Thursday, December 26, 2019

A Musical Bubble in Two Bottles: The History of Mamzelle Champagne - Part III

A guest posting by Eric Shanower
To read Part II click here

In late August 1906 the newspapers announced that Mamzelle Champagne with cast intact would go on a tour of the cities within a hundred miles’ radius of New York. Doubtless such a tour seemed a good bet for so popular and successful a show. But after Mamzelle Champagne closed its summer season on September 2, 1906, no road tour seems to have materialized.

Instead, after a short break, Mamzelle Champagne appeared again in New York City during the regular theatre season. Theatre manager George A. Blumenthal had remodeled the Berkeley Lyceum on 44th Street near Fifth Avenue, renamed it the Berkeley Theatre, and booked Mamzelle Champagne for the season’s opening attraction. Woolf entirely rewrote his script. Cass Freeborn was again musical director and conducted F. F. Pinto’s Boys Symphony Orchestra. Lionel Lawrence again directed with Al. M. De Lisser as company manager.

The Boys Symphony Orchestra, circa 1904. They are reported to have played for Mamzelle Champagne’s Berkeley Theatre run.

The cast was primarily new, although Harry Lester Mason as the German detective, along with Alice Chase and Alberta Davis, remained from the original roof garden. W. H. Fitzgerald, as Fuller Spice, was a principal comedian. Other performers included Emmet Lennon as Jack McAllister, W. L. Romaine as Gustavus Hicks, Florence L. Smith as Bessie Lonely, Hattie F. Nefflin, and Ernest Robinson. Girlie Curtis and Dollie Fontaine were among the chorus. The Spanish dancer Ybarri performed “picturesque gyrations” in a new feature of the show.

One of the more attractive elements of the Berkeley Theatre run was the performance of Ybarri the Spanish dancer.

Isabel D’Armond took over Maude Fulton’s role of Mabel Chatterton. D’Armond had been in The Wizard of Oz, playing Kansas waitress Tryxie Tryfle on Broadway for a few weeks in summer 1903 and then Dorothy Gale for the 1903-04 season with the second touring company.

Isabel D’Armond, the second actress (not counting understudies) to play the role of Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz on stage, survived Mamzelle Champagne to continue her career in musical comedy and as a popular vaudeville headliner.

Also new to the Mamzelle Champagne cast was Robert Emmett O’Connor, a Wizard of Oz veteran like D’Armond. O’Connor had filled the role of the anarchist Sir Wylie Gyle in The Wizard’s second touring company during the 1903-04 season.

Robert Emmett O’Connor, former Wizard of Oz actor, later went on to numerous roles in motion pictures, often as a policeman or a detective, including small parts in the Judy Garland movies Meet Me in St. Louis and The Harvey Girls and as Jonesy in Sunset Boulevard.

The most widely known new Mamzelle Champagne cast member was May Yohe in the title role. In the 1890s she’d been a reigning queen of the theatrical world on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean and had gained entree to aristocratic London society. Yohe was as famous for adulterous affairs and extravagant behavior as she was for her stage performances.

May Yohe, circa 1899, at that time still a popular actress.

One of her long string of husbands was Lord Francis Hope, whom she married in 1894. By 1901 Yohe had frittered away Hope’s fortune so that he had to sell the Hope Diamond to pay his debts, and they divorced in 1902. More husbands, as well as more stage roles, followed. By 1906 Yohe’s career was in steep decline. Her singing voice was as tarnished as her reputation. But theatre-goers still recognized her name.

Newspaper advertisement for the Berkeley Theatre run of Mamzelle Champagne.

Rehearsals began in September. The October 20 opening was postponed. On October 24, 1906, Mamzelle Champagne began its open-ended Berkeley Theatre run as the second part of a double bill. The curtain raiser was a one-act, three-character play by company manager Al. M. De Lisser titled The Day Before, or, the Thaw-White Tragedy. De Lisser himself played Stanford White. William D. Corbett played Harry Kendall Thaw, and Ethel Hunt played Evelyn Nesbit Thaw. Mamzelle Champagne had previously downplayed its connection to White’s murder. Now it seemed to be exploiting that connection to the fullest.

It didn’t work. The entire production proved a disaster. The audience found The Day Before laughable, and the press found it tasteless, outrageous, and disgraceful. Director Lionel Lawrence, widely expected as a witness in Harry Thaw’s upcoming murder trial, reported that he’d received a letter from Robert Turnbull of the New York District Attorney’s office. The letter purportedly threatened to serve Lawrence with an injunction to stop any performance of The Day Before, claiming that it was designed to stir up sentiment for Thaw.

The Day Before was evidently both offensive in its subject matter and ridiculous in its execution.

As intolerant as was the reaction to The Day Before, the reaction to the revived Mamzelle Champagne was even worse. The few reviews that even took notice of the show were far from kind. The reviewer for Brooklyn Life declared it a “hash of nonsense.”  The New York Tribune ridiculed it thus:

Words are weak to describe the evening. . . . If The Day Before had been funny, the morning after, or Mamzelle Champagne, was funnier. . . . Every move was a picture, nay, a cartoon! Every note was a musical burlesque. There was only one feature of the show funnier than the chorus; that was the principals. . . . the audience burst into finally uncontrollable mirth and held its aching sides.

The Indianapolis Star, in criticizing May Yohe’s career as a whole, described Mamzelle Champagne in this way:

There was a small, but curious audience. It went to see and it remained to chuckle.
May Yohe, who had so long defied public opinion, was pilloried upon it at last.
For six dreary nights the exhibition of mediocre ability, threadbare charms and moral obliquity continued. May Yohe’s three good notes, thick and husky now, echoed back from empty benches and resounding walls. Each night there were fewer and fewer persons in the bandbox of a theater, and on the seventh night the ushers had no duties to perform.

May Yohe, looking out from the stage upon the emptied house, thought the laughter and jeers of the first night preferable to this horrible silence, the blackness undotted by white faces and wide eyes. The curtain was rung down and she who had been Lady Hope, and later Mrs. Putnam Bradlee Strong, wept aloud in her dressing room.

May Yohe, circa 1905, when her career was waning.

The only aspect of Mamzelle Champagne that critics mentioned with any favor was Isabel D’Armond. Even the chorus girls appearing in the show had nothing good to say about it, calling it “the bummest show of all the bum shows that have played here” and declaring “this show’s a lemon.”

Audiences stayed away in droves. On November 1 Mamzelle Champagne closed. Lionel Lawrence announced that the show would immediately go on the road with Isabel D’Armond taking over May Yohe’s role. But nothing of the sort occurred.

Mamzelle Champagne
had effervesced bright and strong for a while. But now it was flat, stale. Everyone associated with it moved on, many to better things. Edgar Allan Woolf became a celebrated writer for the stage, known primarily as a prolific and successful author of vaudeville sketches. In 1914 his income was reported as $1000 a week and he had twenty-five hits running in vaudeville. Eventually he moved on to writing motion pictures.

Edgar Allan Woolf in later years.

Today few traces of Mamzelle Champagne remain. The US Library of Congress holds a version of the script. Published sheet music surfaces here and there. Every history of the murder of Stanford White mentions the show, as does E. L. Doctorow’s 1975 novel Ragtime. The 1981 motion picture version of Ragtime features a reconstructed scene from Mamzelle Champagne with Donald O’Connor as Harry Short singing a revision by Randy Newman of “I Could Love a Million Girls” while Robert Joy as Harry Thaw shoots Norman Mailer as Stanford White. In the 1955 motion picture The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing, Farley Granger as Harry Thaw shoots Ray Milland as Stanford White while, with less fidelity to reality, the Mamzelle Champagne chorus parries with foils and sings “I Challenge You to Love,” a song evidently written by Leigh Harline for the movie. An even more tenuous trace of Mamzelle Champagne is in the March 15, 1990, episode of The Simpsons television show, which includes the animated character Homer Simpson singing yet another rendition of “I Could Love a Million Girls.”

On The Simpsons television show Homer Simpson joins lounge singer Gulliver Dark in singing “I Could Love a Million Girls” from Mamzelle Champagne.

And of course—through Edgar Allan Woolf, Fred Woodward, Isabel D’Armond, Robert O’Connor, Mabel Barrison, and May McKenzie—Mamzelle Champagne is also a small part of Oz history.

Primary Sources

More than a hundred newspaper articles were consulted, including articles from these newspapers: Courier-Journal, Louisville, KY; New York Sun, New York, NY; Wichita Daily Eagle, Wichita, KS; Altoona Times, Altoona, PA; Windsor Star, Windsor, ON; Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, NY; Evening World, New York, NY; Morning Telegraph, New York, NY; Marion Star, Marion, OH; Buffalo Courier, Buffalo, NY; New-York Tribune, New York, NY; Pittston Gazette, Pittston, PA; Central New Jersey Home News, New Brunswick, NJ; New York Clipper, New York, NY; Butte Miner, Butte, MT; New York Times, New York, NY; Topeka Capital, Topeka, KS; Evansville Press, Evansville, IN; Baltimore Sun, Baltimore, MD; Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, NY; New York Herald, New York, NY; Philadelphia Inquirer, Philadelphia, PA; Washington Times, Washington, DC; Buffalo Enquirer, Buffalo, NY; Jersey City News, Jersey City, NJ; Evening Times-Republican, Marshalltown, IA; Evening Journal, Wilmington, DE; Hartford Courant, Hartford, CT; Huntington Herald, Huntington, IN; New York Press, New York, NY; Deseret Evening News, Salt Lake City, UT; Brooklyn Life, Brooklyn, NY; Billboard, New York, NY; Indianapolis Star, Indianapolis, IN; Daily Arkansas Gazette, Little Rock, AR; Bernardsville News, Bernardsville, NJ; New York Dramatic Mirror, New York, NY; Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, Fort Wayne, IN; Courier-News, Bridgewater, NJ; Leavenworth Post, Leavenworth, KS; Oregon Daily Journal, Portland, OR; Times-Dispatch, Richmond, VA; Times-Union, Albany, NY; Boston Post, Boston, MA; Daily News, New York, NY; Nassau Daily Review-Star, Nassau, New York; Post-Standard, Syracuse, NY; and Waukegan Daily Sun, Waukegan IL.

Magazines consulted include:
Putman’s Monthly Magazine, January 1907.
Daily Attractions in New York, Oct. 29 – Nov. 4, 1906.

Secondary sources

Books consulted include:
Baatz, Simon. The Girl on the Velvet Swing: Sex, Murder, and Madness at the Dawn of the Twentieth Century. New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2018.
Mooney, Michael Macdonald. Evelyn Nesbit and Stanford White: Love and Death in the Gilded Age. New York: William Morrow and Company, 1976.
Uruburu, Paula. American Eve: Evelyn Nesbit, Stanford White, the Birth of the “It” Girl, and the Crime of the Century. New York: Riverhead Books, 2008.

Websites consulted include:'s_Night_Out
Wikipedia entries [] consulted include: Mamzelle Champagne, Edgar Allan Woolf, Madison Square Garden (1890), Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Kendall Thaw, Stanford White, Maude Fulton, Robert Emmett O’Connor, May Yohe, Ragtime (novel), and Ragtime (film).
Also consulted were websites devoted to Madison Square Garden, Evelyn Nesbit, Harry Thaw, Stanford White, and May Yohe.

Three motion pictures consulted, which reconstruct scenes from Mamzelle Champagne:
The Unwritten Law: A Thrilling Drama Based on the Thaw-White Case.
Lubin Manufacturing Company, 1907.

The Girl in the Red Velvet Swing. Directed by Richard Fleischer. Twentieth Century Fox, 1955.
Ragtime. Directed by Milos Forman. Paramount Pictures, 1981.

Copyright © 2019 Eric Shanower. All rights reserved.

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