HELEN BERTRAM: COMIC OPERA STAR WHO LIVED A LIFE CHOCK FULL OF SCANDAL

This cabinet card portrait features comic opera star, Helen Bertram (1869-1953). As I researched her life, I became more and more interested in her experiences and character. She was a person who’s life itself was a drama. More on that later. She was one of America’s leading prima donnas of her era. Bertram was born in Illinois.  Her father was a wealthy grain merchant. She trained at the Cincinnati College of Music and at age 20 began working as a lead singer for a number of opera companies, including Abbott, Conried, and the Bostonians. In fact, she worked for many opera companies because she tended to switch allegiances when offered better salaries. She had much impact on comic opera. Influential roles in “The Gingerbread Man” and “The Prince of Pilsen” contributed to that impact. The St. Paul Daily Globe (1887) printed a review about a very early Bertram performance  with the Abbott company. The review states that she sang with ‘such exquisite art as to win the hearts of her audience”. The article also describes Miss Bertram as a brilliant debutante in opera, and states that she had an “exceedingly handsome face, pretty figure, graceful movement, and sweetness”. Her off-stage life was tumultuous and her scandals were covered closely in American newspapers. Plainly said, her personal life was a disaster. In 1893, news articles revealed that she and actor, Edward Henley, were having an affair. Both were married and their affair caused both of their spouses to file for divorce. At first Bertram denied her extramarital relationship saying “Oh my! Mr Henley has had so many sweethearts, it seems too bad that I should be made the scapegoat for all this.”  In 1894, Bertram and Henley announced plans to marry. They were not married long because Henley died. The St. Louis Republic (1901) reported that Bertram had thrown a locket containing Henley’s ashes off a balcony. The rationale for pitching the ashes was that she had fallen in love with another man. Bertram denied tossing the ashen remains of her husband. In 1903 she married her third husband, matinee idol Edward Morgan. He had a sensational history of stormy marriages and relationships. At some point in time, Bertram had a relationship with George d’essauer, a wealthy French nobleman. George got himself into some trouble concerning a forgery scandal. After being indicted, he fled to Europe were he was arrested for other charges. The St. Louis Republic (1905) ran an article about Bertram being taken to court for unpaid bills. She claimed she was bankrupt as the reason for non payment. In 1906, her third husband, Edward Morgan died. He died from a fall in his hotel room, but the coroner theorized that the fall was due to his well known morphine addiction. From 1908 into the 1930’s she announced several retirements only to return to the stage. Later roles included vaudeville and concert tours with provincial orchestras. Bertram also had a movie career and the IMdB lists her as appearing in three movies including “The Lightening Conductor” (1914) and “Rhythm on the River” (1940). Back to the cabinet card seen above. The studio that produced this photograph was the Aime Dupont gallery. Dupont (1842-1900) founded his photography business in 1886 in New York City, New York. He was formerly a sculptor and he was of Belgian origin. His American wife, Etta Greer, was also a photographer. She was well respected for he work as a portraitist of opera singers in Paris, France. She was educated in Paris and spent much of her childhood there. She also met and married Dupont in Paris. The couple was very talented and they became very popular as portrait photographers in New York. Among their society and celebrity clients were many singers who were appearing in New York. After Dupont’s death, his wife, and later his son (Albert), operated the studio. His wife kept the name of the studio the same, after the death of her husband. In 1906, the Metropolitan Opera hired its own official  photographer, resulting in diminished portrait work in that sector. The studio went bankrupt in 1920.

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Sounds typical of today’s celebrities. At least she had a great talent.

  2. Wonderful,exciting times. Another one I wonder if knew my grandfather,Ernest Truex, or his later wife Sylvia Field….

  3. Another good story!


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