Yesterday's Starlets: Actress Postcards from Stage to Silent Screen

Julia Roberts, Meryl Streep, Cate Blanchett...they're just a few of the leading ladies that have delighted us on the big screen in recent years... Actresses who have won awards, fame, and fans. But where will they be 100 years in the future? Will we still know their names, recognize their faces, remember the works that made them great?

One weekend adventure at Denise's Antique Mall in Indiana, PA, I stumbled upon a number of postcards from the early 1900s. On them were beautiful hand-tinted photographs of actresses from the British stage and the early silver screen, identified only by a vague name at the base of each card. I started wondering if these thespians had been entirely lost to time... and whether it was possible to uncover them again.

So today, I thought I'd share with you just a little bit of that detective work.

Meet "Miss Augarde."

She was the first in my stack of postcards, and the first whose history I'd determined to tackle. And it proved to be a great way to start, too, because a simple Google search revealed not only her first name-- Adrienne-- but actual newspaper reviews of one of her 1912 performances.

This one is for The Rose Maid:

"A liberal backing of pretty girls in handsome frocks..." Heh. You just don't see that sort of phrasing in film marketing these days, do you?

Here is the list of cast members...

According to the Internet Broadway Database, Adrienne Augarde performed in several musical comedies and operettas including, The Duchess of Dantzic (January to April of 1905), Peggy Machree (December 1908-January 1909), The Dollar Princess (August 1909 to May 1910), and The Rose Maid (April 1912 to September 1912).

She was originally under contract with Oswald Stoll in America, but then joined Joseph Brooks of Brooks & Dingwall in 1908, says the New York Times. Her performance in The Rose Maid was described as follows:
"Miss Augard may be relied upon to play and sing the ingenue roles sweetly and prettily, and here, as the Rose Maid, she is generally happy in the sentimental ditties that fall to her lot... Miss Augard and Mr. Sheffield please in the very charming duet, 'Two Little Hearts,' and Miss Augarde, with an excellent backing from the comlely chorus, wins approval in 'Tip Your Hat to the American Millionairess.' Her later make-up however, is not an improvement to her own natural attractiveness..."

A web site on Edwardian era postcards gives her death in March 1913, just a few months after completion of The Rose Maid. As far as I can tell, she starred in both Peggy Machree and The Rose Maid, and worked alongside lead actress Lily Elsie in The Dollar Princess and with Kitty Gordon in The Duchess of Dantzic. She may have also performed in a play called The New Aladdin, but I can't confirm that, and it's possible that her name has been confused over time with one Amy Augarde, acting around the same time period.

If you'd like to see more photos of Miss Augarde, a site called "For the Love of Opera Gloves" has a nice little pictorial gallery here.

The next card we have to discuss today is of Lily Damita...

Talk about giving Mae West a run for her money-- Dig that flashy jacket she's sporting! Does that look not say "early Hollywood"?

Lili (with an 'i' instead of a 'y') Damita, as she is listed in the Internet Movie Database, appeared in over thirty films and productions over the 20s and 30s. Born Liliane Marie Madelaine Carre in 1904 in Aquitaine, France, Lili lived to a ripe old age of 90, dying of Alzheimer's Disease on March 21, 1994 in Palm Beach, Florida. She married Hollywood hero Errol Flynn in 1935 and they had one child, Sean. She and Flynn divorced in 1942.

You can view a rather excellent photo gallery here of the fair Lili here.

This is Pauline Garon...

Pauline's career spanned the 1920s to the 40s, and her credits with the Internet Movie Database include a startling 94 pictures and productions. Pauline was born in Montreal, Canada in 1901, and was the youngest of 11 children. She attended and was schooled at Sacred Heart Convent in Montreal beginning at age 13. By age 20 she left her home in Canada to become an actress, and her work includes Broadway stage productions, silent screen pictures and even talkies.

She was considered an important discovery of Cecil B. Demille-- in fact, she played in his production of Adam's Rib-- and her career ranged from starring and supporting roles, declining eventually to bit parts with few lines. She died on August 30, 1965 in San Bernadino, California of a "brain disorder."

Now this is Curigwen Lewis-- looking strikingly like Drew Barrymore to me here...

She's a bit later in timeframe than the other actresses, but given she'd played Alice in Wonderland (as shown here) and I've been a fan of Alice since a child, I couldn't resist including her in the mix.

According to her grand-daughter, Curigwen was born in Wales in 1905, and grew up in Llandrindod Wells. She went to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art when she was sixteen. The production of Alice was said to be around 1936 in Bristol, and then went on tour.

The Internet Movie Database indicates Curigwen Lewis' work ranged from stage and screen to television, with performances in Pride and Prejudice in 1938, to television episodes in 1969. She was married to Andrew Cruickshank, Scottish supporting actor on the long-running BBC TV series "Dr. Finlay's Casebook" (1962-71). Curigwen appeared in two episodes of this series. She and Cruickshank had one son and two daughters.

Julia Neilson was born June 12, 1868 in London, England and died in 1957 in the very same city...

She performed on the London stage in productions of As You Like it, and The Scarlet Pimpernel, and a number of W.S. Gilbert plays. She and her actor husband Fred Terry had two children, Phyllis and Dennis, who also went on to act. The husband and wife team additionally became the producers of a number of plays over a thirty year period, several of which they performed in themselves.

They were definitely considered "news," too. A December 21, 1910 article highlights their arrival in the States.

Fred Terry and Julia Neilson Among Those Sailing To-day on Teutonic

Among the passengers sailing to-day on the White Star liner Teutonic and who will enjoy their Christmas dinners in mid-ocean are Fred Terry and Miss Julia Neilson, recently seen in New York in The Scarlet Pimpernel and Henry of Navarre..."

But while they made headlines, not all of Miss Neilson's performances were considered hits. One review of For Sword or Song, I located in the New York Times described Julia Neilson's performance as follows:

"It is upon Miss Julia Neilson, as Price Chanrming, that the burden of the evening falls. She bears it bravely in her boy's costume, but seems perpetually anxious to 'bestride the world like Colossus.' In plain English, she straddles."

Ah, poor gal! Critics of every decade can be so cruel, can't they? Well, there's a great collection of Julia Neilson photos here you might enjoy checking out.

Lastly, today I thought I'd share with you this card...

I'm unsure who this actress might be, if any, as no information is indicated on the card. However, the note on the back is just one I thought was somewhat remarkable.

Mr. Bloom,
You have promised me that you would write more often when you left B. Boro, and since then I have not had a word from you and cannot understand what you mean by not writing to me. Or perhaps you don't want to write at all. I am always awaiting impatiently at the P.O. every day for a letter or at least a card from you.

With Best Regards,

Sounds like poor Helen should try and forget about this Mr. Bloom... As the current phrase goes today, it's appears "he's just not that into you."

Some things really never change, do they? :)

  • Well, before I go today, I wanted to share with you a link to a really sweet interview that Shirley of Proof Positivity did of me this week. Shirley writes about upbeat news, in addition to running a business that's designed to help underprivileged and struggling students gain a renewed interest in academics through the fun of journalism. You can read the interview here.
  • If you missed the last Treasure Box Wednesday on fun finds from across the pond, click here.
Next Sunday, I hope you'll join me as we go garage "sailing" through the Regent Square Annual Neighborhood event. Take care, my friends!


Don Lewis said...

That is a neat post! Especially the last one. Encumbered as I am by a overly active imagination, I always wonder about things like that. Did Helen get over Mr. Bloom? What happened to him? Was he simply a cad who trifled with her affections? Was there an accident? Did he finally get together with her?

I know I'll never know, but as the kind of guy who drives by lighted homes on the highway and wonders what the lives are like of the people who live there, these glimpses into the past at actresses I've never heard of are really neat. Great Post!

Rosemary said...

Hi Jenn,
What an interesting post today!!
I loved finding out about all of those ladies. When I find old postcards, I always wonder who these people were, and what they were up to.
Have a great week,

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Don- thanks so much for stopping! I'm glad there are folks out there who also appreciate the history behind old papers. These notes do leave a lot to the imagination-- no matter how active! :) I'd say we'll never know, but it's possible some family member of Mr. Bloom might just stumble on the page some day and wrap up the story. Ya never can be too sure.

Hi, Rosemary!
Yup, that's just what I enjoy about the cards-- the stories and histories behind the image. Thanks for the visit today.

Handi Dandi Mandi said...

Those are such neat postcards, whate interesting things you can find by a little 'googling.'

If you are interested in some early silent film starlets, last mother's day I stumbled upon this phenomal book by Joshua Zeitz called "Flapper: A Madcap Story of Sex, Style, Celebrity, and the Women Who Made America Modern" and it's a biography of lots of different people including early starlets like Clara Bow and fashion maven Coco Chanel. It's a really interesting read and may be right up your alley.

Le-Chat said...

Hey Jenn,
Just wanted to say I stopped by and enjoyed this post. But who doesn't like old postcards and celebrities? Just feeds the imagination!

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Mandi- thanks much for the book recommendation. It would probably do me good to know more about the 20s... I'm pretty up on a decade or two earlier, but my knowledge peters out the more modern we go. :)

Heya, Le-Chat!- Thanks for the note and for stopping by-- I hope you've been well. I've enjoyed seeing some of the recent goodies you've uncovered.

SSB said...

You find the most cool stuff.

Creating Myself said...

What a neat find! I knwo most collectors consider unused postcards to be the most collectible but they hold little interest for me. I love reading what they wrote on them. Love reading the unrequited attention from Helen....thansk for sharing!

Lidian said...

Jenn, I really enjoyed this post so much! What fantastic postcards those are...I am really intrigued about poor Helen. Was there a postmark on the card?

Funny that I wrote about an actress last week and a 1920s jazz singer yesterday - such interesting women!

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Hi, Shirley!- There's just a lot of cool stuff out there. It's funny, too, I haven't found any of these cards yet with actors on them, only actresses.

CreatingMyself- thanks for the visit. Yup, I totally agree how enjoyable it is to get little glimpses into peoples' lives through these cards. I collect them for that little bit of history and for the artwork. Poor, poor Helen... :)

Lidian- I'll have to look and see what the postmark was on the card-- I believe there was, but I can't recall for sure.

I read your post last week on the actress. You're a busy bee with all of your web sites!

Angela Williams Duea said...

What a cool post! Thanks for researching these ladies for us. I'm also wondering what happened to poor Helen. I hope she found someone else.

white o'morn cottage said...

Wow! I love them. My favourite is Helen, soooo pretty. Hope she did better than Mr Bloom in the end...Cheers...Pam

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Angela- I think Helen is developing herself a fan club! :) Yes, I hope she found a guy who really appreciated her.

Pam- Yup, it's funny, we're all involved with a heartbreak of 100 years ago. There's something sort of lovely about that.

Jane @ Kidzarama said...

That was fascinating, thank you for sharing what you learned.

Interesting to think that the many of the stars of today will likely be as obscure in the not~to~distant future.

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Jane- You know, it's hard to say. The advantage stars have now is in the fact their exposure includes television interviews and internet articles and databases instead of just print.

So I would guess that even as they lose their popularity, that background material on them will be out there for a while. I was actually surprised how many of these actresses from the 1900s had at least a small presence in the Internet Movie Database, or Wikipedia.

Vallen said...

The postcards you found are absolutely delightful in and of themselves - the tinted colors like icing on a cake. But with the additional history they are fascinating. Wouldn't you love to dress like that just once? Thanks for the tour.

Carrie said...

Wonderful research on the vintage photos.

Anonymous said...

What an intriguing post...wonderful!! Your observation of Carigwen Lewis looking like Drew Barrymore is right on. It's almost spooky how similar they look.

I thought that pauling Garon looked very much like Bernadette Peters. What a fun post, thanks!

ThriftShopRomantic said...

Vallen- thanks so much. Yes, those tinted colors just are right up my alley-- so soft and they add so much. They just don't make 'em like that anymore.

Carrie- hey, thank you. I wish I'd had more time, I'm sure there is more information available out there. But really fun to see what a quick search can uncover.

Gina- You know, you're absolutely right about Bernadette Peters and Pauline Garon. Bernadette really does have that old-fashioned Kewpie or Flapper look. Excellent observation. Thanks for sharing!

callmekelly said...

Wow, just found your blog and I'm loving the topic. I'm a thrift store girl myself. You can get a real rush from some of the things you find and knowing you saved money too.

Sher said...

Hi, Jenn! Per norm, I'm loving it all but am stuck on that first review. Hmmm. Would I rather be a pretty girl in a handsome frock or a handsome girl in a pretty frock? Not much of a contest for me - I'll be the pretty girl, how 'bout you? :->

Jewelgirl said...

These are fabulous postcards,
I enjoyed them a lot!

ThriftShopRomantic said...

The comment I'm leaving here is because I had the delightful good fortune to receive email today from actress Curigwen Lewis' granddaughter, Blue MacAskill, who came across this post and kindly shared some additional information about her fascinating grandmother.

Ms. MacAskill kindly has let me reproduce her comments here, and I thought you all would enjoy reading them. The emails are as follows:

Email 1:

My name is Blue MacAskill, I tried to write on your blog, but I am no
Google emailer.

My granny is that fantastic young woman you have playing Alice in
Wonderland, around 1936 in Bristol and then on tour.

She was completely brilliant in every way, and I miss her loads.

Born in Wales in 1905, She went to RADA when she was 16, and went on to great things.

I am an artist and am working as artist-in-residence at The National
Library of Wales, near to where she was brought up in Llandrindod Wells.

Hope you find this interesting, we loved your site

best wishes
Curigwen's grand daughter
Blue MacAskill


Second email--

She told a fab story about being Alice: it goes like this.....

"When I was doing Alice on stage and it came to the scene when I had to fall down the hole, I started saying my lines, 'ahhh, I falling....'

and one night one of the stage hands must have stopped concentrating for a second, because
he yelled across stage,
"It's alright, Miss Lewis, we've got you!"

She would hoot with laughter, and I think when she gave up acting, she
really missed it, and when she told us her stories you could she
she was there re-living the whole play, night after night...

I am sitting at my little desk, researching an article I am writing with the paper about my work and finding an article about my granny in the collection here it is a great resource:

All the best and hope you continue to have a great day!


Thanks so much to Ms. McAskill for sharing her beautiful memories and history with us here!!