New Drama for Ursula Back in the States

Ursula Cheshire

Ursula in costume for “The Sin of David,” a play by Stephen Phillips (Los Angeles 1926)

As befitting a young woman whose life had thus far largely centered on the theater, Ursula experienced plenty of personal drama in the space of just over one year. Between May 1924 and mid-June 1925, she graduated from the University of California at Berkeley; studied at a castle in France with famous opera star Emma Calvé; toured parts of Europe with her fellow students; began an Italian romance, got engaged and married; separated from her new husband; and returned to California with her mother.

In the year between her homecoming (June 1925) and the issuance of her divorce decree (August 1926), Ursula returned to her steadfast love: the theater.

Gamut Club

1926 photo of the Gamut Club (Los Angeles), where Ursula acted in “The Sin of David.”

Both Ursula and her mother acted in the United States premiere of The Sin of David, a play by Stephen Phillips, who was the author of “Nero,” the college production in which Ursula danced and played the poisoner Locusta. Produced by Ursula’s esteemed childhood Shakespeare teacher Florence A. Dobinson, the play opened on May 17, 1926 at Los Angeles’s Gamut Club, a men’s musical and arts society.

Ursula Cheshire

Ursula in costume for “The Sin of David”; photo taken on Browning Blvd, Los Angeles, 1926

Set in the seventeenth century during the English civil war between Charles I. and the Parliament, The Sin of David is based on the Biblical story of King David and Bathsheba. (In a nutshell: From his rooftop, David spies on Bathsheba bathing, summons her, has sex with and impregnates her [his “sin”], and sends her husband to his death. David and Bathsheba marry; their son dies in infancy. They conceive a second son, Solomon, who eventually succeeds David as King of Israel.)

I don’t know whom Ursula played in Sin of David. The principal female character strums a mandolin towards the beginning of the drama, but even though Ursula was photographed in costume holding some sort of mandolin (in the outdoor photo), she did not play the lead role (Miss Mary Isabelle Alpaugh had that honor).

While L.A. Times drama critic Edwin Schallert offered a less-than-stellar review of the play, he did note that the actors included “the youngster Ursula Cheshire, whom the audience enjoyed exceedingly.” Go, Ursula!

The Sin of David play review

“L.A. TImes” review of “The Sin of David,” May 19, 1926

The End of the Affair

Alas, I’m sorry to tell you that Ursula and Sidney’s marriage was short-lived.

On August 21, 1926—little more than a year after their wedding—the Associated Press announced that the Paris courts had granted divorce decrees to four American couples, Ursula and Sidney among them. Several newspaper outlets across the country picked up the news, including the Los Angeles Time. From the wording, it appears that Sidney initiated the split:

Divorce announcement

Divorce announcement in the Los Angeles Times (August 23, 1926)

Apparently, Parisian courts were more liberal than those in the United States at the time, and traveling there for a relatively quick divorce was becoming more common. According to a 1927 Miami News article, the number of American divorces granted in Paris had tripled from 88 in 1924 to 232 in 1926. Ursula would have had to return to Paris for a month or so, and then appear together with Sidney in front of a judge, who was “obliged by law to ask them if they have firmly decided to sever the matrimonial bonds.” I imagine it was a trying time for Ursula.

Interestingly, I learned in an LA Times news brief that Sidney’s great aunt Nellie Hopkins had died in Naples a few weeks before the divorce announcement, and had bequeathed $100,000—about $1.3 million in today’s dollars—to Sidney and his mother, Pansy Edna Bartlett (Nellie’s niece). It made me wonder if the two events were related…maybe Pansy didn’t like the idea of sharing the wealth with Ursula.

Sidney Lanier Bartlett (Photo from the American Field Service archives)

Sidney Lanier Bartlett (Photo from the American Field Service archives)

We will continue Ursula’s story in future posts, but here we will say au revoir to Sidney, who went on to lead an interesting life. According to a brief bio in a U.S. Department of State Register, Sidney attended the University of Paris through 1927; served as a lieutenant (junior grade) in the U.S. Naval Reserve; was assistant manager of a travel bureau in Paris; became a salesman for oil companies in France and the U.S.; drove an ambulance for the American Field Service in France during World War II (1940); and was appointed vice-consul at Casablanca on April 23, 1941.

In his book FDR’s 12 Apostles: The Spies Who Paved the Way for the Invasion of North Africa, author Hal Vaughan describes Sidney as a “problem vice-consul.” He writes: “Bartlett fell desperately in love with a sultry French lady in Casablanca—later proven to be the Vichy-German spy named ‘Nikki.’” Another vice-consul accused him of “spilling” State Department Cables to her; he was sent home in July 1942. How’s that for intrigue?

Until next time…


Trouble in Paradise?!

Oakland Tribune article

June 13, 1925: The “Oakland Tribune” stokes rumors of the demise of Ursula’s marriage

Uh, oh. Right between “Stone Laid for $61,000 Baby Home” and “Court Lifts Citizen Ban for Ex-Foes,” the headline of a prominently placed article in the June 13, 1925 issue of the Oakland Tribune trumpeted “Summer Tour or Divorce?…U.C. Co-Ed Singer Returning Minus Artist Husband.” A big photo of Ursula in her “Nero” headdress accompanied the article, and the newspaper identified her as the “University of California girl, who took leading feminine role in international courtship.”

Just a few months after saying “I do,” it appears the couple may have been saying “I don’t.” The paper reported that Ursula and her mother were en route back to California—without Sidney.

The article muses, “Is Mrs. Sidney Bartlett enjoying a belated and solitary honeymoon? Or have dreams of a career reawakened to displace the fireside?” It goes on to say:

The "Oakland Tribune," June 13, 1925

“What the plans of the young woman may be, will not be learned until after her arrival…

“Now it has become known that Bartlett is continuing his work in the Paris university. Rumors of incompatibility of temperament are preceding the young bride to the coast…”

Poor Ursula! I feel for the heartbreak she must have felt over the failed relationship, and embarrassment over her personal life being exposed for all to read in the city paper.

Of course, that’s assuming the paper got the story right. But did Ursula and Sidney really split up, or was this article mere speculation? Tune in next time to find out!

Ursula Gets Engaged, and You’ll Never Guess What Happens Next! (Sorry…)

Ursula Cheshire wedding announcement

The March 29, 1925 edition of the “Oakland Tribune” announces Ursula and Sidney’s wedding

Once Ursula and Sidney were engaged, they couldn’t wait to be married. What was the hurry? In the flapper era of shorter skirts and “petting parties” among the younger generation, was Ursula a “nice” girl who considered sex outside of marriage scandalous? Perhaps she truly loved Sidney and wanted to spend the rest of her life with him, or perhaps she mistook lust for love. Short of finding her diary (one could only hope!), we will never know. It seems their romance was intoxicating enough that they were married just a short time later—one week, in fact!

Not only that, but, according to the Oakland Tribune, they also eloped! Apparently, a week after they were engaged in Florence, Ursula and Sidney:

“…left the Cheshire apartment for a luncheon. A message that they had been married in London on February 27 was the next word Mrs. Cheshire had from her daughter.”

Another article in the Tribune, published on March 29, reported that the couple was spending a honeymoon in London, “where the marriage occurred.”

They may have had a ceremony in London, but I discovered that Ursula Claire Cheshire and Sidney Lanier Bartlett were legally married later—on April 16, 1925 in the Chiaia district of Naples, Italy by Barone Michele Chiaranda. Behold, their “Certificate of Marriage,” issued by the Consular Office of the United States of America:

Ursula Cheshire Marriage certificate

Marriage certificate for Mr. and Mrs. Bartlett, April 16, 1925


1920s postcard depicting a scene in Naples, Italy

At 20 years old, Sidney was considered a minor, and required written permission from his mother, Pansy Edna Bartlett, which she evidently provided.

Whatever will happen next? Stay tuned…

Meet Ursula’s Fiancé, Sidney Lanier Bartlett

Passport photo

Passport photo for Sidney Lanier Bartlett and his mother, Pansy Edna Bartlett

When we left off, it was February 1925. Ursula had just gotten engaged to a young man after their whirl-wind romance in Florence and Rome. At this point, we know a lot about Ursula, but who was this man to whom she planned to vow, “I do”?

Here is what I’ve found out by researching various online resources, including, a digitized year book, historic newspapers, and more:

When Ursula met Sidney Lanier Bartlett, he was 19 years old going on 20—three years her junior. He was born on May 8, 1905 in Los Angeles, California, to Pansy Edna Bartlett and Lanier Bartlett, a prominent and well-to-do couple.

A young Sidney with his mother, published in the society column of the Los Angeles Herald (May 30, 1909)

A young Sidney with his mother, published in the society column of the Los Angeles Herald (May 30, 1909)

A seemingly sardonic item published May 30, 1909 in the “Society News of the Week” column of the Los Angeles Herald described Sidney’s mother as:

“A charming young matron who has entrée to the exclusive social circles of Los Angeles, but finds it far more interesting and engrossing being the mother and companion of a sturdy young son who has not yet attained to the dignity of five summers…”

The article goes on: “Neither Mrs. Bartlett nor her talented husband care at all for society, choosing rather the life of the literati.” (It’s funny that a large photo of Pansy and her “little son” Sidney dominated that day’s society column.)

Sidney's father, screenwriter Lanier Bartlett

Sidney’s father, screenwriter Lanier Bartlett

Sidney’s father was a Los Angles Times reporter and prolific Hollywood screenwriter, with many westerns and other dramas to his credit. Sidney’s namesake, Sidney Lanier, was his father’s cousin, and a poet, novelist and musician. Sidney’s grandfather, W. S. Bartlett, served as president and later chairman of the board of LA’s Union Bank of Savings. The Bartletts were said to be an “old southern family.”

Sidney’s parents divorced in 1919 when he was almost 14 years old. The summer after he graduated from Los Angeles High School in 1923 at age 18, Sidney and his mother set sail for Europe from the port of New York, on board the Conte Rossa. According to Pansy’s passport application, they planned to travel to the British Isles, France, Italy, Denmark and Sweden. Sidney would study art at the University of Paris.

Pansy Edna Bartlett's 1923 passport application

Pansy Edna Bartlett’s 1923 passport application

Because he was considered a minor, Sidney did not have his own passport. Rather, he had to travel under Pansy’s auspices, appearing with her in her passport photo (at top of post).

If we went by only this post’s two photos of young Sidney, we might think he was a “Mama’s boy,” but a year-and-a-half later, he met the woman of his dreams. I wish I had found a photo of Ursula and her fiancé from that period, but suffice to say she was charmed and smitten by him—and vice versa.

Isn’t It Romantic?

Ursula Cheshire

Ursula Cheshire as a young woman

Penning her travelogue in Rome, Ursula’s final thought for her sorority sisters was that she was “beginning to realize what riches and splendor the old world holds for us!”

It turns out the “old world” held more for Ursula than magnificent landscapes and splendorous sights, as I will share with you over the next couple of posts.

We know that Ursula spent the summer of 1924 with several other young women studying “the…arts of singing and of living,” under the tutelage of famous opera singer Emma Calvé. They studied in the countryside of southern France at Mme. Calvé’s castle and in a villa by the sea. They took an excursion through Spain on the way to the French Riviera, and explored the highlights of Italy, including the Italian Riviera, Genoa, Pisa and, finally, Rome.

I am not sure when or where Ursula’s study program ended—perhaps in Rome, or back at Mme. Calvé’s Château Cabrières. But, according to a story in the Oakland Tribune, “When the course was concluded, the prima donna urged Miss Cheshire to continue her studies after the other students had departed.”

Sidney Lanier Bartlett

Sidney Lanier Bartlett at age 18 (detail of passport photo). Hailing from Los Angeles, he was nearly 20 when he and Ursula met in Florence.

Alas, it was not to be. For, in February 1925 in Florence, Italy, Ursula met a handsome young man named Sidney Lanier Bartlett—and a whirlwind romance ensued. Needless to say, Ursula’s mind was not on her studies!

The Oakland Tribune tells us in June 1925:

“Here romance interrupted the plans of a career. Miss Cheshire met Bartlett in Florence, Italy last February. When she returned to Rome, the University of Paris art student followed. A week later they were engaged.”

How romantic for Ursula to have found not just wondrous sights, but also love in the “old world”!

Road Trip!

1924 Citroën 5CV Trèfle

1924 Citroën 5CV Trèfle, Lane Motor Museum, Nashville, TN

Both Emma Calvé and Ursula spoke of “motoring,” or automobile excursions, as activities they enjoyed—Madame Calvé in her autobiography and Ursula in the travelogue she wrote for her sorority’s quarterly journal.

Mme. Calvé described: “On fête days, or when the spirit of adventure seizes us, we go off for long excursions into the surrounding countryside in the automobile. Motoring is a delight in this part of the world, for the roads are so built that one can reach a fairly great altitude without strain.”

maritime_alps_mapAnd Ursula noted, “Leaving Nice, we motored over the Grande Corniche road and through the Maritime Alps which overlook the Mediterranean.”

This excursion afforded a view she would never forget: “From one high point we could look back over the French coast to Marseille or further, and also a great distance down the Italian coast…The shores were washed with water of azure blue, while the hills were studded with gaily colored villas.”

How exhilarating!

I imagined Madame Calvé, Ursula and the other girls motoring about when my husband and I recently visited the Lane Motor Museum in Nashville, TN. Among the many cars and other vehicles from different countries and periods on display was this 1924 Citroën 5CV Trèfle—from the very year Ursula visited France.

1924 Citroën 5CV Trèfle

1924 Citroën 5CV Trèfle at the Lane Motor Museum, Nashville, TN

According to the exhibit information, the Citroën 5CV Trèfle was first shown at the Paris Salon in 1921, and was produced in France between 1922 and 1926. It was interesting to read that, for the first time in that country, the marketing “was directed toward feminine clientele, paying off handsomely for Citroën.”

1924 Citroën 5CV Trèfle interior

Produced in France, the 1924 Citroën 5CV Trèfle had a 3-speed transmission, front engine and rear-wheel drive.

This 3-speed manual Citroën model could reach a top speed of 40 miles per hour (woo hoo!). In 1924, it cost $551 (a little over $13,000 in today’s dollars). From the information plaque:

“The Trèfle has a torpedo body style with three seats in cloverleaf formation. The cloverleaf is designed for the third seat to be placed behind and between the two front seats so the occupant’s legs are between the front seats. This was considered très chic during the 1920s.”

Did opera great Mme. Calvé own such a car? Did Ursula ride in one like this or see one on the roads? It’s impossible to know; it was just cool to see a car from her day and place and imagine her breezing along in it, hand on hat, and scarf whipping in the breeze.

Ursula’s Excellent Adventure (Part 3)

In part one of Ursula’s travelogue, we learned about Ursula’s voyage to the south of France to study with famous opera singer Emma Calvé. In part two, she told us tales of life at Madame Calvé’s castle, Château Cabrières. In part three, Ursula and the other young “song birds” have a glorious summer exploring Europe with Mme. Calvé.

Ursula Cheshire and Emma Calve

Ursula at far right, next to her teacher, famous opera singer Emma Calvé (Photo published in “Themis” of Zeta Tau Alpha)

[Part three]
Studying and Traveling Abroad
By Ursula Claire Cheshire

“July was spent in a villa by the sea, at Biarritz, a summer resort of the Bay of Biscay. The coast there was beautiful—rugged with small coves and beaches—and the promenades are shaded and hedged with the tamaris tree, so dear to France. Here we had our lessons as usual, but we also found time for a few swims in these lovely surroundings.

Spanish_Bullfight_PostcardLeaving Biarritz we went through Spain on our way back to the château. Spain seemed a land of romance, for the poorest little house had its balcony and flower garden. At Saint Sebastian we saw a bull fight. It was a glorious sight to see the arena filled with enthusiastic Spaniards and to see the Grand Entrance procession of the toreadors in their gorgeous costumes, but when it came to the actual fight, and the killing of the bull—it was terrible. We hid our faces behind our fans most of the time, but even with what we did see we left with a very unpleasant feeling.

NiceAfter another month or so of study at Cabrières we left for the French Riviera, a land of sunshine and flowers, bordering on the great Mediterranean sea. Nice, the center of the Riviera, is a beautiful city, visited in the winter by people from all over the world, and on its famous Promenade des Anglais at the water’s edge, one hears all languages spoken.

Monte Carlo is another interesting place, well known for its Casino. Here I played once (ten francs worth) and lost. The Casino is open every day from nine in the morning until midnight and is visited daily by some persons who play the game as a profession.

Leaving Nice, we motored over the Grande Corniche road and through the Maritime Alps which overlook the Mediterranean. From one high point we could look back over the French coast to Marseille or further, and also a great distance down the Italian coast. I shall never forget this picture. The shores were washed with water of azure blue, while the hills were studded with gaily colored villas. Also, from this same point we could look down on the French-Italian border, and soon we found ourselves at the line showing our passports, first to the French authorities to get out of France, and then to the Italian Riviera with its Santa Margherita and Portofino.

PisaAs we moved on toward Rome, our destination, we passed through Genoa, the birthplace of our dauntless Columbus, and where it seemed to me the church bells rang all night long. We also stopped at Pisa to see the Leaning Tower, Cathedrale, Baptistere, and Camp-Sano. Such a lovely group! The tower is so impressive and fills you with awe and wonder as you look up into the air at this huge stone structure toujours penché (always leaning).

Now we are in Rome—‘The Eternal City’ with all its wonders—St. Peter’s, St. Paul’s, the Pantheon, the Colosseum, the Vatican and many other places too numberable to mention. And so I am beginning to realize what riches and splendor the old world holds for us!

French Landscape

Smoothness like thick crushed velvet sweeps toward the distant hill;
Up from the quiet river the lombardies climb to the sky.
Mellowness broods like an anthem over a golden world;
A magpie swings toward the sunset, and God seems very near.

Margaret P. Fisher, AB.”

Ursula’s Excellent Adventure (Part 2)

Ursula Cheshire at Chateau Cabrieres

Ursula on the Grand Front Terrace at Château Cabrières, France (Photo published in “Themis” of Zeta Tau Alpha)

Last week, I posted part one of Ursula’s European adventure—written by Ursula, herself! Here’s part two, a richly detailed account of studying and living at famous opera singer Emma Calvé’s castle in southern France. Ursula’s travelogue was originally published in her sorority’s quarterly journal, Themis of Zeta Tau Alpha, in March 1925.

[Part two]
Studying and Traveling Abroad
By Ursula Claire Cheshire

“Château de Cabrières, the home of Mme. Calvé, is in the southern part of France, on one of the highest peaks of the Cevene mountains, miles away from any real city. The castle is old Roman style with large round towers, and dates back to the year 1050 A.D. Huge iron gates are at the entrance of the grounds, which are surrounded by thick stone walls, while at the entrance of the château there are two ancient iron bolted doors, one leading into an open court and the other into the hallway.

Château Cabrières

Château Cabrières

The rooms of the château are all exquisitely furnished with things from all parts of the globe. Three rooms appealed to me particularly. First the ancient guard room (now used for the dining room) with its original stone floor, ceiling and fireplace; next the salon with its large carved furniture, and then the Louis XIV bedroom with its heavily handcarved Louis XIV bed.

The castle was an ideal place to study. There was nothing near to bother us. There was nothing near to hear us. We could sing to the many mountain peaks on all sides, with only the sheep on the hillside, or the oxen in the valley, to hear the echoes of our voices.

Jean Henri Fabre

French naturalist Jean Henri Fabre

Yet sometimes this tranquility was broken, for we had guests from near and far—musicians, artists and even reporters. When from our heights we would see an auto turn off the main highway below and start to climb the mountain road, that was our signal to prepare for company. Also at different times we would give concerts in the near-by towns, which necessitated short trips, and again our studies would be put aside for a while. One very interesting program was given at Rodez, the capitol of the department of Aveyron, to raise funds for a monument to the great French naturalist, Henri Fabre.

bon_bonsI will never forget my first soirée at the château. Guests came from all around to give us a fête, bringing with them pastries, bonbons, wine and champagne, and a grand feast was spread. The evening was spent in dancing and singing and I had a rather interesting time trying to converse with our guests with my then small French vocabulary.”

To be continued…


Ursula’s Excellent Adventure (Part 1)

Among the many reasons I love working on this blog is the rush of excitement that comes when I discover a hidden “gem” that I know will enrich the treasure box that is Ursula’s story.

Ursula Cheshire at Chateau Cabrieres

Ursula on the Grand Front Terrace at Château Cabrières, France (Photo published in “Themis” of Zeta Tau Alpha)

I experienced such a moment after finishing my May 19 post on Ursula’s time studying at opera star Emma Calvé’s castle in southern France.

At that time, I decided to cast one more line of inquiry into the “intergoogle,” not expecting much in return. I was curious to see if there were any written accounts by one of Madame Calvé’s other “young songbirds” of that period—perhaps in the memoirs of someone who found later fame.

Lo and behold, my search returned a result that indicated Ursula, herself, had written a report of studying with Madame Calvé and traveling abroad! It was published in her sorority’s quarterly journal, Themis of Zeta Tau Alpha. I couldn’t believe my luck!

I clicked on the link, but was frustrated to find that I couldn’t access the journal online. I dug around a little more and found that there was one available copy of the journal—in a library storage facility located at the University of Michigan. So, I contacted my local public library and arranged to receive a digital copy of the report via interlibrary loan.

A couple days later and voilà!—a digital scan of the article appeared in my e-mail inbox. My heartbeat quickened as I clicked on the PDF. And then there they were: Ursula’s own words, painting a vivid portrait of her glorious time in France and beyond. I was elated, and felt almost like I was being reunited with a long-lost friend.

Studying and Traveling Abroad, By Ursula Cheshire

Ursula’s account of her European travels appeared in the March 1925 issue of “Themis,” Zeta Tau Alpha’s quarterly journal

I will post Ursula’s story in three parts, with part one (below) covering her departure from the United States and arrival in France, and her experience of Paris before journeying south; part two (next Tuesday—special edition of Mystery Dancer!) describing her time studying at Château Cabrières; and part three (another special edition, on June 30), covering her European travels with Mme. Calvé and the other “songbirds.” Enjoy!

[Part one]
Studying and Traveling Abroad
By Ursula Claire Cheshire

 “Last May, after the closing of college at Berkeley, I left California, accompanied by my mother, to study with Mme. Emma Calvé in her castle in France.

Zeta sisters and friends bid us bon voyage as our train left the Oakland station and after a very enjoyable trip across the continent and a two weeks visit in New York, we found ourselves sailing out of New York harbor. As our steamer passed the Statue of Liberty my thoughts began to wander, and I wondered what my new life in the old world held for me.

Cherbourg, where we disembarked, was the first little French city to come before my eyes, and I remember how quaint I thought it was. There is a high stone wall at the waterfront with a straight line of French shops rising behind it, while the harbor was filled with small sailboats. Sitting on the wall or leaning over it were any number of French lads watching our steamer come in, and the streets were filled with two-wheeled carts, pulled by the horse, the oxen or the peasant.

After a long ride on the small French train with its many compartments, through the beautiful open country of Normandy with its fields of wheat and red poppies, we arrived at Paris to the ‘toots’ of taxi horns—and I thought ‘so this is Paris,’ as many others have thought before me. The buildings are not high like our American skyscrapers but what they lack in height they make up for in beauty, for they are all decorated.

The Parisian life is very gay and the shops and cafés hold much interest for the visitor, while even more alluring are such places as the Louvre with its galleries of art, Notre Dame with its rose windows, Eiffel Tower, the Triumphal Arch, and the Champ Elyseés. I loved Paris, its beauty and its life, and I hated to leave it, but it was necessary to go to Cabrières to study.”

To be continued…