Category Archives: Music Hall court cases

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

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That special something

IMG_0012Ada Reeve was born in London in 1874 into a theatrical family and she made her debut at the age of four in the pantomime Little Red Riding Hood at the Pavilion Theatre, Whitechapel. Using the name Little Ada Reeve she continued to appear in plays and pantomime to great acclaim. Her elocution was said to be ‘peculiarly free from Cockney taint.’ In an advertisement in the trade paper, the Era, in May 1884 Little Ada Reeve announced she was at liberty for speciality and Christmas for the principal child’s part and was said at ten years of age to be a singer, actress, dancer, reciter and drum soloist.

Ada turned to the music hall when her father became ill as a way of earning more money to support her large family. Her first appearance at the age of fourteen was at the Hungerford Music Hall, better known then as Gatti’s-under-the-Arches in Charing Cross. She delivered comic songs, the words of which she is reported to have spoken with a little singing at the end of each line. She was a dainty dancer and not averse to finishing her act with a cartwheel across the stage encouraged by the audience shouting, ‘Over, Ada’. Eventually she gave up on this, telling them, ‘I’m grown-up now!’ Her popularity was such that when she appeared at the Hippodrome Portsmouth in November 1907 her name featured seven times in the advertising material with theatre patrons urged to buy tickets at once owing to the great demand for seats. We are told it was a special engagement at a millionaire salary. The rest of ‘the wonderful star company’ is squeezed in at the bottom of the advert.

IMG_0011Ada also made a name for herself as an actress and performed in musical comedy travelling to the States, South Africa and Australia appearing in theatres and music halls and winning admirers wherever she went. In interviews she was quick to dispel the myth of drinking champagne out of slippers and insisted it was all very proper with the evening ending with a thank you and goodnight on the doorstep. She received many letters from stage door johnnies and in a production where she played the part of an actress she would sometimes amuse herself by reading out these real billets-doux instead of sticking to the script.

In 1905 Ada sued the Weekly Dispatch for misrepresenting her in a published interview. She was read the article before publication and objected to certain content but it was published anyway with her signature as if she had written it. The article stated in a headline that Ada Reeve earned £250 a week and she denied having said this as it was untrue and would make her look foolish and boastful to say so. Other performers had mentioned it to her and it was thought to be in bad taste. She also denied signing the article. The defendants claimed she had not quite understood their intentions but agreed to pay her costs and the action was terminated.
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Ada was herself taken to court by Millie Hylton, ‘her stage rival’, whose counsel asked for Ada to be committed to prison. She had breached an undertaking not to sing Miss Hylton’s song I couldn’t help being a lady. Miss Reeve said she only sang the song once, as an encore, ‘because she had received so many encores that she did not know quite what to give.’ The judge said that Ada could have forgotten the undertaking in the excitement of the encores. He accepted her apology but she would have to pay the costs of the case.

 

 

IMG_0013Ada Reeve continued to work as an actress on stage and in film. Her last stage role was at the age of eighty and she appeared in her last film at the age of eighty-three. She died in 1966 at the age of ninety-two. She had that special something which audiences responded to and in this clip we can see that charm and hear that voice, still clear in her eighties. She is talking to Eamonn Andrews after an appearance on the television show This is your life.

 

 

 

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive, Fifty years of Vaudeville-Ernest Short, The Northern Music Hall -G. J. Mellor, The Big Red Book

 

Daisy Jerome

daisy-jerome-1Daisy Jerome was born in the States in 1888 but moved to England as a child when her father suffered a financial crisis. Money was needed and she followed her sister on to the stage. She was a small, dainty figure with bright red hair, compelling eyes and an expressive face. Her appearance belied her risqué performances and her hoarse, sensual voice. She was a toe-dancer and a wooden shoe dancer, but best known as a mimic and comic singer. Daisy married Frederick Fowler in 1906 but they lived together for less than a year with Fowler blaming the marriage breakdown on the constant presence of his mother-in-law. He filed for divorce on the grounds of Daisy’s misconduct. She was living with Mr Cecil Allen in Battersea by this time and claimed Allen would marry her if she was divorced. The decree nisi was granted with Fowler saying he would shoot Allen if he didn’t marry Daisy. She left for a three year tour of Australia shortly after accompanied only by her mother. She adopted the name ‘the electric spark‘ and seems to have lived up to this in her public and private life.

In February 1910, before the divorce, Daisy took out a libel action against the Walsall Observer who had reported that ‘Daisy Jerome, without much provocation, is constrained to give three more than usual number of songs we get from one artist.’  The insinuation was that she gave encores when they were not required and this was a serious allegation with regard to future bookings. Daisy said she was not at all anxious to give encores but that she ‘made one of the hits of my life in Walsall.‘ The journalist replied that the house was a poor one on that night and that Miss Jerome received very little applause. He felt his article was a fair one. Daisy was awarded one farthing in damages.daisy-jerome-2

In Australia in 1923 Daisy, now married to Captain La Touche took her maid to court for stealing and pawning some of her clothes and jewellery. Her maid, Cecil Lightening, said she was innocent and had only followed Daisy’s instructions. The maid had been told on one occasion that her employers were hard up and that she, the maid, was there to bluff the public and to bluff them into giving Daisy a big salary. The maid was acquitted.

Daisy Jerome was capable of arousing strong feelings in her audience and one young man jumped on to the stage from a box two tiers above the dress circle breaking his legs and injuring his spine. He is reported to have said, ‘Tell her I had to do it to tell her what I felt.’ He eventually recovered. Her star waned when film became more popular and and she dropped into obscurity. To finish, a snatch of one of her songs, previously sung by Marie Lloyd.,

And the parrot sat there with a nonchalant air and a cynical smile on it’s beak

At last the young fellow exclaimed with a leer am I the first you have ever loved dear?

And the parrot said, YES THIS WEEK!

Thanks to britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk  &  Trove.nla.gov.au

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the courts

Music hall artistes, stars or unknowns, were no strangers to the courts and the newspapers had a field day reporting drunken escapades, thefts, adultery, assaults and disputes between managers and performers. Not quite respectable but still a good source of entertainment on and off the stage. In London, March 1897, Lily and Ellen Brown were charged with being disorderly and using obscene language. Shrieks and cries were heard around two in the morning in the Regent’s Park area where two young men accused the women of robbing them in a cab. The men refused to bring charges and the Misses Brown used ‘filthy and most disgraceful language — creating so great a disturbance that the whole neighbourhood was roused’. They said they had been taking part in a ballet at the Empire Theatre and were on their way home. The magistrate felt that dancing in the Empire ballet should have been sufficiently exciting for them and that they seemed to have an exuberance of artistic talent. They were fined ten shillings.

May Levey

May Levey

The Sisters Levey were a popular song and dance act but were subjected to ‘clowning’ by a cellist in the orchestra at the the Royal Court Theatre in Liverpool. ‘Clowning’ was the term used for purposely substituting the wrong music during a music hall act. The cellist, Frank Richardson, also absented himself from the orchestra during the performance. He was sacked and went to court to claim £4 10s (£4.50) for wrongful dismissal. He claimed it was customary for a musician to leave the performance for a few minutes if not needed for the piece but the theatre management responded that he was absent during the playing of two numbers, in one of which he was a soloist. The conductor appreciated that Frank Richardson was an excellent cello player but he had frequently been reprimanded for ‘clowning’ which took place when the Sisters Levey were on the stage and they had complained. The judge found against the cellist remarking that he had been properly dismissed, considering his conduct.

Marie Lloyd seems to have spent quite a lot of time in court on her own behalf or connected to other cases. In January 1893 her husband, Percy Courtenay, summoned Bessie Bellwood for assaulting him at the Trocadero Music Hall. Bessie Bellwood, a former rabbit skinner from Bermondsey, was a fiery character who gave hecklers a hard time. Although a devout Roman Catholic she was known for her strong language on and off stage. Like many music hall performers she was a heavy drinker which might explain her tendency to lash out when riled. This case was adjourned and all parties seemed to have calmed down as it wasn’t pursued.

Marie Lloyd

Marie Lloyd

Marie Lloyd  took her coachman to court in 1896 for stealing a gold watch and diamond ring from her. Herbert Norton, aged twenty-four, had worked for Marie Lloyd for two years and disappeared one Saturday without notice. The ring was missing and found at a local pawnbroker’s along with the gold watch. Marie Lloyd was notoriously soft-hearted and generous and rather than prosecute Herbert she sent a telegram to his address saying if he returned the items by six o’clock she would not go to the police. She heard nothing but on Monday a parcel arrived containing Herbert’s uniform breeches, a tie and two pawn tickets. She sent the parcel back and went to the police. At the trial Marie Lloyd said, ‘Herbert, if you had asked me to forgive you I would have done so’. Apparently Herbert had robbed her before but she had forgiven him. The magistrate asked Marie if she desired to recommend him to mercy now to which she replied, ‘Oh, yes, please’. Herbert was sentenced to two months’ hard labour.

Cissie Loftus

Cissie Loftus

Next, the sad case of Cissie (Cecilia) Loftus who was a popular and gifted mimic on the music hall stage. In 1922 she was arrested for the possession of drugs and also had blank prescriptions in her bag. She told the arresting detective that she was undergoing a cure and a court case would ruin her. It was said in her defence that that she had had a long period of ill-health through which she had to work as her husband had left her with large debts. Drugs were administered to her during a serious operation and during childbirth and she became unable to resist them. Cissie said she had become almost afraid to appear on the stage and drugs helped her. She said her friends knew she was trying to free herself from the drugs habit. The judge ruled that she be placed on probation for a year on the condition that she went into a home for six to twelve months where she would be under strict medical supervision. Two of Cissie’s friends undertook to see that she complied with the terms of the judgement.

Less seriously, but still worthy of a court case, a waiter at the Tivoli Music Hall in London was charged with unlawfully offering cigar ends for sale. There was said to be a thriving trade between the music halls and cigar makers in the East End who used the ends to make cheap cigars. An attendant at the Pavilion Music Hall was prosecuted on behalf of the Inland Revenue with selling cigar ends without a licence. One line of defence was that in Paris and New York this was considered an acceptable business but the Inland Revenue wanted to stop the collection of cigar ends in large places of entertainment. Do you think they succeeded? The case was adjourned.

Thanks to britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk