Sunday, November 18, 2007

Lotta's story

Copyright 2007, John Phillips, Kathleen, GA

NO QUESTION, LOTTA LINTHICUM was one of the busiest leading ladies Broadway ever had. She had one hit after another–the top plays of her era: Camille, Monte Cristo, Cyrano de Bergerac, The Three Musketeers, Trilby, Quo Vadis, Sapho, The Two Orphans, Frou-Frou, Under Two Flags, Rip Van Winkle, West Lynne . You name it, she did it. A week without a success? There weren’t many.

Her first lead on Broadway was Camille in 1900. That was Sarah Bernhardt’s specialty, and Lotta dared do it right after Bernhardt had come through town. The Divine Sarah be damned, Lotta had begun at the top, pleasing the critics in her first Broadway lead.

But the praise was usually faint. She was, you see, a "stock lead." She was like the house wine–or perhaps the champagne--in your corner eatery. She had to work harder than most other leading ladies, often doing two performances a day. And often she alternated with trained monkeys, jugglers and acrobats.

Old newspapers, Broadway records, plus the Bankson family scrapbook, give us a good look into her long career, stretching from the Gay Nineties into the Depression Era, when she settled for character roles in popular new plays. She progressed from glamor girl to matronly mother-in-law roles.

Lotta Lynn Linthicum was nicknamed "Lotte" and "Lottie." (Perhaps "Lotta" was even short for "Charlotte.") She was born just a stone’s throw from Broadway--on Fifth Avenue near 23rd Street in New York City. Like all actresses, and most women, she was vague on dates. She usually gave her year of birth as about 1877. Actually, she was born nearer 1875 or even ’70. As a rule of thumb, let’s say she was born in 1872, give or take two years.

Her mother was Julia Bogardus from upstate New York. Dad was William Oliver Linthicum, a prosperous tailor and merchant, son of a Maryland family.

William Linthicum made the New York Times news pages four times in the mid-1870s. The first was when the family’s French nurse, Marie Bruce, went "mysteriously missing." This happened in January 1876 when the family was living at 174 Fifth Avenue. Then on Jan. 27, 1876, the Times reported that Marie had turned up in a French hotel in NYC. She said she’d gotten lost while looking for a friend.
About the same time, William had business troubles. When three of his tailors struck, he had them arrested. On March 4, 1876, they posted bail of $10 each, guaranteeing their good behavior. The Times noted that W.O. Linthicum had "formerly employed them."

Perhaps his rough treatment of his employees helped him indulge his family. On July 27, 1877, the Times report that "Mrs. J. Linthicum and child" were spending the summer at the beach. They were staying at the Stockton Hotel in Cape May, New Jersey.
William died when Lotta was still an infant, leaving her most everything she could have wanted. Her private education included a swank school in the Parisian suburban of Neuilly even before she turned 12; in keeping with her station she became adept as a painter, pianist and composer.

The Times’ computerized index shows 67 references to Lotta. The first reports that on the evening of Feb. 1, 1883, she was a bridesmaid for two American theatrical stars, Bijou Heron and Henry Miller. The marriage was at St. Agnes’s Church on 43rd Street near Lexington Avenue in NYC. The Times gave Lotta’s age as eight. The newlyweds used their real names, Helene Bijou Heron Stoepel and Henry John Miller, and the bride’s father, actor Robert Stoepel, gave her away. Among the crowd were high-profile producers A.M. Palmer and Daniel Frohman. Miss Heron and Miller had fallen in love the previous season while appearing in Odette at Daly’s Theatre.

As a child of privilege, Lotta crossed the Atlantic frequently. One old passenger-ship record shows that she was aboard the Fulda out of Southampton, England, in 1891. The ship docked in NYC on July 21. She was listed as Miss Lotta Linthicum, 20, of New York, which places her year of birth further back than she cared to admit. Others in her party: Mrs. J.C. Linthicum, 45; Miss Olive Linthicum, 18; and Miss Sarah Linthicum, 16. They’d been in London. A Miss Kate Kidder, 29, was perhaps in the party, too.

On June 7, 1893, a New York City publication called Once a Week: An Illustrated Weekly Newspaper, ran a long story about female composers. It discussed Lotta briefly and ran a picture of her. The paper noted: "Miss Lotta Linthicum, of Fifty-sixth street, extemporizes cleverly and has a thorough Parisian training in harmony. She is now fully entered on her career as a composer. In face, she is really beautiful, as her portrait from the recent Parisian photograph will show."

Newspapers couldn’t yet reproduce photos; instead, they used line engravings, artful copies of photos. The engraving, and a later photo in the New York Times show that her waist was astonishingly tiny, certainly a boon to her stage career in that age of hourglass figures. (But by her early twenties she’d, well, filled out.)

While in France, she frequented the salons of the old nobility. On June 28, 1894, the Times reported: "The Countess de Kessler, who is prominent as a hostess with the smart sets of this city and Paris, gave one of the most brilliant entertainments of the season on June 11 at her handsome hotel on the Boulevard Montmorency, Paris. The Countess and her daughter Wilma, who are vocalists of unusual talent, were among the most prominent entertainers. Features of the musicale were songs by Mme. Albert Lefevre . . . and recitations by Miss Lotta Linthicum. . . ."

Not coincidentally, the date of her stage debut is as fuzzy as her age. She likely cited diverse "debuts," making chronology as vague as her age. She’s known to have spent two years doing minor or supporting roles in Augustin Daly’s famous company in NYC. Then, moving to Rose Coghlan’s company, she appeared as Dora in Diplomacy. This would logically have been in Miss Coghlan’s revival of that old warhorse in October 1892 at her Star Theatre in NYC. Miss Coghlan and brother Charles then took the production on the road in 1893, playing Chicago, Indianapolis, Washington, D.C., and probably many other cities. Whether Lotta was in the NYC cast, the road cast, or both, is speculative.

An 1897 edition of Gallery of Plays and Players discusses her in some detail. We learn that she became leading lady of the Girard Avenue Theatre in Philadelphia in 1893 or ’94; there, "a weekly change of bill provided her with a remarkable opportunity of playing a varied round of characters, which afforded almost unequaled facilities for experience to an ambitious young artist."

On October 1, 1894, she appeared on stage in New York City in Irish Artist starring Chauncey Olcott. Billed as "Lotta Lynn," she played Kate Mahone in the production at the Fourteenth Street Theatre. Some references call it her debut.
Years later, though, her obituary stated that she debuted on stage in London in the early or mid-1890s. There’s some indication that she might have acted in Canada about that time, too. She was slightly Canadian. She lived there a while, one husband died there, one husband was Canadian, and, certainly, theatre-goers in Montreal loved her. The Baltimore News once called her "a vivacious blonde Canadian."
Alfred Stieglitz took a photo of her that’s posted on the web. According to the information, Stieglitz called the photo "Outward Bound" and noted that it was Lotte Linthicum aboard the Burgogne in 1894. She’s leaning against the rail of a ship with the water in the background. (The Borgogne did sail from NYC to France on May 2, 1894, and perhaps on other dates that year.)

About 1895 or ’96 she earned acclaim as Annie Sylvester in Man and Wife, apparently at the Girard Avenue Theatre.

She was in London in the summer of 1896 to play Dacia in Wilson Barrett’s tremendously successful The Sign of the Cross at the Lyric Theatre. The New York Times of Nov. 10, 1896 summarized the plot nicely: "The theme is the conversion of a Roman libertine, Marcus Superbus, by a girl martyr named Mercia, and his sacrifice of life for her sake. The salient and effective episodes are the rescue of an aged but talkative Christian from a mob by Mercia, and her rescue, in turn, by Marcus; the torture of a youthful Christian by noble Romans desirous of learning the names and addresses of his associates; the temptation of Mercia by Marcus while a Bacchanalian orgy is in progress in one part of his house and the imprisoned Christians are singing hymns in another; and his repulse by the aid of a flash of lightning, and the sign of the cross; and, finally, the departure of the martyrs from their dungeon to the arena . . ."

American entrepreneurs Charles Frohman and Frank Sanger imported the whole London cast to perform at the Knickerbocker Theatre in NYC. Lotta, as Dacia, was in the opening performance that Nov. 9.

After playing the Knickerbocker, the company toured with The Sign of the Cross, a hit everywhere it went. The drama offered a variation on the Cinderella-Prince Charming plot: virginal Mercia, a Christian, falls for pagan Marcus Superbus, the handsome prefect of Nero’s Rome.

Lotta gained some notice; Peterson’s magazine ran her photo in February 1897. Then came a big chance: she joined the company of superstar Minnie Maddern Fiske, the first lady of the stage, for at least one Broadway play.

In her next major career step she joined Charles Coghlan’s company for the 1897-98 theatrical season. Way back in 1836 the elder Alexander Dumas (1802-70) had written Kean, a drama about English actor Edmund Kean, a notorious scalawag who lived 1787-1833. In the 1890s Coghlan, rejiggered, transformed, adapted, reworked and pirated Kean, all in the manner of the times, and he christened the result The Royal Box. It was his play, his meal ticket. Instead of long-dead actors and nobles, The Royal Box centered on a fictitious modern actor named Clarence at the Theatre Royal at Drury Lane. Although reckless and drunken, Clarence was eminently likable. The same could have been said of Coghlan.

A secondary male character was the Prince of Wales, who’s with us to this day, in one incarnation or another. One of the main female characters was Countess Helen, slightly sexy wife of the Swedish ambassador.
Coghlan’s handiwork debuted at the Columbia Theatre in Washington, D.C. in November 1897; it then went to NYC, opening Dec. 21, 1897 at the Fifth Avenue Theatre at Broadway and 28th Street. (Fires caused the theatre to be moved somewhat over the years.) It was the hit of the season--Coghlan’s greatest success. In seven weeks on Broadway, receipts surpassed $49,000.

It was customary in those days to revive successful plays quickly, even from one season to the next. This is where Lotta came in. On Sept. 10, 1898, the Liebler Company revived The Royal Box in the Fifth Avenue Theatre. The new production merited royal treatment: its more elaborate trimmings included new scenery and special effects, and an even-better cast to support leading man Coghlan. Lotta was brought in to play Countess Helen. An up-and-coming young actor named James W. Bankson, 20, was hired to double as Montmorency and Mercutio.

Bankson had been born in Louisville, the only son of two veteran character actors from the midwest, John and Mary Bankson. Although hardly prosperous, he was a handsome six-footer primed for marquee status.

The young people couldn’t have had better opportunities. Coghlan, a dashing Irish-American, was perhaps America’s top leading men. Not only did his romantic play provide steady work; it gave youngsters such as Lotta and Bankson solid status in their profession.

After a successful month-long run in NYC, the show went on the road. First stop was Washington, D.C. After that, Toronto apparently was one of many stops.
After The Royal Box closed its road season in spring 1899, Lotta supported Fiske again, this time in Love Finds the Way back at the Fifth Avenue Theatre. No doubt about it: she was in the big time. Jimmie Bankson, after a quick stint in a comedy in Pittsburgh, opened with Coghlan’s Citizen Pierre. Unlike its predecessor, it opened and closed almost simultaneously. This dud left its huge cast with nothing but spare time. Bankson tried some vaudeville at Proctor’s Theatre in New York City.

His main project, though, was courting Miss Linthicum. No sooner had he returned to New York than she’d left. In mid-April 1899 she went to Baltimore to replace Jennie Kennark as the Lyceum Stock Company’s leading lady. This was for the "supplementary" season, that short interval between the formal winter season and summer stock. People there remembered her favorably for The Sign of the Cross.

On Sunday May 14, 1899, Bankson slipped off to Baltimore. After Lotta rehearsed the morning of May 15, she and Jimmie caught a north-bound trolley for nearby Towson. While she sat in the shade of the maple trees in Courthouse Square, he went into the clerk’s office for a marriage license. When Bankson said he wanted to be married immediately, the clerk directed the couple to the Rev. W.E. Robertson of the nearby Calvary Baptist Church. No luck. The preacher was at a conference in Louisville. Next they tried the Rev.W.H.H. Powers of the Trinity Protestant Episcopalian Church. But he’d gone off to Baltimore on business.

Finally they found the Rev. W.H. Wright of the Epsom Methodist Church. He married them, then and there. They caught the next electric car back to Baltimore as husband and wife. Somehow, the newspapers found out; as celebrities, Mr. and Mrs. Bankson were big news.

Lotta was late for rehearsal Tuesday morning. When a reporter confronted her, she denied the stories, saying she and "Mr. Bankson" had gone to Sparrows Point on Monday, not to Towson. She was warmly received at the Lyceum the night of May 16 when the curtain went up on Two Can Play at That. By then the public had discounted her denials.

On May 18 Jimmie was back at Proctor’s in NYC. Lotta was to join him May 27, after finishing in Baltimore. They’d planned their summer but had put off any engagements for fall, saying they merely wanted to be together.

The groom was to perform at McCullum’s Summer Theatre, hub of an actors colony on Cape Elizabeth near Portland, Maine. Lotta was to rest there amid the wonderful real-life scenery. According to a clipping in the Bankson family scrapbook: "The colony is located on an extremely picturesque part of the cape. There is a fine beach and good fishing, bathing and boating, all of which are taken advantage of daily." It sounds perfect for honeymooners. (Among other such theatrical havens were Bar Harbor, considerably northeast of Portland in Maine; Petoskey, on Lake Michigan on the northwest coast of the lower peninsula of Michigan); and, as we’ll find out later, Sciasconset.)

Bankson played D’Artagnan in The King’s Musketeers at McCullum’s in July. Contrary to plans, Lotta filled the secondary female role, that of the French queen. McCullum’s probably put on other plays that summer, but the scrapbook doesn’t mention any. Others summering there included thespians Lisle Leigh, Minnie Halsey, Beatrice Ingram, Stephen Wright, Lynn Pratt, A.H. Stuart, Thomas Reynolds, Robert Gaillard, J.H. Armstrong, James Horne, George Montserrat and Robert Wayne.
On Sept. 19, 1899, Jimmie signed with Charles Coghlan at $40 a week for another tour with The Royal Box. Soon the newlyweds were in Newark, New Jersey, the first stop. Lotta again played flirtatious Countess Helen, and Jimmie was back as Montmorency. J.A. Reed managed the tour.

By the time the company arrived in Galveston, Texas, on Oct. 30, 1899, Coghlan was ill with gastritis. Andrew Robson took over the lead immediately and did well as the company fulfilled its engagements in small-town Texas.
Coghlan remained in Galveston, his wife Lizzie caring for him. Weeks passed as he worked away on his dramatization of Vanity Fair, but he got no better. Doctors couldn’t help, and on Nov. 27, 1899, he died. The newspapers said he was 56. Younger sister Rose Coghlan, starring in The White Heather in Montreal, collapsed upon hearing the news. A doctor was summoned to attend her.

Meanwhile, the touring company had to eat, so it continued to tour. The Los Angeles Times, quoting a dispatch from Memphis, said simply that the "understudy played the lead throughout Texas, apparently to satisfaction."

The Washington Post went considerably further: "The company was booked for a series of one- and two-night stands through Texas. Robson, a young actor who had been with Coghlan as his understudy, was put on to play Coghlan’s part without announcement.
". . . For almost a month he was billed as Charles Coghlan and even had to register at hotels under that name. Meanwhile, Charles Coghlan, attended by his wife, was in Galveston ill, few people knowing his identity. It is asserted also that after more than a week after Coghlan died The Royal Box continued through Kansas with Mr.

Robson billed on the programs and hotel registers as Coghlan."
The Post assured its readers that this was true, adding: "These statements were made by people who traveled with the company."
Andrew Robson had originally signed to play the Prince of Wales, the second male lead, so when he moved up, Jimmie Bankson took the No. 2 male role.
The show looped into the midwest. It’s known to have played Marion, Indiana, where Bankson had relatives. When The Royal Box opened in nearby Indianapolis the night of Jan. 5, 1900, the reviewer missed Lotta; she’d had a "minor accident." The company likely played St. Paul, too, because Jimmie and Lotta were photographed there.
Jimmie played the Prince of Wales at the Hyperion in New Haven. A reviewer there remembered that Coghlan had done the lead a year earlier, with Bankson further down the credits, apparently as Montmorency. The reviewer in Hartford didn’t mention Lotta.

Coghlan's death must have altered the newlyweds’ plans; they soon joined the Baldwin-Melville Stock Company for at least two productions in New Orleans: Quo Vadis and The Prodigal Daughter. Lotta likely was leading lady with William Farnum, 24, as her opposite. Jimmie and Lotta also did a new comedy, A Lively Legacy, that spring, playing Albany, Washington, Baltimore and perhaps other cities.

Lotta and Jimmie went to Montreal with Baldwin-Melville for a frantic summer at la Theatre de sa Majeste--at least 16 plays in 13 weeks. (All apparently were in English.) Walter S. Baldwin headed the company. Farnum was to be its leading man in early summer. Lotta was to be leading lady. Bankson was to draw the second male lead–often the "heavy" or villain.
Here’s the summer schedule, pieced together from newspaper announcements in the scrapbook. It gives a good idea of the astonishing amount of work thespians of that era had to do:

Week 1: May 28-June 2 The Prodigal Daughter
Week 2: June 4-9 Sapho
Week 3: June 11-16 Rosedale
Week 4: June 18-23 Quo Vadis
Week 5: June 25-30 The Two Orphans
Week 6: July 2-7 Cyrano de Bergerac
Week 7: July 9-14 The Black Flag
Week 8: July 16-21 The Three Musketeers
Week 9: July 23-28 East Lynne on 23-25, Rip Van Winkle on 26-28
Week 10: July 30-Aug. 4 unknown (perhaps Madame Sans Gene)
Week 11: Aug. 6-11 Probably Monte Cristo
Week 12: Aug. 13-18 The Charity Ball
Week 13: Aug. 20-25 Camille on 20th. Ten Nights in a Barroom 21st. Little Lord Fauntleroy apparently 22-25 with Friday matinee of East Lynne on 24th.

The company opened in Montreal with Bankson playing villain Maurice Deepwater in The Prodigal Daughter. After that safe start, the second week introduced local playgoers to Sapho. It had scandalized New York that spring, causing authorities to shut it down and arrest the leading lady. Only after her acquittal at a sensational trial was the show allowed to resume.

Montreal took things in stride; Lotta wasn’t hauled off to the Bastille for playing French courtesan Fannie LeGrand. One reviewer merely noted that the play was too talky and that the comedy was weak.

Interestingly, one paper observed: "The celebrated staircase episode was no more exciting than it would have been had Mr. Farnum carried up a bale of wool. Indeed, it was principally as a feat of strength that it attracted the attention of the audience. For the staircase is a long one, and Miss Linthicum is a healthy young lady. One can quite pardon Mr. Farnum for pausing in the middle of the ascent to get his second wind."

During the third week, Lotta won praise as Rosa Leigh in Rosedale. Jimmie played Myles McKenna, again outperforming leading man Farnum--according to one review, anyway. It was a comfortably picturesque play compared to Sapho. Coincidentally, though, a rival company performed Sapho June 11-16 at the Royal. The previous week’s run had whetted the public appetite; crowds swarmed the Royal, although a reviewer warned: "Of real, hair-raising immorality, there was none . . . " He approved Julia Glover’s portrayal of Fannie LeGrand but rated the rest of the cast inferior to Baldwin-Melville’s.

Lotta was Lygia, and Jimmie appeared as Petronius in Quo Vadis. A reviewer praised both but suggested that Miss MacGregor (Poppaea) tone down her shrillness. Jimmie played Jacques in the next play, an old tear-jerker called The Two Orphans.
Farnum, of course, did the title role in the much-awaited Cyrano de Bergerac. James played the Count de Guiche, and Lotta topped the female cast as Roxane. "Business was exceptionally large," one paper reported. But Jimmie and Lotta were a tad too sedate for the reviewer, who liked histrionics.

After that, Farnum left the company to do Ben Hur elsewhere. (His five-year tour with it made him famous.) Lotta and her husband then did The Black Flag, a venerable English comedy drama. Bankson played John Glyndon. Lotta was heiress Naomi Blandford. The reviewer wasn’t overly impressed.

Lawrence Hanley was brought in to replace Farmum as leading man. Hanley was about 35, although no one was sure. He was considered extremely handsome, and he’d made a fine professional reputation while touring with Edwin Booth. He was, however, addicted to booze and morphine, and everybody knew it.

When it came time to do The Three Musketeers, one of the many dramatizations of the Dumas novel, Bankson didn't play D'Artagnan, as he'd done a year earlier in The King’s Musketeers version. He was relegated to playing arch-villain Richelieu, undoubtedly in a white wig with heavy makeup to make him appear older.
Hanley received cool notices. He was nervous, one reviewer detected, and tended "to overemphasize some of the points." Bankson fared well as Richelieu.

On the night of July 19, Hanley was "indisposed." One newspaper said he’d "broken down." Bankson took the lead that night, and he ran with it. The reviewers loved him. After all, he'd played D'Artagnan before.

L.O. Hart covered by doing both his role of Boniface and stepping in as Richelieu. It’s unclear if this arrangement lasted more than one night; we do know that almost immediately Bankson fell ill with typhoid. Lotta was playing Lady Isabel in East Lynne July 23-25 when the company juggled assignments to cover for Jimmie.
Lotta spent her days with her husband, except when she had a matinee performance. She maintained her nightly schedule at Her Majesty’s Theatre. She and Lawrence Hanley did Monte Cristo without much success. Dramatic News called it "a very poor performance."

One newspaper reported that Bankson had rallied, that he would recover. It was wrong. With his condition grave, Lotta’s mother arrived from New York on Tuesday Aug. 14. Lotta performed that night but on Wednesday Aug. 15 she was told that her husband was dying; she left the theatre to be with him to the end. Ella MacGregor, 17, read Lotta’s part of Anne Cruger in The Charity Ball. Jimmie died that night.
The funeral was Friday Aug. 17 at the Church of the Advent in Montreal. Pallbearers were members of the company. Certainly L.O. Hart, Albert Brown, Harold Mordaunt and Giunio Socola were cast members. The other pallbearers--E.F. Maxwell, Arthur Elliot and T.B. Findlay--likely were somehow connected to the company. (Arthur Elliot might have been the person of that name who co-wrote a Broadway hit of 1918, The Better Ole.)

The burial was in Mount Royal Cemetery in Montreal. Cemetery records show the casket is in section D 123-A. The couple’s most recent address was noted as 214 Wood Avenue. That’s in Westmount, south of downtown Montreal and near today’s Forum.
Newspapers noted that Jimmie had been engaged to play the lead in The Adventures of Francois, apparently for the fall-winter season. One paper observed: "It has been an open secret in Montreal that a famous New York manager had been watching Mr. Bankson with the confessed expectation of starring him in the near future. His talents and perseverance would without doubt have won him a position among the few great actors of the American stage."

On Aug. 19 Lotta’s mother took her to Nantucket. One of the Baldwin Company’s stalwarts, Laura Alberta, was whisked in from NYC to replace Lotta.

As the century turned, Broadway north of 42nd Street still remained a no-man’s land of sin. Prostitution flourished. Times, though, were changing. Oscar Hammerstein had bought up land on the east side of Broadway between 43rd and 45th and had become the first to put a theatre up there. His Olympia opened in 1895, complete with roof garden, bowling alley, restaurants and other amenities. The Olympia failed, but by 1910 there were 34 theatres near 42nd Street, most to the north.
Other theatrical changes would affect Lotta greatly. In the mid-1890s a manager/actor named Henry V. Donnelly had taken over the scruffy little Murray Hill Theatre on Lexington Avenue near 42nd Street in NYC. One newspaper called it a "tomb of entertainment" across from a warehouse in a dark and depressing neighborhood. Trying to buck theatre’s combination system, Donnelly hired a company of actors and revived a popular old play each week. It was a tough sell. Misfortune and public indifference hurt at first, but he persevered. By the turn of the century, the Murray Hill became such a goldmine that other managers wanted to cut themselves in.
Henry Greenwall was one. After making a barrel of money with road shows, he controlled many theatres in large cities across the South. He was based in New Orleans, where he ran the Grand Opera House.

In spring 1901 he made a deal expanding his operation into NYC. He contracted to take over the American Theatre that fall, after an opera company moved out. The American, at 260 West 42nd Street, at Eighth Avenue, had been built in 1893. (It was sometimes called the American Music Hall before it was demolished in 1932.) It was much larger and plusher than Donnelly’s humble house.

Greenwall leased the American for about $25,000 a year. He opened in September 1901 with a weekly string of revivals "at popular prices." First came The Great Ruby with its four-in-hand, its balloon scene and its cricket match, all made possible by the use of copious extras. Next came a string of old favorites: The Three Musketeers, The Charity Ball, The Lost Paradise, Michael Strogoff, The Two Orphans, In Mizzouri, Faust, Quo Vadis, A Celebrated Case, Held by the Enemy, etc., usually one week at a time. It was theatre for the masses.

Greenwall had planned to move leading man William Farnum from New Orleans to New York, but that fell through (apparently because Farnum opted for Ben Hur). Greenwall settled on Ralph Stuart. Doubling as stage director and leading man, Stuart proved capable and popular. Not so the female leads. Mary Hampton’s reviews were spotty. Isabelle Evesson wasn’t ready for top billing.

Albert Weis, general manager of the Greenwall circuit, revamped the plan somewhat. He booked a new play, The Master of Arms, giving it special treatment, then signed Jennie Kennark to do Monte Cristo. After that, he brought in Miss Margaret May to do a new war play, Winchester.

Finally in April 1901, the Greenwall Stock Company hired a new full-time leading lady: Lotta Linthicum. She was just out of mourning for her husband. Her first assignment: Camille. It was a daunting project. Since the play’s debut on Broadway in 1853 it had been the measuring stick for the world’s best actresses. Some ducked the role. Some dreaded it. Bernhard, who reveled in it, had just been through town in December; her Camille at the upscale Garden Theatre had wowed critics.

On April 29, 1901 Lotta did Camille at the American. She earned fine reviews. The only complaints were familiar: the leading lady looked too healthy for the role of a dying courtesan.

The Mail and Express noted that an "actress new to New York appeared in a classic role. . . and with more than ordinary success . . . . Despite the fact that in playing Camille Miss Linthicum laid herself open to comparisons with many great actresses, she acquitted herself excellently, and should have nothing to regret over her New York debut. The entire performance was unusually good for a company that must produce a new play each week."

The New York Sun called her "astonishingly good" for a young actress. The Times commented that she was a valuable addition to "the hardworking forces at the American . . . a theatre of weekly changes of plays." (More complete reviews appear below.)

The hint of equivocation was there. One reviewer underscored that Lotta was working for the cut-rate Greenwall Stock Company. (The Broadway Date Base overlooks her performance.)

Critics knocked the revival of the company concept, saying management was catering to the masses by presenting old favorites in crude productions at cheap prices. A review in the Times of May 28, 1901 panned Kit Carson, the critic observed: "The American Theatre, though approaching the end of its season, is still prolific in the production of new plays. With only a week to run and very little time for rehearsal, these new plays are not offered with the same elaborate care . . . as one is accustomed to see at the Broadway houses, but they are fairly well put upon the stage and acted tolerably. It is to be hoped, however, that the house will not become a receptacle for dramas rejected by the other theatres, but there has on one or two occasions recently been reason to suspect that it was tending in that direction. . . ."

After a flurry of plays--Rip Van Winkle. Kit Carson, Rosedale and Peaceful Valley--Lotta returned to Montreal in June 1901. Again, she was leading lady for Baldwin-Melville. She replaced Maude Odell, who quit to do King Dodo in Chicago. (Lotta Linthicum does appear on Canadian immigration records. Further, she said she was 22 when counted in the 1901 census of Canada. Records say she’d moved there in 1900 and lived in St. Antoine Ward of Montreal. )

Lotta’s mother owned a home in the seaside village of Siasconset, or as some people call it, "Sconset." It’s on the south shore of Nantucket Island in Massachusetts. The first theatrical personage to explore it for his artsy crowd was said to be illustrious Mme. Modjeska’s manager, Fred Stinson. That was in 1882, and thus began its popularity among actors.
The Boston Globe reported July 27, 1902, that the "theatrical folk" summering in Siasconset were planning "a dramatic entertainment in the Casino next Thursday." The paper ventured that the array of talent "would do credit to the best stage in New York or Boston." The newspaper mentioned "Digby Bell, Henry Woodruff, Walter Hale, Arthur Shaw, Miss Ina Hammer, Miss Mary Shaw, Miss Henrietta Crossman, Miss Eloise McCreery, Mrs. Walter Hale and Miss Lotta Linthicum."

The September 1902 edition of Cosmopolitan magazine carried a long story entitled "An Actor’s Summer Colony." Presumably it told of events of early summer that year. Among those summering at the small cottages were Henrietta Crosman and manager/husband Maurice Campbell, William Harcourt and wife Alice Fischer, Frank Burbeck and wife Nanette Comstock (along with their baby), Mr. and Mrs. Digby Bell, Harry Woodruff, Mary Shaw, Walter Hale, Frederick Perry, W.H. "Billy" Thompson and wife Isabel Irving, Robert McKay, Evelyn Greenleaf Sutherland, Minnie Dupree, Mr. and Mrs. George Fawcett (she was better known as Percy Haswell), and Lotta with her tiny dog Choo-chee. (Unlike the crowd earlier at Cape Elizabeth, the array of theatrical talent at Siasconset was indeed major.)

The magazine described Lotta as "lately leading woman of the Montreal stock company, and before that a favorite in New Orleans." The publication reported that the dog "was taken from the body of a Chinese soldier by a well-known war correspondent after the massacre of Port Arthur." (Japanese troops stormed the fortress in Port Arthur, Manchuria, in November 1894 during the First Sino-Japanese War of ’94-95.
The Japanese and Chinese were fighting over control of Korea.)

Another magazine from 1901 or ’92 noted that "Mrs. Linthicum’s hospitable home, ‘The Moorings,’ is a kind of social headquarters at Sconset, mainly because of the many-sided attractiveness of of the cultured lady of the house and her daughter, Miss Lotta Linthicum, and, incidentally, because the house itself is spacious, to say nothing of having an annex, which is Miss Lotta’s study and ‘den.’ The home of the Linthicums is full of unique souvenirs of professional friendships, European travel and associations."

Lotta maintained contact with her former in-laws, John and Mary Bankson. She telegraphed them best wishes for Christmas 1902 when they were playing in Marietta, Ohio. As late as 1913 she sent Mary an inscribed photograph.
Sometime about 1901 or ’02, Lotta was in New Orleans for a short season as leading lady at the Grand Opera House. The Bankson scrapbook reveals only that she was in Under Two Flags. Then, in December 1903 she began another long run as a headliner in NYC. This one was at Proctor’s Fifth Avenue Theatre at 28th Street. It offered continuous entertainment beginning early in the afternoons, much of it vaudeville. That meant she had to do two-a-days as stock lead in revivals of popular shows.
These shows included: Alabama, Trilby, Love in Harness, Champagne and Oysters, Rip Van Winkle, Ships That Pass in the Night, The Lost Paradise, Love on Crutches, Needles and Pins, On Change and Who Is Brown? And she did all of these before August 1904.

While Lotta was working so hard, an interesting change took place in the theatre area. It happened April 9, 1904, when the triangle of land where the Times Tower is cited officially became "Times Square."
After that flurry at Proctor’s, she announced her retirement from the stage. That was in December 1904; meanwhile out west, former father-in-law John Bankson died in retirement in Portland, Oregon, at Christmastime.
Obviously the main reason for Lotta’s retirement was her pending marriage. On February 1, 1905, the New York Times printed the following:

Mrs. Lotta Linthicum Bankson, who retired from the stage last December, was married yesterday at her residence, 55 East 93rd Street, to Captain William Cantwell Strachan of B Squadron of the Duke of Connaught’s Royal Canadian Hussars. The Rev. Herbert Wells of Wilmington, Delaware, officiated. The bride wore a gown of pompadour silk, with pink roses and white ground trimmed with lace. After the honeymoon, their home will be in Montreal.
Alcohol and morphine finally killed Lawrence Hanley on Aug. 28, 1905 in Los Angeles. The actors fund paid for his burial.

Despite the limited comeback of the company system, the combos still flourished. In September 1905, for example, 311 troupes left NYC to go on the road. Another 100 or 200 shows operated out of Chicago. There were more than 3,000 American theatres out there--more than 1,000 of them adequate for top-rate productions. Even little one-night towns could offer as many as 228 different plays a season.
Cahn’s Guide of 1905 shows that 931 U.S. theatres functioned entirely on electricity; another 543 had gas and electricity. Only 103 still operated with gas alone. About 75 more had oil, gasoline, acetyl or other means.

"Musical reviews" were gaining popularity. A standard recipe for these was perhaps 20 pretty girls, three changes of costume, two young lovers, a popular leading lady who could sing, a straight man, some dancers and maybe a dozen musicians in a pit. The flimsy plot was strictly of the boy-gets-girl variety. By 1907 Florenz Ziegfeld had enlarged on this, perfecting the routine; his first "Follies" opened that July 9 at the Liberty. Not until 1911 did he introduce the title Ziegfeld Follies.

Ziegfield, incidentally, considered his pal Diamond Jim Brady the world’s best non-writing critic. Brady figured he’d seen 2,500 opening nights. As Ziegfeld phrased it: "If Diamond Jim went to sleep before the first act was over manager knew it was a sure bet that the show would be a failure. If he stayed awake for two acts they knew the chances were the show would have a fair run. And if he stayed awake for all three acts, they knew that there was nothing to do but go out front and hang up the ‘Seats Reserved for Six Weeks in Advance’ sign."

Lotta’s marriage couldn’t have gone well. Certainly, she wasn’t in Montreal long. A Directory of Club Women in NYC in 1906-07 listed the following: Miss Lotta Linthicum, 1004 Madison Avenue, a member of the Twelfth Night, and Mrs. Julia Linthicum, 55 East 93rd Street, a member of the Professional Woman's and the Woman's Press clubs.

Lotta returned to the Broadway stage in 1910. She appeared in The Deserters, a melodrama at the Hudson. She was pushing 40 and likely couldn’t command her early salaries. Unfortunately, we have no indication of what she earned at any point of her career. Nora Bayes earned $15 weekly in Chicago early in the century, then about 1907 Ziegfeld abruptly raised her to $75, the average wage of his Ziegfeld girls.
Early in 1913 Lotta joined the Poli Players’ stock company in Washington, D.C., which kept her busy through most of the summer. There was a new revival each week–her specialty--but this time there was a big difference: she was no longer a leading lady. (Sylvester Z. Poli ran the Poli Players. He began in New England and became a major force in theatre in the east. He specialized in vaudeville and had his own circuit.)

As the Nation’s Capital prepared to celebrate the Fourth of July, city fathers recruited Lotta. She played "Liberty" in "Uncle Sam’s Birthday Party" on the Monument grounds. What the Washington Post called "an immense throng" turned out to see the bugle corps, marching children, athletic contests and George T. Odell as Uncle Sam–and to hear plenty of "Yankee Doodle Dandy." Local officials, pleading lack of funds, eliminated the customary fireworks. (There were two pageants, though. One was just for fun and the other was to foster patriotism in children.)
The New York Times reported on July 4, 1922:

Canadian Theatrical Man Commits
Suicide, as He Said He Would.
MONTREAL, July 3–William S. [sic] Strachan, prominent Canadian theatrical man, was found dead in his room today with a tube attached to an open gas stove in his mouth.
A note was found addressed to "Maude," which read: "You doubted my word this afternoon when I told I was doing the jumping off act, and laughed. Tell them to cremate me and not bury me in the family plot. Scatter the ashes."
There was also a newspaper clipping which referred to divorce proceedings started by his wife, Lotta Linthicum, a well-known Canadian actress of the early ’90s.

By then, she’d married Armor W. Barbour. This had happened about 1915, if census records are to be believed. He was about 26 then, she at least 38. A civil engineer, he lived on West 44th and West 50th Streets in Manhattan at various times. He’d been born April 23, 1889 in Chicago, according to his draft card of 1917, which has found its way onto the Internet. The card lists him as married but doesn’t give his wife’s name. It also said he was in management with a bridge company.
Lotta and Armor Barbour were counted in the 1920 census of Manhattan. He gave his occupation as engineer, she as "actress."

Eventually the couple moved to sumptuous-sounding "Plandome Manor" on Long Island. Although bridges seem to have been Barbour’s interest, Mary Bankson referred to him as a "banker." He likely did finance some Broadway shows. He was somehow connected with the American Theatre, although many years after Lotta had first played there
Someone identified as "Barbour," or "A. Barbour," co-produced Excess Baggage at the Ritz and It Is To Laugh at the Iltinge, both of which opened Dec. 26, 1927; and The Clutching Claw, a haunted-house tale, at the Forrest in 1928. Lotta didn’t play in those Broadway productions. (Excess Baggage is worth noting. It was one of a record 11 plays that opened on Broadway that night. It was the only one that did well. With Miriam Hopkins portraying a small-time vaudevillian trying to make the big time, it ran 216 performances.)

By this time films and radio were changing American entertainment. Theatre historians like to say the time between 1850 and 1920 was when the theatre was democratized. Instead of playing only to the aristocracy, it began catering to the common man. Most plays of that era were melodramas; there were few classics that lasted into the modern repertory. The advent of movies and radio began to change things back about 1920.

On Feb. 16, 1922, Lotta’s Pomeranian was among the best at the Newark Kennel Club in New Jersey. On Feb. 5, 1925 her entry won the five-pounds-and-under bracket at the American Pomeranian Club show at the Plaza Hotel in NYC. She also was a member of a rose-growing society. In 1929 Plandome Manor was on the garden-club tours in Long Island.

By then, Lotta was likely stout. She apparently was taller than most, and, certainly, she was formidable enough for bossy-mother-in-law roles in farces. She’d developed a knack for comedy, and as time passed she also showed a wonderful knack for picking good parts. While slipping down in the billings, she played in some notable Broadway hits and probably came out ahead financially. One, A Tailor-Made Man, opened in 1917 and ran 398 performances at George M. Cohan’s theatre.
It was in the late twenties that newsman Mark Hellinger described Broadway so wonderfully. He noted that its "oversized signs blinked their come-ons so brightly that daylight, by comparison, seemed dim." Broadway, he said, "was glutted with cabarets and theatres and honky-tonks and dime-a-dance joints and checkered tablecloth speakeasies and chop suey restaurants and offices for fight managers, theatrical booking agents, Broadway lawyers, gangsters, private eyes, theatrical boarding houses on the side streets, lush apartments for kept women, beer drops and wind-free corners for pathetic panhandlers. Minsky’s burlesque, the Palace Theatre, Spinrad’s barber shop , the El Fey, beautiful girls who had not yet felt the urge to go west. It was an expensive circus, nothing more, nothing less."

The 1930 census tells us that Lotta was born in New York, her father in Virginia and her mother in New York. She listed her occupation as "none." Barbour said his parents were born in Illinois. (Mary Bankson died in late summer 1934 in Oregon.)
Lotta’s later years might not have been too comfortable. The New York Times mentioned on Nov. 13, 1938 that some of her hooked rugs, porcelains and firearms were being auctioned. Her name was given as Lotta Linthicum and her address as Plandome Manor, L.I. The agent’s name was American Art Association-Anderson Galleries, Inc.

On Nov. 20, 1938 the Times reported that the gallery sold $9,387 worth of Remington bronzes, furniture and decoration for Lotta Linthicum and two other parties, who might or might not have been connected with her. The gallery’s address was given as 30 East 57th Street.

Many of Lotta’s associates went into films. If she ever tried to, she left scant record of it. Presumably, she remained loyal to the stage. Variety carried her obituary in its April 26, 1952 issue (page 63, column 2):

Lotta Linthicum
Lotta Linthicum (Mrs. Armor Barbour), retired legit actress, died in Port Chester, N.Y., March 19.
Miss Linthicum made her stage debut in London in 1899. On Broadway she appeared as leading lady to John Drew, Grant Mitchell and Aubrey Boucicault. She appeared with Victor Moore in the musicomedy Some Day.
Port Chester is across Long Island Sound from Long Island. It’s northeast of Manhattan, nearly on the Connecticut line and just outside Greenwich. She would have been between 75 and 81. As her performance in NYC in 1896 is well-documented, she probably had fibbed about her age, leading to Variety’s erroneous date of her debut.
The Broadway Data Base, a wonderful work in progress, doesn’t verify her performances with Drew, Mitchell and Boucicault. Some Day isn’t listed, either (but there must be life off Broadway and outside NYC!) She must have played with most every Broadway actor at one time or another. Surely, she did appear with Victor Moore (and William Frawley of future I Love Lucy fame) in She Lived Next to the Firehouse at the Longacre Theatre on Broadway. William Gargan also was in that cast.


Conrad Bladey (Peasant) said...

Interesting. There is now a Linthicum Park in the town of Linthicum Maryland. They have just put a memorial to Charles Linhthicum there and I think one should be created for Lotta as well. What a wonderful slice of history. Here is an image of her.

fayrankin said...

An excellent piece but after considerable review of available records and checking with other family researchers, there is considerable evidence that Lotta's mother's maiden name was Julia Clark and she may have first married a Polk. See Family Search records as a starting point.