Friday, October 1, 2010

Stagestruck Flora

Early actresses playing in a popular stage "play" called Everywoman.

In 1912, Flora Nicholson of Threshold Girl went to a play at the Princess Theatre. She writes in a letter home from Macdonald Teachers College: "We all went to hear Everywoman at the Princess this afternoon. It was simply grand, I never saw anything I liked so well before."

Everywoman was a popular era play that toured for years, described as "a modern morality play."

The play's full title was Everywoman: her pilgrimage in quest of love and it was written by a man (but of course!) Walter Browne.

This play hasn't withstood the test of time, but it was popular with theatre-goers, if not critics, in the pre-WWI era, which means it had something to say to young women of the Edwardian Era. Flora, unfortunately, doesn't go into the details in her letter.

Everywoman opens:
(The sun has risen and a stream of sunshine illumines a path down the stage. Merry music and singing of birds is outside.Youth, Beauty and Modesty, three extremely pretty girls dressed in simple robes of white, and linked together with garlands of roses trip from the garden,through the windows and down the sunlit path in EveryWoman's home. They dance a graceful measure as they sing.Nobody, a male character in 'artistic'dress hides out of sight.

Women:Three very foolish faeries see,
Beauty, Youth and Modesty,
Though but her humble servants we
Everywoman heeds us
Soon as she rises from her rest
Each of us a welcome guest
We are the friends whom she loves best,
Everywoman needs us.

This  play is about,  "the lure of vice, the joy of virtue and the deceptions of flattery" (I'm quoting the NYTimes reviewer who clearly hated it) and it is a lavish production featuring "beautiful women clad in beautiful clothes."

(Sending mixed messages, I guess, sort of like Hollywood's staple of anti-war movies filled with gratuitous and titillating violence.)

Students such as the 19 year old Flora could see a stage play without guilt while soaking in the sensual pleasure of it all, while saving one's brain cells for course work.  Hmm.

Flo and  her older sisters, Edith and Marion,  loved  going to the theatre but they never got to attend a performance of Mrs. Warren's Profession which debuted in NY, I think, in 1906 to a great deal of controversy. That play didn't get to Montreal until much much MUCH later. I wonder what they would have thought, considering their Presbyterian upbringing.

His Majesty's Theatre on Guy from the website. The Princess was the other theatre the Nicholsons attended. They only rarely went to motion pictures, and that was to the respectable house, the Nickel.

I see this Everywoman play is more the Mamma Mia of its day. Mamma Mia turned on its head with respect to sexual norms.

Actually, THAT title would probably go to the Merry Widow which the Nicholson sisters also saw performed in 1912 Montreal.

I'm guessing the morality ladies of the Montreal Council of Women didn't have to drop in multiple times to see Everywoman (as they did to movie houses) to make sure this was acceptable entertainment for the masses, and not too 'low in tone' as they described some modern motion picture plots of the day.

And even Reverend Pedley approved,I'm guessing, of this popular trifle. The Minister of Emmanuel Church gave a series of lectures on "Tempted Montreal" in the era, the fifth of which was "Mercenary Theatres and Promiscuous Patronage" which got a write-up in the Gazette.

Here the Reverend proved himself a learned man with a love of the dramatic arts,in spite of himself (for the Methodist Church, he says, practically bans the theatre) discussing theatre from Greek times to the present, while lamenting its current degenerate state, Shakespeare and modern morality plays exempted of course.

Plays, he said, could be a source of 'ethical light or a pander to the lowest instincts." I have a good idea into which category he'd put Mrs. Warren's Profession (probably without lowering his standards to go and see it.)

"What of the drama, today," he asks, "with its false ideas of life, its portrayal of vice in attractive fashion, its bringing of men, women and children into contact with the unclean?"

I have the review of the Montreal play that Flo attended, found on Google archives. An actress called Adele Blood played the lead part, Everywoman.

Ms. Blood was described as 'the most beautiful blond on the American stage' during her run in this play.

Here's her pic below.  Hmm. She's heroically proportioned. Skinny little Flo must have been impressed. This play seems to have been a great showcase for the beautiful actresses of the time, many of whom also played in the silent movie industry where girlish looks mattered more than on the stage.

The irony of this popular Everywoman play: It was promoting the idea that 'looks don't matter" just as the  new motion picture medium was getting off the ground, making good looks  more important than ever. Bad timing!,

Some 1910 Motion Picture Plots from the New York Dramatic Mirror.

What Daisy Said: Biograph 
Romantic dreams of young girlhood form the basis of this rather odd but not improbable comedy drama and the story is told with poetical and artistic touches that impart an agreeable charm to the picture.  Two young sisters, pretty and romantic, go through the time-honoured formula with daisies of which there is a great field. And following this venture into the mysteries of the future one of them visits a gypsy fortune teller, where the unscrupulous son is attracted by her beauty and makes love to her… The acting all the way through is of the most natural kind that knows no camera….
Just for Good Luck: Pathe
French farce with a cleverly humorous idea for a basis is offered in this well acted picture. A young woman who has a capacity for breaking everything she touches marries a hunchback for good luck…

An Advertisement Answered: A young farmer, living alone and trying to do his own housekeeping concludes that he must have a wife and advertises for one.  He gets a number of ardent replies and is at a loss which one to accept. A straight comedy, extremely well-acted with picture scenes of farm life.
A Child's Faith: Biograph
A miser has taken to hoarding his money after his daughter marries against his will.  When her husband dies of consumption, she is left in great poverty with a daughter to support. By chance, the miser has sold his house and taken cheap rooms over his daughter. He hides his money in the chimney and if falls down into her fireplace, below where the little girl is praying to God for help.
An Algerian Stud:Pathe
This film shows pictures of horses in Algiers entering a city gate in the paddock, on inspection. The animals are the center of interest.
The Golden Secret Mélies
A man discovers a mine: He hurts his foot and cannot proceed to the place to file his claim. While the wife is binding his foot, a claim jumper arrives, disarms him, and goes to file the papers. But the wife lowers herself by a rope, borrows and horse and rides off to file the claim first.
Red Fern and the West Bison
This is a good straight-forward story. Its chief defect is the conclusion, the union of the white man and his Indian sweetheart. This would hardly be looked upon complacently in the West.
Struggle of the Two Souls: Ambrosio
A scientific man loses his eyesight in an experiment and his wife sends for an old sweetheart to console her. The husband overhears the two maki