Sunday, October 6, 2019

I was NEVER in the Chorus!

There is a great deal of confusion on the internet, on eBay, at IBDB, and at various online stores, regarding actress Grace Kimball—or rather, actresses Grace Kimball—as there were actually three of them—a dramatic actress and two different chorus girls.

The original Grace Kimball, born in 1868, was a leading dramatic actress who had appeared with Charles Frohman's company in The Victoria Cross (1894), with E. H. Sothern in The Prisoner of Zenda (1895), and Heartsease with Henry Miller (1897). She had retired from the stage in 1898 after marrying Lawrence McGuire. But in 1902 she resumed her acting career, appearing in The Liars and Camille, among other plays.

Grace Kimball - Dramatic Actress
Grace Kimball, the chorus girl from The Wizard of Oz, was born in Chicago on March 23, 1882. Her real name was Grace Orpha Jones.

Grace Kimball as Gentleman of the Wizard's Court.
This Grace Kimball appeared in The Girl From Up There (1900) with Montgomery and Stone, followed by The Liberty Belles (1901), which also featured future Wizard of Oz cast members John Slavin and Lotta Faust. In 1901 she co-wrote the song "In a Cosey Corner" with John W. Bratton, which proved a hit.

Just prior to being cast in the 1902 Chicago production of The Wizard of Oz, Grace Kimball had been with Anna Held's The Little Duchess company, with fellow chorister Mabel Barrison. The two chorus girls were fired from the tour of The Little Duchess after taking up with two "Stage-Door Johnnies" and missing the train. Luckily, both Kimball and Barrison were soon hired for The Wizard of Oz in which Grace Kimball played Peter Boq the Munchkin, a Snow Girl, a member of the Phantom Patrol, a Gentleman of the Wizard's Court, and a Cavalier in Act III. Her friend, Mabel Barrison, created the part of Tryxie Tryfle.

On August 20, 1902, chorus girl Grace Kimball had an encounter with Grand Duke Boris Vladimorowitch (a cousin of the Czar), who had decided to sample The Wizard of Oz. The Grand Duke was so enraptured he invited three of the chorus girls—Grace Kimball, Georgia Barron, Clara Pitt—and the Witch of the North Aileen May—back to his hotel suite at the Auditorium Hotel. One of the four girls declared, "We can get an ordinary American Johnnie to pay for our little morsels of food three times in any day of the year, but how many times can we open oysters and things with a real duke? Tell me that."

Grace Kimball as a Snow Girl in The Wizard of Oz (1902).
The four girls and Duke Boris had a late supper at the Auditorium Dining Hall. The Grand Duke told the girls how charmed he was, bowed lowest before the blushing Miss Kimball, and asked if he might not drink her health from her slipper. She said yes, and the story appeared in papers across the country, where it was read by millions.

Unfortunately the various newspaper articles often confused chorus girl Grace Kimball with dramatic actress Grace Kimball. The latter was not amused to be linked to such a sordid romp with the Czar's cousin. She sent out a press release. Below is the publication in the Denver Post, August 31, 1902.

Request has been made for the publication of the following explanatory note, designed to set those right who may be puzzled in regard to two stage people who bear the same name. The request comes from the representative of an actress whose standing is unquestioned, and the statement is in these words:
"There are two Grace Kimballs in the theatrical realm, and one of them has been causing the other a vast amount of annoyance. One is a chorus girl, the other the well-known actress who was leading lady with Henry Miller, E. H. Sothern, and in Charles Frohman's Never Again company. The chorus girl in Chicago the other night is said to have filled her slipper with champagne, and Grand Duke Boris, a cousin of the czar, drank her health from the misfit goblet. It is perhaps unnecessary to call the attention of an indulgent public to the fact that this elegant international episode took place without the knowledge of the original Grace Kimball, who is naturally horrified to see her name in big type in the newspapers as apparently figuring in this rather peculiar incident. Miss Kimball the actress has been engaged as leading lady of the Fawcett stock company in Baltimore, and is not and never has been in the chorus."

Grace Kimball - Dramatic Actress.
The December 15, 1902, issue of the Rockford [Illinois] Republic was still covering the actress's consternation with the chorus girl.

"In the opinion of Grace Kimball there should be some law to prevent chorus girls from stealing the names of players who have become well known. Everyone remembers how annoyed Francis Wilson was when a chorus girl commenced to call herself "Frances Wilson." Then there was a girl named Maggie O'Brien who changed her name to Zaza Belasco. Also a chorus girl has recently been discovered here who calls herself Marie Cahill, after the prima donna of that name. Now Miss Kimball who won her reputation with E. H. Sothern and Henry Miller, is much annoyed because of a girl of the chorus who bears the same name, possibly with every justification, but nevertheless under annoying circumstances. This Grace Kimball is the young woman from whose silken slipper the Grand Duke Boris is said to have drunk champagne last August."

Shortly after the Duke Boris incident, the chorus girl Grace Kimball was given the part of Tryxie Tryfle in The Wizard of Oz after Mabel Barrison left the show. Grace Kimball again played Tryxie when The Wizard of Oz opened on Broadway in January 1903.

After her time in The Wizard of Oz, Grace Kimball appeared in Reginald De Koven's Red Feather (1903) where she met her future husband Walter Stanley Hawkins, who was also performing in the show. They were married in New York during the Broadway run of Red Feather. Kimball next appeared in Weber & Fields Higgledy-Piggledy for two seasons.

May 12, 1901, Boston Post.
I mentioned up top that there were in fact three Grace Kimballs. The third was another chorus girl who also got her name in the papers.

The article accompanying the photo at left explains Grace R. Kimball is a pretty actress from Lynn, Massachusetts. She is the daughter of a police officer and had sung with the First Baptist Church of Lynn before joining Anna Held's company of The French Maid (1897), and was later in The Sunshine of Paradise Alley company.

She is to marry an unspecified Washington millionaire and will take up residency "in one of the most attractive mansions of the capital city."

This Grace Kimball apparently didn't marry the fellow, but let him send her to Paris to study, as seen in the clipping below.

May 15, 1901, Portsmouth [New Hampshire] Herald.

And that is the story of the three Grace Kimballs. One of whom was never in the chorus!

Copyright © 2019 David Maxine. All rights reserved.

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