MAUDE BRANSCOMBE: CELEBRATED BEAUTY AND ACTRESS

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Maude Branscombe was a very popular stage beauty and light opera singer. She was reported to be the most photographed woman of her day. Biographical information about her is sparse and more will be added at a later date. Her first appearance on the New York stage was in 1876 as Cupid in a revival of Ixion at the Eagle Theatre. The portrait at the top was photographed by renowned W & D Downey of London, England.

The second portrait  was cropped so the photographer is unknown.

The third portrait (Branscombe is wearing a necklace) is by L. Levin & Son of San Francisco, California.

The fourth cabinet card image was photographed by Sarony. Sarony was a well known celebrity photographer and more of his portraits can be viewed by clicking on the category of “Photographer: Sarony”. Sarony does an excellent job of capturing Branscombe’s beauty and her alluring eyes.

The fifth and sixth, and seventh cabinet card were photographed by another celebrity photographer, Jose Mora, of New York City. Interestingly, the fifth and seventh cabinet card captures Branscombe in the same costume as the second cabinet card. It is likely that the photographer of cabinet card number two, is also Jose Mora. To view other photographs by Mora, click on the category of “Photographer: Mora”.

The eighth cabinet card portrait of Branscombe was photographed by Howell, another New York City photographer with a studio on Broadway. Howell’s close-up photograph captures the actress’s beauty and her wonderful eyes. She is wide eyed and her hair is a bit mussed. These qualities add to the allure of Miss Branscombe.William Roe Howell was born in 1846 in Goshen, New York. He had a passion for drawing and painting and he directed his creative interest into the field of photography as a young adult. He opened a photographic studio in Goshen. In 1863 he moved to New York City where he joined Robert and Henry Johnston at Johnston Brothers Studio at 867 Broadway. In 1866 the firm became Johnston & Howell. In 1867, he became the sole proprietor of the gallery. By 1870, he was gaining much recognition in the field of photography. His great location in New York City gave him access to many fashionable upper class men and women as well as many celebrities. Among his photographic subjects were P. T. Barnum, Buffalo Bill, and Robert E. Lee. He opened a branch studio in Brooklyn. In 1873 he came one of five Americans to be awarded a special grand prized at the Vienna World Fair. He frequently received mention in the photographic journals. He published a book of cabinet cards that received much praise. He became a photographer for West Point, Princeton, and other notable institutions. He won many medals at photography exhibitions. In 1878 he moved his business from 867 to 889 Broadway and opened another studio with a partner (Meyer) at 26 West 14th Street. In 1880 he retired from photography due to health reasons.  In 1886 he moved with his family to Washington D.C. intent on opening a photography business there. He then disappeared. He vanished just two weeks before the grand opening of his new studio. He left his wife of 16 years (Fannie Scott) and his five children penniless. His wife stated that Howell was an eccentric man and that he must have got tired of business and family problems “and cut loose from us”.  He apparently returned home after a short duration of absence and his business appeared in the 1888 Washington D. C. business directory but not in the 1889 directory. He died of tuberculosis in New York City in 1890. He had been residing at the home of a colleague who ran a photography studio in Harlem. It is believed by some biographers that he had divorced his wife and returned to New York without his family.

The ninth cabinet card is another portrait photographed by Jose Mora. The actress’s costuming detracts from the overall appeal of the photograph. She seems lost in the swirl of her head covering. However, the photographer does an excellent job of highlighting Miss Branscombe’s seductive eyes. The phrase  “Maude Branscombe eyes” certainly rivals the phrase “Bette Davis eyes”.

Cabinet card number ten also comes from the studio of Jose Mora. She is well dressed in this portrait. It is not clear if she is dressed for a stage role or if she is attired for a jaunt around town.

LITTLE GIRL POSING IN NEW YORK CITY FOR PHOTOGRAPHER WHO WAS “SHABBILY TREATED BY CUPID”

A little girl poses for her portrait at the studio of J. K. Cole in New York City. She is wearing a light jacket and holding what appears to be, a walking stick. Her sun hat lies on the floor beside her. She has a serious expression as gazes at the camera. The New York Times (1893) reported that Cole was “shabbily treated by cupid”. The author noted that the  38 year-old photographer did not want this story published and that  Cole “admits the truth of the narrative but declares that it is a private affair and refuses to discuss it”.  Cole and the young lady in this story, were childhood friends. As they grew older, his friendship grew into love. Five years before this story appeared, they were to be married. However, without notice to Mr. Cole, she suddenly married another man who was “more abundantly blessed with earthly goods” than was Cole. Cole was quite “cast down” but he eventually recovered. Soon after the wedding, Cole’s ex-girlfriend’s marriage ended, after her husband’s mother expressed great disapproval about the pairing. When Cole learned of the separation, he returned to his beloved, and she promised to marry him. As Cole  was boarding his carriage to go to his wedding, he received a message from his fiance stating she was ill and needed some days to recover before marrying. Cole sent a firm message back to his fiance stating that the minister was waiting, all arrangements had been made, and that they needed to at once, proceed with the wedding. The messenger failed to deliver the message and failed to inform Cole of his inability to find his fiance. The next day, Cole’s fiance sent a letter to him that was critical of his failure to visit her when she was ill. Cole explained to his girlfriend the confusion caused by the undelivered message of the previous night, and the two decided to reschedule their wedding for the coming evening, just hours away. Cole dressed for the wedding , drove to her home, and waited in the parlor, talking  with his future mother-in-law. While they chatted, a little girl ran in the parlor crying out, “Lizzie has gone and run away with her old husband”. Both Mr. Cole and his intended to be mother-in-law, collapsed in shock. Ironically, Lizzie and her ex-husband, remarried using the same minister that Cole had hired to perform his wedding. Apparently, reliability and stability were not some of Lizzie’s greatest assets.

Published in: on September 4, 2011 at 12:01 am  Comments (5)  
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HIGHLY RATED FRENCH PROSTITUTE, ALICE MAROT ON A WINDOW SILL IN PARIS, FRANCE

This cabinet card captures Alice Marot sitting on a window sill in Benque’s photographic studio in Paris, France. Alice Marot was a high class prostitute. She appeared in “The Pretty Women of Paris”, a privately printed guide to Paris’s best courtesans and prostitutes. The guide provided names, addresses, qualities, and faults for each women. According to the directory, Marot could be found a 4 Rue de Marigan. The guide describes Marot as a “sprightly fair, little whore” who had been quite lucky to rise above a checkered career on the provincial stages. When she came to Paris, she utilized the Palais Royal Theatre to enlarge the circle of her lovers. She was considered by other members of “the army of  cupid” to be a threat because she had a propensity to “tumble on her back” at all hours of the day and night. Benque’s studio was located at 33, Rue Boissy D’Anglas. M. M. Benque was a well known celebrity photographer.

TWO RISQUE IMAGES OF A LOVELY BALLERINA PLAYING CUPID (TWO-SIDED CABINET CARD PHOTOGRAPH)

This cabinet card is quite unusual in that it has photographic images on both sides of the card. A very pretty ballet dancer is from the Alhambra Ballet production of Cupid is pictured in each image. In one photograph her legs are crossed while in the second photograph her legs are open and her undergarment is visible through her transparent tutu. The cabinet card is risque for it’s era. The Alhambra was a theatre in London, England. It was opened in 1854 as “The Royal Panopticon”. A circus ring was added and it was reopened in 1858 as the Alhambra. The theatre stage hosted music hall acts, aerial acts, ballet, light opera, and other events. The theatre was closed and demolished in 1936. This cabinet card features a dancer from the ballet, Cupid which opened at the Alhambra on 5/24/1886. The principal dancer in this production was Emma Bessone, and research reveals that the ballerina in this image is likely Emma Bessone. She was an Italian dancer who trained at La Scala and became prima ballerina for both the Maryinsky and Bolshoi companies in Russia. The photographer of this cabinet card was Samuel A. Walker whose studio was located in London.