Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Maud Allen

Maud Allan (1873-1956)

Some known facts:
  • Born 27th August 1873 - Toronto (Canada)
  • Died 7th October 1956 - Los Angeles (USA)
  • Real Name Beulah Maude Durrant
  • Daughter of William Durrant (shoemaker) and wife Isabella
  • Educated in San Francisco, studied music in Berlin, made professional debut in Vienna, gained stardom in London.
  • Recognized as a pioneer of western early modern theatre dance.
  • Changed her name from Durrant to escape from her brother's notoriety (Theodore Durrant was found guilty and executed for murdering two women in San Francisco).
  • 1908 Caused a sensation appearing in 'Salome' at the London Palace Theatre when rumors spread that she appeared completely naked beneath her flimsy costume for her provocative 'Vision of Salomé' dance.
  • 1908 Published autobiography, 'My Life and Dancing'.
  • 1918 Sued an MP for libel.
Maud Allan was born Beulah Maud Durrant in Toronto, Canada, in 1873 (she changed her name in later life to escape the notoriety which would fall upon her brother). She was the second child of William Durrant, an itinerant shoemaker, and his wife Isabella. When Maud was only five, her father moved the family to San Francisco where he had gone in search of work.

From an early age, Maud showed exceptional talents at arts and crafts which would be of great benefit to her in later life. She particularly excelled, however, in the musical arts and would go on to study to be a concert pianist at the San Francisco Grand Academy of Music.

In February 1895, aged only 22 and on the advice of her music teacher, she travelled to Berlin to complete her musical education at the Hochshule fur Musik. Barely had she arrived however, than she received the stunning news that her beloved brother Theo (full name William Henry Theodore Durrant) had been arrested for murder. Theo, a medical student, was the assistant Sunday School superintendent at the Emmanuel Baptist Church in San Francisco where two young women were found murdered. The finger of suspicion pointed at Theo and in November of that year he was tried and found guilty by a jury of his peers. He was sentenced to death and after delays for appeals was executed in January 1898. Not wishing his sister to be caught up in the sensational publicity surrounding the case Theo convinced her to remain in Europe keeping in frequent contact by letter. It must have been difficult for her to accede to her brother’s wishes and she never faltered in her own conviction of his innocence.

To support herself in Europe Maud needed to make money and with several confederates started up a corset making business, designing, sewing, and on occasion even modeling the products. She even profited from her drawing skills by contributing illustrations to a sex manual for women!

Whilst continuing her piano studies, Maud became increasingly interested in the art of dance, on which she would soon come to concentrate all of her considerable talents. She was no doubt influenced partly by Isadora Duncan who was performing in Berlin at the time but especially by a meeting with the Belgian composer Marcel Remy who encouraged her to explore her own ideas and interpretations. After building up her classical repertoire in Berlin, Maud made her professional début as a dancer in Vienna in 1903. After enjoying some initial success in Europe, Maud travelled to London in 1908 to dance 'The Vision of Salome' (for which Remy had written the music) at the Palace Theatre. Edwardian London, more conservative and morally repressed than continental Europe, was both entranced and appalled by the seductive and alluring nature of her performances. The sexual overtones of her movements, poses and costumes (many of which she designed and made up herself) shook London society to the roots, earning Maud equal measure of fame and infamy. It brought her instant fame and fortune, but by stretching Edwardian moral decency to breaking point denied her forever the artistic recognition that she most craved. She became known far and wide as 'the Salome Dancer', an epithet she hated yet would find impossible ever to cast aside.

In keeping with her new found status she rented luxurious apartments in Holford House, overlooking Regent's Park. These were for a number of years paid for by Margot Asquith, wife of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, one of Maud's many patrons and with whom she developed a close friendship.

After two years top-billing in London, Maud spent the next few years embarked upon on a series of World tours (including engagements in America, Africa, Asia and Australia), before returning home to California in 1915 to spend time with her family. Whilst back home in California she recorded her only film appearance, as Demetra in 'The Rug Maker's Daughter' - a part which reprised excerpts from some of her most famous dances.

In 1916, Maud returned to London to relaunch her career but two years later became the unwitting victim of further damaging notoriety when she became embroiled in a bizarre libel action against Independent MP Noel Pemberton Billing. Billing ran a newspaper and launched a moral attack against Maud in an editorial entitled 'the Cult of the Clitoris'. According to the social mores of the time, this was implying that Maud was a lesbian and he went so far as to suggest that she and others like her might be in the pay of German agents (war was still raging) to undermine the moral fabric of British Society. Billing successfully defended the action by blackening Maud's character through association with her brother and, farcically, by claiming that 'clitoris' was a specialist term that few outside the medical profession understood and that the fact that Maud herself did understand it only served to prove her moral degeneracy!

After the trial, Maud resumed her career but her popularity, in line with that of theatre in general, soon waned. She continued to live for a number of years in her Holford House apartments in London, for some time sharing them with Verna Aldrich, her secretary who later became her lover. She returned to California to live out her final days, and passed away in Los Angeles on 7th October, 1956.

At the height of her career Maud was an attractive and desirable young woman, as well as a lithe limbed, energetic, and talented performer. She possessed a unique grace and originality which permitted her to suit her movements most effectively to the music. Perhaps the emotional scars from the tragic loss of her brother were what gave her dancing its profoundly personal content. At times both Isadora Duncan and Ruth St. Dennis accused her of stealing their dances, but Maud always maintained that her moves were all her own creations and that she had never even taken dancing lessons. She was undoubtedly a uniquely talented performer, perhaps a little ahead of her time (for Edwardian England anyway) whose life and career were tragically marred by events over which she had little or no control.

Thanks you

1 comment:

Ken Bryden said...

Dear Kristi,
This is a fascinating account of Maud Allan, who truly was "pushing the envelope". It is always dangerous being too far ahead of the times. I would also like to compliment you on an extremely well written article, unlike so many one reads on the Internet these days.
Ken B
Vancouver BC Cda