Celebrity for the week ending
Saturday, 12 September 2009

Elise Holt (1847-1873),
English burlesque actress

Elise Holt

Elise Holt

(photo: The London Stereoscopic and Photographic Co, London, circa 1865)

'STRAND. - The programme has been slightly varied this week, the clever drama of One Tree Hill having been preceded by the old farce of Deaf as a Post, and followed by a revival of the popular burlesque of Aladdin, in which Miss Elise Holt, an importation from the trans-pontine [i.e. the Surrey side of the River Thames] region, has made her first appearance here as ''the Wonderful Scamp.'' Miss Elise Holt has a lively style, and abundant confidence in her own powers, the result of the combination being apparently quite satisfactory to the audience. Her lines are smartly given, and her dancing is so good that encores follow every specimen of her Terpsichorean powers.'
(The Era, London, Sunday, 7 May 1865, p. 11c)

'SEPT. 29th [1869]. . . A LITTLE English burlesque actress, entitled Elise Holt, is giving us a taste of the most outre style of burlesque at the ALHAMBRA THEATRE with indifferent success. Are such performances really tolerated in England?'
(The Era, London, Sunday, 24 October 1869, p. 6b)

'THE event of the week has been the return of Miss ELISE HOLT to the Strand.
'A few other things have happened. One or two old comedies have been revived, for the purpose of showing how much superior some of the present actors and actresses are to the generation passed away. There have been several benefits, more or less entertaining. There have been a good many empty benches in some of the houses - more particularly those where, in consequence of the great demand for places, the free list has been entirely suspended.
'But the event of the week has been the reappearance of the great favourite at the little house.
'Ever so long ago, the hand that writes these lines penned a prediction of future greatness for another little lady at this theatre, who since then has given up the breakdowns she was so celebrated for, and achieved some notable triumphs in genteel comedy somewhat farther north.
'When Miss MARIE WILTON was gone, there followed a sort of interregnum, in which many shapely forms and ravishing pairs of satin boots of various hues, all more or less delightful, fretted their hour on the stage, and passed away, leaving but a faint echo of their brass-tipped heels behind. A score of pretty faces came and went, the fickle public sharing its praise amongst them all, but singling no one out; and then came ELISE HOLT.
'She came and conquered - with a bright smile and a baby's pout, and wondrous activity of nimble feet, a saucy style very charming, a dainty gait and pretty swagger, great wondering eyes, bright teeth, and no particular nose to speak of. There were the charms that lighted up the wearing faces in the stalls as though a gleam of sunshine had fallen on them - these were the qualified that set the pit and boxes loudly clamouring for double encores, and brought down thunders from the gods above.
'She was from the very first a hit. Some of the papers wrote her down. A good many very proper people pooh-poohed. The very clever ones, who came with tickets, disdainfully ignored her presence, but the public that paid its shilling came to the rescue, and lustily clapped its hands and banged its boots, and called for more and more.
'And then, in the very height of her popularity, she left us and journeyed over the seas, and performed feats of prowess, terpsichorean and otherwise, in the United States, and made a lot of money and came home again, and here she is once more at the Strand Theatre, where, for years to come, JUDY hopes to come and see her.
'Miss ELISE, the Old Lady makes the best burlesque actress of the London stage her best bow, when she drops you her lowest curtsey. My dear, she's very glad indeed to see you back again.'
(Judy, London, Wednesday, 29 June 1870, p. 94)

The Death of Miss Elise Holt.

‘The above-named lady, known in private life as Mrs Horace Wall, died of typhoid pneumonia, at Pittsburgh, Pa., at nine o’clock on Sunday evening, December 28th [1873]. She was born in London, July 11th, 1847, and was in the twenty-seventh year of her age. She made her first appearance in public in 1863, singing a comic song at the Surrey Gardens, in her native city, under the direction of Mdlle Louise, a dancer, whose pupil Miss Holt afterwards became. Later she appeared as the principal dancer at the Victoria. Subsequently she married Mr Palmer. On December 7th, 1868, she came to America as the chief feature of a burlesque company which had been engaged in England by Mr Horace Wall. She made her American debut at the Olympic Theatre, Boston, Mass., December 21st, 1868, in the burlesque of Lucretia Borgia, M.D. [i.e. H.J. Byron’s Lucrezia Borgia, M.D.; or, La Grande Doctresse, first produced at the Holborn Theatre, London, 28 October 1868], and became a great favourite with the public there. The troupe subsequently came to New York , and acted for a brief season at the Waverley [sic] Theatre, afterwards Kelly and Leon’s Minstrel Hall. They then performed in Philadelphia, and then went to California, where Miss Holt procured a divorce from Mr Palmer, and some time thereafter was married to Mr Horace Wall. Shortly they returned to England, and, after an absence of some three years, Mr Wall arrived in America in the Fall of 1872, as the business Manager of Dion Boucicault. In the summer of 1873 Miss Holt returned from England, and in September commenced a Fall and Winter starring tour at Wood’s Museum, New York, going thence to Boston, Mass., Cincinnati, Louisville, and New Orleans, commencing an engagement at the Academy of Music in the latter city on the 17th of November. During that engagement she was attacked with the ''break-bone'' fever, then epidemic, and, after the evening of November 20th, was unable to appear in public. She acted on the 20th in the burlesque of Lucretia Borgia, M.D., in which she made her first appearance in America. On December 3d, having been pronounced sufficiently convalescent by her physician, she, in company with her husband, started for Pittsburgh, Pa., where she was to have commenced an engagement on December 8th. On her arrival in that city she was attacked with the disease which proved fatal as above stated. Miss Holt was of an amiable disposition, vivacious, and speedily made friends of those with whom she came in contact. She left a little daughter and some relatives residing in England.’
(Quoted from an unnamed American newspaper in The Era, London, Sunday, 18 January 1874, p.10d).

Elise Holt

Elise Holt

(lithograph portrait by Alfred Concanen from a song-sheet
after a photograph, London, early 1870s)

For further information about Elise Holt, see Mark’s 1800s Emphemera web site; and Kurt Gänzl’s The Encyclopaedia of the Musical Theatre (Schirmer/Gale Group, USA, 2001), and Lydia Thompson, Queen of Burlesque (Routledge, New York, 2002), a biography in the Forgotten Stars of the Musical Theatre series. See also the Adelphi Theatre, London, for the seasons of 1870/71 and 1872.

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© John Culme, 2009