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no. 361

Saturday, 14 August 2004

Thespian Cartes de Visite,
London, 1870

Mathilde Sessi Clara Rousby

left, Mathilde Sessi (fl.1870s), opera singer, as the Queen of the Night in Mozart's The Magic Flute;
right, Clara Rousby (1852?-1879), English actress

(photos: The London Stereoscopic & Photographic Co Ltd, London, early 1870s)

'Suppose, reader, mine, I were to ask you to see me; supposed, further, in a moment of absence you accepted my invitation; still, further, that you really found your way into a square of Gray's Inn, that shall be nameless; and up the worn and bare staircase of a number that you shall not know, till you arrived at the portals of my second-floor habitation, and knocked thereat. Then, just for the fun of the thing, suppose that I said, "Come in!" that you came in, and that you sat down, with that affability that so well becomes you, upon my only unoccupied chair. Let all these suppositions be supposed, and I then want to know what I should do with you when I had got you there?
'If you are a brilliant conversationalist, as, doubtless, you are, you would, probably, open several promising topics of talk, which I, being a very bad hand at conversation, would soon shut up. Of course, it would be my duty, as host, to amuse you, and I should look around my chamber to see what I could find to minister to your interest. I look round as I write this, and, in sooth, I cannot see much likely to amuse an intelligent stranger. My collection of pipes, my hoard of old playbills, my limited library, could hardly claim your attention. True, there is a piano here - wiry in several bass notes though - and my collection of music is more varied than choice. I could give you "La Marseillaise", or the treble of "Il Balen" [from Verdi's Il Trovatore]; but it would be an infliction, I fear. So let the piano pass. My portfolios of cuttings it would be egotistic to show; what would you care to see my contributions to the periodical literature of the day, en masse? To read my lucubrations singly is, no doubt, rather too much for you.
''I can fancy how bored you would begin to look before you had been with me long. "What a dull fellow he is," you would say; "he doesn't make a single joke!" And you would be right. But all this time I am forgetting the books on yonder table. You can guess what they are, can't you? The dernier ressort of bashful hosts and backward visitors; the great family institution of the day; the Photographic Album! Even so! Well, we should be saved after all. I shouldn't let you look at the scarlet-covered one. That's the "relation and Friend" volume, and cannot possibly interest you; nor the "Brown Morocco" one, that contains nothing but politicians, and authors, and artists. I'm sure you don't want to see them. Ah! the square one is the album I should bring out.
'Do you known what I call it? My private green-room. It's bound in green, you'll notice, and it's full of actors and actresses. Shall I own at once that I have a weakness for actresses? Well, well; I won't enlarge upon it. Thanks to the London Stereoscopic Company, I can indulge my weakness in a very innocent way. You have no idea how eagerly I scan their window every time a new theatrical star has appeared in the dramatic firmament. I once thought of qualifying myself as a photographer, and then begging Mr. [George Swam] Nottage, on my bended knees, to take me into the Company's service, and attach me to the actress's camera. But I feared my nature was not Platonic enough for the trials I should have to undergo in that capacity; so I gave up the idea.
'What do you say, even though you are not my guest to-night, in having a look with me at my Thespian display? I am never tired of looking at it myself. What memories every leaf calls up! What burlesques, and dramas, and farces enact themselves again before my mind's eye as I gaze at these well-known faces. And I have got these pretty faces here all to myself, without the drawbacks that surround them when I view them on the stage, from my stall. There is no objectionable funny man in woman's clothes, no inane dialogue, no music-hall songs, no silly neighbours making absurd remarks. Nothing but charming faces, smiling at me from the open page; and not making any fuss, even if I am lunatic enough to kiss them.

Kate Santley

Kate Santley (1837-1923), American born English actress and singer

(photo: The London Stereoscopic & Photographic Co Ltd, London, circa 1875)

'Doesn't Kate Santley look pretty? Lots of fellows I know say she's the prettiest girl on the stage, but I don't; I won't commit myself to any such arbitrary statements. I'm very glad, though, she's left the music-halls; of course, you saw her in the Drury-lane Pantomime? How I envied Mr. [F.C.] Burnand, when I saw she took a character in his St. George and the Dragon, at the Strand. Do you know, I've written a burlesque myself - 'tisn't accepted yet; unfortunately, managers are so prejudiced, you know - and it's my devoutest wish that Kate may play in it? Fancy giving her hinds on her part! Mrs. Rousby, of course, I have. When I think how many times she must have sat, and stood, and knelt, and reclined for her portrait, I wonder she's alive to play on the 200th night of 'Twixt Axe and Crown. I think she's about the most charming thing Mr. Tom Taylor has ever taken from the French. Jersey is to a great extent French, you know; and he found her over there.
'I wonder where Miss Neilson is now. My last recollections of her in the flesh are, when she acted among the flowers and evergreens, at St. James's Hall, and gave us those jolly readings from the old dramatists. Isn't it a winsome face? You remember her in Uncle Dick's Darling; open, warm-hearted, merry Mary Belton! How I envied [J.L.] Toole his sounding kisses! and what would I hot have given to have played Mr. [H.R.] Teesdale's part.

Adelaide Neilson

Adelaide Neilson (1848?-1880), English actress.

(photo: Sarony, New York, circa 1875)

'Ah, yes! that's operatic. Sessi, the ideal of Paris! You hardly recognise her with all that prodigal profusion of golden hair, coiling in thick plaits around her head. We think of Sessi as we saw her on the stage at Drury Lane, with her auricomous mantle flowing over her shoulders.
'Patti - no, I won't begin about her, for I've promised this article shall not be long.
'I fancy I can remember when Louise Claire was not even in the first row of the ballet at the little house in the Strand; and now she plays two parts every night at the Vaudeville. What a lady-like face she has; that photograph her, leaning on the fan, is quite a study. She, too, is in the ideal caste of my burlesque.

Emily Fowler

Emily Fowler (c.1850-1896), English actress and singer,
as Paraquita, Queen of the Kokatoucans in the burlesque extravaganza
Columbus; or, the Original Pitch in a Merry Key, Gaiety, London, 17 May 1869,
written and designed by Alfred Thompson.

(photo: The London Stereoscopic & Photographic Co, London, 1869)

'How Miss Fowler has risen, too. I recollect seeing her for the first time in Robert the Devil, the extravaganza the Gaiety opened with. She played quite a minor part in that. Then she was the Indian Princess, in an elaborate undress of shells and feathers in Columbus; and soon after I found her with the Charing Cross Theatre under her management. How prettily she played in Mr. Wybert Reeve's petite comedies we all remember. On dit, she is to assume the command at the same theatre ere long. I shall be very glad to welcome her back.
'How charmingly pert, and bright, and animated Rachel Sanger looks! What a "go" she always puts into her burlesque parts! Her voice always fills the house. You should have seen her in Little Em'ly; and then in Undine afterwards. She is capital as the Fisherman's Son. You see, I have her taken in that character.

Jessie Anstiss

Jessie Anstiss (fl. late 1860s/1870s), English actress and singer

(photo: The London Stereoscopic & Photographic Co Ltd, London, and
hand coloured by W.M. Thompson, 20 Cockspur Street, London, circa 1870)

'If you've been to the Strand much lately you must have seen Jessie Anstiss. At any rate, you can look at her in my album. Don't you think she looks the picture of a thoroughly good-tempered, jolly, English girl? I do, not a bit of affectation or conceit about her. I hope we shall see her before the footlights again pretty quickly.
'Mrs. Scott Siddons doesn't favour us much now. We can ill afford to spare her. I like her Juliet and Rosalind very much. My first experience of her, was down in a quiet west country town, where she gave readings one night. I can well remember how my boyish passion was aroused, and I have now a copy of the verses I penned in her honour, and had inserted in the "Poet's Corner" of the local journal. I don't suppose she ever saw them. It's quite as well she didn't; she would only have laughed at my juvenile raptures.
'But her I am, chatting on as if all the paper was mine. I must reign in my "Pickwick." No, Maud Howard, not a line of rhapsody about you, except to say I hope to see you at the Royalty, in Julius Cnęsar, before long. And opposite to her is poor M. Marius. You recollect his charming broken English in Chilperic and Petite Faust. Poor fellow, he was called to fight for his country, and has been killed at Metz.
'No, really, no more. See! the very next is Mr. Vining, in La Malade Imaginaire; and that brings up unfortunate memories of the Adelphi, under Mr. [Charles] Reade's management, that make me shut the book immediately. Perhaps you may pay me another imaginary visit some day; then we will look at, and chatter over, some more of my photographic beauties. Unless you like to save yourself even an imaginary visit, and go in person and stock your album from the exhaustless stores of the Stereoscopic Company.
'If you were with me - to once more take up the supposition I started with - you should share my frugal supper with me; for I am weary of writing, and am about to partake of that indigestible meal. But why burden you with these confidences? Enough that I have given you a peep at my album; and so, good-night.'
(The London Figaro, London, Monday, 12 September 1870, p.3e/f)

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Gladys Cooper

Gladys Cooper as she appeared in Havana,
Gaiety Theatre, London, 1908

(photo: Bassano, London, 1908)

A sample of John Culme's hand made greetings cards,
currently available at the National Portrait Gallery, London.

The above greetings card and others like it have been made to celebrate Terence Pepper's current exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, London, devoted to Bassano's early 20th Century photographs of theatrical celebrities. Images of Gabrielle Ray and Gladys Cooper are featured in the exhibition as are some of their contemporaries on the London stage, including Gertie Millar, Moya Mannering, Gaby Deslys, Olive May and Gina Palerme. The exhibition runs until 31 August.

A special CD entitled Gaiety Girls has been produced to coincide with the exhibition, available at the National Portrait Gallery bookshop and also direct from Tony Barker. With masterly transfers by Dominic Combe from rare original recordings, and twelve pages of sleeve notes by Patrick O'Connor, the CD comprises the following tracks:
Alice Delysia - I Know What I Want (1933)
Jessie Matthews and Sonnie Hale - Hold My Hand (1932)
Cicely Courtneidge and Harold French - A tiny flat in Soho Square (1927)
Dorothy Brown and Roy Royston - When I Waltz With You (1926)
José Collins and Kingsley Lark - The Last Waltz (1922)
Mamie Watson and Roy Royston - Japanese Duet (1920)
Marjorie Gordon - Tickle Toe (1918)
Ada Reeve - Is It Nothing To You? (1915)
Moya Mannering and Leslie Henson - Meet Me Around The Corner (1915)
Haidee de Rance and George Grossmith Jnr - They Didn't Believe Me (1915)
Connie Ediss - I Like To Have A Little Bit On (1911)
Olive May - The Lass With A Lasso (1911)
Gaby Deslys - Tout En Rose (1910)
Denise Orme and Arthur Grover - Swing Song (1906)
Delia Mason and Maurice Farkoa - My Portuguese Princess (1905)
Evie Greene - Try Again, Johnny (1902)
Ellaline Terriss - Gaiety Medley (1903).
The disc also includes the following unique recordings of broadcasts from the 1930s: Gertie Millar - Keep Off The Grass; Phyllis Dare and W. H. Berry - Let Me Introduce You To My Father; Ethel Levey - Ragtime Medley; and Evelyn Laye - The Call Of Life.

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© John Culme, 2004