Postcard of the week ending
Saturday, 25 October 2008

Vesta Victoria (1873-1951),
English music hall star,
in New York, 1906 and 1907

Vesta Victoria

Vesta Victoria

(photo: Campbell-Gray, London, circa 1906)

This 'Lychno' process (a lithographic photo-process) postcard, no. E.1290, was published about 1906 in London by the Aristophot Co Ltd.

Colonial, New York City, week beginning Monday, 19 February 1906
'Vesta Victoria made her American reappearance last week and large audiences manifested their pleasure at her return in no uncertain way. Miss Victoria's methods are somewhat similar to the late Bessie Bellwood, though she lacks the unctuousness and keen sense of humor of the latter. However, Miss Victoria has a charm of her own and, though she impersonates character types of a rather rough order, she does her work with a degree of refinement that makes it most acceptable. She made her first appearance dressed in a riding habit, and in a rich cockney dialect, sang a song called ''The Next Horse I Ride On,'' in which she told of the woes of a girl whose father had become suddenly rich and had forced her to learn horse-back riding. The second song was ''Waiting at the Church,'' and for this the singer changed to full bridal regalia. The story of the song concerns a faithless man who had promised to wed and had allowed the maiden to go to the church in her wedding finery and had sent her a not saying that he couldn't marry her, because his wife would not let him. In singing ''It's All Right in the Summertime'' Miss Victoria was dressed in flowing robes of white who had to pose half clad for her father in the back yard. She is quite pleased during the Summer, but finds it rather uncomfortable when the wintry winds are blowing. Miss Victoria finished with a song called ''He Calls Me His Own Grace Darling,'' which tells of the love of a girl for a fickle sailor. With all of her songs the singer had appropriate business and a few dance steps. If all of her listeners did not go home with every chorus by heart it was not her fault, for every refrain was repeated twice after every verse, and the orchestral played then over and over again, while Miss Victoria was making her change for the next song. Taken all in all, Miss Victoria's speciality is pleasing, but in no way remarkable and she will create no furore.'
(The New York Dramatic Mirror, New York, New York, Saturday, 3 March 1906, p. 18b)

'Performers Who give the Public What It Wants.
'Down at Proctor's Twenty-third Street [New York] houses his week Walter Jones and Mabel Hite, new comers in vaudeville, are making the biggest sort of a hit in an act which is about as nondescript an affair as on could well imagine. To tell what it is like would be to go into detail about no end of variety stage stunts from common music hall or concert garden song and dance variety to the thumb-nail sketch of the later day continuous. Its novelty is one of blend rather than of ingredients, but the performers, both clever and hard-working, are obviously out to do their best, and they succeed from the rise of the first drop to their last quick exit. Having arrived in vaudeville via the natural musical comedy route they are apparently without any undue estimate of their own importance, take conditions as they find them, and no thirty-dolla-a-week song and dance team ever worked harder to wring from hard and callous hands the applause which, with translated into the vernacular of the continuous, means ''solid booking'' for many weeks to come.
'In this respect they differ from an English musical comedy ''artiste'' who recently appeared in an elaborately arranged act on the same stage, walked through her songs and dances, and made it apparent that, in her own estimation, she was far too good to go to such pains for people who had paid less than half the Broadway price to see her.
'Vaudeville patrons are loyal to old favorites, but ready to welcome newcomers who take the trouble to give them what they want. Nowhere, however, is there quicker resentment in the presence of an indifferent attitude on the part of the performer.
'At the Twenty-third Street house Vesta Victoria is again duplicating her successes, and over in the Brooklyn at the Orpheum Vesta Tilley is singing the same old songs in the same old way, winning repeated encores at every performance. Both these women are exceptions in the fact that they take material which in other hands would be of little value and give it the attractiveness of their own personalities. No better evidence of this is to be had than at another theatre in the city, where an English music hall singer is now giving two of the songs which Vesta Victoria made popular. When the orchestra sounds the first few bars there is a general straightening up, people begin to hum, and an apparent desire and willingness to be pleased is in evidence. But thought Vesta Victoria has popularized the numbers and though the newcomer even goes so far as to copy her business, the force of originality and personality being absent the songs go for practically nothing.
'In the same bill at Proctor's this week the elaborated act of Domino Rouge provides an attractive feature, and there can be no doubt that now the novelty of the red mask has worn off a distinct advantage is gained by allowing the dancer to reveal her face. Twinkling toes are good enough in their way, but, after all, when it comes to real twinkling the eyes accomplish naturally what in the other case is solely a matter of cultivation. And Mme. Domino's eyes are good. She has, too, a piquant, interesting little face, capable of expressing, variously and vivaciously, moods that even the more imaginative spectator is hardly likely to comprehend when conveyed solely by means of terpsichorean gyrations and break-bone contortions.'
(The New York Times, New York, New York, Wednesday, 16 May 1906, p. 9b).
The above mentioned 'English musical comedy ''artiste'' who recently appeared in an elaborately arranged act on the same stage' was probably Kitty Gordon who, accompanied by her 'Six English Girls,' had been on the bill at Proctor's during the week beginning Monday, 7 May 1906.

'Still Want ''Poor John.''
'Two English balladists whose renown extended years ago from the Strand to Broadway are firing hot notes at each other from the two biggest theatres of the rival trusts in New York. They are Vesta Victoria and Marie Lloyd. The need of a good annual new song to a comic balladist is imperative. That fact is proved every afternoon and evening by a good natured fight between Vesta Victoria and her audience. Vesta has a voice that is American nasal, but her accent is cockney, and that strange blend is rather strident; but she knows how to enact her songs broadly, and to the eye she is agreeable, being a blond without bleach or smear. I suppose her weekly salary is nearer to a thousand than it is to five hundred. Two seasons ago she came to us with ''Waiting at the Church,'' and the humor of the bride left in the lurch by the man who couldn't come ''because his wife wouldn't let him'' helped her right up to the top of vaudeville popularity. Last season she did as well with ''Poor John'' in which she told of an engaged girl whom John took to see his disapproving mother. This season she offers new ditties to pick a favorite from, and each presents a comic impersonation. A babyish girl in a white frock begs her eight-times-wedded mamma not to marry any more, but to please give her ''a permanent papa;'' a young widow in neat mourning is willing to be wooed again, and invites any many present who'd like to kiss her say ''Goo;'' an English girl, as the captive Queen of the Jahjah Islands, has to wear a royal robe of leaves, much to her embarrassment, for ''when the winds being to blow, you know, the leaves begin to fall, that's all.'' Now, these and other of Vesta Victoria's ballads, characterized cleverly in the noting the the costuming, please the people much; yet after them there is always so obstinate a demand for ''Poor John'' that with a smile that is a pout also, and shrug that is angry as well as complaisant, she gives last year's favourite song because there isn't as good a one in this year's lot.'
(The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., Sunday, 13 October 1907, Second Part, Editorial Section, p. 12h)

Between 1903 and 1912 Vesta Victoria made about forty recordings, the majority of which were for the The Gramophone Co Ltd in London and the Victor Talking Machine Co in New York. The Internet Archive features a recording of Miss Victoria singing 'Waiting at the Church,' which is credited to the Clarion label, catalogue number 2268. It seems likely, however, that this was pirated from Vesta Victoria's rendition of the song for the Victor label (5182, mx B-4600-1), which she made in New York on 18 June 1907. Among the other songs she recorded that day was 'The Next Horse I Ride On' (Victor 5181, mx B-4601-1).

Miss Victoria returned to recording studios once more for Columbia in London on 10 September 1931 when, accompanied by a male chorus, she sang long and short selections of her old hits, entitled 'Old-Time Medley'; the long version was issued on the Columbia label (DX-290, mx CAX-6214-1 and CAX-6215-1), and the short on the Regal label (MR-414, mx CAR-787-1 and CAR-788-1).

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© John Culme, 2008