Category Archives: Theatre

The Chorus Girls Make a Dragon: 1893

ali baba headline


Startling Stage Realism Ingeniously Made of Harmless Material.

[Boston Herald]

There are, indeed, tricks in all trades, and, as theatrical business has become more or less of a trade, it follows that it has its tricks. “In “Ali Babi,” the big spectacle presented by the American Extravaganza Company at the Globe Theater, there appears at a given hour something which makes a man who has been drinking feel queer, while the prohibition contingent look at it with horror and then with delight. This is the snake, or as it is billed, the dragon, and it is forty feet long. It is a very ingenious affair, and was made in Paris by M. Ganet, the master of properties of the Chatelet Theater.

The body of the reptile is nothing more nor less than twenty young women who travel on all fours, and who, at the right moment and a given signal, jump up and reveal themselves as diabolical sprites. They are clad in gray tights and green bodices, and on their heads are little horned skull caps. The article of attire that gives to each the appearance of apportion of the serpent’s body, and which, when the twenty girls creep along in follow-the-leader fashion, makes a wriggling, creeping snake of monstrous size, is a satin-lined cloak of thin canvas, which is roughly painted and mottled in green, yellow and white to represent the scales of a reptile’s hide.

The awe-inspiring, bird-like head, with rolling, ghastly eyeballs and crocodile jaws, serrated with rows of cruel, sharp teeth, is said to be the most ingenious part of the affair. It is made of papier mache and wicker work, light enough for a boy to carry, and, with devices inside to move the jaws and eyes.

The eyes are swung on a pivot and worked by means of a spiral spring. The huge jaws are hinged, and a stout lever inside, with the aid of a little muscle, makes them snap and yawn ferociously. Each nostril is shaped like the crater of a volcano, and the aperture from which the molten lava would come is replaced by a little alcohol lamp, the faint, blue flame of which cannot be seen from beyond the footlights. Over each of these lamps the fan-shaped mouth of a long tube comes. About six inches from the lamp and connected with the tube is a receptacle for lycopodium. When the boy who manipulates the apparatus concludes that it is proper for the dragon to make an imposing display of its ferocity, he blows through the tube, the powdered club-moss seed is scattered over the alcohol flame and makes a ghastly bluish and altogether startling flash.

Cincinnati [OH] Enquirer 11 March 1893: p. 12

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: The dragon was a high-light of the Ali Baba entertainment and was invariably mentioned in reviews and advertisements.

“The Dance Diabolique,” executed by twenty secundas, who are metamorphosed from a monster fire-breathing dragon…. The Salt Lake [UT] Herald 1 January 1893: p. 6


The ballets of “Ali Baba” are three in number, and are novel in both movement and costuming. They are a Nautch dance in the first act, a demon dance in the second act, in which a monstrous, fire-breathing dragon is instantaneously transformed into a score or more of dancing sprites… The Indianapolis [IN] Journal 23 April 1893: p. 10

 Victorian stage designers were most ingenious, creating on-stage sand-storms and thunderous tempests. Costume designers peopled the stage with fanciful animals and made fairies fly.  A forty-foot dragon would have been a mere bagatelle.

Mrs Daffodil regrets that she was unable to find a photo-gravure of the ensemble en dragon, but she was able to locate an illustration of one of the costumed young ladies.

ali baba dragon chorus girl costume

A thumbnail sketch of the costume of one of the chorus who made up the body of the dragon.

The dragon dance sounds like an uncomfortable occupation, even for the young and lithe. Mrs Daffodil suggests that a more appropriate name for the entertainment would have been “Creeping Beauty.”


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 Talking Dog: 1891

gypsy the talking dog


A Paris Saloon-Keeper Taken In

Too Much Faith and Cupidity.

A queer case came before a Paris police court the other day, in which a saloon-keeper named Latrouche appeared as complaining against a traveling showman called Pivot, whom he charged with swindling him out of 400 francs under somewhat strange circumstances. In the first portion of his long statement to the presiding judge, Latrouche insisted that the prisoner’s dog could talk. But the story is best told in the following stenographic report of the proceedings.

The President (to the complainant) “Well, I must say that you have a robust faith.”

The Complainant Latrouche—”But, Mr. President, the people who were in my place at the time also believed—that the prisoner’s dog talked just like a human being.”

“Well, what did he say?”

“The accused, Mr. Pivot, came into my establishment with his dog, a little brindle. Well, he sat down at a table, and the dog jumped up on a stool and squatted himself beside his master. I approached the man asked him what he wished to have. He replied, ‘a bock;’ and right then a queer voice added, ‘and a piece of veal for me!’ I was astounded, and looked about to find out where that voice came from. Pivot said, ‘Don’t be frightened, it is only my dog.’ ‘What!’ said I; your dog can talk?’ ‘Yes,’ replied Pivot, ‘I taught him to talk!’ Well you can imagine my astonishment, and, thinking that the fellow was fooling me, I said, ‘Make him speak again.’ Then Pivot said: ‘Ask him what he wants.’ Then I, not believing the thing possible, but just to see, said to the dog, “Well, old fellow, what will you have?’

‘I told you I wanted a piece of veal!’ said the dog. My wife, my children, my waiter, and all the customers exclaimed in wonder: ‘Gracious, he talks! As for me, I remained nailed to the floor, motionless as an ecce homo, until the accused remarked: ‘Well, well, why don’t you serve use?’ I got the bock and the piece of veal. I gave the beer to the individual and the meat to the dog.

“Then my wife brought me into a corner; my young ones came and my waiter also came. ‘You must buy that dog,’ said she, ‘and put up a sign, Au chien qui parle! Crowds will come and we will make a heap of money!’ My youngsters also said: ‘Oh, yes, papa, buy him!’ And my waiter remarked: ‘That is going to put an awful amount of work upon me, with all the people that will come.’

“Well, finally you bought him?’

“Yes, sir, 400 francs; but immediately after paying down my money the dog said to his master: ‘So that is what you are doing! Selling me, eh! Very well, I won’t speak another word.’

“And he didn’t speak after his master went away.”

“Not a word, not a syllable, nothing; and in the evening everybody was laughing at me. They told me that the dog’s master must have been a ventriloquist. Then I became furious at being swindled. I went to the commissary of police and told the whole story. He nearly split his sides laughing. Eight days afterward I found the thief at the Montmartre fair, where he was performing as a juggler.”

The President (to the prisoner)—”You are a ventriloquist?”

The Prisoner—”Yes, sir.”

“And you swindled the plaintiff by making him believe that your dog could talk?”

“It was he who tormented me to sell the dog. I didn’t want to sell him, because I made my living with him. Then the plaintiff said to me: ‘I’ll give you 200 francs.’ I refused. ‘Three hundred!’ said he. Then I began to say to myself that I might get another dog. The plaintiff said finally: ‘Come, I’ll give you 400 francs, with the bock and the piece of meat thrown in.’ Well, then I accepted.

“And what became of the dog?”

“Oh, he found me out again; but the gentleman can have him if he wishes.”

Latrouche—”Thank you, I don’t want your dog that can’t talk!”

The President (to plaintiff) “So it turns out that it was you that pressed the prisoner to take your money.”

Latrouche—”Because my wife told me that with the sign ‘The Talking Dog’ I would make a heap of gold as big as myself.”

The prisoner was discharged.

The Evansville [IN] Courier 21 June 1891: p. 1

Mrs Daffodil’s Aide-memoire: A gallant gentleman, indeed, to blame the wife for his avarice and credulity!  One suspects that the aptly-named M. Pivot was not quite as reluctant to part with the animal as he testified; there are other records of mountebanks training their talented animals to find their masters after sale. The dog rebuking his master for selling him with silence was the perfect touch.

For genuinely talented dogs, please see Caesar, Jack, and Paddington Tim–dogs who collected at rail-way stations for charity, A Clever Dog Drives a Bargain, and The Dog- Caddie.

One of the footmen, who has a somewhat juvenile sense of humour, told Mrs Daffodil of an amusing “Looney-toons cartoon” about a singing frog.  He saw similarities to the story above, except there is no dog and no ventriloquist. Mrs Daffodil will let her readers decide if the comparison is apt.

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.


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.




A Chat with a Wig-Maker: 1893


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


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.


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.

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.