Music Hall War – success or folly

 

image

Florrie Forde

living-statuary

Living Statuary

 

Following on from the previous blog we find the music hall artistes determined to stand their ground and the music hall managers refusing to recognise the Variety Artists’ Federation as the mouthpiece of the industry. In late January 1907 it was announced that a group of artistes had signed a twenty-one year lease of the Scala Theatre.

image

Annie Purcell

image

Jane May

 

The theatre would be run as a music hall with one house a night and the programme ‘comprising the cream of star talent’  with the ancillary buildings being used as the headquarters for music hall associations and as a music hall exchange. The performers hoped to control their own destinies but the trade paper The Era was of the opinion that the VAF had taken a very daring step.

The ‘housewarming’ at the Scala for artistes was fairly well attended but many performers were absent on picket duty. As proprietors they would act fairly and were sure that the theatre would be packed to the doors every night. On the opening night there was mention of Mr Oswald Stoll who had barred an artiste  from appearing at Crouch End for two and a half years and also had sent a representative to ask performers the question, ‘Are you in favour of a strike?’ It was assumed that an affirmative answer would mean the artist would not be employed by his syndicate. This was considered mean and despicable.

image

Gertie Gitana

Despite the excitement and enthusiasm both sides were suffering financially in the dispute and there was a feeling that the executive committee had rushed into action without sufficient consultation. The ‘stars’ had a meeting with the managers and announced they had made headway with their demands but the VAF felt sidelined and were not in favour of a settlement. Eventually the dispute went to arbitration, chaired by Mr Askwith from the Board of Trade. The strikers were not to perform at the Scala or to picket the halls and the managers were to drop any legal proceedings against individual performers. The Alliance closed the Scala, having leased the premises for four weeks at a cost of £1,200. There were three interim awards and a final award, made more complicated by the fact that musicians and stagehands had joined the strike and employment needed to be found for them.

Improvements were made to the hated barring clause, each matinée would be paid for and artistes would have definite appearance times so that low paid performers could rely on appearing in two halls a night rather than the manager changing the order of the bill on a whim. Both sides agreed to abide by the points of the arbitration agreement but later it was suggested that some managers were trying to go back to their old ways. In fact in 1908 Oswald Stoll threatened a lock-out of performers over a dispute with the VAF over charity matinées but it was pointed out this went against the terms of the arbitration award. Again in 1914 the same owner/manager dismissed members of some London music hall orchestras who refused to sign an eighteen month no strike contract. The orchestras of two Manchester music halls walked out in sympathy leaving only the conductor and a harpist. A court case ensued with the judgement going in Mr Stoll’s favour and the musicians paid damages and costs with Oswald Stoll agreeing to accept payments of five shillings a month. In the London halls he said that as many of the men would shortly be joining the army he had made arrangements for women’s orchestras to take their place. The newspaper headline reads ‘STRIKE OF MUSIC HALL MUSICIANS? Places to be taken by women.’  Hmmm.

I haven’t been able to find a full list of strike supporters but the artistes in the above postcards were performing at the time, may have supported the strike or been affected by the picketing of the halls.

 

Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive

Advertisements

The Music Hall Strike

The previous post talked about the harsh contracts imposed on music hall performers by managers and owners of the halls. This hit those lower down the bill particularly hard as their pay wasn’t great and they had previously relied on playing more than one hall a night to make a living. The Variety Artistes Federation was formed in February 1906 and was a union of music hall entertainers created to represent them in negotiations with owners and managers. There was a long running dispute over matinée performances which were inserted into the programme with payment for one matinée regarded as covering five matinees if the manager chose. This was true for performers, musicians and stagehands. The Trade Disputes Act later in the same year meant that the right to strike was enshrined in law in the event of a trade dispute with an employer.

image

Oxford Music Hall

In 1907 there was a strike of performers, musicians and stagehands bringing together the members of three unions. Many London music halls were affected with picket lines, including well-known stars, dissuading the public from entering. Managers reduced prices and put on new and untried acts which played to small audiences who often left part way through. The Daily News reports that the new programme at the Canterbury Music Hall, Lambeth, was abandoned as the trainers couldn’t get a troupe of performing elephants to leave the stage. At other halls such as the Oxford the manager appeared on the stage to explain the situation and for the most part the audience were given their admission money back.

image

Marie Dainton

Some encouragement was given to popular artistes to break the strike with Marie Dainton, actress and mimic, being offered the carrot of a future engagement at the Holborn Empire and a motor-cab to make her journey easier. She replied ‘I can only be led by the Variety Artistes Federation.’ This performer is often credited with being a leading figure in the strike but in a letter to the London Daily News she writes ‘ I do not wish to be exploited as taking a prominent part in the strike—as statements have been made in one or two papers that make it appear as though I was taking special steps in the matter.‘ A week later the Daily News received another letter from Marie Dainton saying that although she would not accept engagements at the affected halls she was resigning from the Federation. She concludes ‘I have the greatest respect for the artistes of the music hall profession, but I refuse to be identified with the scene-shifters or stage employees.’

Some of the higher earning stars did not support the strike but Marie Lloyd was a enthusiastic spokesperson stating that ‘We can dictate our own terms. We are not fighting for ourselves, but for the poorer members of the profession, earning thirty shillings to three pounds a week. For this they have to do double turns, and now matinées have been added as well. These poor things have been compelled to submit to unfair terms of employment, and I mean to back up the Federation in whatever steps are taken.’ She was a regular on the picket line and when the unfortunate Belle Elmore crossed the line to perform Marie urged her companions not to stop her, saying she was such a bad performer she would empty the hall anyway.

Marie Lloyd 2

Marie Lloyd

Some performers took advantage of the situation by appearing in the affected halls but it didn’t always turn out well for them. Evelyn Taylor was reported as appearing at eight of the picketed halls each night but found she was unable to find a cab to take her between halls. The drivers refused the job. The London Tram, Bus and Motor Workers Union resolved to support the strike in any way possible. The official artistes association in America, the White Rats, cabled that they were with the strikers ‘heart and soul’ and would do everything possible to help the cause. Financial support came from individuals and provincial branches of the Alliance and from a levy on the salaries of working members of the Alliance. There was a surge of performers calling to be enrolled as members of the Federation with two hundred names being taken before two o’clock on one day. Most of these had refused engagements in the affected halls. The Federation increased it’s membership to around five thousand.

It came to be known as the music hall war and we’ll continue next time.

 

 

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.’ 

image

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.

image

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.

 

image

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.

image

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.

 

 

 

image

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.

 

image

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.

 

image

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.

image

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.

image

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’.

image

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

The Dolly Sisters

imageThe name Harry Gordon Selfridge, founder of the London department store, was linked to some of the most popular and sought after women of the day. His generosity towards them knew no bounds and age did not diminish his enthusiasm for being seen in their company. In the early 1920s Mr Selfridge saw a performance by the Dolly sisters and was immediately struck by the beauty and talent of Jenny Dolly. I’ve never understood why he chose Jenny on sight alone as the Dolly sisters were identical twins. Jenny and Rosie Dolly, birth names Yansci and Roszika Deutsch, were born in Hungary and moved to the States when they were twelve, beginning a dancing career in the theatre that would make them household names in Europe as well as America. They started in vaudeville making up their own dances, their mother putting together the costumes, and gradually got themselves noticed with their liveliness and enthusiasm although their singing seems to have been mediocre. They had that indefinable something made even more special by the fact that they were identical twins.

imageThe Dollies appeared in the Ziegfeld Follies and in films, trying solo careers and then getting back together. They came to Europe in 1920 and wowed London audiences with their costumes and their style. By this time they had learned that sumptuous costumes and stage sets put them in the public eye and made them memorable. This together with their vitality and sheer personality made up for the fact that they were not the greatest singers and dancers. They were popular backstage, being generous and friendly towards ordinary theatre workers. During their stay in the capital they were thrilled to be taken up by London society, dancing with Edward, Prince of Wales and attending parties thrown by the rich and famous.

They had a good sense of fun and there are stories of them putting their identical appearance to good use. On one occasion it is said that Rosie was invited to lunch by an admirer who was getting a little too keen and she ate her way through a great deal of food before excusing herself for a short time. Identically dressed Jenny replaced her, proceeded to say she was still hungry and demolished another mountain of food. The admirer was keen to escape from this particular lunch date.

imageThe Dolly Sisters moved to Paris and were equally popular there. They had become aware of their own worth and in 1926 they sued the management of the Moulin Rouge Music Hall for 500,000 francs for breach of contract. They were unhappy that Mistinguett, a famous revue star, was topping the bill. The Moulin Rouge management counter-sued for the same amount of money as the Dolly Sisters had walked off in the middle of a rehearsal and joined the cast of the Casino de Paris. They won their case and were awarded the full amount of damages plus costs. They became members of the smart set, gambling in Deauville and following the social season. They were known for arriving at the casino dripping in jewels, gifts from wealthy admirers, and gambling vast amounts of money, often bank-rolled by those same wealthy individuals.

Mr Selfridge was one of those admirers, showering gifts on Jenny and accompanying her to the casino, handing her wads of notes with which to gamble. He is said to have proposed to her several times but she refused to marry him. Selfridge was in his seventies by now and using his diminishing fortune to indulge the woman he had fallen in love with. He helped her buy and furnish a house in Paris and when Jenny had a serious car accident he paid medical and care bills. There are accounts that Harry Gordon Selfridge spent as much as twenty million dollars mainly on Jenny Dolly but with Rosie receiving expensive gifts as well. He eventually lost control of his department store ending up in debt and with unpaid taxes.

imageIt is hard to imagine that the Dollies had anything other than a happy ending but sadly this was not the case. The world they knew was disappearing and other stars were taking the stage. Jenny never fully recovered psychologically or physically from her dreadful car accident and committed suicide. Rosie lived for almost thirty years without her sister. In an interview in the 1960s Rosie Dolly said, ‘I found out that America has changed— I’m in New York, old friends you call up when you arrive – they’ve forgotten you. They don’t call back.’

If you’d like to know more about the Dolly Sisters there is a great biography The Delectable Dollies by Gary Chapman published by Sutton Publishing.

Thanks to The British Newspaper Achive and The Delectable Dollies by Gary Chapman