It all began when I bought a postcard of a young woman in rustic dress standing with 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.
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’.
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