MLLE POLAIRE: FRENCH SINGER AND ACTRESS (PHOTOS BY REULINGER & NADAR)

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Mlle Polaire is actually the stage name used by French singer and actress Emilie Marie Bouchaud (1874-1939). Polaire was born in Algiers, Algeria and began her theatrical career as a cafe singer at the young age of 15. She moved to France two years later and ad0pted the stage name Polaire and became a music hall singer. In 1895, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec drew a sketch of her which appeared in the satirical magazine Le Rire. In 1900 her portrait was painted by Leonetto Cappiello and her popularity rose even more. She began acting in Paris in 1902 and became a major celebrity star. She was thought to be a gifted comedic actress but was also very well known for her beauty. She was famous for her tiny, corsetted waist. She was five feet and three inches tall. She lavishly overdressed in furs and dazzling jewels. In 1911 she appeared in her first silent film role and later appeared in six films of director Maurice Tourneur in 1912 and 1913. She then returned to the stage and toured the United States and England. She later made a reappearance in films, performing in ten (some were talkies). She died at age 65 and was buried in France. This cabinet card photograph (Photo 1) was taken in Paris, France at the studio of Reutlinger. Charles Reutlinger (1816-1860) was a French photographer whose studio operated between 1850-1937 in Paris, France. Among his subjects were many celebrities including the prettiest ladies of Paris. To view other photographs by Reutlinger, click on the category “Photographer: Reutlinger”.                                                       The second photo of Miss Polaire is featured in this vintage real photo postcard (Photo 2). She looks beautiful in this image. She is sitting cross-legged and wearing dark clothing, boots, and a large bow. Examining the print of the front of the card provides some interesting information.  We learn that the photographer of this image is the celebrated and talented Paul Nadar (1856-1939).He was a French photographer. He learned photography by his father, Felix Nadar, also a talented portraitist. Paul eventually ran his father’s studio. The establishment catered to a affluent clientele and was very successful. In 1890 he began shooting photographs from a hot air balloon. The press referred to him as “The Fearless Paul Nadar”. Nadar also photographed sites in Europe and Ssia along the ancient silk route. Some consider his work from that trip to be the first incidence of “photo-reportage”. In 1893 he became an agent in France for Eastman Kodak. The word “Eclair” appears in the bottom right hand corner of the photo. The Eclair Company was a movie production company established in 1907 and headquartered in Paris. The company produced many silent shorts in France beginning in 1908 and it’s American division produced films from 1911 through 1914. Included in their productions was one of the first film version of  “Robin Hood”.  In the top left hand corner of the photograph is the word “Bouffes”. The “Theatre des Bouffes-Parisiens” is a theatre located in Paris and founded in 1855. It was the location of the production that Miss Polaire was appearing in when she posed for this photograph. The name of the production can be seen in the bottom border of the card, “Claudine a l’Ecole”. The translated title of the play is “Claudine at School”. The story is from a 1900 novel by the French writer, Colette. It is a tale about a 15 year-old girl and her brazen conflicts with the headmistress and fellow students in her school. This vintage postcard has a great deal of back story. It is in excellent condition (see scans).

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“A BRILLIANT FUTURE SACRIFICED FOR A LIFE OF EXCITEMENT” (1894): STAGE STAR MARION MANOLA

Marion Manola (1865-1914) is the subject of this cabinet card photograph by celebrity photographer, Benjamin Falk. Manola was born in Cleveland, Ohio. She was a popular comic opera star during the late 1880’s and 1890’s. The New York Times (1894) featured a headline stating “A Brilliant Future Sacrificed for a Life of Excitement” referring to Ms. Manola. The newspaper reported that the theatrical community was upset by the actress’s “insanity”. She was described as one of the more popular singer/actresses on American stage. She was known to be a bit eccentric but she was “heartily liked by everybody”. She was described as light hearted, having a joyous nature, and as vivacious. She was discovered by Colonel John A. McCaull, who cast her in a comic opera company. She aggressively pursued her career and had “late suppers”, “early rehearsals”, and worked hard. The stress of her theatrical life caused her to become irritable, fretful and difficult to manage. When her theatre company dissolved, she joined De Wolff Hopper’s company where she became the prima donna. After about a year she lost her job because of difficulty with a manager. She then went to Europe where she played the role of Maid Marion in “Robin Hood”. While in Europe she met her soon to be second husband, John Mason. Mason had his own personal problems including a great deal of debt. They joined a comic opera company in Boston but they quickly lost their jobs due to problems getting along with management. They organized their own company but it went bust. Manola’s mind began to fail and it became known that she had a opium habit. The press had a field day covering Ms. Manola’s psychiatric and substance abuse difficulties, as well as her entry into a rehab facility. Does any of this sound familiar? Think about the press coverage of Lindsay Lohan or a number of other celebrities of today who experience emotional or addiction problems.  Manola also made her mark in the courts. In fact, Judge Louis Brandeis, one of America’s great Justices,  was involved in an interesting and important case Manola brought to the legal system. The actress brought suit against a theatre manager and a photographer because she was photographed on the stage, without permission, while wearing an outfit (tights) she felt were too immodest to be photographed in. After being photographed, she ran off the stage in distress. The court supported Ms Manola’s suit and forbid the photographs from being distributed. The court took the position of there being a need for morality in the press. Some skeptics felt that the actresses real issue with the photographs had more to do with her not getting financially compensated for the photographs, rather than her claims that her privacy was violated. To view other photographs by Benjamin Falk, click on the category “Photographer: Falk”.

SWASHBUCKLING THEATRE ACTOR AND MURDER VICTIM: WILLIAM TERRISS

William Terriss (1847-1897) was an English theatre actor known for his swashbuckling roles. He played Robin Hood and a number of Shakespeare roles. He was also known for his early demise; the victim of a murder. His killer was a disgruntled and deranged actor who held a grudge against Terriss for getting him dismissed from a role he played in one of Terriss’s productions. Interestingly, Terriss still helped him financially and theatrically after his dismissal. Terriss was murdered outside of the Adelphi Theatre where he had arrived to prepare for that evenings performance of “Secret Service”. Terriss’s daughter, Ellaline Terriss was a star of Edwardian Musical Comedy and his son, Tom, was a well known film director,writer and actor. William Terriss was an adventurer and an outdoorsman in real life, not just in theatrical roles. Before entering acting in 1867 he pursued merchant service, medicine, sheep farming in the Falklands, and Tea Planting in Bengal. The photographer of this Cabinet Card was Falk, a well known celebrity photographer in New York City.

Jessie Bartlett Davis: American Actress and Opera Singer

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Jessie Bartlett Davis (1859?-1905) was an American actress and operatic singer from Illinois who was billed as “America’s Representative Contralto”.  Her father was a farmer and country school master and she was one of ten children. She was discovered when she was performing locally and was taken by traveling managers to perform on the west coast.  In 1879 she made her debut in the opera H.M.S. Pinafore. She performed with several opera companies before joining the new Boston Ideal Opera and remained with this troupe until 1901 performing as their prima donna. She is most well known for her role as Alan a-Dale in the 1890 opera Robin Hood. She also toured performing opera in Europe one season and in 1897 she opened on Broadway in The Serenade. She played Broadway again in 1903 in Jakobowski”s operetta Erminie. This versatile performer also performed vaudeville, wrote songs, stories and poems. She had a home in Chicago and summer home in Indiana where she raised horses, collies and fox terriers. In 1905 she died of Brights disease and is buried in Chicago. The photographer of this portrait is renowned theatrical photogarpher Benjamin J Falk of New York City.