Ursula Plays Leading Lady (and Leading Man?)

Blue-and-Gold-Cover-1921The University of California, Berkeley’s yearbook, called “Blue and Gold” for the university’s official colors, has been a gold mine of information about Ursula’s college years. Through online digital scans of each year’s edition, I have learned of all Ursula’s official college activities (would that I had letters or diaries to discover more personal details!). Among them were:

  • Participating in (and living with) the Zeta Tau Alpha sorority
  • Singing in the Treble Clef Society, the women’s choral organization
  • Serving on the Sophomore Informal (dance) and Junior Prom committees
  • Taking part in the Woman’s Council
  • Singing in the A.W. S. (Associated Women Students) Quartet
  • Serving as a member of the Spanish Fete Committee
  • Helping with the costumes and acting in the “Senior Extravaganza”
  • Acting, singing and dancing in numerous campus dramatic productions

Membership in the Treble Clef Society figured prominently throughout Ursula’s college career as she honed her singing, acting and dancing chops. She also acquired leadership skills as Vice President of the Society during her junior year (1921-1922). Among other choral offerings, the club, which was founded in the 1870s, produced an annual opera or musical comedy. By her junior year, Ursula was starring in leading roles.

Here are group photos of the Treble Clef Society from Ursula’s junior and senior years. I love seeing the fashions she and her classmates wore.

In her junior year, Ursula (pictured kneeling at far right) served as vice president of the Treble Clef Society, a women's choral group that produced an annual musical comedy

In her junior year, Ursula (pictured kneeling at far right) served as vice president of the Treble Clef Society, a women’s choral group that produced an annual musical comedy

The Treble Clef Society — senior Ursula is in the front row, third from left

The Treble Clef Society — senior Ursula is in the front row, third from left

On October 6, 1921, under the headline “Bizarre Dance Numbers to Be Feature of Treble Clef Play,” the Oakland Tribune announced:

“Miss Ursula Cheshire, well known college singer, will play [a] leading role in the opera, while in other parts will be seen a group of the best known Thespians at the University.”

The opera was Polly Put the Kettle On, a two-act musical comedy that takes place in a Greenwich Village artist’s studio. In it, a young woman named, you guessed it, Polly (played by one of Ursula’s classmates), tries to become a successful sculptor to prove to her wealthy aunt that she is fit to make her own way in the world. The yearbook noted that Polly “would have been a credit to a professional company, and was indeed one of the best productions of the year.”

TrebleClefOpera_Polly1923-yrbkI’m not sure what role Ursula played, but judging from a yearbook photo of one of the scenes, I think it may have been a male character named Cyril. Look at the figure in black below. Doesn’t that look like Ursula in drag with a goatee? A national report of Zeta Tau Alpha announced that “ Ursula Cheshire played second lead and certainly won many laurels.”

Is that Ursula on the right? She played a leading role in the musical production "Polly Put the Kettle On" during her junior year in 1921

Is that Ursula on the right? She played a leading role in the musical production “Polly Put the Kettle On” during her junior year in 1921

The following year, a photograph of Ursula appeared in the Oakland Tribune (October 29, 1922) with the caption “Miss Ursula Cheshire, cast for a part in University of California Treble Clef opera, The Campus.” (I do not include the photo here, as it is of terrible quality in the newspaper facsimile.) It seems that by her senior year, Ursula had truly made a name for herself on campus. The article announced:

Ursula in the lead role of "The Campus." Do you recognize her dress? (See the post, "A Big Move.)

Ursula in the lead role of “The Campus.” Do you recognize her dress? (See the post, “A Big Move.)

“Ursula Cheshire, prominent in campus dramatic circles and a popular member of Zeta Tau Alpha Sorority, has been chosen as the prima donna of the production.”

Presented on campus in the Greek Theatre, The Campus portrayed college life, with its football heroes and romantic co-eds. Ursula played opposite Robert S. Stanton, who takes the part of a football hero who, according to the Tribune article, “is a practical and matter-of-fact college man with no romance in his makeup, much to the disgust of the heroine whose ideal is a romantic cave man.”

A not-so-favorable review of the production in that year’s Blue and Gold nevertheless singled Ursula out for praise:

“…if it hadn’t been for the excellent cast my interest would have faltered completely. I have to hand it to Ethel Stone; and, Ursula Cheshire, of course, was good.”

6 Replies to “Ursula Plays Leading Lady (and Leading Man?)”

  1. That was fun – you give this interesting girl new life- makes me want to see what she will do next! , Thanks , Liz! gin

  2. It is fascinating to see how much she made a name for herself in these various productions and was known to be good! And the styles were interesting in that first picture – what’s the deal with those little bows – in the middle of white blouses? And love the picture of her in drag – what a riot!

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