Margaret Harris (1943 – 2000) is slightly better remembered for her work as a conductor than her contemporary, Joyce Brown. She had a long association with the musical Hair and conducted over 800 performances, on Broadway and as MD for its national tours .
There’s much more to Harris’s career, and retracing newspaper coverage of her work reveals interviews with her, and the prospect of several Broadway shows she was never credited for. Footage of Harris conducting and playing the piano has also been found, and shared here for the first time.
In the last post – I talked about how we could research the people listed in the 1893 RNCM register, most of whom are women. I’ve shared some of the research findings here – with some intriguing, but sometimes incomplete findings. It is very difficult to find details on women’s professional careers because their names often changed at marriage – and not just their first name as some women became professionally known as Mrs [Husband’s first name] [Husband’s last name]. It is worth noting that the Married Women’s Property Act had only come into effect in 1882.
So here are 16 mini-biographies where women can be traced – more may be added if I find anything else!
Back in the *before times* I did quite a lot of research on the 1893 register of the first intake into what was then the Royal Manchester College of Music.
I’ve come back to this dataset to think about how we can understand who was part of this first group of students, and how they began their professional careers. The first intake into the school in October 1893 was 82% female – and some later historical accounts of the school emphasised the idea that it was a kind of finishing school for nice, middle-class, ladies looking for good husbands. But the reality is very different, and the evidence clearly demonstrates the school was a vital part of training musicians and teachers, right from the beginning. The assumption has been made that because it was for women, it couldn’t possibly have been serious, but of course, that’s just not the case.
This is another entry for an ongoing dictionary of women who worked in musical theatre in the 1930s in the UK. It is an evolving document – for more please get in touch via Twitter.
Anne Croft (b. Hull 1896 – d. 1944)
Croft was an actor, producer and director: her career raises intriguing questions about the relationship between twice nightly variety and musical theatre, that at the very least, is far more complicated than you might think.
This is another entry in a continuing dictionary of women who worked in musical theatre in the 1930s in the UK. It is an evolving document – for more please get in touch via Twitter.
Irene Kensington (fl. 1925 – 1934)
Kensington was a choreographer and costume designer; she was also a pianist and arranger. Frustratingly little can be found of her life – she appears and vanishes.
Kenginston had a long association with June Radbourne’s dance ensemble the June Dancers, who performed across variety and concert venues, as both choreographer and costume designer. Initial reports of their performances note that she ‘is also responsible for modernistic arrangements of Chopin and Liszt, as well as impressions of true moderns like Glinka, Ravel and Grainger. Strauss, Coleridge-Taylor and Schubert also figure in the versatile repertoire of these eight talented dancers.’ (Portsmouth Evening News, 16/08/32, 2)
The ensemble performed at a range of venues including variety theatres like the London Coliseum in 1928, and the Hackney Empire 1929; and concert party settings like the Floral Hall in Eastbourne, August 1929 and Portsmouth in 1931. They also played in cabaret settings, including Frascati’s Frascaberat in London 1931. Kensington also designed the costumes for the dancers, Very little survives of the company apart from a few postcard images of Radbourne herself and one or two of the dancers.
Newspaper reports reveal Kensington attended the Margaret Morris school of ‘Dancing and Other Arts’ in 1920. In 1927, she designed and choreographed for a troupe from the the Margaret Morris Theatre, presumably from the school; the troupe were the basis for the Radbourne company.
Elsewhere, Kensington designed the costume for the Seymour Hicks play What’s His Name; as well as choreographing and costume designing the 1932 musical She Shall Have Music. The last reference to her is choreographing Babes in the Wood in Exeter in 1934, but at present, no further information can be found.
John was an actor turned theatrical producer of muscial theatre active in London in the 1930s, establishing the company Rita John Productions to carry out her business. Little surviving information can be found – it seems likely she was working with a stage name; which makes finding further information very difficult.
As an actor, she had performed in a range of regional tours like The Breadwinner (1931) and The Judgement of Dr. Johnson (1932), and George Bernard Shaw’s The Applecart (1930). She obviously switched into producing with The Pride of the Regiment (1932), and produced the Cambridge Festival Season in 1932. Far more survives to document her second musical, Jolly Roger. Her production at the Savoy Theatre resulted in an extensive legal dispute between music hall comedian George Robey and Equity. He had refused to join Equity, so the union threatened a mass walkout. Many of the cast didn’t want to do that, one chorus member praised John, reporting ‘she paid the chorus even more than she actually need do’ (Stage, 02/03/1933, 13). Coverage of the production noted the unusual status of a woman producer in this early period. The Stage noted the musical ‘had a big cast, and a solitary unaided woman was running the show’ (02/03/1933, 13). The musical was written by Scobie Mackenzie and V. C. Clinton Baddeley, music by Walter Leigh, lyrics by V. C. Clinton-Baddeley, with choregraphy by Hedley Briggs. The production toured after its West End run closed, going to suburban venues like The Grand, Croydon and Wimbledon and King’s Hammersmith. Astonishingly the musical was recorded. She went on to produce an apparently shockingly vulgar revue Yours Sincerely at Daly’s Theatre (1934), which also toured regionally before opening in the West End.
The Pride of the Regiment
Manchester: Stage 16/02/1933, 2; London 09/03/33, 12
Stage 22/02/1934, 10
The only images that are in any way connected to Johns are those of George Robey, who for the sake of her show – she was forced to share production credits with.
Clare Kummer had a song which was a huge hit: “Dearie” in 1905, which sold over 1 million copies of sheet music. To put that in context: in 1900, it is estimated that there were about 1 million pianos in the entire US.