24 May 2011

Vesta Tilley

Vesta Tilley was considered to be the greatest male impersonater in British Music Hall. Born Matilda Alice Powles (13 May 1864 – 16 September 1952), at the age of 11, she adopted the stage name Vesta Tilley becoming the most famous and well paid music hall male impersonator of her day. She was a star in both Britain and the United States for over thirty years.

Tilley was born in Worcestershire in 1864. Her father was a comedy actor and sometimes theatre manager, and Tilley first appeared on stage at the age of three and a half. At the age of six she did her first role in male clothing under the name Pocket Sims Reeves, a parody of then-famous opera singer Sims Reeves. She would come to prefer doing male roles exclusively, saying that "I felt that I could express myself better if I were dressed as a boy". At the age of eleven she debuted in London at the Canterbury Hall the name Vesta Tilley. "Vesta" referred to a brand of safety matches, and "Tilley" is a nickname for Matilda.

Tilley began to be known for her singing of comic numbers,including "Girls are the Ruin of Men" and "Angels without Wings", both by George Dance. Tilley's popularity reached its all-time high point during World War I, when she and her husband ran a military recruitment drive, as did a number of other music-hall stars. In the guise of characters like 'Tommy in the Trench' and 'Jack Tar Home from Sea', Tilley performed songs like "The army of today's all right" and 'Jolly Good Luck to the Girl who Loves a Soldier'.

This is how she got the nickname Britain's best recruiting sergeant - young men were sometimes asked to join the army on stage during her show. She was prepared to be a little controversial. Famously, for example, she sang a song "I've Got a Bit of a Blighty One", about a soldier who was delighted to have been wounded because it allowed him to go back to England and get away from extremely deadly battlefields. "When I think about my dugout / Where I dare not stick my mug out / I'm glad I've got a bit of a blighty one!"

Tilley performed in hospitals and sold War Bonds. Her husband was knighted in 1919 for his own services to the war effort, with Tilley becoming Lady de Frece. Tilley made her last performance in 1920 at the Coliseum Theatre, London, at the age of 56. For the rest of her life she lived as Lady de Frece, moving to Monte Carlo with her husband upon his retirement. She moved back to England after her husband's death in 1935. Vesta Tilley died in London in 1952, aged 88. Her body was buried alongside her husband, at Putney Vale Cemetery.

Source: Wikipedia

When the right girl comes along - Vesta Tilley

21 May 2011

Violet Vanbrugh

Miss Violet Vanbrugh was born in 1867, the eldest of three children. Her real name was Violet Augusta Mary Barnes. Her father was an official at Exeter Catherdral and the Vicar of Heavitree. Violet had a younger sister Irene (later to be Dame Irene) and a brother Kenneth (Sir Kenneth) both of whom were destined to follow in her footsteps to a theatrical career.

At the age of nineteen Violet travelled to London in pursuit of a stage career and, after some months, she attracted the attention of the great Ellen Terry. Ms Terry helped Violet to secure her first professional stage appearance in Toole's Theatre where she performed as a chorus girl in Burnand's burlesque Faust and Loose.

While it was a strange start for a provincial but well educated girl Violet made the very best of her opportunity. Her next role was in the West End of London in "The Little Pilgrims" (her first speaking part) and, over the next two years, she developed her stagecraft performing in a considerable number of productions in London. By late 1887 and early 1888 she was performing lead Shakespearean roles for the Sarah Thorne company and the following two years saw her touring America with the Kendalls in a variety of roles.

After her return to London her great chance came when Henry Irving offered her the part of Ann Boleyn in his production of King Henry VIII at the Lyceum Theatre (1892). This was followed by a period with Augustin Daly's Theatre company where she met her future husband the actor Arthur Bourchier.

Violet married Bourchier in 1894 and over the next few years frequently appeared on stage with him. It seemed the ideal theatre and marital partnership.. Their first child, a daughter named Prudence, was born in 1902 and she also was destined to become a successful Vanbrugh actress. Violet continued over the forthcoming years to charm her theatre audiences. In 1906 at Stratford upon Avon she played Lady Macbeth to her husband's Macbeth.

There followed an endless stream of dates and roles. They appeared in a film together in 1911 and two years later produced their own silent movie performing scenes from Macbeth. Sadly the off stage relationship had its problems and Violet and Arthur separated in 1916, their marriage was dissolved two years later. Violet continued her stage and film career throughout her life. She died in London in 1942, a strong woman, a pioneer, eclipsed somewhat by her younger sister.

17 May 2011

Keep Off The Grass

Miss Gertie Millar sings "Keep Off The Grass" 1901. From the Musical Comedy "The Toreador" GaietyTheatre, London, 1901.

15 May 2011

Edna May

Edna May Pettie (1878 – 1948), known on stage as Edna May, was an American actress and singer. A popular postcard beauty, May was famous for her leading roles in Edwardian Musical Comedies.

She was born in Syracuse, New York to Edger and Cora Pettie. Her father was a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier. Her surname at birth was spelled Petty, but the family later changed the name, by the 1880 census, to Pettie. Her siblings were Edelbert, Jennie and Marguerite. At the age of 5, she played Little Willie Allen in a production of Dora. By the age of 7, she had joined a children's opera company and performed Gilbert and Sullivan productions in Syracuse. She studied music at the New York Conservatoire.

Edna May and sister Marguerite

May made her professional debut in 1895 in Si Stebbings in Syracuse. She then moved to New York to take the small role of Clairette in Oscar Hammerstein's Broadway show, Santa Maria. That year, she married Fred Titus, who held a world record for cycling. They had no children and divorced in 1904.

In 1897, May played Violet Grey in The Belle of New York with only moderate success. The following year, the production played in London, becoming a hit and running for 697 performances, making May a star. After that, among others, she played Gabrielle Dalmonte in An American Beauty in London (1900), Olga in The Girl from Up There (1901) in New York and then London, Edna Branscombe in Three Little Maids (1902), Lillian Leigh in The School Girl (1903–1904) in London and New York, Alesia in La Poupée (1904) in London, and Angela in The Catch of the Season (1905) in New York. The Belle of Mayfair followed in London in 1906. May played the title character in Nelly Neil in London in 1907.

May was known for her beauty and received tremendous attention from male admirers. She was involved in a passionate but failed relationship with Prince Raj Narayan Bahadur (of the erstwhile kingdom of Cooch Behar in India) but could not marry him due to his parent's disapproval as she did not belong to one of India's royal families. Finally, in 1907, she agreed to marry millionaire Oscar Lewisohn and retired from the stage. The couple settled in England. They had no children, and Lewisohn died in 1917.

with husband Oscar Lewisohn

May lived at Winkfield in Berkshire during her retirement, but made brief returns to the stage in 1911 benefit performances of The Belle of New York at the Savoy Theatre in London and 1915's The Masque of Peace and War in London. Also in 1911, she appeared in the film Forgotten; or An Answered Prayer. She starred in a 1916 film version of The Belle of New York called Salvation Joan, donating the proceeds to charity.

She died in Lausanne, Switzerland, at the age of 69.

Text from Wikipedia

1 May 2011

Jane Burden Morris

During the summer of 1865, the pre-raphaelite painter and poet Dante Gabriel Rossetti invited the photographer John Robert Parsons to his home in London, to take a memorable series of shots of his favourite model at the time: Jane Morris, wife of William Morris.
While Parsons executed the technical part, it was Rossetti who took care of the cenography, poses, gestures, and each look, hairstyle, costumes and décors - with his mind in his future paintings.

See more of Jane Burden Morris here.
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