‘Will ‘o Wind’

Ursula, age 11

At age 11, Ursula was a student at the Egan School of Drama in Los Angeles

Last October, I featured a couple of posts on Ursula’s time at the Egan School of Drama, a private drama school in Los Angeles, beginning when she was 11 years old. What I didn’t know then was that her father, Alfred, had just died the year before.

Perhaps her mother, Clara, hoped that keeping busy with drama school would help Ursula through a difficult period. And keep busy she did. As described in the posts “A Jackpot of Clues, Part 2” and “Ursula’s Teachers: The Best in the West,” Ursula studied acting, voice, singing, dancing and fencing with some of the foremost performing arts instructors of her day.

A while back, I found in my “Mystery Dancer” album a beautiful photo of Ursula from that time. In costume, she is wearing a fringed cape and satiny-looking, tasseled cap. Penciled on the back of the photo is a note saying, “Will O Wind, 11 yrs, picture in front of theatre.” Was that the name of a play she was in? I didn’t know what it meant, and forgot about it for a time — until I came across an article in the Los Angeles Times dated April 26, 1914 (a hundred years ago!).

There she was, in a photograph of a performance of “Wan o’ the Wood“:

“…a pretty child story that brings together the fairy queen, the elfs, the wood-nymphs, the Indian boys and girls, the butterflies and bluebirds, Dan o’ Dreams and Will o’ Wind, not to mention a cinnamon bear.”

Eleven-year-old Ursula (left) in the outdoor play "Wan o' Wood," part of the Los Angeles May Festival 100 years ago

Eleven-year-old Ursula (left) in the outdoor play “Wan o’ Wood,” part of the Los Angeles May Festival 100 years ago

The photo depicts Ursula, in the role of Will o’ Wind, and other cast mates from the Egan school performing a Maypole dance outdoors, in “the beautiful Hooker Gardens…with its wonderland of roses and famous peristyle of climbing flowers.” The acting troupe performed the play three times that day as part of the city’s big May Festival.

While the newspaper picture is of poor quality, it illuminates the cryptic caption and photo of the be-capped and be-caped Ursula I found in the album. Now we can imagine Ursula as the character Will ‘o Wind, dancing and acting in a lovely garden setting with other girls and boys as they relay the story, which, according to the article, was told in pantomime and dialogue, and was “the narrative of all that is wonderful and mysterious about the deepest, most impenetrable part of the forest.”

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