Category Archives: Theatre

A Dissatisfied Spectre: 1903

ghostly knight

A Spectral Job.

I had been told that the Blue Room was haunted, and was prepared accordingly for a pleasant, sociable evening.

“Oh, yes, a splendid old fellow,” said my host, referring to the resident spectre. “Fought at Agincourt, and is full of racy stories of the period. You ‘re certain to like him. Get him to tell you that story of his about Sir Ralph and the suit of armour. Good-night.”

When I reached the Blue Room the first thing I saw was a shadowy form seated in a despondent manner on the chest of drawers.

“Evening,” I said; “glad to meet you.”

He grunted.

“Mind if I open the window?”

He grunted again.

I was not used to treatment of this kind. All the ghosts I had ever met before had been courteous, and, even when not conversationalists, they had never grunted at me. I was hurt. But I determined to make one more effort to place matters on a sociable footing.

“You seem a little depressed,” I said. “I quite understand. This shocking weather. Enough to give anyone the blues. But won’t you start haunting? I have often known a little spirited haunting work wonders when a spectre was feeling a cup too low.”

This time he did speak. “Oh, haunting be hanged!” he said rudely.

“Well, tell me about Agincourt, then. Glorious day that for Old England, Sir.”

“I don’t know anything about Agincourt,” he snapped. “Why don’t you read your Little Arthur?”

“But you fought there”

“Do I look as if I had fought at Agincourt?” he asked, coming towards me. I admitted that he did not. I had expected something much more medieval. The spectre before me was young and modern. I pressed for an explanation.

“My host distinctly told me that the Blue Room was haunted by a gentleman who had fought at Agincourt,” I said. “This is the Blue Room, is it not?”

“Oh, him,” said the spectre, “he’s a back number. He left a fortnight ago. They sent him away so that they might give me the place. I don’t want to haunt. What’s the good of haunting? Foolishness, I call it. They talk about a career and making a name. Bah! Rot!”

“Tell me all,” I said, sympathetically.

“Why, it’s not my line at all, this haunting business. But just because I came of an old family, and all my ancestors were haunting houses in different parts of the country, the asses of authorities would have it that I must be given a place, too. ‘We’ll make it all right, my boy,’ they kept saying. ‘You. leave it to us. We’ll see that you get a billet.’ I told them I didn’t want to haunt, but they thought it was all my modesty. They recalled the old chap who was here, and gave me the place. So here I am, haunting an old castle, when I don’t know how to do it, and wouldn’t do it if I could. And everybody in the Back of Beyond is talking of the affair, and saying what a scandalous job it was. And so it was, too. The Spectral News has got a full-page caricature of me this week in colours, with a long leader on the evils of favouritism. Rotten, I call it. And just as I hoped I was going to get the one billet I wanted.”

“Ah, what was that?” I inquired.

“I wanted to go on the boards, and be a real ghost in a play, you know— just as they have real [persons of colour] that don’t need blacking.”

“Then your leanings are towards theatrical triumphs?”

“Rather,” said he; “I’m all for going on the stage. You should see me knock ’em.”

“Then I’ll tell you what I can do for you. I know the manager of the Piccadilly Theatre. He is just going to produce Hamlet, and I know he is looking about for someone to play the ghost. I don’t see why a real ghost shouldn’t make an enormous hit. Call on him, and he may give you the part.”

He was off in an instant.

A month later the papers were raving about his interpretation of the part, and wondering what Shakespeare was thinking about it, and the Blue Room was once more occupied by the ghost who had fought at Agincourt, one of the dearest old fellows I ever met.

Punch, Volume 125, 25 November, 1903

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  One can only imagine the scathing reviews in the Spectral News. But that is the younger generation of ghosts for you: spoilt, only concerned with their own affairs, not willing to lend a hand or begin at the bottom and work their way up. It is the same way with this modern generation of servants. But Mrs Daffodil is pleased that the old gentleman got his job back.

The ghost story was a standard of any self-respecting British periodical Christmas Number.  Such stories were usually goose-fleshers, but there are also some humorous classics, such as Jerome K. Jerome’s Tales Told After Supper and John Kendrick Bangs’s The Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall.

Mrs Daffodil has written before about a threat to the traditional Christmas ghost.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

 

 

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A Chat with a Wig-Maker: 1893

A WIG-MAKER AT HOME

I am assured that to the well-regulated mind Bluebeard’s chamber could never have presented half the horrors suspended, like Damocles’ sword, above my devoted head as I passed through the room sacred to “commerce” in the establishment of Mr. Clarkson, the wig-maker, at 45. Wellington Street.

In the aforesaid receptacle of Lord Bluebeard. only the capital portions of exceedingly charming young ladies seem to have been on view, while in Wellington Street all the visages of all the terrible beasts which have ever disported themselves in Dreamland. after overindulgence in Christmas pudding, confront the beholder.

They leered, they glowered, they smiled, suggesting pantomimes and Covent Garden balls, as I hastened beyond their realm into the sanctum sanctorum of Mr. Clarkson.

A cosy, oddly shaped little room is this sanctum, with all its walls which are not hidden by mirrors covered with rare old prints and photographs of celebrities. Here the stage beauties of past and present are to be seen in a collection begun by Mr. Clarkson’s father, full forty years ago. Most of the portraits are signed, and among the signature are those for which many a member of the jeunesse doree would gladly pour forth a golden shower.

This little boudoir of mirrors is the magic mill into which totters old age, to emerge later blooming with beaute du diable (in all outward appearance. at least), and Mr. Clarkson is the miller.

He is a small, fair-haired young man, of pleasant manner, looking even less than his twenty-eight years, despite the beard, which is evidently intended to confer a semblance of maturity, and he assured me that, including his studies in Paris, he had been in his present business since the early age of twelve.

On a pleasing and expansive background of necktie played a diamond surrounded with pearls, presented, together with a large frame of photographs to Mr. Clarkson by the Queen, in token of her appreciation of his various services. As Mr. Clarkson, “Perruquier and Costumier to her Majesty,” informed me of these honours his eyes travelled to the photographs of royalty in question, and mine followed his, not ceasing their peregrinations until they rested in amazement upon a large glass case, filled. apparently, with numerous gentlemen’s very prettily curled scalps. I threw a glance of horrified inquiry at my host.

“Hundreds of men in society wear things like these.” said Mr. Clarkson. “I could mention some names which might surprise you. Women have by no means a monopoly of the false-hair market. although they are so fond of pinning on artistic little fringes, and making their back hair look as though it must rival Godiva’s if it were let down. See,” he continued, indicating a radiant golden object which made me feel dazedly that Mr. Clarkson had been guilty of scooping some lovely female’s face out of the back of her head and throwing the former detail away.

“See, that is intended for a rather well-known woman of society, who has ruined her hair by constantly bleaching it. Natural, isn’t it?”

Half-tearfully, I admitted that it was, and changed the tenor of my thoughts by asking Mr. Clarkson if he had as many interesting anecdotes to relate as he had hirsute adornments to display.

“Come upstairs, where we will not be interrupted,” he returned mysteriously. “B__, the detective, will be wanting this room to get up a disguise in presently.”

Feeling that I was walking straight into the pages of a “shilling shocker,” I followed my host to an apartment above the precincts devoted to business, and which was, he informed me, the scene of his nativity. “I‘ve plenty of anecdotes,” he announced. “but first I’ll show you a few things which may interest you.”

The room was filled with Covent Garden ball prizes and souvenirs of regard from various celebrities, from which I found it hard to distract my attention, until Mr. Clarkson placed in my hand a large silver-clasped volume presented by Wilson Barrett. “This is my autograph album,” said he. “Unluckily. it never occurred to me to start one until a couple of years ago.”

I opened the book at random upon a delightful sketch by Bernard Partridge. representing, under the heading “Before and After Going to Clarkson,” a hideous skeleton and a dapper individual on the right side of middle age.

Mr. [W.S.] Penley had written “I don’t like London,” and Mrs. Langtry addressed her “Willie” Clarkson as “the only comfort of her declining years.”

“I am forty-seven to-day, but, thanks to your Lillie powder, my complexion is equal to a youth of seventeen,” wrote Arthur Williams; while sprinkled about over the classic pages I saw the chirography of the Kendals [William and Madge], the two De Reszkes, the Countess of Ailesbury [Louisa Elizabeth Horsley-Beresford], Ally Sloper [probably W. Fletcher Thomas, who drew the eponymous comics], Professor Pepper [of Pepper’s Ghost fame], and hundreds of brightly shining luminaries from Sarah Bernhardt to Lottie Collins, who, by-the-bye, send all the way from Paris and America to Clarkson for their wigs.

“Now you shall see some of my dearest possessions,” said Mr. Clarkson. Thereupon he summoned a “myrmidon” in the shape of a boy, who obeyed his behest, returning bearing several large objects, among which was visible a huge and wonderfully curled black wig. “That was worn by Louis XIV. at his coronation, and was secured by my father,” he explained. “Here is the original wig worn by Fred Leslie as Rip Van Winkle; here is a wax model of Mr. [Joseph] Jefferson in the same part, given me by himself, and the wig is made of his wife’s hair.”

Again the youth appeared, this time staggering under the weight of a figure clad in an extremely curious costume, mostly composed of feathers.

“This dress was given to Edmund Kean when he was created a chief of the Huron Indians,” Mr. Clarkson observed with pride. “He presented it to Miss Foote, the mother of the celebrity who became the late Countess of Harrington. She in turn gave it to Leigh Murray, the comedian, whose wife preserved it for upwards of forty years, before passing it on to Mr. [A.A.] Gilmer, of the Alhambra, who finally gave it to me.”

Having gazed at these most interesting relics, and also seen all that was mortal of Mrs. Langtry and Sarah Bernhardt’s “Cleopatra” back hair, as well as a trailing mass of golden locks used by Miss [Violet] Van Brugh, Miss [Ellen] Terry’s understudy, in the part of Fair Rosamund, I reminded Mr. Clarkson of the “anecdotes.”

“Well, I could tell you many, which would make you believe truth stranger than fiction,” said he. “Scarcely a day passes which doesn’t bring some queer experience or acquaint me with a secret, for you know, not only is my work among stage people and professional detectives, but with those who wish to see a bit of life, or amuse themselves in an eccentric way, or discover a mystery, or satisfy jealous suspicions, without being recognised. I ’m often asked, also, to conceal disfigurements, from black eyes to tattooing. Speaking of the latter, when the King of the Maoris was in England he used to frequent the Alhambra, and the difference in the actors‘ appearance on and off the stage puzzled him tremendously, until the mystery of ‘make-up’ was explained, and my name was incidentally mentioned to him.

The very next day he came here with his interpreter, saying he desired to be made up. It then transpired that his Majesty was fond of walking in Piccadilly, but that his pleasure was marred by the attention his dark face and plentiful tattooing excited. Could I hide both? Of course, I could, and did, much to the satisfaction of the king, who could hardly tear himself away from the mirror. The following day he returned, radiant with delight over the success of his experiment, purchasing enough grease paint and powder to last the remainder of his life. Just as he was departing, he rushed back to say very sternly that if his chiefs should come inquiring for articles of make-up I was on no account to let them have any.”

“Do women of society ever come to you for other purposes than to be made beautiful?” I inquired.

“Sometimes with precisely the opposite desire. For instance, only a few days ago a coroneted carriage drove to my door, and a woman over whose beauty London has raved for several seasons entered with a request to see Mr. Clarkson alone. I’d often made her up for private theatricals, so we were not strangers. She had a wager, she informed me, that she would be able to sell flowers for two hours in Piccadilly during the most crowded time of day without being recognised, and she expected me to help her win the bet. It looked a shame to hide that lovely face under a rough, dark make-up, change the shape of the straightest nose in England, and put stones in the pretty mouth to alter the contour of the cheeks. But I did it, added a frowsy wig, a common frock, a torn straw hat, and sent for a basket of violets. Instead of the stately beauty who had swept into my shop in her Parisian gown, away went a Cinderella without Cinderella’s fairness. But the experiment was successful, I learned next day, and the wager fairly won.”

“And now, won’t you give me something with a spice of mystery?”

“As much as you like. Well, then, one morning a closed brougham drove to my shop, and the footman handed in a letter which contained a request that one of my people should be sent out for the purpose of disguising a lady. That was all. We were given no means of knowing whether she was young or old, or what sort of disguise was wanted, however, one of my best men was packed off, with a variety of materials in his disguise box, and was driven rapidly all the way to Richmond, or, at least, within half a mile of the town. There he was asked to alight, and provided with a cigar, which he was ordered to continue smoking until he should see a gentleman, wearing a red carnation in his buttonhole, advancing along the left-hand side of the road. Then he was to throw his cigar away, as a species of signal. He obeyed his instructions, met a gentleman, well dressed and of fine appearance, who explained the programme which was to be carried out by my man at the hotel, with extreme precaution in keeping his purpose secret. Unfortunately, however, the proprietor of the hotel, who was a great frequenter of the Alhambra and other theatres where my people are employed, recognised the man and called out ‘Hullo, Clarkson!‘ The poor fellow was quite frightened, lest in some way his object should thus have been defeated, but, luckily, the office was nearly empty. and he was allowed to proceed towards the room mentioned in his directions without being molested. The door was opened by a pretty young girl, who seemed agitated and hysterical, and who nervously entreated to be disguised as an old woman with as little delay as possible. After that day, the same man was sent for once or twice a week, during a period of three or four months, ordered to proceed to different hotels in different places, and usually to have a new disguise ready. At last we learned that the young lady was an important ward in Chancery, who had been secretly married.

“The ‘black eye’ episodes are sometimes very funny to us, though usually annoying enough for those most nearly concerned. Not long ago, for example, a young lady went out for a quiet walk the day before that set for her marriage, and was struck between the eyes with a stone thrown by a small boy. She was to have a large church wedding, and was horrified to find both her orbs assuming a deeply mourning tint. At last some sagacious and sympathetic friend suggested me, and I had the honour of making up her eyes an hour before the marriage. The work was triumphantly accomplished, and the bride went to the altar a ‘thing of beauty and a joy for ever’ to her bridegroom and her relatives.”

“Haven’t I heard your name in connection with the discovery of some famous criminal or other?”

“Perhaps you are thinking of the Strand abduction case. Yes, it was through our disguises that Newton was arrested. I am rather proud of that affair,” Mr. Clarkson smiled intelligently, and I was waiting in breathless expectation for a thrilling reminiscence, when the door opened to admit the head of the previously-mentioned “myrmidon.”

Mr. Beerbohm Tree has sent down about that wig of his for ‘A Woman of No Importance,’” was the announcement.

And Mr. Clarkson was obliged to make his adieu more abruptly than I could have wished, leaving me in a condition of some bewilderment as to whether it was the wig. or the woman, or matters in general which were of “no importance,” or whether in reality they were all very important indeed. A. L.

The Sketch 16 August 1893: p. 129-130

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  We have met the illustrious Mr Clarkson previously, in a recent story of a fancy dress ball, where he drew his costume inspiration from a whiskey bottle. It is said that he was an accomplished black-mailer and insurance arsonist: eleven out of the twelve premises he occupied burnt down. It was also rumoured that he had made disguises for Jack the Ripper. He certainly was an inveterate name-dropper, but with such an illustrious clientele, who could blame him?

The Strand Abduction case was a sordid affair: Edward Arthur Callender Newton abducted Lucy Edith Pearman, the 15-year-old daughter of a Strand tobacconist, passing her off as his daughter Rose.

One wonders if the society beauty who won her wager impersonating a violet seller, inspired Mr George Bernard Shaw to write about the opposite transformation in Pygmalion.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

Weird Ghost Girls: 1914

Weird Ghost Girls Bathe in Light That They May Be Truly Ghostly.

An Indian maiden has a song to sing. What does she sing of? Men long dead. What does she say of them? She invokes their spirits; she invites them to reappear on earth. A sweet, strange music fills the air—but it does not come from her throat. The light grows dim, and from out the gloom glide forms pale and shadowy, in long robes of light. Noiselessly, swiftly they flit up and down the long aisles. The music but emphasizes the eerie silence. Then, suddenly, it ends in a discordant shriek. Up blaze the lights. The ghosts have faded—vanished into thin air.

Of course it is only a trick, you say to your neighbor. You are not quite sure that you are back on solid earth again, for surely you must have been in Shadowland. Otherwise, how could figures clad in blinding light dart past you, so close that you could almost touch them? You could understand it if they were on the stage, or if huge reflectors were enveloping them in dazzling beams. But they were no on the stage, and no slanting cones of light were breaking the darkness overhead. How is it done? How can human beings—for they must be human beings to move so surely and swiftly—radiate light from their own persons?

Well, it used to be a secret, but it will be no longer. Pale, pretty girls bathed in light—white light, the cold dead gleam of a winter moon, which off times scares the midnight wayfarer by lurking shadows cast in churchyard corners.

You don’t see how a girl could be baked in light? Well, come into the dressing room half an hour before the performance starts. There you will see the chorus girls “make up” for their ghost act. Over their costumes they slip doublets and cloaks of a white leathery substance painted with phosphorus. Cowls of the same material shroud their heads and faces. Then electricians take the soon-to-be-spirits in hand. In a row of giant arc lights, armed with powerful reflectors, stand the girls, and for twenty minutes or more they bathe in the strongest rays that a dynamo can conjure up. There they turn and twist until every portion of their costumes has been exposed to the light over and over again. Big black goggles have to be worn the whole time, for no eye could stand the intense glare, even for a moment. The phosphorescent paint with which they are daubed drinks in the light and stores it up until the time comes for the ghosts to flit up and down the aisles, thrilling the audience by their nightly apparition. But this paint must be renewed regularly or the power of the phosphorus would die out, leaving the ghosts just ordinary mortals.

But how do they pop so suddenly out of the darkness of the auditorium and fade away again? Quite simple! Each ghost has a gown and hood of deepest black and an attendant to handle it. They steal softly to the head of the aisles in parquet and balcony and stand there behind the audience ready for the cue. It comes. Off slip the robes and hoods and down the aisles play the weird forms. So quickly do they dart in and out through the auditorium that the spectators are conscious of nothing but a moving streak of gleaming light. And all the time the orchestra plays strange fairy music and so softly that it seems to come from a great distance. Otherwise, not a sound is heard, and the vast theater is plunged in utter darkness save for the ghostly figures of the light-robed girls. The effect is weird. You sit half terrified, half fascinated, and absolutely silent. The apparitions gradually move toward the head of the aisles. Then the attendant slips on the hood and robe and darkness envelops them once more. Up go the lights, and the thrill is ended.

Plain Dealer [Cleveland, OH] 11 January 1914: p. 37

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The thrill might be ended for the audience, but one wonders how long the horror went on for the “pale, pretty girls,” exposed to the poisonous phosphorus. Possibly the leather gave some protection, but one is not sanguine.

The dangers of phosphorus were well-known; the match-girls of London went on strike in 1888 to protest their exposure to the toxic substance, which caused a horrible disease called “phossy jaw,” (phosphorus necrosis of the jaw). Phosphorus was banned from matches in 1906, but was still available for other applications, including, apparently, theatrical special effects. We have met with an equally dire exposure before, in a novel Parisian “x-ray spook party.”

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

Noted Ladies of the Stage on Corsets: 1890

Adelina Patti endorses the Chicago Corset Company, c. 1880s https://www.rubylane.com/item/398016-4878/Chicago-Corset-Adelina-Patti-Advertising-Trade

A SYMPOSIUM ON CORSETS

The Theories and Practices of Some Noted Singers and Actresses.

[Chicago Tribune.]

A cablegram printed in the Tribune a few days ago said that Mrs. James Brown Potter had abandoned the corset.

A murmur was heard in certain quarters. What had Mme. Patti to say on the subject? A Tribune reporter found the diva in a room filled with the odor of roses. The reporter went at the subject without having been compelled to do so strategically.  Madame motioned Nicolini [her second husband] to a far corner in the room. Then she said in her own peculiar way:

“I think corsets are the correct thing. Some absolutely perfect figures may dispense with them, of course, but the average woman, and especially the stout ones, can not afford to eschew stays. I myself invariably wear them.” “And do you find them injurious?” “Not in the slightest. But, then, my stays are always extraordinarily loose. Interfere with singing? Why, people don’t sing with their stomachs, do they? It must be an oddly formed person who would. As long as one doesn’t wear stays about one’s throat there can be no interference. Now, I can not sing with as much as a ribbon confining my throat.”

Mme. Emma La Jennesse-Albani-Gye’s apartments at the Grand Pacific were as bright as a glowing fire when the reporter called. When “corsets” were mentioned a slight frown deepened in the clear gray eyes, but it passed as quickly as it came, and in her musical voice Mme. Albani gave her views.

“I believe in stays because I have always worn them. I shouldn’t like at all to go without and I’m sure the public wouldn’t like it. Imagine me, for I am a little stout, you know.”

“Plump, Madame, only plump.” “Ah! That is kind of you. Nevertheless you know I shouldn’t look well without a corset. I do not think I could keep up even. I believe the support to be essential absolutely.”

“And not detrimental?”

“Not unless so tight as to interfere with breathing, for breathing is singing. You have seen ‘The Huguenots,’ haven’t you? Yes, well, you remember we all have to wear long pointed bodices there—it was the style of the times—now how could we possibly do so without stays? I don’t know, do you?”

There was an all-pervading odor of roses and white hyacinths through Mme. Nordica’s apartments at the Richelieu. The songstress lay wearied and nervous beneath the eiderdown while her devoted sister tenderly bathed her throbbing brow. The dainty little lady mother sat amid the ruins of Madame’s floral offerings and chatted.

No, Lillian never wears corsets. That is, she never does now—not even for the street or salon. There was a time years ago when she wore them, but they were soon discarded. It was simply a matter of comfort with her. After a while she concluded to try them again. She had several pairs manufactured—little loves of stays, all in delicate satins

“How long did she wear them then?”

“Scarcely at all. One day she said to me: ‘Mamma dear, I am not as comfortable as I used to be; I shall return to the old ways.’ Since then she has never put a corset on.”

“Does she substitute a stiff waist?” “No; she simply wears a thin silk waist, without a suspicion of whalebone in the back and the merest hint of it at the front and sides. We make them all ourselves, so you may be sure they are simplicity personified.

“Cecil, dear, please put your head out of the window; we are having a costume talk and you really must not listen.”

Considering that a fierce rainstorm was raging without, Miss Rosina Vokes was making a cool request of her notably loving hubby.

Mr. Clay merely grinned quietly and sank back further into the recesses of the carriage, shutting his eyes as an indication that his ears were closed.

“My dear child, I couldn’t dream of not wearing corsets. I should not be able to dance or sing or anything. I should be tired to death in no time. Injurious! Fudge! Don’t you pin your faith to loose-seeming dresses. I know a lot of these Greek-draped actresses who lace tight-tight underneath the flowing draperies. Forgive me if I’m positive—that is my way—but I believe in corsets, pure and simple. I believe corsets are just as essential for a woman as suspenders are for a man, and one must wear them if one doesn’t want one’s things all slipping around and off. And then the support. Every decently formed woman needs support, of course. O! women who are excessively thin could go without stays, I fancy; but then they look all up and down, you know. When to put on corsets? As soon as the figure gives the merest hint of development. It is on the same principle as pinning a band tightly round a baby’s dear little body so that its precious back will not get broken. Every woman needs the support of corsets.”

Just then Mr. Clay opened the eye and directed an aside to his wife.

“Tight? Gracious, no. I should not want you to suppose I advocated such a thing for a moment. I honestly don’t believe in that. Don’t tell, though, but I used to be horribly vain. I once wore seventeens—just fancy! Seventeen corset—laced tight. I was off the stage then, and one day was at the Newmarket races. I was fancying myself, I assure you, when I heard an old English lord remark, apropos of me: ‘Good Gawd! She’ll come in half.’ It wasn’t pleasant, so now I wear my stays loose—quite.”

When Mary Anderson was here a Tribune reporter called on her in reference to this all-round question of corsets. Miss Anderson, in her artistic house gown, looked as innocent of stays as Perdita.

“Corsets?” with a cold, pale smile. “No, I don’t wear them. I see Mrs. Croly (Jennie June) has been telling tales out of school, so I may as well confess. I don’t wear stays.” “How did you come to discard them?” “It was after I went to England. My health was poor, and the doctor ordered out door exercise. I took off corsets then, and never put them on again. But then I have no superfluous flesh and am rather too slender. They did not interfere with my posing, but I feel better without them. It’s all ‘as you like it.’ I like it better without.”

“You wear a corset with conventional dress?”

“Never under any circumstances! And the ladies of my company do not wear them on the stage. Stage dressing is nearly always unconventional, except in society plays, the draperies being from the shoulder and armpit, and stays are manifestly out of place from artistic reasons alone.”

“Corsets? Of course I wear them. Who does not? Think of me as ‘Nadjy’ with nothing to tie those black spangles to. I’d drop to pieces,” said Miss Janson. [Miss Marie Jansen] “Then the Tribune might ask its readers to listen to the ‘Tale of Woe’ in earnest. Are they an inconvenience? Look!” She got behind a door in the parlor of the Grand Pacific hotel, and after a furtive glance down the corridor, daintily kicked the palm of her outstretched hand, executing a pirouette after it.

“I’m all right and my stays are as taut as a sail in high wind. Sometimes I have wondered what would happen if the strings should break. ‘Listen to the Tale of Woe,’” she hummed, casting her eyes meditatively on the chandelier.

“Pauline Hallo wears them, too, and all the chorus girls. Some of them would be sad figures if they didn’t. ‘Listen to the Tale of Woe.’ Of course, anyone who sings must wear them loose. I have one now, but look.” She took a deep breath which distended the region just above her fluttering heart that is nightly clasped in a jet black vise, and trilled airily “Listen to the Tale of Woe,” and had plenty of breath to spare after the effort.

Kansas City [MO] Times 19 January 1890: p. 14

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Operatic ladies, were, of course, known for their famously opulent figures; some even said that slimming cost them their voice. It is rather fascinating that four out of the six ladies who weighed in, insisted on the benefits of corsets. Reform Dress did not make much headway among denizens of the stage.

Adelina Patti was, of course, the prima donna assoluta of nineteenth-century opera. She was one of the financially shrewdest theatrical ladies of her day and, as we see from the advertising card at the head of this post, she endorsed the California Corset Company.

Madame Nordica was the so-called “Yankee Diva,” Maine-born Lillian Nordica, another opera star, famous for her collection of husbands and jewels.

“Listen to the Tale of Woe” was the signature tune of the once wildly-popular opera Nadjy.

Mrs Daffodil has previously reported on gentlemen, including actors, who wear corsets as well as the controversy over tight-lacing, The Flapper and Her Corset, and “The Autobiography of a Corset,” as well as several other posts on this absorbing subject, which may be found by looking under the “corset” filing tab.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

How a Shakespearean Fairy Flew: 1906

Miss Annie Russell as Puck in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. https://shakespeare.emory.edu/a-midsummer-nights-dream/msnd_russell_a_02_front/

MISS RUSSELL AS PUCK

In Every Way the Most Notable Shakespearean Offering That Has Ever Been Witnessed in Jackson

A Crowning Success.

[Miss Annie Russell’s] conception of “Puck,” is the most exquisite treat that has been given the American public in years. The loving mockery and elfish tricks of this household fairy present unique possibilities, and the charming little actress has taken advantage of each and every one of them. Her characterization of the role is the very embodiment of grace, delicacy and daintiness. There is something mysteriously and indescribably elfish about her “Puck,” that warms the cockles of the hart and makes the old young again. The witchery of her personal charm, the glint of her roguish eyes, the grace of her movement, the contagion of her laugh, form a perfect embodiment of what Shakespeare must have intended “Puck” to be, and if the great Bard and Avon could come to earth again and witness Miss Russell’s portrayal of his fanciful role, he would pronounce it thoroughly satisfying….

Never in the memory of the present generations of playgoers has there been such a production of Shakespeare’s fanciful comedy on such a vast scale. The offering Is embellished with mechanical perfection and the staging Is surrounded by artistic excellence never before approached…The flowers glow mysteriously when “Puck” touches them, owls blink solemnly on the tree boughs, fairies flit to and fro through the air with startling naturalness and precision, and every embellishment is wonderful in its originality and perfection. When Miss Russell makes her entrance in the third scene of the first act from aloft, lights on the branch of a tree, flits across to a mossy bank and settles down so softly that the tips of her dainty toes barely dint the downy landing, it looks like a defiance of the laws of gravitation, and forces the conclusion that the climax of fairyland realism has been attained in stage mechanics….

The audience last night marveled greatly over Miss Russell’s flights across the stage, and perhaps few realized the work that was behind that graceful act. Her entrance involves a secret of stage mechanism that is guarded like a jewel of rare price, and requires the alert work of six strong men.

It will perhaps be especially interesting to the ladies of Jackson to know what Miss Russell thinks of this flight. In chatting with the writer on this subject last night she said:

“If I were not an expert horse-woman I never could make that flight. Sounds strange doesn’t it? In the first place I want my friends to understand that I like flying through the air. It is a most exhilarating feeling to stand one instant firmly on the ground and the next to be switched off into space.

“The story of how it is done is most interesting. The apparatus used is in man of its details a secret—a series of wires weighted with bags of shot, worked through a clock-like arrangement, fitted with gear wheels, springs and bolts. It is this clock-like affair that holds the secret, and the owner guards it by removing it from the fly gallery each night and taking it home under his arm. All I know is that it can be so accurately adjusted that the wire will sustain a weight of 1,000 pounds or work just as well as if the weight is only one pound.

“The ticklish part of my flight is this. The machine must be adjusted to carry me between two fixed points. Now this is simple enough in the case of the flying fairies, because they start from one side of the stage and alight at a fixed point at the other side. In my case, I fly to a tree. Now this tree is set on the stage and it is a most difficult matter to set it in exactly the same spot each time. To be sure the stage is marked where the tree is to go, but the variation of a fraction of an inch makes all the difference in the world. That little difference would hurl me against the set piece and do no end of damage to some part of me. It is for this reason that each night, an hour before my flight is to be made, a bag of meal, of my exact weight, takes my place. Then the six men who work the apparatus yank the meal bag across the stage and into the set tree. As I watch that yank I am glad they do not rehearse with me. But once it is adjusted, my flight is as safe, and as sure, and as scientifically perfect as though I were walking across my own drawing room.

“But still there is considerable for me to do. When I land in the tree, I must steady myself in an instant, otherwise I would look like the bag of meal instead of like a bird. That’s where my expert horse-womanship comes in. When I fly from the tree to the stage, the most perfect workmanship is necessary on the part of the wire-workers, because if they did not give me slack the very instant my feet touch the stage I’d topple over like a nine pin.

Even when I do land, you must understand that I am girdled in a steel corset to which the wire is fitted. I land breathless, with this corset gripping me like the iron clad maiden of old. And if you think it is a simple matter to be gay and sprightly with this grip of steel about my heart and no breath—if you think it is easy, well, just try it.

“But for all the difficulties—or possibly because of all these difficulties—I like it. It is such a relief not to be the duffering heroine that I have been most of my stage life.”

Jackson [MS] Daily News 17 November 1906: p. 3

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Those “duffering” heroines Miss Russell speaks of were sentimental stock roles of Sweet Young Things named variously Sylvia, Esmerelda, Elaine, Hazel, Ada, Maggie, Edith, Ruth, or Sue, of which she heartily tired during her years in the theatre. She was, one fears, typecast, hence her delight in the role of Puck. However, this critic was less complimentary about the Jackson production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream” than the Daily News:  

The opening of the Astor Theatre, New York, September 21, 1906, was signalized by a production of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” made by the managers of that theatre, Messrs. Wagenhals & Kemper. Miss Annie Russell, an actress of English origin but exclusively American training, acted Puck, and was gay, agile, and frisky…. Puck, though a busy part, is subsidiary in the play, and, except that it provides opportunity for the manifestation of a sprightly, mischievous, frolicsome spirit, possesses no charm that should attract an actor of fine ability to undertake its representation. There is no obvious reason why a female should play it, and probably the only reason why a female ever elected, or was assigned, to play it is that Puck is most effective when assumed by a person whose figure is slight and handsome and whose temperament is volatile—as commonly happens with young women. The most that any player can accomplish with the part is an exhibition of physical agility and vital, elfish, exuberant delight in the mischievous activities of a droll deviltry. Miss Russell’s acting had usually manifested a sentimental temperament and a finical style, but as Puck she was moderately vivacious and pleasing.

Shakespeare on the Stage; Third Series, Volume 3, William Winter, 1916

An acrobatic flying corset used by the “Flying Dancer” Azella in 1865. Perhaps Miss Russell’s flying apparatus was similar. http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/Online/object.aspx?objectID=object-76193&start=10&rows=1

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

The Scotsman and the Lady of Doubtful Propriety: 1870

Francis Leon,  Harvard Theatre Collection

“THE GIRL OF THE PERIOD.”

A TRUE TALE.

Some months ago, in Melbourne, when the noonday sun was at its height and the main thoroughfare of the city, Bourke street, thronged with its usual crowd of sight-seers, business people, and members of tho “upper ten doing the block,” no little sensation was created by the appearance of a more than ordinarily showily dressed lady, chignoned and panniered in the latest fashion, who threaded the busy and wondering crowd and disappeared through the portals of a well-known photographer’s doorway not a hundred miles from the gateway of the Theatre Royal. Arrived in the studio the lady’s portrait was taken, apparently satisfactorily, for she retired to an inner room, which was furnished among other surroundings, with articles of the toilet, provided for the convenience of “gentlemen only” awaiting a sitting. Seated in the further corner of the room, patiently biding his time, was an elderly gentleman of Scottish extraction, prim, sedate, adamantine of feature and sparing of speech. The lady of fashion, with but a passing glance at the staid old person, took her position opposite the cheval glass, and after an admiring gaze at the face reflected therein, proceeded to divest herself of the head appendage, yclept in the 19th century a bonnet, “Eh, but its a braw lassie, and a vera fine head o’ hair too!” said the Scot, surveying the flaxen ringlets and tail which reached far below the waist of the lady in question.

“‘Tis a braw lassie,” he repeated to himself with a chuckle, evidently enjoying his contemplation of the fair belle before him. But his delight gave way to surprise as he perceived the lady deliberately proceed to unbutton her dress, and shaking its folds from her, step forth from them to the centre of the room. The old gentleman was bewildered and highly distressed. He was a decent modest man, with a wife and “bairns at hame,” and here he found himself in the presence of a lady evidently of doubtful propriety. Coughing, sneezing, and loudly blowing his nose for the purpose of calling the attention of the damsel to the fact of his being in the room, only convinced him that she was already aware of that fact, for casting a slight glance over her left shoulder, she threw him a look which he at once interpreted as seductive and bold to a degree. Still further was the old man astonished when the fair creature proceeded to unhook and cast aside her (it must he said) stays, and audible mutterings arose from him. “Eh, but it’s right down immodest, it should na be allowed in a Christian country; it’s dreadfu immoral and I’ll no stay to see it.” Thus determined, the indignant and terrified Scot rose with the intention of leaving the room, but easier said than done, the flaxen-haired beauty had possession, and turning full round, she, to the intense horror of the immaculate man, proceeded to disencumber her legs of her—but this was too much: human nature in the shape of a virtuous and indignant Scotchman could stand no more, so with a smothered “Heaven a mercy me” and a frantic bound, he cleared the room and fled. But not so easy to escape; for the fair unknown, with lengthy agile strides, pursued, and was beside him ere he reached the outer door; one more gaze, and the now terrified man fairly shrieked and darted forth unto open air; whilst peal upon peal of laughter followed from the operator, his assistant, and the fair and frail one also, who turned out to be no other than Mr George Darrell, in his burlesque costume of the “Young Girl of the Day,”

Evening Star 9 August 1870: p. 2

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: Mr Darrell was a well-regarded Australian actor, singer, and playwright. He was known as “Gentleman George,” and usually played male roles. However, in 1869 he took the part of “Marina” in the burlesque HMS Galatea and sang “The Young Girl of the Day”, and one of his own songs, “Doing the Block,” to much acclaim.

The illustration at the head of the post is of Francis Leon, one of the most acclaimed of 19th-century female impersonators.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.

 

Secrets of the Theatrical Costumer: 1903

Costume for The Sleeping Princess, Leon Bakst, 1921 http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/86840.html

Costume for The Sleeping Princess, Leon Bakst, 1921 http://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/86840.html

Where the Gorgeous Costumes of the Stage Are Made and Rented.

There are lots of people who can manage to push their way behind the scenes at a play, but there are very few who ever get as far behind the scenes as the shop of the theatrical costumer. In these days of elaborate staging, when the frocks make the actress, the costumer is the heart and soul, the alpha and omega of the play. Without him the prima donna and the problem actress alike would be birds of very shabby feathers, while the show girls would not attract a dozen patrons of the bald-headed row.

He is a mysterious person, whom nobody ever sees. Beyond his name, which is sometimes printed on the program, he is less known than the boy who gives out programs or the ticket taker at the gate. Yet, in his way, e is an artist who deserves to rank beside the manager and the playwright. If, at the last moment he should fail to be on hand with his production, the show could not go on; for the leading lady could not play Juliet in a sailor hat and the leading man could not do Romeo in a white flannel shirt.

The shop of the theatrical costumer is a fascinating place, smelling of moth balls and lavender, glittering with spangles and satins, jewels and tin armor, piled high with boxes and shelves, cluttered with costumes, thrown here and there, picture hats, kimonos, slippers, boots and frock coats lying around in what appears to be the wildest confusion, but what is in reality the most perfect order—so perfect in fact that any employe in the shop can lay his finger on any garment or part of a garment at a moment’s notice. Entering the place is like passing into a sort of fairy land where every character out of every play you have ever seen is dressed and ready to greet you. In a corner the short skirts, flowered petticoats, and shepherdess hat of Perdita lie disconsolate, her little slippers peeping from beneath them. Yonder you might almost fancy that Miss Marlowe had just stepped out and left her Beatrice frocks behind her. Over there is a suit of doublet and hose flung aside by some amateur Cyrano de Bergerac; and a ross the way madam Butterfly might just have taken wings, dropping her fluttering kimono as she went.

But all of the paraphernalia is only the theatrical costumer’s “junk,” hired for the most to amateurs for fancy balls. It is the odds and ends leftover from his big orders for regular customers, the driftwood from the great productions which he has staged. He could not make a living out of such stuff.

His real business is filling big orders of the large and elaborate productions which are put on every autumn. Summer is his great season. In the spring he takes his orders and employs his staff of hands and all through the hot days his shop is the busiest one in town. The machines are buzzing in his work rooms, leading ladies pass one another in disdain upon his stair; chorus girls flit in and out for fittings; managers wait upon him in his office. The president of the Untied States is no more important and no more sought after than is he. Sometimes the theatrical costumer is a designer, an artist of no little merit. He knows history from the flood down and can take his pencil and sketch you a picture of Noah correct to the very curl of his hair. But more often he employs his staff of designers as he employs his cutters, fitters, stitchers, basters and pressers. Every workman in his shop is a specialist, even down to the girls how sew on spangles and mend laces.

A Side Line on the Business.

There is a side line to the costumer’s business which is almost as remunerative as his regular business. It is the making of evening dresses for society women who hire them for a ball or for a season, paying an enormous rental, but not half so much as the frock would have cost them if they had had it made outright.

“You might not fancy,” remarked Carl Wustl, one of New York’s leading costumers, “that there would be a great deal of money in hiring gowns to society women, but there is. Even though the frocks we make cost a small fortune apiece and are designed by French artists and lined throughout with the most costly silk and chiffon, the profits are something extraordinary.

“Your society woman is after all very frugal and once a costumer gets a reputation among the upper ten he will supply half the elaborate costumes for great occasion> You see a society woman does not care to wear a dress more than once or twice, yet she wants the most expensive sort of gowns with the finest workmanship upon them. To hire a French designer and makers such as a costumer must have at his command would make each of her gowns cost a small fortune. Now she can come to us, order any sort of gown she wants, pay about one-third of its value and wear it as often as she would wear it were it her own.

“Here, for instance, is a gown with a remarkable history,” continued the costumer, taking down a gorgeous creation in white satin, tulle, and spangles, which looked as though it had been through an army campaign, so frayed were its ruffles and so tarnished its spangles.

“This gown cost $1,000. There are just 75,000 spangles on it and every one was applied by hand. It was designed and made for one of our best patrons. She is a society woman who is famous for her gowns and is known never to wear a frock on more than one occasion. Her husband is wealthy, but her lavishness in dress astounds even her intimate. This frock she wrote to the famous Bradley-Martin ball. With it she wore hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of jewelry. And what do you think the gown cost her? Just $300 for the night. In the morning papers her costume was described in elaborate detail.

Of course a responsible costumer would never by any chance rent a gown to two women in the same set or even in the same class of society. After the Bradley-Martin ball that dress saw no more of the four hundred. It was then let for the season to a certain smart looking woman in quite a different set, who wore it on five occasions only, but paid $500 for having it reserved for her exclusive use for three months. The next season a stock company star saw it. It was renovated and remodeled to her taste and she hired it off and on by the week during the season, paying $50 a week for the use of it. By that time it had pretty well paid for itself. But it was so substantial that it bore renovating once more. A little Jewish bride, who wanted to make a stunning effect and could afford only $10 for her wedding dress, saw it and hired it. After that I seemed that every Jewish bride on the East Side knew of it and it did service at ten or twelve weddings during the winter. With such hard service it got pretty soiled and shabby and I was going to hang it up as a souvenir, when a little Irish girl came in to hire a dress for a fireman’s ball. She saw the $1,000 frock, got stuck on it and it saw one more night of service. Now I am going to keep it as a relic and for good luck. It shan’t go out again,” and the costumer lovingly tucked the soiled satin folds once more into the box.

Sometimes a set of costumes made for a production will have almost as varied a history as the society woman’s frock. Their first appearance in all their pristine freshness is of course in the big metropolitan production for which they are designed. If the play is a success, they are worn by the company or an entire season and carried all over the country. In the spring, when the play closes, they are brought back by the management and bought in once more by the costumer, who gets them for a song. They are then renovated and kept for local stock companies, wo hire them again and again as long as they are presentable. After that they do service in amateur productions and for fancy dress balls.

“The making of theatrical costumes,” said a famous costumer, “is more of a fine art than ever before. The costumes are much more expensive than they used to be in days gone by when the leading lady wore white muslin or black poplin and the kings wore cotton-backed ermine. Costumes now have to be the real thing, inside and out. The satins must be silk backed and heavy enough to stand alone, the laces must be fie and delicate, even the roses on the hats must be silk or velvet, and the gowns must fit without a winkle and be as artistic in cut as the frocks of the wealthiest society women. Managers are as particular as old women and electric lights show up every detail, even to a spangle. The costumer who deals in cheap stuffs and cheap labor will soon lose his custom.”

theatrical-chorus-girls-with-parasols

“Yes, odd things do happen sometimes,” went on the maker of theatrical togs, meditatively smoking his cigar. “Our costumes have some remarkable experiences, and if they could talk might tell some funny stories. I remember once that I was called into court on a curious mission. It was to vie evidence against a chorus girl. I had just the week before made up and sent out a full set of costumes for a comic opera. Six of the costumes were conventional evening frocks of a very elaborate order. They were very expensive and the show girls wore them for only a few moments during the play. After that they were carefully put away in cotton-lined boxes by the maid. With them were large picture hats, silk stockings, gloves and satin slippers.

Her Costume Familiar.

“The first week of the production I dined one night at an up-town restaurant. I had just finished my coffee and was lighting my cigar, when a beautiful young woman entered, followed by a gilded Johnny in full dress. Something about the woman struck me as very familiar, but I could not place her among my acquaintances. As she took her seat she lifted her skirts and, as I caught a glimpse of her satin slipper, it flashed upon me where I had seen it before. She was wearing one of the six costumes I had made for the comic opera production. She was without exception the most stunning woman in the room, and the way she kept the other people turning their necks and trying to guess what famous member of the four hundred she might be would have made any chorus girl want to borrow the company’s costumes for a night.

“But it seems that her glory was only for a night. Somebody must have peached; for next day I was called into court to identify the costume, and a more irate stage manager or a more humiliated chorus girl, I never saw. She confessed, of course, that she had bribed the maid and borrowed the gown for the evening, and protested with many tears that she had not hurt the gown a bit. But she was fined just the same. It was only one of the sad little scenes that pass with the rest of the tragedies and comedies under the nose of the theatrical costumer.”

Denver [CO] Post 25 October 1903: p. 36

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire:  Mrs Daffodil has previously reported on moving-picture actresses who are martyrs to their public’s demand for the latest in fashionable frocks.  This peep at the behind-the-scenes workings of the theatrical costumer sheds a fascinating light on where the “Four Hundred” get their gowns.

Mrs Daffodil once knew of a lady whose beauty and title could not obscure her lack of breeding. She had contracted with a costumer (as did the lady of the one-thousand-dollar dress above) for a unique and exquisite ball gown in which she hoped to burst upon Society as the wife of an elderly Duke. (They had been hastily married abroad and His Grace wished to show off his new acquisition to his friends and disapproving children of his first marriage.) For a young person who had just risen from a theatrical background (second chorus, mind…) she had been most exacting and disagreeable with the costumer and particularly with those ladies who were in charge of sewing on the spangles. The costumer, who knew a parvenu (and a potential annulment) when he saw one, supplied his spanglers and dressmakers with some aged thread which he had been meaning to discard.

Her Grace was the cynosure of all eyes in the breathtaking gown, particularly when she began to shed her spangles. A little drift of the glittering objects swirled about her hem in the receiving line and several guests were seen discreetly removing sequins from their soup at dinner. His Grace got several spangles down his throat during the first waltz with his new bride and had to be assisted back to his quarters, red-faced and choking. Her Grace had no shortage of partners, and so carried on, until, about the third Waltz-Gallop, the well-fitted seams of her gown began to show the strain. First she shed a sleeve, then the bodice fastening parted, and when her train gave way abruptly, Her Grace found herself in the embarrassing position of a Nymph Surprised While Bathing, with rather more Valenciennes insertion.  The Duke’s children instituted legal proceedings for a swift annulment; and, although she received ample heart-balm through the courts, the young person is now back in the chorus.

Surely a lesson for us all to be kind to those who have been placed in humbler circumstances than ourselves.

Mrs Daffodil invites you to join her on the curiously named “Face-book,” where you will find a feast of fashion hints, fads and fancies, and historical anecdotes.

You may read about a sentimental succubus, a vengeful seamstress’s ghost, Victorian mourning gone horribly wrong, and, of course, Mrs Daffodil’s efficient tidying up after a distasteful decapitation in A Spot of Bother: Four Macabre Tales.