Celebrity for the week ending
Saturday, 18 April 2009

Gertie Millar (1879-1952),
English musical comedy star,
interviewed by New York drama critic,
Alan Dale (1861-1928), London, 1911

Gertie Millar
Gertie Millar

(photo: Foulsham & Banfield, London, circa 1908)

'''GERTIE MILLAR SIGHS FOR SOMETHING NEW'' - Says Alan Dale.
'''It is possible for a Gaiety girl to own all the Gaiety requirements and yet be able to throw plates and break glasses in moments of festive indignation.''
'By Alan Dale.
'The George Edwardes Girl is not necessarily a beautiful, pleasurable mollusc. Don't believe it for a solitary moment. Perhaps the most memorable and pictorially interesting of the Gaiety sirens have been the placidly lovely damsels who have ''married into the peerage.'' But - there are others. It is possible, though not at all unusual, to be a George Edwardes Girl with a ''temperament.'' By that I mean that it is possible for a girl to own all the Gaiety requirements and yet be able to throw plates and break glasses in moments of festive indignation.
'I always thought that Miss Gertie Millar had a certain ''temperament'' of her own. Slim, willowy, with flashing eyes, and very red lips (I didn't say very ''reddened'' lips), Miss Millar appealed to me as a personality rather than a beauty. In New York she had very little chance. She was one of the Girls of Gottenberg, and they were not at all skittish. In London, of course, she can do what she likes, and I fancy that she does it.
'It was after witnessing a very curious incident at the Adelphi Theatre, where I went to see Miss Millar in The Quaker Girl, that I asked her to ''chat'' with me.
'This was the incident: It was the night of the Derby and London was conventionally demoralized. Mr Joseph Coyne, who plays ''lead'' in The Quaker Girl, did not appear at all in the cast. His place was taken by an understudy. Miss Millar came on in due-est course, and sang her opening song, prettily enough. As far as I could make out from the front, Coyne's understudy seemed to ''get on her nerves.'' At any rate, after having sung her first song, she never appeared again that night. An understudy finished the performance for her. Nothing was explained. I could imagine her ''throwing things.'' It pleased me to believe that here at last was a London favorite with ''nerves,'' and so overjoyed was I at the discover that I begged Miss Millar to ''receive'' me.
'And so I went to the Adelphi Theatre to meet her at home, in her dressing-room. I've come to the slow conclusion that the dressing-room is the very best place in the world in which to meet actor-ladies. It beats the suburban flat, the stereotyped hotel or the lonely diggings in which the stage lady attempts to pretend that she is not. Real? Who wants reality? If she were real I should not want to be chatting with her. It is because she isn't real that she is interesting. Therefore, I say, 'Rah for the dressing-room!

Gertie Millar

Gertie Millar as Prudence in The Quaker Girl,
Adelphi Theatre, London, 5 November 1910

(photo: Rita Martin, London, 1910)

'Miss Gertie Millar's star-chamber was most comfortable and alluring. I'll say one thing for London theatres, and it is that they don't ''stye'' their artists, as is often the case in New York. The London star dressing-room is commodious, even ''elegant,'' and it has repose - like everything in London. It is restful, not suggestive of hustle, and it is, furthermore, picturesque. Miss Millar had just pirouetted from the stage when I was ushered in. The act was over. She had quite a long wait, and as she greeted me she allowed a gracious smile to illumine her thin features.
'Very thin is Gertie Millar. Her movements are quick, electric and vivacious. Her dark eyes fix you and scintillate as she talks. She isn't a bit like the usual London favorite. It dawned upon me that it would be seemly and pious to appear deferential. After all, I have to do a bit of acting myself on these hectic occasions, and by dint of long practise I have become a tolerably successful actor.
'''I used to read you every day when I was in New York,'' she said, ''so I know all about you, and you can consider yourself introduced.''
'Of course, that was very graceful. If I had been ten years younger I should have been flattered. Most scribbling fledglins like to be told by pretty girls that they have been ''read.'' I fancy I used to like it myself, once upon a time. Now, alas! it cuts no ice. When an actress tells me that she ''reads'' me, it sounds like a platitude - a mere substitute for ''We're having fine weather,'' or ''We're not having fine weather.''
'''You recall New York to me,'' she continued with a plaintive sigh. ''And I loved it. Oh, I had a lovely time in New York, and I want to go back.''
'I was sorry for this conventionality and felt it my duty to nip it in the bud. The day was long since passed when ''I love dear America'' had the slightest interest for anybody. And as for dear America, it got tired of being loved at least a quarter of a century ago.
'''You are so much on the alert,'' she continued, piling on the agony, ''and you have such delightful ingenues and soubrettes. Here in London nothing new happens and no new favorite occurs. It is really dreadful. Personally, I should welcome the advent of new blood. It inspires competition, and it is healthy. But year in and year out we have the same people. I look around everywhere for some new personality. This is nobody.''
'This sounded awfully good. Miss Millar's eyes flashed. I wondered what she was ''getting at.'' For a star to complain that there was nobody to vie with her seemed ominous. I was puzzled.
'''You wouldn't like'' - I began.
'''But I should,'' she said most energetically. ''Indeed, I should. Why, the other night, when that little girl played my part, I was really delighted. I had given her a chance, and I fancy that she made good.''
'Miss Millar looked at me steadily. My face, I believe, was immobile. I've never yet met a stage lady who liked a successful understudy. In fact, I've known many stage ladies who have recovered from the acutest forms of nervous prostration as soon as they head of their understudies' pleasing success. Of course, I didn't say this.
'''You were very angry that night when you didn't go on,'' I suggested.
'Miss Millar looked pained - not angry, but grieved. ''Not at all,'' she said. ''I was feeling very ill indeed. I simply couldn't face the situation. I felt I should collapse, so I withdrew. It was annoying, but I couldn't help it.''
'I was hoping for something more sensational. I should have known better. Yet I could still see ''temperament'' in the dark pool of her eyes, and I liked her. I liked her very much better than the soft, pretty, clamlike little ladies, who cling and look helpless.
'''You mustn't imagine,'' said Miss Millar, ''that because my husband, Lionel Monckton, writes all the music for me that I can't sing anybody else's. That would be quite wrong. I appeared in The Waltz Dream, and honestly enjoyed it immensely. It was quite a relief singing somebody else's music. And that lovely music!''
'but Mr. Monckton's music is delicious,'' I suggested.
'''Oh, he is very clever,'' said Mrs Gertie Millar-Monckton, ''and, of course, he understands me. He ought to do so, don't you think?'' (She laughed rather amusingly.) ''He knows the sort of thing that I ought to song, and he tried to fit me, and if he doesn't fit I shall tell him so. I do not stand upon any ceremony with him.''
'I could believe it. I could almost hear Monckton curtain-lectures on the subject of songs, seemly and otherwise.
'''It would be very foolish of me if I sang songs that I didn't like, just because my husband, Mr. Monckton, wrote them. Wouldn't it? Why, only the other day he gave me a new ditty to introduce into The Quaker Girl, and I wouldn't introduce it. I didn't like it, and I told him so.''
'Miss Millar said this very emphatically and made a charming little grimace into the bargain. In that grimace I saw more ''temperament.'' I could even hear clair-audiently such phrases as ''I won't sing that, you pie-face!'' I believe in clair-audience.
'''Mr. Monckton studies me, of course,'' said said, ''and he can usually gauge my qualities. I never took singing lessons in my life, and I never studies dancing. I can't understand why I am considered a dancer, because I really do nothing. I just jig to the rhythm of the music. I don't consider that there is any art in it. I love dancing, and I adore watching it, but I don't admire my own at all.''
'''Suppose somebody possibly new did occur in London,'' I queried, reverting to her own theme, ''wouldn't you feel just a little tiny bit vexed?''
'''Not at all,'' she said. ''I am tired of it all, anyway. I've been at work now for a very long time without any holiday worth speaking of. I am tired and I'd like to settle down.''

Gertie Millar

Gertie Millar as Lallie in The New Aladdin,
the part originally played by Lily Elsie when that production opened
at the Gaiety Theatre, London, on 29 September 1906

(photo: Foulsham & Banfield, London, 1907)

'''Settle down!'' I was aghast.
'''Yes, settle down,'' she declared. ''Don't look so surprised. Is it so extraordinary?''
'''You'd like to be a domesticated married woman and sit by the fire and tat?''
'There was horror in my voice - very well managed horror, I flatter myself.
'''Oh, I didn't say that,'' quoth Gertie Millar, amused. ''I made no such statement. I merely said that I wast ired and that I'd like to settle down, and I mean it. One can get enough and I have no more illusions. I've been with Mr. Edwardes for a long time. I've played many parts. I've seen my understudies blossom forth. Miss Gabrielle Ray was my understudy, and she is doing very nicely. Miss Lily Elsie, though not exactly my understudy, was engaged to play my part [Lally in The New Aladdin] for a certain time. What is there left for me? As I said, there is nobody new. Nothing happens. I don't know what will become of me later on. It is quite serious.''
'I looked at her and liked her some more. She wasn't a bit satisfied, and yet she has every reason to be. With the most musical husband in London and the most discerning manager in the world, Miss Gertie Millar's lot in life would seem enviable. Still, musical comedy must grate. It is, in good sooth, gritty. I didn't want to butt in and suggest to Miss Millar that with her temperament (that's about the s'teenth time I've used that revolting word) she might aim higher. What's the use of sowing the seeds of discontent? Moreover, Miss Millar, who is anything but a fool, has probably thought that matter out for herself, very carefully, and perhaps much more logically that I can think it out. But she is the first established musical comedy girl who has ever repined or seemed to repine, at her eminently successful career. So I think she is distinctly worth emphasizing, don't you?
'''But I must do America again,'' she continued. ''I didn't have enough of it. I only played New York. I was anxious to go to Philadelphia, but Mr. Frohman wouldn't let me. I've heard a lot about your one-night stands.'',br> '''Philadelphia is not a one-night stand,'' said I, though I hold no brief for Philadelphia.
'''No?'' she ventured, gently interrogative. ''Oh, I know that, of course. But I wanted to travel in America and see the country, for New York inspired me. I don't find much difference between a New York and London audience. It seems to me that they are very much akin. When they like anybody in New York they are just as enthusiastic as they are in London. But I wouldn't like to appear in New York in The Quaker Girl. I don't think it is my best part by any means. It is to be done in New York, but not with me. When I return I want something better for the Americans. I have heaps of friends in American. Will you give my love to them?''
'Wasn't that cute? Of course, I promised I would, and I will. All friends of Miss Gertie Millar, in U.S.A., please accept her love. I shan't bring it back with me because I might have to pay duty on it (love, being a sort of present, is not admitted free of duty at the Customs House), so I enclose it herewith, and those who receive it will kindly acknowledge it to Miss Gertie Millar, Adelphi Theatre, Strand, London, England.
'''You won't settle down before you go to America?'' I asked anxiously.
'She laughed. ''You take me so seriously,'' she said. ''I'm just tired, that's all, and I feel I'd like to settle down. I don't say that I shall, but that I'd like to.''
'Which seems like a distinction without a difference, for what lovely woman likes she generally does. Just the same, between you, me and the bedpost. I don't think for a moment that Miss Gertie Millar wants to retire. Therefore, she won't.'
(San Antonio Light, San Antonio, Texas, Sunday, 9 July 1911, supplement)

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© John Culme, 2009