Friday, August 13, 2010

Dating 1912 style. Vaudeville Outing.

Marion Nicholson, in 1912, on the lawn of Tighsolas, in Richmond.

I just read the plot of a play, being performed at Montreal's Orpheum in 1912 as part of a larger bill. In the play, a young man is disinherited by his wealthy parents, so he and his best friend hatch a plan to have him be a millionaire in a year. (And millionaire meant something back then.) He is to "dress well but simply, go to a small town somewhere, get some form of employment, join the church, refrain from drinking and smoking, and soon, he'll be able to have any woman in the town he wants.

The message here is, if you want to marry, impress the parents, not the girl.

I am interested, as in 1912, according to the Nicholson letters on, Marion and her beau, Hugh Blair, had a favorite entertainment venue, the Orpheum, located not far from the Nickel on Ste. Catherine near Bleury.

Maybe they saw this very show. On the same bill, a magician/spiritualist who conjured the spirits of painters past, a male/female comedy duet with dubious singing ability, some acrobats with a performing dog, some other acrobats who were 'muscular'. In short, typical Vaudeville.

Lately, as I have blogged, I have been watching The Road Movies and The Marx Brothers on Turner Classics. These were acts polished to perfection on the Vaudeville circuit in the next decade. The Orpheum was part of a North American Chain.

Oh, and that day in 1912, there were also two short skits on the bill, one called "Just Married" that, according to the Gazette article I read, was cliche.

It must have been awkward to go out on 'a date' in those days. "Marriage" was such an elephant in the room and so many skits evolved around the Love thing. (As they still do today, an as they always will although today, I imagine, it's the sex and explicit sex talk in popular teen movies that might prove embarrassing. Although I might just be projecting, as young people might be inured to such stuff.

(I say this because last year my husband and I went to see Tropic Thunder, a movie I love and during a certain very funny but well, crude, scene with Jack Black tied to a tree, withdrawing from cocaine, my husband turned to me and through his tears said "There's a young boy sitting beside me." which on some level was weirder than the movie. We're pretty loose here in Quebec, but still.)

The fact was, Hugh Blair, my husband's grand father, was about to be disinherited by his wealthy family, because he insisted on marrying Marion Nicholson, a country bumkin with no dowry, instead of someone else. I have a 1912 letter where he blows off this other woman, saying he thought they were "just good friends."

Marion mesmerized him because she was so independent, I think. The other woman was a Mamma's girl, or as they say in Jane Austen "still under the protection of her mother."

Hugh proposes to Marion in May 1913. I know because I have Marion's letter home where she draws the ring, a piece with three nice diamonds. (I have even seen said ring, which was passed to my mother in law.) She accepts despite the fact that she also wrote in an era letter "sometimes I like him and sometimes I hate him"...(Well, maybe that's proof positive she's in love.)

In courtship Hugh is dashing, funny, helpful "I don't know what I would do without him,"writes the very capable Marion. In marriage, he turns out a bit of a baby.

I guess I can include this scene in Flo in the City, about a girl coming of age in 1912 based on the letters of Maybe I'll have Marion and Hugh take Flo. I know they took her to Dominion Park.

Here's an aside. When my first son was born, I wanted to name him Hugh, after Hugh in How Green was my Valley. Anyway, my husband, who has dyslexia and can't spell, said NO. I admitted it wasn't an easy name to spell. Well, only much much later did I realize his grandfather was named Hugh. If I had known back then, I would have pressed the case.