Category Archives: Music hall artistes

Adelaide Stoll and the music hall contracts

20160712_165258 Adelaide Gray came to this country  from Australia with her son, Oswald, after the death of her husband. She married John Stoll who was the owner of the Parthenon Rooms in Liverpool and took over the venue shortly after John’s death in 1880. The Parthenon Music Hall was born. Adelaide was helped by fourteen year old Oswald who looked after the artistes backstage, eventually putting together the programme and booking the acts.

I have an original contract of employment from the Parthenon Music Hall and we can see the tough conditions put on the artistes. The contract is dated December 17th 1888 and is for six nights. At the top of the contract, and heavily underlined, appear the words that you do not appear at any other Place of Amusement in or within Five Miles of this City. This meant that the artistes could not play at several halls a night as had previously been the case. They struggled financially as they had to pay for board and lodging and travel expenses out of the one engagement. Mrs Stoll expected damages of five times the performer’s salary if they broke this clause. There is also a warning that all artistes must submit details of their act for the programme two weeks before the start of the engagement or risk the contract being cancelled or remain good at Mrs Stoll’s option.

There are twelve rules on the back of the contract and from them we learn that any artiste who received from incompetency or any other cause, the entire disapproval of the audience, will be dismissed, only receiving salary for that portion of of the engagement which may have been fulfilled. Hoping to shake off the old image of music halls as not quite nice, Mrs Stoll insists in rule eight that every Artiste must stringently avoid introducing any obscene Song, Saying or Gesture and upon being requested to cease performing any indecorous item which may be deemed nauseous to the public taste, or opposed to respectability, must do so without demur. One wonders how the Stolls dealt with very popular performers who bent the rules. An inebriated artiste arriving for work could be dismissed or fined. In later life Oswald Stoll put up signs backstage prohibiting his employees from using coarse language.

Fire was a constant worry in places of entertainment and there are reports of many music hall fires. Mrs Stoll covers this in her rules, disclaiming any responsibility in connection with artistes property and if in the event of fire the hall is closed, engagements must terminate therewith. The performers had to agree to taking the place of the preceding artiste on the programme if they did not appear, so giving a performance that was twice as long – but for the same money. Each infringement of the rules could mean a fine of ten shillings which would be deducted from the offender’s salary.imageThe contract I have is for two artistes and the weekly salary is four pounds ten shillings between them so any fine would severely damage them financially. The contract is signed by Adelaide and Oswald Stoll.

 

The Stolls went on to open other music halls and Oswald became one of the most successful owners in the business. His crowning glory was the building of the London Coliseum in 1904 and Adelaide Stoll would sit in the box office and take the money. After her death Oswald installed a bust of his mother in the foyer of the Coliseum where it can still be seen. 20160712_165556

 

 

Yvette Guilbert

Yvette Guilbert was born in 1865 and lived her early life in poverty but became the toast of Paris, adored by everyone from the poor of the Marais to artists and the literati. She was tall and thin with hennaed red hair and wore a long dress and long black gloves on stage. Yvette Guilbert said of herself, ‘I was looking for an impression of extreme simplicity, which allied itself harmoniously with the lines of my slim body and my small head —in a repertoire that I had decided would be a ribald one. To assemble an exhibition of humorous sketches in song, depicting all the indecencies, all the excesses, all the vices of my contemporaries and to enable them to laugh at themselves — that was to be my innovation, my big idea.’ 

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Yvette Guilbert

She was said to come on to the stage in a rather distracted manner with her shoulders drooping and her arms hanging limply by her sides and was termed a diseuse as she half sang, half spoke her songs. Yvette Guilbert sang earthy songs about characters polite society would rather forget and some were so filthy they were said to make a Sapper blush. She had perfect diction and not a word of the songs escaped the audience. However Yvette was not universally admired and one British newspaper report states that, ‘Mdlle Guilbert is not specially pretty, dresses very simply, and unlike the majority of her vocalising countrywomen, does not indulge in high kicking.’ Faint praise. The reviewer  was not impressed by the fact that Mdlle Guilbert had turned down an offer of several hundred pounds to sing at Marlborough House at a party for the Prince of Wales. She asked for a much higher amount but received no reply from the royal household.

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Portrait by Toulouse Lautrec

When she first appeared in London in 1892 it was noted that she spoke fluent English but it was suggested she should be careful not to translate her songs too literally in case of action from the Lord Chamberlain and the London County Council. In 1894 she appeared on the same bill as Marie Lloyd which must have given the authorities sleepless nights. In London in 1909 she was appearing at the London Palace Theatre and remarked that the theatre  impresario Sir Alfred Butt ‘neglected my publicity for the sake of my fellow actor, Consul the chimpanzee.’  Consul appeared above her on the bill. Yvette was given the honour of an impersonation by the celebrated music hall mimic Cissie Loftus but Yvette sang one of Cissie’s songs, Linger Longer, Loo copying the mannerisms of it’s original singer.

 

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Cissie Loftus

In 1899 Yvette had an operation to have a kidney removed. She had been in great pain around the waist, said to be caused by excessively tight lacing. The road to recovery was long and she could not avoid thinking about the future. A highly intelligent woman, Yvette Guilbert realised that to remain popular she needed to move on from the crude songs which had made her name. She had researched old French chanson and sung them to small audiences on occasion. She determined this would be her new path. She was interested in mediaeval songs as well as those from later centuries and set about studying Latin grammar and collecting old manuscripts. For her first public performance after her illness she had Baudelaire’s poems set to music and sang dramatic songs by Maurice Rollinat. She did not wear the black gloves. It was a brilliant performance but in a small theatre with a high class clientele. It took longer to win round her previous audience who perhaps felt she was deserting them for a greater respectability.

Yvette Guilbert was admired by George Bernard Shaw, became a friend of Sigmund Freud and was painted by the leading artists of her time, although she rebuked Toulouse Lautrec for his depictions of her on stage. She wrote novels, lectured on chanson, appeared in  operetta, was a suffragette and was elected to the French Société des ancients textes. She died in Aix en Provence during the Second World War in 1944, having moved there from Paris with her husband Max Schiller who was Jewish.

Thanks to the britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk, and That was Yvette by Bettina Knapp and Myra Chipman

All manner of accomplishments

In the wake of International Women’s Day and to celebrate Women’s History Month I’ve put together a group of very different women. They may have shared a stage or an orchestra, they may never have met but they all knew the hard life of the performer and the vagaries of managers and audiences alike. They are largely forgotten but live on through their photographs and I would like to pay tribute to them.

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Gertie Rex

 

Gertie Rex was described as a character comedienne and Scotland’s leading comedienne. She wrote and produced at least one pantomime in which she also appeared. She staged Humpty Dumpty in 1923 and took the part of the ‘leading boy‘. Gertie was described as a highly entertaining artiste with her catchy songs. Another report tells us that ‘Gertie Rex knows the way to the heart of her audience’ which is tribute enough.

 

 

 

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La Tortajada

La Tortajada was a Spanish dancer who roused great passion in her male admirers. She had jewels thrown at her feet and duels fought to protect her honour. She accepted these things modestly.

 

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One of the Delevines

The next card has the inscription’ one of the Delevines’ not giving her a first name. I found a picture of a card signed by all the Delevines and I matched her with Minnie. The Five Delevines were made up of two women and three men and they made music and danced in a sprightly fashion. They were also acrobats and comedy artistes, playing guitar and providing acrobatic and musical entertainment which seems to have been based around a short sketch. Imagine doing all this several times a night, travelling all over the country and then not being granted a first name.

 

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Mdlle Amelia

Mademoiselle Amelia cuts a determined figure looking out  from beneath her curls. She appeared with music hall and circus acts and is described as a sylph-like equestrienne. She wasn’t top of the bill but performed for a good many years, the photo suggesting acrobatics or gymnastics on horseback.

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Iron-jaw act

 

This is an iron-jaw act where the artiste used their teeth to hang from a leather strap while performing acrobatic movements. This is a later photo but is the only one I have in the collection to show the act in progress. I don’t have the name of the performer. Originally the strap had a metal hook at one end to attach to a trapeze etc while there was a leather mouthpiece at the other end which was gripped by the performers in their teeth. The mouthpiece shown here was used by Pansy Chinery and is in the V&A collection.

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Mouthpiece for iron-jaw act

Her teeth marks can still be seen.

 

 

 

 

Margaret Cooper trained at the Royal Academy of Music and was persuaded to perform on the halls. Managers were always aiming for respectability. W. MacQueen-Pope in his book ‘The Melody Lingers On‘ describes Margaret as ‘beautifully dressed, she would sail on to the stage. Then she would seat herself, take off her elbow length gloves with great care and in the most leisurely manner, and then proceed to remove her numerous rings and bracelets, which she placed one at a time on top of the piano. The audience would watch spellbound. Although her voice was neither strong nor powerful, she had the knack of making every syllable heard, every word tell, and that without a microphone’.

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Margaret Cooper

Margaret defied superstition, always insisting on dressing-room thirteen in which she put down a green rug, considered an unlucky colour, which she brought with her.

 

 

 

Thanks to britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk,  The Melody Lingers On – W. MacQueen-Pope, V&A, Kilburn and Willesden History