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),"

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