Monday, April 29, 2013

Maxine Elliott

Maxine Elliott (1873-1940)

Maxine Elliott was born Jessie C. Dermott in Rockland, Maine USA on 5th February, 1873. She was the daughter of Thomas Dermott, a active sea Captain, and hia wife Adelaide (Hall). She had one sibling, a younger sister (by one year) Gertrude, who also became a celebrated actress.

Much of the sisters childhood was spent aboard a sailing ship of which their father was captain, plying the North American sea lanes. Maxine was educated at the Notre Dame Academy at Roxbury, Massachusetts, before striking out to pursue a career as an actress in New York as a tender sixteen year old. Her first professional stage appearance was in the role of 'Felicia Umfraville' in "The Middleman" at Palmers Theatre in New York on 10th November, 1890. That was with the company of the great English actor/producer Edward S. Willard, in his first US production. She remained with Willard for the next three years, touring the USA and Canada in various productions, most notably "The Professor's Love Story", one of Willard's greatest successes. She began to use the stage name 'Maxine Elliott' at the suggestion of the great actor and dramatist Dion Boucicault. Her sister Gertrude would adopt the same surname for her own stage career.
In 1893 she was at the newly opened American Theatre in New York playing 'Violet Woodmere' in "The Prodigal Daughter", and the following year joined the English actress Rose Coghlan's company touring in various plays. She was joined soon after in that company by Gertrude, and the two sisters appeared together on stage for the first time in "A Woman of No Importance" at Saratoga, Gertrude as 'Lady Stutfield' and Maxine as 'Mrs Allenby'.

Maxine was by now an established and respected performer and in January 1895 was engaged by the great theatrical impressario Augustine Daly, first appearing for him in "The Heart of Ruby" at his self-named Daly's Theatre in New York. With Daly she gained her first experience of Shakespearean roles in "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" and "A Midsummer Nights Dream". It was also with Daly's company that Maxine made her first appearance on the English stage, in the latter two plays at Daly's Theatre in London in July 1895. That direction she received from Daly and the acting experience she gained in his company refined her talents to make her one of the best young actresses of her era.

The following year she accompanied the comedic actor Nat Goodwin on a tour of Australia, and then in the USA on their return. At that point she was rejoined by her sister Gertrude and the two sisters appeared in a number of productions together during 1897, the more experienced Maxine helping her younger sister to perfect her craft.

If Maxine's professional career was by now set upon a firm course sailing upon smooth seas, her private life had set itself upon an altogether different path and her marriage to attorney George McDermott ended in 1896 when Miss Elliott's petition for divorce went uncontested. She was then engaged by Nat Goodwin to be his leading lady on a tour of Australia. Maxine had been recommended to Goodwin's manager, George B. McLellan, by Frederick Edward McKay of The Dramatic News. McLellan offered Maxine the position but when she heard of Goodwin's telegraphed response, "All right; but isn't she too tall?", she promptly declined and instead took up the offer of a leading place with a San Francisco stock company. Goodwin immediately regretted his reaction however, and followed Maxine to San Francisco where he prevailed upon her to reconsider. It cost Goodwin 2500 dollars plus the privilege of producing his plays at reduced royalties to buy out Maxines contract from the San Francisco manager, plus double the salary he had first offered for Maxine herself as well as a place in the company for her sister Gertrude. Goodwin's wife then cited Maxine as co-respondent in her divorce suit which Goodwin vehemently denied, although the couple did then become engaged following the granting of divorce, and were subsequently married on their return to America.

The Goodwin-Elliott's returned to England in June 1899 for a season at the Duke of York's in London, and scored a major success in "An American Citizen", with Gertrude Elliott against figuring prominently in the cast alongside Maxine and Goodwin. In subsequent years Maxine became a regular on both side of the Atlantic as her professional stature and reputation continued to grow - as indeed did that of her sister who enjoyed an almost equally illustrious career. In 1903 Maxine came under the management of Charles Dillingham in the USA, and it was around this time that she first came to be recognised as a headline star, particularly in her homeland (where she was always more prominent than Gertrude). As well as an accomplished actress she was an astute businesswoman who knew how to market herself. Recognised as one of the great beauties of her time, she manipulated her feminine allure to her financial advantage through sponsorship, and as a result her personal fortune grew rapidly as her career flourished. Unfortunately, she did not enjoy the same level of success in her domestic arrangements and by 1908 her marriage to Goodwin had collapsed. In other romantic entanglements, at various times, she was reputed to have been involved with some of the most iconic figures of her time, including: heavyweight boxer 'Gentleman' Jim Corbett; financier John Pierpoint Morgan (the leading industriallist of that era); baseball superstar John Montgomery Ward, even being named as co-respondent in his latters divorce; and australian tennis ace Anthony Wilding, tragically killed leading a charge in the Great War.

In 1908 she built the Maxine Elliott Theatre* on 39th Street, in the Times Square area off Broadway in New York - the first woman to build a theatre on her own account in the theatre capital of the USA. The Maxine Elliott theatre opened on December 30th 1908 with "The Chaperon". Maxine continued in management of the Maxine Elliott theatre until 1920, producing and appearing in numerous plays there, as well as continuing to tour both in England and the USA. After she quit that theatre, such was her prominence that it retained her name for as long as it continued to be a playhouse. Today, the building no longer exists. It ceased to be a theatre in 1941 when it was converted to a radio studio. It later became a television studio before it's demolition in 1956.

During the Great War of 1914-18, Maxine quit the stage to travel to France to nurse wounded soldiers. There she used her own personal fortune to equip and staff a barge to serve as a floating hospital (see my article Our Lady of the Boats). Her last stage appearance prior to this time had been as 'Zulieka' in "Joseph and his Brethren" at His Majesties Theatre in London, opening in September 1913. Although she always expressed a dislike for acting, she resumed her career for a short time after the war as her fortune had become somewhat depleted by her charity work.

Her last major stage appearance was fittingly at her own theatre, as 'Cordelia' in "Trimmed in Scarlet" from February 1920. In retirement she made her home in England and continued for some years to be a prominent figure in international society. She owned a villa on the Mediterrean coast of France where she would regularly entertain some of the best known celebrities of the time; Winston Churchill, Douglas Fairbanks, and the Duke of Windsor to name but a few. Maxine Elliott passed away at Juan-Les-Pins in France on 5th March 1940 from a heart ailment.

At the height of her career, Maxine Elliott was one of the most popular actresses of her time, particularly in the USA. She also became an icon of feminine charm and beauty representing the ideal of American womanhood. It was an image she was careful to cultivate and take advantage of, as through her marketing of 'Maxine Elliott Soap'.
Movie Credits (source
1917 - The Fighting Odds [Mrs. Copley]
1919 - The Eternal Magdalene [The Eternal Magdalene]

"Reproduced courtesy of Don Gillan (Copyright),"

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lillie Langtry

Lillie Langtry (1853-1929)

Some known facts:
  • Born 13th October 1853 - Channel Island of Jersey (UK).
  • Died 12th February 1929 - Monaco (France).
  • Real Name - Emilie Charlotte Le Breton
  • Married 1) Edward Langtry, 2) Hugo de Bathe.
  • In USA known as Lily Langtry.
  • Famously admired by notorious US lawman Judge Roy Bean.
  • One time mistress of Edward, Prince of Wales.

Lillie Langtry, birth name Emilie Charlotte Le Breton, was born in St. Saviors Parish church rectory, on the English Channel island of Jersey, on 13th October 1853. She was the sixth child (of seven) and only daughter to the Very Reverend William Corbet Le Breton, Dean of Jersey, and his wife Emilie Davis (nee Martin) who was considered a great beauty. As the only girl amongst six brothers it was perhaps inevitable that Emilie, 'Lillie' for short, would become something of a tomboy, playing boyish games and becoming inseparable from her only younger brother, Reggie. The six boys all attended the local school but Lillie received her only education at home from a French governess during, supplemented in the evenings by her brothers' tutor.

The family was highly respected locally and attended many social events so that Lillie learned to socialize in good company from an early age. When Lillie was in her early teens, her mother began to suffer from bouts of ill health, and Lillie would sometimes substitute for her at official functions where the Dean's wife was expected to appear. Consequently, she became quite adept at speaking in public to an audience considerably than herself. Having inherited her mother’s beauty, Lillie received her first marriage proposal when she was only fourteen, from a young army Lieutenant who was promptly informed she was far too young to marry. When Lillie was sixteen, her mother took her to London for her debutante season as was the practice for daughters of high ranking families. For Lillie it proved something of a shock, her Jersey manners set her apart and made her feel awkward and clumsy in London society so that she was glad when the time came to return home.

In 1873, at her brother William's wedding, Lillie met Edward Langtry, a wealthy widower who was the brother-in-law of the bride, Elizabeth Price. Within six weeks they too were married, Lillie's father performing the service. Unfortunately this created a rift between Lillie and her beloved brother Reggie who so disliked Edward that he refused to attend the wedding or to visit the couple at either of their two homes in Jersey or Southampton. Married life did not live up to Lillie's expectations, and after four years of Edward leaving her alone for long periods whilst he pursued his own interests Lillie took advantage of a bout of illness to persuade her husband that a move to London would be good for her health. She returned to London a far more assured and confident character than the young girl that had visited the capital previously, and this time she quickly found her place in London society. Her newfound happiness was marred when her beloved brother Reggie died suddenly in a riding accident, leaving Lillie devastated with grief and guilt - especially when she arrived back on the island too late to attend his funeral.

But her own was finally taking the direction she had laid out for it. In London, she became renowned for her exquisite beauty and was painted by a number of artists, including John Everett Millais, Edward Poynter and Frank Miles. Millais was responsible for the nickname by which she would be known throughout the rest of her life, entitling his portrait of her "The Jersey Lily" (after the flower that is a symbol of Jersey). Her gregarious nature and sense of humor made her the toast of the London social scene where she frequently mixed with royalty, and even began an affair with Edward Prince of Wales. In 1880 Edward Langtry, from whom Lillie was becoming increasingly estranged, was declared bankrupt and retreated into seclusion leaving Lillie to deal with the angry creditors. Her affair with Prince 'Bertie' having cooled, Lillie found solace in the arms of Prince Louis of Battenberg to whom she fell pregnant. Retreating from the public eye, Lilly returned first to Jersey then to Paris where her daughter Jeanne-Marie was born in March 1881.

Now separated from her husband, and with no means of financial support, Lillie placed her daughter in the care of her own mother and became one of the first English society women to embark upon a career on the stage. She made her debut as 'Kate Hardcastle' in "She Stoops to Conquer" with the Bancroft’s at The Haymarket Theatre on 15th December, 1881.

The following year she formed her own company to play a season at The Imperial before embarking on her first American tour. She was due to open there at the Park Theatre on Broadway and 22nd Street in New York on 30th October 1882 but the theatre was totally destroyed by fire on that very day. In spite of that inauspicious beginning, the tour was a great success and Lillie instantly became a huge favorite with the American public. She repeated the tour in each of the next five years. In 1887 Lillie adopted American citizenship and divorced her husband the same year in California.

Between those tours, back in England she proved herself a shrewd and capable theatre manageress, taking over the leases of various London theatres, including the Prince's, St James and Princesses. She also developed a passion for horses and horse racing and over the years acquired a stable of successful racehorses both in England and America (where she purchased a ranch and stud farm). This passion also led to her association with the Scottish millionaire George Baird, owner of a stable of thoroughbreds, with whom she began an affair. Baird, however, was an excessively jealous man and when Lillie went off on a shopping trip to Paris with another man he set of in hot pursuit. He beat Lillie so badly she had to spend two weeks in a French hospital and a warrant was issued for his arrest. Amazingly, Lillie refused to press charges, though Baird did recompense her for her injuries with a payment of £50,000 and the gift of a yacht.

Edward Langtry died a sad, pathetic figure in an insane asylum in Chester in 1897. He had been recently committed there after suffering a brain injury falling down the gangway of the Dublin to Holyhead steamer. Rumors were rife at the time that Lillie was about to remarry to Prince Esterhazy, but it would be another two years before she married again, and then to young Hugo de Bathe (some eighteen years her junior). Now aged forty-five, she formally retired from the stage to a small property named 'Merman Cottage' in Jersey which she would share with her new husband. Another sacrifice she made for her new husband was to give up her small stable of racehorses since he did not believe it was a fitting occupation for a lady. But when Hugo joined the British Forces shortly afterwards and embarked to fight in the Boer War in South Africa, Lillie quickly reversed her retirement, returning to America to resume her stage career.

Her popularity in America had famously brought her to the attention of the notorious Judge Roy Bean who had become infatuated with her even though they never met. Bean had written to Lillie many times inviting her to visit him in his saloon in Langtry*, Texas, and in January 1904, when her travel plans brought her nearby, she decided to take up his offer. Her arrival came too late for Bean, who had died some ten months earlier. She was warmly welcomed by the people of the small town however, and was presented with gifts of a live tarantula in a silver filigree cage, a black pet bear, a span of mules and a six-shooter. She declined the mules, but had the bear sent to her farm in California, taking with her tarantula and the six-shooter.

On the same tour a month later she narrowly escaped death as the train carrying her company was passing by the town of Terrace in Utah. As the train started down a steep gradient at high speed her private carriage jumped the rails and bumped along alarmingly for a quarter of a mile before the train could be stopped. Staying remarkably calm, Mrs. Langtry held on to a table and pledged a toast to the frightened members of her company - "Here's to the one who keeps the coolest head." Only when the danger was over did the shock overtake her and she fainted.

In 1907, Hugo inherited his father’s title becoming Sir Hugo and making Lillie Lady de Bathe. Although the marriage lasted thirty years it was no more successful than her first marriage had been, and the couple largely went their own ways. Professionally, Lillie continued her pattern of alternating American tours with spells in management in London.

Lillie remained active on the stage until 1918, making her last American tour in 1915. She spent her final years in retirement, residing with her friend and companion Mrs. Peat in a little villa she had purchased in Monaco and which she named 'Le Lys'. Lillie died in Monaco on the morning of 12th February, 1929, aged 75, from pleurisy and influenza.

In life, Lillie's private affairs had been characterized by a series of ruinous misjudgments and extraordinary turns of fortune. Both her marriages were failures and her only daughter Jeanne-Marie, who had been raised believing that Lillie was her aunt (only discovering the truth on the eve of her own wedding) would have little to do with her in later life. She had many notable lovers, all of them prominent and well connected men of the time, and could name among her friends such luminaries as Oscar Wilde and the American artist James McNeill Whistler. She took advantage of her notoriety to endorse commercial products, such as Pears soap, and even manufactured claret from her own California winery. Her race-horses won most of the major handicaps, including the Gold Cup at Ascot, and she was famously the first woman to break the bank at Monte Carlo. At its height, her personal fortune was counted in millions though most of this was gone by the time she died. It is difficult to comprehend that during such staid times one woman could command such fame and power, and without the aid of film or television become so recognizable that she was mobbed in the street. She was undoubtedly a great beauty, possessed of classic features and the diminutive waist that was considered so desirable at the time. It was this allied to her charm and wit that attracted her many rich lovers and won her the admiration of millions.

At her own request, Lillie was buried back in her beloved Jersey, her life having turned full circle as she was laid to rest in the graveyard of the same parish church in whose rectory she had been born - St. Saviors. In her will she left Mrs. Peat, her main beneficiary, the Monte Carlo villa they had shared, a lump sum of £10,000, and all of her jewellery. To her four grandchildren she left a combined total of £16,000. Numerous smaller bequests included a motor car to her maid, Mathilde, and antique furniture to the museum of St. Helier.

*The widely held belief that the town of Langtry, where Judge Bean dispensed his unique form of merciless justice, was named by him in her honor is in fact not true (the town's name pre-dates Bean and was chosen to honor an American railroad pioneer). It may very well, however, have been the name of the town that attracted Bean to choose it as his base of operations. And it is unquestionably true that he did erect a small wooden saloon there and name it 'The Jersey Lillie' in her honor (the building is preserved to this day).

"Reproduced courtesy of Don Gillan (Copyright),"

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Pauline Chase

Pauline Chase (1885-1962)

Some known facts:
  • Born 20th May 1885 - Washington DC (USA).
  • Died 3rd March 1962 - Tunbridge Wells (England).
  • Married Alexander V. Drummond.
  • Daughter of Dr. E. B. Bliss.
  • God-daughter of playwright J.M. Barrie.
  • Educated at the Convent of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in New York.
  • After commencing her professional career in her native USA, her first appearance on the English stage was as 'Sybilla' in "The Girl from Up There" at the Duke of York's Theatre on 23rd April, 1901 - she was not yet 16!.
  • Known as 'the pocket Venus of New York'.
  • 1906-1913 - Played the title role in the annual production of 'Peter Pan' at the Duke of York's Theatre.

Pauline Chase was born Ellen Pauline Matthew Bliss in Washington DC, USA, on 20th May 1885. She was the daughter of Dr. Ellis B. Bliss, and was educated at the Convent of the Sisters of the Holy Cross in Washington.

A child actress, her first stage appearance came in 1898 in "Rounders" at the Casino Theatre on New York's Broadway. This was followed by playing boys parts in a number of subsequent productions at the same theatre. She first really made her mark however, at the Herald Square Theatre on Broadway when she played 'Jeannette' in "The Cadet Girl" opening in July 1900, shortly after her 15th birthday. She had a vivacious personality and her slight physique and lustrous blonde hair endowed her with a delicate beauty which earned her the title of "The Pocket Venus of New York", and led to fashion photos of her appearing in the New York newspapers.

She then came to the attention of the great international theatrical impresario, Charles Frohman, when he opened his production of the musical play "The Girl from Up There", starring Edna May, at the Herald Square theatre in January 1901. By the time he transferred his production to the Duke of York's Theatre in London's West End in April that year, he had recruited Pauline onto the cast (as Sybilla). She was still only fifteen years of age when she made that first crossing of the Atlantic to appear on the London stage. That production was only a moderate success, but returning to the USA in September, she created a sensation as the Pink Pajama Girl in "The Liberty Belles".

She returned to London with Frohman in 1903 to appear in "The School Girls" at the Prince of Wales theatre and would remain in England for the next few years appearing in numerous productions and building upon her acting reputation. In December 1904 she was an original cast member (as the first twin) in the first ever production of J.M. Barrie's perennial favorite "Peter Pan" (with Nina Boucicault in the title role) at the Duke of York's Theatre. In 1905, whilst playing 'Columbine' in another Barrie play, "Pantaloon", she twice performed before the King and Queen in that role at Windsor and Sandringham and was singled out for special praise and the reward of a present from their majesties.

In December 1905 she was again in the cast of "Peter Pan" opening at the Duke of York’s theatre in London and then going on provincial tour. When the new Pan, Cissie Loftus, was taken ill during the tour Pauline, as understudy, stepped into the lead role. Barrie was so impressed at her performance that she would continue to be his first choice for the role until she was no longer available due to her retirement from the stage. She played the part each Christmas at the Duke of York's theatre for the next eight years, notching up around 1400 performances. In so doing she became almost synonymous with the role for which she is best remembered and which brought her considerable fame and fortune.

In the autumn of 1906 she played the lead role in Chevalier's wordless play "The Scapegoat", and the following year was a big hit in "A Little Japanese Girl" at the Duke of York's. In 1908 she played in Paris, first in "Peter Pan" at the Vaudeville then at the Theatre des Arts in Pantaloon.

By now Pauline was fully settled in England, spending much of her time when she was not performing in the Buckinghamshire town of Marlow. She so loved the town that she had her mother's body exhumed from her grave in Washington and reburied in Marlow at Holy Trinity Church. She was often visited in Marlow by her friend and mentor Charles Frohman whom she would collect from the railway station in her motor car. Pauline had become a social beauty with many famous and influential friends and admirers, and together with Frohman she mixed in the highest circles and led an extravagant lifestyle. She was reputed to have once sailed from England to New York to attend a 24 hour charity event and then immediately caught the next available ship back.

She returned to the USA in 1910 to play the title role in "Our Miss Gibbs" at the Knickerbocker theatre, in what would be her last stage appearance there. But she was soon back in England playing in "The Little Japanese Girl" at the Coliseum. In 1909, when J. M. Barrie had split from his wife it was widely reported in the press that Pauline would be his next wife, but no such event occurred. Instead, in October 1910, she announced through her manager her engagement to Claude Grahame-White, the English aviator. He took Pauline up for short flights in his machine on a number of occasions, at a time when very few people had ever taken to the air and every flight was a considerable risk. The engagement was broken off by mutual consent the following May however, when the couple announced they were not suited for each other.

Major appearances on stage over the next few years included 'Anne Whitefield' in "Man and Superman" (at the Criterion) and 'Lady Wilhelmina' in "The Amazons" (at the Duke of York's) but it was fitting that she would last be seen on stage in her best loved role of Peter Pan. When the Christmas 1913 run of Pan ended, Pauline retired from the stage to marry the affluent banker Captain Alexander Victor Drummond. The couple raised three children.

Pauline came out of retirement in 1916 to make her only film appearance in "The Real Thing at Last". The story was a satire on Macbeth written by J.M. Barrie to be performed on stage as a live benefit for the YMCA. Pauline played 'the American Witch' in a production which included numerous other great stars of the day including Gladys Cooper, Marie Lohr and Irene Vanbrugh.

Pauline's friend and mentor died tragically in May 1915 when he was a passenger aboard the steam-ship Lusitania which was sunk by a German submarine. Pauline passed away in Tunbridge Wells, England, on 3rd March 1962, some years after her husband who had died in 1937.

In the town of Marlow today there is a statue of a naked lady atop a fountain, which was erected by the district council in 1924 in memory of Charles Frohman who had forged strong links with the town. Whilst there is no hard evidence to the fact, the model for the piece is widely believed to have been Pauline Chase.

"Reproduced courtesy of Don Gillan (Copyright),"

Monday, April 22, 2013

Mary Anderson

Mary Anderson (1859-1940)

Some known facts:
  • Born 28th July 1859 - Sacramento, California (USA)
  • Died 29th May, 1940 - Broadway, Worcestershire (UK)
  • Daughter of Charles Joseph Anderson and Marie Antoinette Anderson (nee Leugers).
  • Married Antonio F. de Navarro
  • Memoirs "A few Memories" (1896), "A Few More Memories" (1936).

Mary Anderson was born in Sacramento, California, on July 28th, 1859 - the daughter of Charles Joseph Anderson and Marie Antoinette Leugers. Her mother was of German descent whilst her father traced his lineage back to England. When Mary was only six months old, the family moved to Louisville in Kentucky. When Mary was only three years old her father was killed at Mobile whilst serving in the Confederate Army, leaving her mother to raise Mary and her elder brother Joseph alone. In 1867, Mary's mother remarried, to a local doctor Hamilton Griffin who had been a surgeon in the confederate army.

Mary was educated at the Ursuline Convent and the Academy of the Presentation in Louisville and inherited an interest in theatre from her stepfather who was a keen devotee of Shakespeare. Before long Mary was reading Shakespeare and in her early teens announced her ambition to become an actress. To encourage his young charge, Dr Griffin allowed her to give recitals at their home and even arranged for her to have acting, music and elocution lessons in Louisville and in New York.

Mary made her first public stage appearance as 'Juliet' at Macauley's Theatre in Louisville on 27th November 1875, when she was but sixteen years of age. It was a hastily arranged benefit performance for an English actor of the company who had fallen upon hard times. The theatre manager, knowing of Mary's ambitions, conceived the bold idea of casting the young novice in the lead role if only she could obtain her parents’ consent. Mary was wild with delight when they agreed and only three days after the proposition was put to her, during which there was time for one rehearsal, Mary took to the stage before a packed house. The following morning the 'Louisville Courier' said this of her "...we do not think that any man of judgment who witnessed Miss Anderson’s acting of Juliet, can doubt that she is a great actress. In the latter scenes she interpreted the very spirit and soul of tragedy, and thrilled the whole house into silence by the depth of her passion and her power...We see with but little further training and experience she will stand among the foremost actresses on the stage. We are charmed by her beauty and commanding power, and are justified in predicting great future success.” Praise indeed for one so young and inexperienced.

Following this success, Mary was engaged to appear at Macaulay's for a week the following February, in "Phasio", "The Hunchback" and again as Juliet. After a short engagement at the Opera House in St. Louis, Mary accepted an offer to play in "Evadne" at the failing St. Charles theatre in New Orleans. The first night the house took only 48 dollars, by the end of the week it was standing room only and takings had risen to 500 dollars! That earned her an engagement at The Varieties in New Orleans, playing Meg Merrilies, a part long identified with the great southern actress Charlotte Cushman. This time the press assayed that Mary had outstretched her reach and confidently predicted failure. Mary's confidence never wavered however, and the first night closed to a rousing ovation. So great was her success, that when the time came to return to Louisville she found to her astonishment that the railway company had provided a special train, complete with luxury carriage, just for her! Almost overnight, the beautiful young girl had become the darling of New Orleans.

After a short period back with her studies, Mary returned to New Orleans for a second successful and profitable engagement. She next appeared in San Francisco where, unaccountably, the press and public were as cruel to her as those in New Orleans had been kind. Mary returned home dispirited and down heartened, but her spirit was indomitable and she soon resolved to start over, taking an engagement with a small band of touring players. Obscurity did not last long however, by the end of the year she had been offered a starring position with John T. Ford's touring company. As Mary had not yet reached her majority, her mother, step-father and even her brother travelled with her, for which she was no doubt grateful since most of the company, jealous of the prominence given to the untried youngling, refused even to talk to her.

After achieving great success in the Southern and Western states, Mary made her debut before the more critical audiences of the Eastern states at Pittsburg, during the furor of the Presidential election in 1880. Soon after, she came to Boston where she was to appear as Evadne in the vast 4000 seat Boston theatre, and where one single day of matinee and evening performance reaped the enormous of 7000 dollars! On 12th November, 1877, she opened for the first time in New York, in "The Lady of Lyons" at the Fifth Avenue Theatre. Again she was a great success, and the engagement was extended from two weeks to six.

The following year she played another season at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, then in the summer of 1879 embarked on her first visit to Europe. The trip was essentially a pilgrimage; she did not yet dream she was good enough to appear on the stages of Europe, the cradle of the craft she loved so well. In England she visited Stratford-upon-Avon to kneel by Shakespeare's grave, whilst in Paris she met and conversed with Sarah Bernhardt at the Theatre Francaise. Back in America, the next few years brought successful tours of the USA and Canada.

Twice she turned down invitations to appear in London before finally accepting an engagement to play 'Parthenia' in "Ingomar" at the Lyceum opening on 18th September, 1883. Unusually, she was stricken with nerves and almost overcome with dread of failure, but on first night she found her dressing room bedecked with floral offerings and telegrams of support from greatest actors from both sides of the Atlantic. The warmth with which she was received when the curtain rose dispelled any last fears and again she was a brilliant success. The theatre-goers of London flocked to see her and night after night she played to a full house. During one of those early performances she received a note from the Prince and Princess of Wales that they wished to be introduced to her, and so duly at the end of the third act on her stepfather's arm she presented herself in the anteroom of the royal box. Their highnesses were so taken with her beauty that they recommended her as a model to Count Gleichen, an accomplished sculptor. Whilst in London she developed a close friendship with Lord Lytton and had dinner with Tennyson.

When she toured the provinces she set new records for receipts at many of the theatres at which she played, and met with such success in England that she remained for some five years. W.S. Gilbert wrote "Comedy and Tragedy" especially for her (opening at the Lyceum on 26th January, 1884) and in 1887 toured in "A Winter's Tale", in which she was the first actress to double in the parts of 'Perdita' and 'Hermione'. Returning to the USA in November 1888, she produced "A Winters Tale" at Palmer's Theatre in New York, repeating her success in England. The following March however, she fell gravely ill from nervous exhaustion, which forced her to disband her company and cancel all her upcoming engagements.

In April 1889 she returned to Europe to rest and recuperate, and was never again seen on the professional stage. On June 17th, 1890, she married Antonio F. de Navarro at St. Mary's Chapel, Holly Place, and Hempstead in England. The couple then settled at Court Farm, Broadway in Worcestershire where they raised two sons. Many theatrical managers tried to persuade Mary to return to the stage, but all to no avail. In 1896, prominent editor and publicist Edward Bok prevailed on Mary to write the first installment of her memoirs, "A Few Memories", and later she co-operated with Robert Hichens in co-authoring the play-script of his book "The Garden of Allah". Just before the outbreak of the Great War she revisited her homeland to assist in the staging of that play, and during the war made a few charitable appearances, the only occasions on which she returned to the stage. In 1936 she published her second volume of memoirs, "A Few More Memories". Mary died at her home in Worcestershire on 29th May, 1940 (eight years after the death of her husband).

At the height of her career she was the most prominent actress in the USA and one of the leading lights in England also. Despite her fame and success, she never forgot her origins and throughout her career was renowned for her generosity to those less fortunate than herself. One Christmas, whilst in London, when she learned that funds were lacking to provide a Christmas dinner for the waifs and strays of Seven Dials she reached into her own pocket to provide an old-fashioned English dinner for three hundred underprivileged children. Today, she is remembered in the USA through the work of the Mary Anderson Center for the Arts, which is located at Mount St. Francis, a Franciscan Friary and Retreat Center, on lands which Mary donated to the friars.

During her career, Mary was known for the great power she possessed over the lower tones of her rich voice. She was, undoubtedly, a great actress, and one of the greatest tragediennes ever to appear on the stage.

Thank you

Friday, April 19, 2013

Lily Elsie

Lily Elsie (1886-1962)

Brief details:
  • Real Name Elsie Cotton.
  • Born 8th April 1886 - Leeds area, Yorkshire (England).
  • Died 16th December 1962 - St Andrew's Hospital, London (England).
  • Married Ian Bullough.
  • Was a child star known as "Little Elsie".
  • Niece of actor/manager Wilfred Cotton (husband of actress Ada Reeve).

Lily Elsie was born on 8th April 1886, probably in or near the Wortley district of Leeds in the county of Yorkshire in the North of England (records are conflicting on this). She was the daughter (possibly step-daughter) of theatre manager William Thomas Cotton and his actress wife Elizabeth. She was also the niece of Wilfred Cotton, who married actress Ada Reeve.

Growing up in the Salford/Worsley region of Lancashire where her father was working, theatre was in her blood from the start and as child star known as 'Little Elsie' she appeared in many music hall productions in the Manchester area. She gained her first lead at the age of ten when she played the title role in the pantomime 'Little Red Riding Hood' at The Palace in Manchester.

As she grew older her acting career took her further afield, eventually arriving in the capital where she became a chorus girl at Daly's Theatre in the West End. By now she had adopted the stage name by which she would become famous - Lily Elsie.

It nearly did not happen however, a moment of petulance led to her falling foul of the famous theatrical producer and manager of Daly's George Edwardes who summarily dismissed her for insubordination. On discovering she was still out of work some time later however, Edwardes relented and took her back to play small parts in his many productions. Nor was his faith unrewarded, though still in her teens she soon began to attract attention.

When Edwardes found himself unexpectedly in need of a leading lady for a hurried production of 'The Merry Widow' to fill a gap in The Daly's schedule it was Lily he turned to. Taking Lily to Berlin to see a production of the piece almost proved a mistake when Lily was so overawed by the performance of the German lead Mizzi Gunther that she doubted her own ability to take on the part. With no-one else available however, and needing to begin rehearsals immediately, Edwardes eventually prevailed upon Lily to play the role and overnight a star was born.

The stop-gap production became a huge success which would run for over 700 performances. From the opening, Lily's dazzlingly beautiful features and strong singing voice made her the talk of London and the costumes, particularly the hats, started a new fashion. A string of successful roles followed as well as photographic and advertising contracts that made hers one of the best known, and most loved, faces in England.

For all of that, Lily remained always a private individual, painfully shy and unsure of herself off-stage, and never comfortable with her fame and resulting public exposure. Nor was she physically strong. Lily had been plagued by illness as child and as an adult the stresses of her situation and heavy physical demands of her profession led to her constantly complaining of fatigue. In fact she missed so many performances that some began to call the 'the occasional actress'.

In 1911 she married Ian Bullough, the son of a millionaire textile manufacter from Accrington in Lancashire. The wedding at All Saints Church, Ennismore Gardens in London on 7th November was a grand affair following which the couple honeymooned in Paris. The marriage was not a success however, over the years her husband was alleged to have had serious problems with alcoholism, and although it lasted almost twenty years (with some periods of seperation) it finally ended in divorce in 1930.
On stage, after playing the titular role in the play 'Pamela', which ended its run at The Palace Theatre in May 1918, Lily retired from the spotlight for a period of some nine years. Her triumphal return was in 'The Blue Train' which opened at The Prince of Wales Theatre in March 1927. The following year she opened in her last ever stage role playing leading lady to Ivor Novello in his own light comedy play 'The Truth Game'. Playing alongside Lily fulfilled a personal ambition for Novello who had long been her admirer (and kept a portrait of her on his piano). The show opened at The Globe but after a brief tour ended its run at Daly's where Lily's professional career had begun. So perhaps it was doubly fitting that this should be her final curtain call.

In later life Lily's health deteriorated further. She spent much time in nursing homes and Swiss sanitoria, and her moods and quarrelsome nature led to her becoming increasingly alienated from her friends and family until ultimately all had deserted her. Fortunately, her financial position was such that she could afford a high standard of care as well as her future security being assured. Later, brain surgery improved both her psycholigical and physical health and her last years were spent in anonymous contentment at St Andrew's Hospital in London. Lily Elsie died aged 76 on 16th December 1962.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Mrs. Brown Potter

Mrs Brown Potter (1857-1936)

Brief facts:
  • Born 5th May 1857 - New Orleans (USA).
  • Died 12th Feb 1936.
  • Maiden Name Mary Cora Urquhart.
  • Daughter of Colonel David Urquhart
  • Married James Brown-Potter
  • One of the first American society women to take to the stage.
  • Raised money for war charities during the boer war.
  • 1904 Became manager of the Savoy (resulted in bankruptcy).
  • 1912 Retired from the stage.

Mary Cora Urquhart, her given name, was born in New Orleans on 15th May, 1859. She was the eldest of a clutch of beautiful daughters born into the well-to-do family of Colonel David Urquhart and his wife Augusta (Slocomb).

Raised in New Orleans and educated privately, Cora married the rich New York coffee broker James Brown Potter on 7th December 1877, when she was only eighteen years of age. She gave birth to her only child, daughter Anne (Fifi) Urquhart Potter, two years later on 14th November 1879. Following her marriage, Cora rapidly became one of the most popular and influential members of the New York social set, always in demand at parties because of her talent at recitations with which she would entertain the guests after dinner.

She first came to England in the summer of 1886 in the company of her husband and was introduced to the Prince of Wales (Edward VII to be) at a court ball. Taken with her beauty, the Prince invited the Brown-Potters to Sandringham for the weekend and they duly obliged. When James asked the prince what he should bring to wear, the Prince referred him to his tailors recommending a short jacket that he himself preferred to a full tailcoat for informal dinners. James followed the Prince's advice, and when he returned to the USA he wore the jacket at his club in Tuxedo, where other members admired the practicality and began to copy it. A little while later some members of the club caused quite a stir in New York wearing the jacket to dinner at Delmonico's. Other diners were informed that this was what was worn to dinner in Tuxedo these days. The fashion caught on as did the name and that, as the story goes, is how the American Tuxedo was born.

When James returned to the USA however, he did so alone, Cora remained in England. She had long harboured a desire to be an actress and abandoned her husband to follow her heart. Acting in those days was not the disreputable profession it had once been, but still it was no vocation for a woman of wealth and standing. Had they remained together, her husband would never have allowed it. She made her professional stage debut at the Theatre Royal in Brighton, appearing as 'Faustine de Bressier' in "Civil War" in March 1887. Later that month she made her London debut as 'Ann Sylvester' in the inaptly (under the circumstances) titled "Man and Wife" at The Haymarket. That was followed be a return to her role in "Civil War", this time at the Gaiety, where she stayed on to play 'Inez' in "Loyal Love".

She returned to America in October 1887 in company with Harold Kyrle Bellew, to play in "Civil War" at the Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York. It was to be the beginning of a long and successful partnership with the British Lancashire-born actor. They would be joint stars together almost uninterruptedly for the next ten years, playing during that time in England, America, Australia, China and India. Among her roles were 'Juliet' in "The Lady of Lyons", 'Kate' in "She Stoops to Conquer", 'Rosalind', 'Cleopatra', 'Francillon', 'Camille' and 'Floria' in "La Tosca", 'Hero' in "Hero and Leander" and the title roles in "Francillon" and "Charlotte Corday".

She had made London her home and had very quickly become the same social success there that she had been in New York. She ran with a crowd of the rich and famous and could count among her friends such luminaries as the Prince of Wales and Robert Browning. In 1887 she had published a book entitled "My Recitations", being a collection of poems she presented in recitals. In the foreword she states "Having received many requests for copies of my recitations, it has seemed to me they would be best answered by gathering and publishing them under one cover". She had a socail conscience also, and during the Anglo-Boer war of 1899-1902 she helped to raise money for war charities for the care of the victims.

Cora parted from Bellew in 1898 to join Beerbohm Tree at Her Majesty's Theatre, appearing there in November as 'Miladi' in "The Musketeers", and staying on to play 'Oliver Arnison' in "Carnac Sahib". She rejoined Bellew to appear in "The Ghetto" at The Comedy in September 1899 before he took a years absence from the stage to go gold-mining in Australia (from whence he returned with a fortune). In April 1901 she played the title roles in "Nicandra" at The Avenue, and "Mrs Willoughby's Kiss" at the Theatre Royal Brighton. She then rejoined Tree at The Haymarket to play 'Calypso' in "Ulysses". Over the next couple of years she appeared in "For Church or Stage" in Yarmouth, and "Forget-me-not" and "Cavalleria Rusticana" at the King's Hammersmith.

She next entered into theatre management taking over the lease of The Savoy where she opened in September 1904 with "The Golden Light". In November 1904 she appeared with Tree at Windsor Castle in a command performance of "A Mans Shadow". Other plays she produced (and starred in) at The Savoy included revivals of "Forget-me-not", "Cavalleria Rusticana", and "For chuch or Stage", and new productions of "Pagliacci" and "Du Barry". Unfortunately her tenure there was not a success. The theatre, which had been the home of Gilbert and Sullivan's wonderful comic operettas had been in decline since the break-up of their partnership.

On parting from The Savoy, she toured in various music halls playing in "Mary Queen of Scots and the Murder of Rizzio". In 1907 she toured South Africa, and in subsequent years toured the English provinces in various plays including "Lady Frederick", "The Devil" and "Madame X". After returning to America in 1911 she made her last appearance on the London stage performing the Prologue to "Buddha" at the Court theatre from February 1912. She then entered into retirement living with her mother, whom she had brought to England, in a stone house at Staines on the Thames which had once been a lodge of Windsor Castle. She made only one further stage appearance, in a benefit production at St. Julians, Guernsey, in February 1919. She died on 12th February, 1936.

A late starter on the stage, Cora still enjoyed a stage career that lasted some twenty years. She sacrificed much for her chosen profession, leaving behind not only her husband but her seven year-old daughter. Although her husband divorced her in 1903 she continued to use for her stage name her marital nom-de-plume of 'Mrs Brown Potter'. Was this because she still felt a connection to her husband? Or was using his family name for a career of which disapproved a last thumbing of the nose at her his snobbery? As a woman she was a great beauty and exceedingly charming. As an actress she was a competent practitioner of her craft without ever really reaching the heights of true greatness.

 Thank you to Stagebeauty.Net

Monday, April 15, 2013

Maud Allen and Controversy

Throughout her career Maud Allan was no great stranger to controversy. The sensuousness of her dancing and the flimsy costumes she wore, whilst making her immensely popular in most quarters, frequently led to outrage in others. Nor was her private life exempt from such tribulations, she was no stranger to the justice system and was involved in a number of court cases, some of which had a major effect on her life. The first of these cases did not actually involve Maud directly but nevertheless was the one which had by far the most profound effect.

The Trial of William Henry Theodore Durrant
Theodore Durrant was Maud Allan's brother with whom she was very close. His sensational trial for murder was the reason why Maud changed her surname from Durrant to Allan - ie. to escape the notoriety that became associated with the former (although this was done as a career necessity and not from shame - throughout her life Maud never wavered in her conviction of her brothers innocence). The events surrounding the case unfolded as follows:
On April 3rd, 1895, Blanche Lamont, an attractive young woman of approximately twenty years of age, disappeared and was never seen alive again. She was a quiet girl who lived alone with her aunt, and prior to her disappearance had devoted herself to church work at the Emanuel Baptist church on Bartlett Street in San Francisco. Nine days after Blanche's disappearance another young woman, Minnie Williams, left her home to attend a meeting of the Young Peoples Society and failed to return. The following morning her strangled and mutilated body, stripped almost naked, was discovered in the library of the Emanuel church. The following day the police conducted an extensive search of the premises eventually reaching the belfry where the body of the missing Blanche Lamont was finally discovered. The body was totally naked, and red fingermarks around her throat testified to her also having been strangled. Her clothes were recovered at the scene, together with her school books which showed that she had never made it home on the day she went missing.

Theodore Durrant, the church librarian and an officer of the Sunday school, was known to have been friendly with the murder victims and witnesses placed both girls in his company when they were last seen alive. Consequently, the police promptly arrested him on suspicion of murder. He seemed an unlikely murderer. A prominent young man in the city, medical student, devout Christian and president of the Young Peoples Society. The evidence against him was largely circumstantial but compelling. On the day that Blanche disappeared he was seen approaching the church in the company of a young woman resembling Blanche Lamont. Another witness placed him inside the church later that same day descending from the church tower (where Blanche's body was subsequently found) looking pale and sick. More damningly, Adolph Oppenheim, proprietor of a pawn shop, identified Durrant as the man who had attempted to pawn certain rings missing from the dead girl's hands. Worse, the rings were subsequently returned to Blanche's aunt in a package which also contained a paper on which was found Durrant's name and address. No motive was ever put forward for Blanche's murder, although in Minnie's case she had professed knowledge that Blanche had been murdered following her disappearance, thus raising the possibility that she may have been murdered to keep her quiet. In fact Durrant was never charged with Minnie's murder, the authorities proceeded with the case for murder against Blanche alone as being the strongest.

Theodore DurrantAccording to Theodore's own testimony, he left his home on the morning in question to visit that of church organist George King. On the way he met Blanche Lamont and, at her suggestion, accompanied her to her school before continuing on himself to Cooper College. He remained at the college all day apart from two half hour intervals, leaving after the last lecture at around four-fifteen. He named two students with whom he had conversed after noon and produced the notes he had taken in the afternoon lecture. On leaving the college he went to the church in order to repair the vibrator on the electrical apparatus connected to one of the sunburners. It was for this reason that he had been on the upper floor of the church on the day of Blanche's disappearance, and the odor of gas from the sunburner that had made him nauseous. He denied being with Blanche at or near the church on that day, or of having any involvement in her murder or the attempted pawning of her rings.

Durrant's attorneys, led by Eugene Duprey, attempted to place suspicion on Reverend J. G. Gibson, pastor of the church, as an alternate suspect in the case, since a chisel linked to evidence found in the church was itself found in his toolbox, and the lettering on the paper which enclosed Blanche's returned rings matched his handwriting. The defence also raised serious questions as to the eye-witness identifications that were the crux of the evidence against Durrant - including that of an elderly woman with notoriously poor eyesight. But it was all to to no avail. On November 1st, 1895, after a trial lasting over three months, during which time the jury were taken to view the scene of the tragedy, Theodore Durrant was found guilty of murder and sentenced to death.

Durrant was scheduled to be hanged on February 21st 1896, but the persistent efforts of his attorneys postponed his execution for almost two years, and included a sensational late bid for his freedom when a confession was brought forward from seaman John Rosenberg that he was in fact guilty of the crime. Rosenberg's confession was, however, discredited since the ship which brought him to San Francisco, according to records, did not arrive until sometime after the murder. Theodore Durrant was hanged in San Quentin prison at 10:30 on the morning of January 7th, 1898. He maintained his innocence to the very end and his jailers, without exception, praised his poise and calmness when he went to the gallows.

Whilst the evidence against Durrant does seem to have been fairly convincing, it was by nature entirely circumstantial, and to modern eyes seems a little thin to take a man's life. At her brothers behest Maud had remained in Europe throughout the duration of the trial. It's outcome was to cost her not only a beloved brother, but also her best friend.
The next case was a civil hearing that Maud herself instituted against a fellow dancer attempting to steal the credit for her signature dance.

Miss Maud Allan and Palace Theatre Ltd v Birmingham Hippodrome Ltd and Miss Maud Dennis
In the Spring of 1908 Maud Allan was visiting Birmingham, with a view to planning a performance in that city, when she noticed an advertisement for the Hippodrome theatre which she very much took objection to. The theatre was planning to produce a review featuring South American dancer Maud Dennis and had advertised that lady's performance in words that claimed she was the creator of the "Salome dance" that was "the rage of London." Miss Allan, who was the true creator of that dance, and the Palace Theatre in London, where she was performing, immediately instituted legal proceedings and on May 18th obtained an injunction preventing the defendants from continuing those claims in their advertising. Later that year the Hippodrome company settled with the defendants by paying £130 and consenting to the injunction being made perpetual. The case then continued against Miss Dennis alone, being heard by Mr. Justice Hamilton in the King's Bench Division in March 1909. Miss Dennis failed to attend or send representation and consequently her defence was struck out. Miss Allan's counsel then informed the judge that Miss Allan and the Palace Theatre were willing to forego their claim for damages and asked instead that the injunction against Miss Dennis be made perpetual. Accordingly, Justice Hamilton entered judgement against Miss Dennis for a perpetual injunction with costs.

In the third case Maud was named as the Defendant. This case had little consequence on her life, being nothing more than a nuisance and inconvenience for Maud. But occurring, as it did, at the height of her career and popularity ensured it would receive embarassing media coverage.

Miss Julia Surmont v Miss Maud Allan
In Kansas City on April 1st 1910, Maud Allan was sued for assault by Julia Surmont, a maid whom she had engaged in London. Miss Surmont alleged that Miss Allan had slapped her soundly several times about the face and was seeking 1000 dollars in damages for injured feelings, as well 225 dollars in unpaid earnings. The claim for damages was subsequently withdrawn when Miss Allan agreed to pay the latter amount if full.

The fourth court case saw Maud again as the Plaintiff this time at odds with a British Member of Parliament - himself no stranger to controversy having once had to be forcibly removed from the House of Commons where he was disrupting proceedings.

Miss Maud Allan v Noel Pemberton Billing (MP)
In London in May 1918 Maud filed a suit for criminal libel against Noel Pemberton Billing, Member of Parliament for East Hertfordshire and editor of the periodical "Vigilante". Her complaint arose from an objectionable headline in "Vigilante" which maligned her character in reference to a private performance of "Salome". The article in question read as follows:
The Cult of the Clitoris
To be a member of Maud Allan's private performance in Oscar Wilde's Salome one has to apply to a Miss Valetta of 9 Duke Street, Adelphi, W.C. If Scotland Yard were to seize the list of these members I have no doubt they would secure the names of several thousand of the first 47,000.

Not only did the article dare to publicly suggest that Miss Allan was a lesbian, sufficient in itself to warrant a prosecution for criminal libel at the time, it also aligned her with persons said to be involved in promoting propaganda sympathetic to the German cause in the ongoing war (the 47,000 alluded to a supposed list of such individuals).
The case was conducted in a blaze of publicity as a result of two sensational turns of events. Firstly, Maud was forced to admit on the stand that she was the sister of Theodore Durrant, a convicted murderer, a fact which until then she had largely succeeded in keeping hidden. Then, in a bizarre turn, Pemberton, who defended himself, was permitted to introduce into evidence all manner of self-serving and irrelevant matter - including serious imputations against many of the leading social and political figures of the time, including even the judge who was hearing the case, Mr Justice Darling, himself.

These stemmed primarily from the alleged existence of a 'Black Book', supposedly compiled by the German Secret Service, wherein were contained the names of 47,000 persons who were addicted to high vices and therefore susceptible to blackmail. Despite no copy of this book ever being introduced into evidence, Pemberton and several of his witnesses were permitted to ascribe unthinkable vices to numerous leading figures present and past, named in open court, without any shred of actual evidence in support of such claims or any opportunity for those thus impugned to defend their good names. Amongst those named were former British Premiere Herbert Asquith, Viscount Haldane, and Justice Darling himself.

That the case was grossly mismanaged by Justice Darling is beyond dispute. Whether he should even have continued to hear the case when he himself was impugned by the so called 'evidence' for the defence is a serious question in itself. Worse, the defendant was allowed to derail the proceedings to the extent that the action brought by Miss Allan, and which ought to have been the sole concern, was effectively relegated to the background and almost completely forgotten in the wash of sensationalism and irrelevancy that overwhelmed it. The extent to which Billing was permitted to suborn the proceedings can be no better demonstrated than by the following extract from the court transcript:

Judge to Billing (referring to a book Billing has introduced into evidence): "You ask if one of the photographs here is her brother. Are you bound to ask this question"
Billing: "I deeply regret I shall have to call evidence, to prove the exact influence that the case in that book has to bear generally. I shall have to prove the matters referred to in that book and that cases are hereditary, that in some case the victims give expression to their vice at great personal risk culminating in some instances in their execution for murder."
 (for Miss Allan) objected to the question, which he said was very cruel.
Judge to Counsel: "It is not a question whether it is cruel or not. Have you any legal objection to it"
Counsel: "Anything that happened to a brother can have no bearing on this case"
Judge: "But Mr. Billing says he is going to show this is hereditary. He said he is going to show this is the kind of thing that would be done by a family that had such hereditary instincts. I cannot exclude the question, though Mr. Billing must understand it may, because of their secrets, have terrible consequences for the witness and if the verdict of the Jury is against him some of those consequences may fall upon her".
Billing to Miss Allan: "I regret having to put it to you Miss Allan: You are the sister of William Henry Theodore Durrant"
Miss Allan
Billing: "Was your brother executed in San Francisco for murdering two young girls"
Miss Allan: "Yes."
Billing: "What was the crime?"
Miss Allan: "You have said what the crime was."
Judge Darling: "For the murder of two young girls?"
Miss Allan: "Yes."
Billing: "Were these bodies found in the belfry of a church?"
Miss Allan: "I do not know.

To permit into evidence that the morality of one family member could be ascribed to all others by dint of 'hereditary instinct' is, by modern day thinking at least, thoroughly outrageous. Even as a point of law, Counsel's objection to this evidence was well founded and should have been upheld at the outset. To allow the evidence on Billing's claim that he would 'show' that such matters as it referred to were hereditary were improper - grounds for evidence should be established before it is admitted, even more so when the Judge by his own words acknowledges that the evidence is prejudicial to either party far beyond its evidentiary value. At the very least proceedings should have been adjourned for Billings to establish justification for his 'evidence' before the judge in camera. Although civil courts are not as tightly bound by rules of evidence as criminal ones, to entrust Billings to establish justification for his evidence after its admission was ludicrous, since it would then be too late if it was found to be improper. In fact, at no point did Billing even attempt to 'show' (ie. produce evidence) that such moral turpitude was hereditary, he merely claimed it as a fact on his own unsubstantiated cognizance, and a weak and ineffective Judge permitted him to do that.

As for the supposed 'black book', Billings was forced to admit that he had never seen it himself and his proof of its existence rested entirely on the testimony of two witnesses of highly questionable character. The first, Harold Spencer, was a young itinerant American with a history of mental illness. The other, Mrs. Villiers-Stewart, was a self-confessed bigamist who claimed she was shown the book by two British officers. The latter could not be called upon for corroboration as they subsequently died in the war - murdered, she claimed, by their own men because of their knowledge of the books contents.

The allegations that were allowed to be made in open court were so wild, and the so called 'evidence' so bizarre and insubstantial, that there is little wonder that the Newspapers at the time branded Justice Darling "a weak Judge", and trumpeted that "the Judge has completely lost his head." The Times observed that "the real objection against him is that his conduct was inconsistent. He sometimes relaxed the rules of evidence, and sometimes enforced them strictly. He permitted names to be mentioned without admitting the right of reply."

When the jury acquitted Pemberton of the specific charge against him, of maligning Miss Allan, he hailed the result as a judicial vindication of his moral stance against the degeneracy of those against whom his vitriol had been directed. That the jury acquitted him at all was probably due less to any understanding of the case than to Billing's consistently playing upon patriotic fears that certain high powered individuals were sapping England's resolve to prosecute the war. Even at that late stage in the hostilities there was little sign of Germany's imminent collapse and it appeared the Allies might even lose. Although Billing withdrew any imputations against Miss Allan and the judge in his final address stated that "Miss Allan leaves this court without a stain upon her reputation." it was never-the-less a humiliating defeat for her.

Maud was understandably bitter over the outcome. Spending more than four hours in the witness box, cruelly tortured by Billings interrogation over painful matters that held no relevance to the case, she felt more the accused than the victim of an unjustified personal attack. In all, Miss Allan had good reason to be distrustful of the judicial systems on both sides of the Atlantic, on one side it had unfairly (in her mind at least) taken away her beloved brother, on the other it had pandered to an enemy who had unjustly sullied her reputation.

Thank you for this article courtesy of Don Gillian.