Saturday, August 10, 2019

Meet the Cast - ALLIE PALMER

One of my biggest goals in the writing of this book is to make the show come to life for the reader. But in addition to making the reader feel like they have experienced seeing the show itself, I want the reader to feel like they've been backstage, that they can spot friends in the cast.

One of director Julian Mitchell's trademarks was to give the chorus members some individuality. He did this in all his shows, not just The Wizard of Oz. He gave the chorus girls character names in the program (or let them make up their own in some instances) and he would encourage the young actresses to develop individual quirks, personality traits, and, well, make the world he was building on stage seem like a much realer place.

This aspect of the show is difficult to see in action more than a century after the show closed. But one of the ways I hope to remedy that, at least to create a semblance of making the chorus come alive, is to introduce you to some of them.

I would like you to meet Allie Palmer.

"Allie Palmer" Alice Sayers ca. 1905
Allie Palmer joined Company No. 1 of  the Wizard of Oz tour in the final Hamlin and Mitchell season and stayed with the show through all three seasons of the Hurtig and Seamon tour.

She was born Alice Sayers on July 7, 1876. She began her stage career by 1896 when she and her sister, Edna, became "The Palmer Sisters." Allie's descendants have not been able to figure out where the girls got the Palmer name, but the sister act performed in vaudeville together until May 1901.

In the 1901-02 season Allie joined touring companies of Weber and Fields's Hurly-Burly and Fiddle-Dee-Dee. She was in The Funny Mister Dooley as the Countess of Worcestershire, and in Spotless Town she played ZaZa du Barry, a little gay. Her personal scrapbooks show she worked extensively between 1901 and 1905, but most of the photos are unidentified as to show or venue.

She joined the Wizard of Oz Company No. 1 at the beginning of the 1905-06 season playing Premonia the Munchkin girl and a Poppy. Allie Palmer has marked her name with an X in the program seen below.
Program for THE WIZARD OF OZ, Boston Theatre, Week of Nov. 27, 1905

As a chorus member she would have played many uncredited parts as well, such as the charming lad from the Emerald City seen below.

Allie Palmer as a boy from the Emerald City in THE WIZARD OF OZ circa 1906.

Later in the year she began playing Claude Cliquot (a Cook) and eventually swapped that role for Gloria Jane, one of the Waitresses, both parts in Act III. She was also working as an understudy and in October of 1906 she went on as Locasta, the Witch of the North.

In the 1906-07 season, the first year of the Hurtig and Seamon tour, she began playing a Snow Sprite (helping to kill the poppies at the end of Act I) and got two speaking parts in the show: Leo, Captain of the Relief Guards; and Bardo, the Wizard's factotum. She kept these two parts until the end of the Hurtig and Seamon tour in 1909.

After Wizard closed Allie went into Joe Weber's travesty The Merry Widow and the Devil for the 1909-10 season.

Allie Palmer has indicated Joe Weber and herself with X marks.
I know little of what happened to Allie after she finished The Merry Widow and the Devil. She married William Allen sometime in the early 1900s. In 1910 Allie's sister Pauline died and Allie and her husband took in Pauline's son Fred and raised him as their own. Allie died on October 6, 1957. When she was eighty years old she could still demonstrate her buck-and-wing dance for her family. 

I recently acquired all of Allie Palmer's personal archive relating to her career. There is an envelope full of programs, a scrapbook of her days as one of the Palmer Sisters, a scrapbook of her solo career—including clippings about The Wizard of Oz—and seven photos of her in the show, though four of those are quite deteriorated. Two other photos are wonderful, taken in costume at the stage door in Kansas City. There are also four large format original photographs of her in Oz costumes, one of which is reproduced above.

We will be seeing a lot more on the Palmer Sisters and Allie's time with the Wizard of Oz Co in future posts.

Copyright © 2019 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

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