Author Archives: Monomania

About Monomania

Avid, if haphazard, collector of postcards and information about women in the Music Hall. Easily diverted by new themes. Today male impersonators, tomorrow long boot dancers.

Talk on ‘The Art of Music Hall and Variety’

Not to be missed!

Music Hall Alice

The Art of Music Hall

On Wednesday 9th October 2019, I will be giving a talk at The Water Rats, 328 Grays Inn Road, London WC1X 8BZ on ‘The Art of Music Hall and Variety.’  No surprises to hear that Walter Sickert will pop up as well as Laura Knight, Maggi Hambling and Alfred Concanen. And ‘AB’, Alfred Bryan, my favourite caricaturist of the period is likely to feature.  I am sure I won’t be able to resist slipping in a few family references – maybe some Daisy Dormer sheet music.

This talk is part of the British Music Hall Society’s monthly ‘In the Limelight’ talks where some aspect of entertainment from the past is explored. All are welcome and you don’t have to be a member of the Society to attend.

Tickets can be purchased in advance via TicketSource, link here:

https://www.ticketsource.co.uk/whats-on/328-grays-inn-road-camden/the-water-rats/the-art-of-music-hall/2019-10-09/19:30/t-doodjo

If you aren’t organised enough to pre-book, there will be tickets available…

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Vaudeville’s happiest girl

Jen Latona, real name Emma Jane Letty Carter, was born in 1881 in Birmingham. By the age of sixteen she was appearing in music halls under the name of Jennie Gabrielle. In January 1896 the Hull Daily Mail commented on her appearance at Hengler’s describing her as ‘the child musician, who possesses a singularly sweet and mellow soprano voice’. We learn from a review of her performance at the Palace Theatre in Edinburgh that she sang humorous songs and accompanied herself on the piano and concertina.

Jennie married an American performer twenty-five years her senior, born Benjamin Franklyn Titus, whose stage name was Frank Latona. Jennie Gabrielle became Jen Latona. Frank performed as a tramp musician, playing the trombone and a one-stringed fiddle, and included various effects in his act which he constucted himself. In a handwritten pencil note on a scrap of paper Frank reminds himself to ‘make whiskers to blow out and curl up – air pumps and rubber tube’.

Frank Latona

Jen and Frank worked together as a double act with music, song, gags and repartee. In the archive of their work, presented to the Mayor of Lambeth by Jen Latona in her retirement, can be found handwritten sheets of ‘gags’, while jokes were often constructed from cut out newspaper articles. A handwritten notebook of sketches and gags contains this gem – ‘Why, that is the meanest man you ever saw. He is so mean he goes to the track and makes faces at the engineers so they will throw coal at him’. Newspaper personal ads were fair game too, with ‘Two girls want washing’ setting the standard. The couple performed extensively in New Zealand and the United States scribbling down material for their act on hotel notepaper and receiving offers of new songs from American songwriters.

Margaret Cooper

When Frank Latona retired, Jen became a successful solo performer. She was on the bill with Vesta Tilley at the opening of the Croydon Hippodrome and was described as an ‘entertainer of exceptional merit’ to be compared with Margaret Cooper, a classically trained pianist who moved over to the music hall. However the writer quickly explains that Miss Cooper’s songs are of quite a different nature but that Jen is ‘a turn quite above the ordinary found at the halls’. Jen composed much of her stage music and the sheet music of the day shows she had a prolific repertoire with such songs as I’m going to buy you the R.I.N.G. and You can’t blame a Suffragette for that.

Frank died in 1930 and Jen retired a few years later. She lived in Streatham in London and when she died in 1955 her home and possessions were put up for auction, including a Schrieber grand piano and a souvenir programme of Sarah Bernhardt at the London Coliseum in 1913. The proceeds of the sale went to the Variety Artists Benevolent Fund.

Frank had a genius for mechanical invention and invented and patented the Ednor Tank Washer. Of more interest to music hall fans here is a drawing in Frank’s hand of the workings of a dog to be used in an act with a mule.

We’ll leave the Latona’s with a final joke. ‘You are the most ignorant man I ever saw. Why, only yesterday I saw you giving hot water to the hens to make them lay hard-boiled eggs’. I hope you hear the echo of laughter.

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive and Lambeth Archives. Images Monomania.

Jolly Katie Lawrence

Katie Lawrence

Katie Lawrence was born in 1868 and is first mentioned on the music hall stage in 1883 with first appearances at the South London Palace and the Windsor Castle Palace of Varieties in Woolwich. At the South London Palace punters could avoid the crush by entering through a newly available side door for only threepence extra per person! In November 1883 she appears in an advert in the Entr’acte as Jolly Katie Lawrence, a pupil of J W Cherry. The advert describes her as a dashing serio and dance artist who has enjoyed great success at the Middlesex every evening. J W Cherry was a composer and opened a ‘Music Hall Academy’ giving singing lessons to hopeful music hall artistes. Marie Kendal was also a pupil who went on to great success.

In an interview in the Era in 1893 Katie Lawrence talked of starting her career as a child actress and studying dance at the academy of Madame Katti Lanner, who was herself said to have trained at the ballet school of the Vienna Court Opera. In 1887 the Empire Theatre of Varieties opened in London’s Leicester Square and Katti Lanner became the ballet mistress working with the resident company which could have provided a connection between the two. We do not hear if Madame Lanner felt music hall life was a step down the ladder of success. Katie Lawrence was often praised for her dancing and during an extensive tour of Australia in 1889 her butterfly dance was encored again and again with her skirts taking the part of wings ‘so curiously do they seem to be part of herself’.

Things were going well for Katie in 1887 as a notice in the Era states that she was taking a holiday in Paris and would not resume business until October 31st. This was probably placed by her agent, George Ware, who was known as an astute judge of talent. He also managed, among others, Nelly Power and Marie Lloyd. In 1892 Katie had her big success with a song ‘Daisy Bell’ written by Harry Dacre which touched on the new and modern topic of cycling. Those of us who know the song today think of it as ‘Daisy, Daisy’ or ‘A bicycle made for two’. It’s worth saying that in music hall days a catchy chorus and a simple melody was a must so that the audience could keep the tune in their heads as they left the theatre. The performers could only hope that their songs would become a hit which would secure future bookings.

Katie Lawrence Second turn at Gatti’s

Around 1903 Walter Sickert painted Katie Lawrence at Gatti’s, a music hall built under the arches of Charing Cross station, but she seems not to have been enamoured with the artist’s work. At one point Sickert offered her one of his music hall paintings but she said she wouldn’t have it – even to keep the draught out from under the scullery door.

‘Daisy Bell’ became a huge success in the States as well as this country and Colin MacInnes in his book Sweet Saturday Night tells us that Katie was able to build Bell House near London Zoo. This happy state of affairs did not last as gradually Katie Lawrence’s name dropped off the bill of the more prestigious music halls. She found work in smaller halls and remained popular in the Midlands but experienced hard times despite her previous popularity in London, New York and South Africa. There is mention of Marie Lloyd giving her a helping hand at this time and it could be true as they had shared an agent and had often been on the same bill. Katie Lawrence died in Birmingham in 1913 where a benefit concert had been arranged for her and her name was on the bills for an appearance at a local hall.

Thanks to British Newspaper Archive, Sweet Saturday Night- Colin MacInnes, Marie Lloyd, Queen of the Music Halls – Richard Anthony Baker

Just a quick word

Postcards were a fashionable and practical way of communication in the time before phones and social media. They were used in different ways – to wish a friend a happy birthday, to pass on information or just to keep in touch. Performers would send them out to agents in the hope of getting work and fans would search for the perfect card to add to a collection. There are many apologies on the backs of cards for failing to find the desired image and hopes expressed that the card sent will be enjoyed. Picture postcards could only be sent from 1894 and postcards sent previously could be devoted to writing only. The postal service was reliable, with more than one collection and delivery a day. This meant that arrangements could be made, changed or confirmed at short notice.

Marie Dainton

A card of Marie Dainton sent to Miss Railton from Bridgend in 1905 tells her that Mother has arrived safely and that Mrs Gammon and Herbert was meeting us at the station. In February 1904 the same Marie Dainton sends a postcard to herself from herself for luck. She was appearing in the Chinese Honeymoon as Mrs Pineapple.

Hetty King

Minnie writes to Mrs Locker on a card of Hetty King in 1906 to let her know that she is going on alright with her housekeeping and that Clare comes down to visit and she makes me the beds.

Gertie Gitana

Ethel Larder in Louth receives a card of Gertie Gitana which the writer, Florrie, bought at the Palace Theatre in Hull. She says Gertie was the star artist and the card was sold to support the Belgian relief fund.

The Edivictas

A card of a cycle act is sent with the stark message don’t forget to give our Willie the milk to bring up.  There is no date, sender or recipient so it could have been left propped up on a mantelpiece or pushed through a letterbox. Perhaps Willie turned up with the milk before it was sent.

La Milo

Pansy Montague, known as La Milo, caused raised eyebrows by posing as a living statue covered in alabaster whitening with a few strategically placed pieces of white material. She took part in a parade in Coventry in 1907 as Lady Godiva which caused a great scandal, although an anonymous correspondent writing to Clara cannot see that there is much in the postcard to make a fuss about. He had enjoyed himself at the music hall the previous night.

‘M’ receives a card asking if she has ever tried the Halls. The writer suggests the picture is M in a bathing costume and encourages her to try the hand balance in the sea where it would be an attraction, although cold.   

Finally an all lady rifle act send out postcards to say they are ‘vacant’ October 27th and onwards (no year). Their permanent address is 29 Richmond Terrace, Clapham Road, London.

Molly O’Morgan

 

It all began when I bought a postcard of a young woman in rustic dress standing b410cc75-0878-4596-8c44-0b5abc0437eawith a barrel organ. The card on the barrel organ reads ‘Molly O’Morgan’. The young woman is staring out from the photograph as if she has a story to tell. There is a story of Molly O’Morgan, the daughter of an Irish mother and an Italian organ-grinder father, who had dark brown hair and laughing eyes. It is said her mother died when Molly was young and she and her father left Ireland with a barrel organ and monkey to take their chances in Europe. Molly would dance while her father played the barrel organ and the crowds were charmed into parting with their coins. They travelled from city to city and eventually arrived in Monte Carlo where Molly’s fortunes changed. She was noticed by Duke Medici-Sinelli, an elderly widower, who naturally enough was also rich and charming. The Duke arranged for Molly to appear at a theatre and in the way of fairy tales she immediately became a star. Molly and the Duke married and unkind rumours suggested she was a gold-digger although the couple seemed devoted to each other. When the Duke died Molly did not marry again but came to Monte Carlo every year and stayed in the same suite in which she and the Duke had spent their honeymoon. She was said to live in Hungary with a distant branch of the Duke’s family.

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Ella Retford

In February 1929 the Nottingham Evening Post reported the death in Hungary of the Duchess Maria della Casa Medici-Sinelli, formerly Molly O’Morgan. The article recounts her story as true and as the inspiration for the music hall song Molly O’Morgan ‘with her little organ’. The song certainly existed, written in 1909 by Fred Godfrey and Will Letters, but Molly herself may have been part of a romantic myth. The Nottingham Evening Post article is the only reference I can find to a real Molly O’Morgan. Ella Retford had a great success with this song in the pantomime Jack and Jill and the Sheffield Evening Telegraph stated ‘Molly O’ Morgan goes with a swing that is irresistible and compelling. You positively must sing it’.

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Alice Lloyd

In the same year, 1909, Alice Lloyd had a hit with the song in New York and determined to feature it throughout her American tour. It would be delightful to believe that Molly O’Morgan existed but I’ll leave that for you to decide. The young woman in the photograph is not named and I’ve come to the conclusion she is in fancy dress – an unromantic end to a romantic story. 

 

 

 

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive and fredgodfreysongs.ca

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

La Belle Otero

9580BBBF-26FC-40F7-AB5A-717125DD61E8‘I was extraordinarily pretty’ states Caroline Otero in her autobiography My Story and this much is true. Music hall singer and dancer, courtesan and gambler, La Belle Otero lived a life of extremes and exaggerations that would raise eyebrows today. She claimed her mother was a beautiful Andalusian gypsy, Carmen, who danced, sang and told fortunes. Such was her beauty that a group of passers-by including a young Greek army officer, gazed at her in admiration as she was engaged in the unromantic task of hanging out the washing. The autobiography makes much of the courtship and devotion of the young man and tells of his death in a duel with Carmen’s lover. It is more likely La Belle Otero was born into a poor family in Galicia  in November 1868 and given the name Augustina although she adopted the name Caroline at a young age. As a child she was sent away to work as a servant and is said to have been raped at the age of ten. It’s no wonder she gave herself a more romantic beginning.

 

At thirteen or fourteen Caroline Otero seems to have run away with a young man 334D4B3F-BC4D-4EF3-AA73-F0B81E0278F0who found her work as a dancer in a Café. She moved up the scale from theatre to theatre, starring at the Folies Bergère , collecting and discarding admirers and lovers. It is said men fought duels over her and left themselves penniless after showering the object of their affection with flowers and jewels. A writer in The Sketch in 1898 reports that Mdlle Otero came on to the Alhambra stage in a salmon-pink dress covered in diamonds and turquoises with her fingers heavy with rings, the dress setting off her pale complexion and black hair to great advantage. The diamonds, worth millions of francs, were tokens of the esteem in which she was held by her admirers. The writer goes on to say that ‘most performers humbly seek the suffrages of their audience; La Belle Otero, whose equipment is in many respects inferior, from the artistic point of view, to that of her competitors, demands them as a right.’ 

 

0097154A-42F7-43D3-9B4C-99D11BEDACFEOtero was adept at self publicity and in 1902 the Paris correspondent of the Express writes that an engineer in Brussels was constructing an airship for her ‘by means of which she hopes to make a triumphal entry next August into Biarritz.’ She was worried it could be dangerous and so the balloon was to be dragged along by a car attached by a thin wire. If there was an accident she could ‘descend to the car by means of a rope ladder, which she will have tied in to the airship. The airship will float gracefully above the automobile at a height of 100ft.’ Mistress to ambassadors, princes, including the future Edward VII, and nobility throughout Europe, La Belle Otero scandalised and fascinated society in equal measure. Her weakness was gambling and she lost vast sums of money at the tables, sometimes her own and often her admirers’ fortunes. The Tatler tells us that in 1909 police raided a gambling club in Paris and found fifty women and ten men. On further investigation another woman, Caroline Otero, was found in a cupboard.

 

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Liane de Pougy

Stories were rife of her exploits including a report in a Mexican newspaper that Otero had shot a love rival, Liane de Pougy, through the heart. Liane de Pougy was another famous courtesan and actress of the day. Both ladies were said to be very much amused by the report. In 1907 she insured her ankles for £15,000 each and was advertised as the only dancer with ankles worth £30,000. She was not universally admired and in 1895 the Evening Telegraph and Star reported a court case from Paris concerning the notorious Otero. She was living in an apartment in the Rue Charron rented by her English friend, Mr Bulpett, and the landlord charged him with not fulfilling the terms of the lease, namely that the apartment should be kept in a respectable manner. The landlord claimed Otero was damaging to the value of his property as other people objected to her. Two other tenants had signed a petition saying if she did not move they would break their leases. The defence denied any scandal had been caused by Otero’s presence in the apartments and that she and Mr Bulpett had as much right as other tenants to give dinners, hold receptions, have a carriage at the door and live a life of luxury. The judgement was in favour of Mr Bulpett.

 

The author, Colette, knew Otero when the great dancer was in her forties and describes her in My Apprenticeships as dancing and singing for her guests for up to four hours and having a body that had ‘defied sickness, ill-usage and the passage of time.’ The character of Lea in Colette’s novel Chéri is largely based on Otero and her lifestyle.

 

La Belle Otero retired after the First World War having built up a vast fortune but her love of gambling was to be her undoing and she died in relative poverty in 1965 at the age of 96. The Tatler had rather prematurely announced her death in 1947. Her autobiography is a ripping yarn rather than a factual account but she had a sensational life and career and who can deny her a little economy with the truth.

 

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive, My Story – La Belle Otero,

My Apprenticeships – Colette

 

 

 

 

 

 

Behind the scenes

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Waiting to go on at the Royal Music Hall

Music hall life was often far from the glamour and glitter we might imagine as this description of a dressing room by singer Lilian Warren shows. She is being interviewed for the trade Paper The Era in 1905 and remembers how artistes would apply their make-up by a ‘small piece of candle’ and a mirror which they supplied themselves. She tells of a music hall in Aberdare where thirteen performers shared one dressing-room where they clubbed together to make the room more acceptable. Lilian bought coal for the fire and the other girls provided the candles. By the time of her interview there had been a marked change with more comfortable, clean dressing-rooms provided.

 

 

 

Jenny Hill

Jenny Hill, ‘The Vital Spark’ became a successful and respected serio-comic but started life in poverty. At a young age she was articled for five years to the Bradford Tavern and her life was not her own. She started work cleaning the bars at a very early hour and then was expected to be changed and in the singing room by mid-day  to harmonise with the drinkers. She often worked until 2am and food was scarce. Jenny died in her late forties and her early life took a great toll.

 

 

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Marie Lloyd

Marie Lloyd was known as being kind-hearted and was well aware of class distinction and the poverty of the working classes. One day she was leaving a music hall at the end of a performance when she found a group of children round the stage door. They had no shoes and generous Marie took them to a local shop and bought them boots. The next day they were at the stage door again but with no boots. This was recounted by another performer who was with Marie Lloyd at the time.

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Vesta Tilley

 

Vesta Tilley encountered a different kind of behind the scenes experience when performing at a dinner for ‘the poor of London’ given by the King. She arrived at a large building in the city wearing her Eton schoolboy costume and found there were several rooms being used for the dinner. She was running up and down the stairs trying to find the right room passing various officials on the way. Vesta heard one of them indignantly comment that the problems were not helped by these boys getting in everyone’s way.

 

 

In her autobiography Vesta Tilley remarks on the rivalry that could exist between performers amid the desire to be top of the bill. There could be appropriation of a successful artiste’s songs or of part of their act and music hall managers were often unsympathetic as they could pay the imitator less money. Vesta felt that in some cases the audience wanted a particular song rather than a particular singer. She mentioned the case of mimics such as Cissie Loftus who was acknowledged as an excellent performer but would have songs lifted from her act by others who made little attempt to portray their subject in a way that was recognisable to the audience.

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Cissie Loftus

 

Music hall performers had their highs and lows on and off the stage but they understood their audiences and their audiences loved them for it.

 

 

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive, Recollections of Vesta Tilley, The Early Doors – Harold Scott