“O Romeo, Romeo…”

Thank you to everyone who took the time to participate in the Mystery Dancer Readership Survey. Your answers will be helpful as I consider how to improve the blog and create future projects. I was pleased to learn that the majority of respondents are extremely likely to recommend this blog to others. Please do! (There is a “Share” button over to your right, hint, hint.)

Ursula at age 1, with Mama Clara

Mama and 1-year-old Ursula

In the survey, readers also indicated that the aspects of the blog they enjoy most are history of period and place, antique photos and Ursula’s personal story. With other (paying) work demanding more of my time over the past month or so, I unfortunately have not been able to continue that story until now. Without further ado, here is a new, albeit short, post:

Over the next few years after her father’s death, Ursula excelled at her drama studies. In May 1916, the Los Angeles Times reported that 13-year-old Ursula performed in the banishment scene from “As You Like It” and as Juliet in the famous balcony scene from “Romeo and Juliet” at a special program presented by prominent Shakespearean drama teacher Florence A. Dobinson to the women’s Travel Club. Can’t you just imagine Ursula in her pretty ringlets, wondering aloud: “O Romeo, Romeo, wherefore art thou Romeo?…”

The balcony scene from film director Franco Zeffirelli's 1968 version of Shakespeare's "Romeo and Juliet"

The balcony scene from film director Franco Zeffirelli’s 1968 version of Shakespeare’s “Romeo and Juliet”

"Los Angeles Times," June 25, 1916

“Los Angeles Times,” June 25, 1916

In addition to her studies, the teenaged Ursula found time for fun with friends, as we learn from another LA Times article published the following month. Now 14, Ursula was among about “fifty or more of the younger set” who were invited to a surprise dance party for her friend Elizabeth Everhardy. I wish I’d found a picture of the party, but we’ll have to be content with the following description from the Times. It sounds like it was quite a shindig!

“…The lawn was strung with gay Japanese lanterns and a myriad of incandescents, and Navajo rugs and comfortable seats offered a charming retreat for rests. Refreshments were served from a rose arbor and beneath bamboo, and punch was dispensed from a side pergola off the library. Balloons, horns, serpentine paper and confetti lent a carnival spirit, the party being masked the first part of the evening…”

Did Ursula giggle with the girls and flirt with the fellows? Or was she shy and demure? Did she dance with Raymond or Wallace or Cecil? Or was she sweet on Jack Hammer? (Yes, there really was a boy at the party named Jack Hammer!) We’ll never know, but it’s fun to imagine her in such an elegant setting on a warm summer’s evening, drinking punch with her friends and dancing under the Japanese lanterns.

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About Mystery Dancer

MysteryDancer.net is dedicated to discovering who Ursula Cheshire was through the clues revealed in an antique photo album I bought on October 12, 2013. I post approximately twice a month. Be sure to subscribe to the blog so that you can receive an e-mail announcing the latest post.

If you’re new to Mystery Dancer, welcome—the best place to start is at the beginning and go from there!

Thanks!

Elizabeth Ross

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A Jackpot of Clues, Part 2

Ursula as Russian Dancer

Ursula at age 11 the day she performed a Russian dance at the Hotel Virginia in Long Beach, CA

So, what more does this photo—or, more precisely, the back of this photo—of Ursula as Russian dancer reveal about her life? Interestingly, the author of the inscription calls her “Mama Ursula,” and, a few lines later, “Ursula Mama.” Was the writer her daughter or son, or a stepchild or grandchild? Or was that simply an affectionate moniker that many people called her? I don’t know yet if she married or had children, but will try to find out. In the meantime, I want to tell you more about Ursula’s creative pursuits mentioned in the inscription.

Ursula was a busy girl at age 11, taking acting and dancing classes, singing in a children’s choir and learning fencing. I would guess that her family had a fair amount of money, as she attended the prominent Egan School of Drama, a private drama school in Los Angeles, for six years. There, she was taught by some of the foremost acting, vocal and dancing instructors of her day, according to the photo’s inscription.

Frank C. Egan acting, in 1903

Noted drama instructor Frank C. Egan struts his stuff on stage (or, perhaps, in a studio) in Seattle, 1903

First, there was Frank C. Egan, himself, the director of her school. He came to LA in 1909 from Seattle to assume the directorship of the Morosco-Egan Institute of Dramatic Arts, soon thereafter known as the Egan School of Drama, which was originally housed in the Majestic Theatre building. According to an ad in the Los Angeles Herald, Egan was “generally recognized as the foremost dramatic teacher in the United States…and every pupil will be under his direct personal care.”

No doubt, he wrote that description himself—which doesn’t mean it wasn’t true, mind you; I just haven’t found much to back it up. I did find an article (more like an “advertorial”) in a 1911 issue of the Arizona-Journal Miner, calling the institution “the largest dramatic school west of the Mississippi river, the largest save one in the United States, and demonstrated as the most practical and successful anywhere, without exception.” The article goes on to describe Egan as “an actor, a theatrical authority, a master of dramatic technique, and an instructor without a peer as a conveyor of ideas to earnest young students.” One thing was certain: Mr. Frank C. Egan had ego to spare, as you can see from this ad that appeared in 1911 in the Los Angeles Times:

Egan School Ad Big

According to another ad in the September-October 1913 issue of The West Coast, an illustrated monthly magazine published in Los Angeles, the Egan School was to move on November 1st of that year from the Majestic Theatre to the new “Egan Building” on Figueroa near Pico.

The Musart Theatre in 1949, which used to be known as the Egan Theatre in Ursula's time, on Figueroa St. in Los Angeles

The Musart Theatre in 1949, which used to be known as the Egan Theatre in Ursula’s time, on Figueroa St. in Los Angeles

That is the address noted in the photo’s inscription as the location of the Egan school when Ursula was a student there. This is an important clue: now we know the Russian dancer picture was taken sometime after November 1, 2013.

Stay tuned for the third part of “A Jackpot of Clues,” which will introduce you to more of Ursula’s illustrious teachers.

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