Celebrity for the week ending
Saturday, 2 May 2009

May de Sousa (1887-1948),
American actress and singer,
interviewed during the run of A Skylark
at the New York Theatre, New York, April 1910

May de Sousa
May de Sousa

(photo: Rita Martin, London, 1908/09)

'May de Sousa's success story is a tale of three cities. Likewise it is a story of home recognition won by way of Europe. The story of the rise of this intrepid little person is the story of the grand opera star's vicissitudes and final triumph in miniature.
'''Politics put me on the stage nine years ago'' - Miss De Sousa was resting in her dressing-room before going to Mount Olympus in the second act of The Skylark. ''My father was a Chicago politician and a friend of 'Bathhouse John.' 'Bathhouse John' wanted his ward extended. It was necessary to have the plan advertised, and 'Bat house John' had to become better known by unusual means. So he wrote a pretty bad song, 'Dear Midnight of Love,' and I sang it in vaudeville when I was fourteen. The song must have helped, for the ward was extended.
'''Then I went into the chorus of The Chaperons. I must have been very bad, for I got my notice. I thought then that getting a notice was a dreadful thing. I made two girls who dressed with me swear that they would never tell it.
'''Richard Carle discovered me and gave me a part in The Tenderfoot. But afterward things went from bad to worse, and worser and worst''
'''In every way, I decided to go to London and seek my fortune. I ran away, not letting my father and mother know where I was going. I landed in Liverpool with one hundred dollars, and no knowing a soul in Europe. But I pushed on to London and there I met on the street Gus Kerker. I had known him here. He introduced me to an agent, Mr. Blackmoor. Mr. Blackmoor said he would talk matters over at luncheon. While we were at luncheon it happened that Arthur Collins saw me. He said, 'That girl has the face for Cinderella.' Seeing me with an agent he knew I must be an actress. He came over and talked with us. He said: 'But how can you play in London with that diction?' I said, 'I'll change it.' Having an engagement, I spent my hundred collars prodigally in instruction. And having the engagement, I suffered no dimished pride in writing my father to ask for some money until my first week's salary was paid.
'Cinderella was a Christmas pantomime [at Drury Lane, 1905, in which she made a hit with the song, 'Whispers of Love']. It ran for four months. Mr. Edwardes engaged me for The Geisha. I was at the Gaiety for eight months with The Girls of Gottenberg. I played Consuelo in Havana [in succession to Evie Greene]; I was starred in Castles in Spain; and then I realized the dream of my life: It was to play Franzi in The Waltz Dream.''
'''And then?''
'''And then'' - Miss De Sousa's dimples appeared and vanished in the game of recollection - ''I made up my mind to go to Paris and do what I had done in London, and I did. I studied under excellent teachers. And I took as my model, humbly and afar off, of course, that splendid and unique actress Eva Lavalliere. She is forty years old, but she plays an ingenue now better than ever. Don't think I'm immodest if I say that that is what I want to do. Most ingenues are so silly and smirking and empty-headed. I don't know why an ingenue can't be lively and youthful and have and use a brain besides. Dancing and singing can be used in comedy, can't they?''
'A blare of orchestral music and she ran from the dressing-room, with the same lack-dignity haste with which Cinderella left the ballroom when the clock struck.
'''Who taught her to dance?'' I asked, watching the seemingly weightless young body in its clinging pink frock project itself upon the stage.
'''I taught her a good deal of it,'' said Ben Teal. ''I'm glad she's doing well, for she's in a way a protégé of mine. She's gotten along without any fictitious aids of advertising or anything else. May De Sousa's story is one of charm, cleverness and pluck.''
'''A tale of three cities,'' I repeated, '' and a runaway girl.'
(The New York Dramatic Mirror, New York, Saturday, 16 April 1910, p. 4a/b)

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© John Culme, 2009