and Kinds of Salomes” ~ published in Theatre magazine, April 1909.
Every six or seven pages, I stumble across an image of an actor or actresses that I’ve never heard of. Apparently, Google has little knowledge of them, either.
There is only one Google Image that is identified as Katherine Emmet, (1878-1960); a small thumbnail showing her as an old woman… (most likely taken during the Fifties).
I didn’t find any Google Images at all for opera singer and dancer, Lucia Fornaroll. However I did find an article mentioning Lucia in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, New York, published on Wednesday, March 8th, 1911.
“One of the pleasures of the evening was the dancing of the ballet in the triumph scene, with Lucia Fornaroll in the lead.”
Little can be found on British stage and screen actress, Renee Kelley (1888-1965), except for her short filmography.
One of my favorite photographs is titled, “Miss Maralyn Miller”. She is exquisitely beautiful, and I especially love the butterfly comb in her curls.
I can’t find any reference to her at all…. although there was a popular singer and Ziegfeld Follies star, Marilyn Miller, who performed “Look For the Silver Lining”, and starred in three films, before her premature death at 37 following nasal surgery complications. She also suffered from alcoholism. Her given name was “Mary Ellen”, which was shortened to “Marilynn”, with Ziegfeld encouraging her to drop the second “n”.
I have no idea if Miss Maralyn Miller is the same woman. You would think there would be references to her name published as “Maralyn”, but I haven’t found anything.
If Maralyn isn’t Marilyn… who is she?
Bertha Kalisch was a Yiddish actress who emigrated from Poland in 1896, and “quickly earned star status in the Jewish community” by portraying a female Hamlet, which “won praise within [the New York Yiddish Theatre] and beyond it.” ~ Women as Hamlet: Performance and Interpretation in Theatre, Film, and Fiction by Tony Howard
She followed in the footsteps of Sarah Bernhardt, who had attempted Hamlet as well, with less than stellar reviews.
“The New York Morning Journal admire Kalisch’s directness:
‘There were no airs, there were no frills. There were no poses, no struggles for elusive effect.’ She ‘got down to the solids bedrock of the idea and hammered at it.’
“Bertha Kalisch was the last of the great demotic Princess Hamlets, offering an androgynous image of intellect and daring to a new community negotiating its relationship with the dominant culture.”
~ Tony Howard, Women as Hamlet
Critic Alan Dale said of Kalisch “…she is as good as Sarah Bernhardt at Sarah’s best, but never as bad as Sarah at Sarah’s worst.”
Ouch?! Poor Sarah.
Blanche Walsh was a popular stage actress who only appeared in one Zukor film, an adaptation of Leo Tolstoy’s “Resurrection”. She reprised the role of Maslova, the prostitute, that she had played on stage. Unfortunately, today the film is lost (no copies are known to exist).
Hamilton Revelle was a handsome stage actor who transitioned to film. He was notably arrested in March, 1900, for his performance in “Sapho”, along with female co-star Olga Nethersole, and two managers.
An adapted French play about a demimondaine who falls in love outside her social class, “Sapho” was sexually charged and peppered with risqué dialogue.
“The play drew considerable notice for its suggestive scenes and the actress’s ‘diaphanous’ costumes, including one ‘so transparent that when she stood with her back to the light you could pretty well see through it'” ~ When Broadway Was the Runway: Theatre, Fashion, and American Culture by Marlis Schweitzer.
“…Conservative newspapers launched a campaign to close what they perceived to be an immoral and dangerous production.” Revelle and Nethersole were found innocent, the production continued, and audiences “erupted into spontaneous bursts of applause when the actress appeared in the see-through Greek gown, rewarding her for her legal victory.”
Margaret Illington was a popular stage actress in the early 20th century. She famously “retired” from acting in order to raise a family, although she never had any children, and her second husband encouraged her to return to the stage. She made two unsuccessful movies before retiring permanently in 1919, and observed the growing popularity of “thin” film actresses:
“If she weighs 100 pounds, she looks on the screen as if she weighs 125; the latter is a good weight for the legitimate stage, but too fat for the pictures.”
~ Margaret Illington
My second favorite portrait is of Jeanne Eagels, a talented stage and film actress, who was posthumously nominated for an Oscar after she tragically died of an accidental overdose at the age of 39; the award went to Mary Pickford.
Her co-star, Kathleen Kennedy, said, “I sincerely doubt if Jeanne Eagels really knew, in spite of her pretensions, that she was a great actress. She was. Many times backstage I’d be waiting for my entrance cue and suddenly Jeanne would start to build a scene, and [we] would look up from our books at once. Some damn thing ~ some power, something ~ would take hold of your heart, you senses, as you listened to her, and you’d thrill to the sound of her.”
Another thrilling performance, that we sadly are unable to experience, was actor Robert Mantell’s portrayal of Shakespeare’s “King John”.
A review in the San Francisco Call, on November 25th, 1913:
“Mr. Mantell’s interpretation of “King John,”‘ that trembling, impotent figure in regal robes, is fine. He imbues the character with a subtle craftiness, accentuating the baseness of this historical personage, making him a living, breathing image of cowardice and sniveling rage.”
An excerpt of New Variorum Edition of Shakespeare: The Life and Death of King John, published in 1919, gives an even more eloquent review of Mantell’s performance in its Appendix:
If pity and terror be the legitimate object of tragedy ~ touching the heart and thrilling and exalting the mind ~ Mr Mantell, assuredly, has accomplished its object.
Wonderful death scenes have, at long intervals, been shown upon our stage: those, for example, of Ristori in Queen Elizabeth; Davison in Othello; Edwin Booth in King Lear; Henry Irving in King Louis; Salvini in Conrade. The death scene of Robert Mantell’s King John is worthy to rank with the best of them. The art of it is superb. The monition of it should sink deep into every heart.”
If you think about the generations of great actors that came before the advent of motion pictures, those whose talents are lost forever (except the few who are immortalized in a few published words), it is a heavy loss indeed.
Even more so, when you consider what passes for entertainment today. :-/
In an online New York Times article, Dave Kehr writes, “It’s bad enough, to cite a common estimate, that 90 percent of all American silent films and 50 percent of American sound films made before 1950 appear to have vanished forever..”
I will attempt to locate any films starring these actors to add to my Must Watch list, while continuing to research actors from the previous century. Where Google fails me, I may find success in the dusty, overstocked shelves of my local second-hand bookstore. :)