PRETTY PRIMA DONNA: MINNIE ASHLEY

This vintage real photo postcard features theater actress Minnie Ashley (1878-1946). She was one of the great “stage beauties” of the end of the 19th century. She was a talented singer and dancer and she was featured in the madcap musical “1492” (1892). In Boston she performed with the Museum Company and in New York she was a member of the Augustin Daly Company. She had many successes including her performance in “A Country Girl”, “Wang”, and “San Troy”. Her acting resulted in a medical problem. The prolonged exposure to theatrical arc lights caused vision problems. In 1902 she left her acting career and married politician William Astor Chanler who was an affluent grandson of John Jacob Astor. Medical treatment did not help her vision problems and Miss Ashley than put her efforts into sculpting. Chanler and Ashley separated in 1909. She made an attempt at returning to the stage in 1911 but soon opted to pursue her sculpting. During her artistic career she worked under the name of Beatrice Ashley Chanler. In addition to the sculpting, she was active in philanthropy. The book “Famous Prima Donnas” (1900) by Lewis Clinton Strang, devotes a chapter to Minnie Ashley. He describes her as having “artless girlishness, remarkable personal charm, and skill as an imaginative dancer scarcely equalled on the American stage”. He adds that these talents explain her “sudden success” in musical comedy. He describes her dancing as “artistic in every sense” but asserts she was not exceptionally talented in the realm of acting and singing. However, Strang is very complimentary of Ashley’s appearance. He states “nature was indeed good to her when it endowed her with a most fascinating personality, a pretty piquant face, and a slim graceful figure. This postcard was published by the Rotograph Company (New York) and was part of a series (no. B 174).                                                                                                The second postcard has the same portrait of Miss Ashley except the image is color tinted. It became common practice around 1902 to hand color photo postcards. Rising labor costs led to the decreasing use of this practice after the 1930’s.  This postcard, like the one above it, was produced by the Rotograph Company (New York) and was part of a series (H.B. 14/30). The postcard was mailed and has a 1910 postmark from Warren, Ohio.

                                                                                                                                          REVERSE OF TOP POSTCARD
ashley 2                                                                                                                                      REVERSE OF BOTTOM POSTCARD

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ISABELLE URQUHART: COMIC OPERA AND MUSICAL COMEDY STAR (PHOTOGRAPH BY NEWSBOY)

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This cabinet card features actress Isabelle Urquhart (1865-1907). She was an American stage actress and contralto who appeared in mostly comic operas and musical comedies. Urquhart was born in New York City and claimed to have been educated in a convent. She made her first stage appearance in 1881. She performed as a chorus girl at the Standard Theatre in New York City. She than appeared in a number of small roles. From 1882 through 1883 she joined Augustin Daly’s company and acted in productions including “The Passing Regiment” and “The Squire”. In the latter production she was only seventeen years of age but played a ninety-seven year old woman. She returned to light opera because of it’s better compensation although she stated she preferred legitimate drama to comic opera. She had much success in major roles in light operas including in the hit operetta  “Erminine” which ran from 1886 through 1888 at the Casino Theatre. She also had success in other productions by luminaries such as Gilbert and Sullivan. In her leading lady role in “Erminine”, she started a fashion trend by not wearing petticoats in order “to accentuate her gorgeous figure”. Urquhart later appeared in vaudeville. Blue Vaudeville (2004) states that in a sketch at the Union Square Theatre, she “did little more than display her form in a handsome gown to the utmost advantage”. Urquhart also performed in several Broadway plays including “The Diplomat” (1902), “Arms and the Man” (1906), and “How He Lied to Her Husband”. This cabinet card was published by Newsboy and was number one i a series of photographs that were distributed as a premium accompanying tobacco sales.

CELEBRATED ACTRESS ADA REHAN AND HER LABORADOR RETRIEVER (PAGE INCLUDES ADDITIONAL PORTRAITS OF MISS REHAN)

Ada Rehan was a well known and respected American actress. The top cabinet card portrait of Ms Rehan and her dog was published by Napoleon Sarony, a famous celebrity photographer in New York City, New York. Ada Rehan was born in Ireland and came to the United States at six years of age. She grew up in Brooklyn, New York. She began acting as a child. From 1873 until 1875 she became more active in acting at Mrs. Drew’s Theatre in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She then joined John Albaugh’s company and appeared in Baltimore, Albany and numerous other cities. In 1879 she joined Augustin Daly’s company upon his opening of his New York theater. She worked with his company for twenty years and appeared throughout Europe. The IBDB reveals that Ada Rehan appeared in 12 Broadway productions.  Some of the Broadway and non Broadway plays she appeared in include a number of Shakespeare productions such as “As You Like It” and “Twelfth Night”. Rehan also acted in “The School for Scandal”, “Foresters”, “Cinderella at School”, and “Our English Friend”. She retired from the stage in 1906 and lived in New York City until her death. It is interesting to note that Ms Rehan’s dog is on a leash. The leash is made of metal links. She is holding the leash with both hands. This is the first leash that I have observed in the many cabinet card photographs of dogs that I have seen. The dog at the end of the leash in this image appears to be a laborador retriever.

The second portrait of Miss Rehan was published by Newsboy of New York. The image was number 68 in a series of photographs. Newsboy distributed these images as premiums for their tobacco product sales.

The third image of Miss Rehan is a bust portrait by Louis Thors of San Francisco, California. Thors was born in Holland in 1845. He was of French descent and educated in France. He was fitted for service in the Merchant Marine and he served in that capacity for a number of years before coming to California in 1876. By 1880 he had established his photography business. One source states that his studio had more than twelve “apartments”. He won a Bronze Medal at the Paris Exposition in 1889. His wife, Gertrude M. Thors was also a photographer. Camera Craft: Photographic Association of California (1910)  printed Thors’s obituary. He was described as one of the highest esteemed photographers in San Francisco. He died of stomach cancer at age seventy-two. He worked in the photography business in San Francisco for over forty years. He left the city after the San Francisco fire and worked in St. Louis for two years before returning to California. The obituary reports that after his immigration to the United States, his skill as a painter earned him employment with photographers Bradley and Rulofsen (click on category “Photographer: Bradley and Rulofsen” to view some of  their photographs). In addition, the death notice asserted that besides his talents as a photographer, Thors had a charming personality and high moral character. To view other photographs by Thors, click on the category “Photographer: Thors”.

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FANNY DAVENPORT: AMERICAN STAGE ACTRESS (1880)

The top Cabinet Card is an image of American stage actress, Fanny Davenport. The photograph is dated February 28, 1880. Miss Davenport (1850-1898) was thirty years of age when she sat for this photograph by Emil Scholl, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He photographed many celebrities and this site has a category that includes a number of his images.  To view these images, click on the category “Photographer: Scholl”. Davenport was born in London, England and educated in public schools in Boston, Massachusetts. In 1862 she appeared in ” Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady” in New York. In 1869 she became a member of the Augustin Daly Theater Company. She later formed her own company. She had great success in “Fedora” (1883) and “Cleopatra” (1890). Fellow actor, Otis Skinner, in a backhanded compliment stated that “Miss Davenport was a handsome woman, her business sense keen and her industry untiring. To these qualities rather than her acting, she owed the late success in which she accumulated a fortune in her productions.” The second photograph features a portrait of Davenport by Thomas Houseworth, whose studio was located in San Francisco, California. This image was part of the “Houseworth Celebrities” series. The series included three thousand titles for different categories, including entertainment and government. Note the carving below the chairs armrest in this photograph. Also take notice of Miss Davenport’s interesting hat. Thomas Houseworth (1828-1915) was an optician, photographer, and photographic publisher. Houseworth and George S. Lawrence came to San Francisco in 1849, during the Gold Rush. They caught gold fever and worked as miners in Calavera and Trinity counties. After two years of mining, they admitted defeat, and returned to San Francisco. In 1855, they partnered in a store that sold optical supplies and other miscellaneous items; but the partners became most well known for their stereographs. In 1859 they sold stereographs from an English company, but they soon contracted with local photographers to acquire and publish a diverse collection of stereos featuring various aspects and scenery of northern California and western Nevada. Later, they began to publish and market stereographs under their own name and by the early 1860’s had built the largest collection of stereographs for sale on the west coast. Lawrence retired in 1868 and the firm became known as Thomas Houseworth and Company. Houseworth hired the most talented photographers he could find.  His photographers included Thomas Hart (Transcontinental Railroad Construction), Carleton Watkins (The Sierras’), and Eadweard Muybridge (Yosemite). By the 1870’s Houseworth’s business was failing due to increased competition. He left the field of photography in the 1880’s and went to work as an accountant and an optometrist.

KATE CLAXTON: STAGE ACTRESS ASSOCIATED WITH DEADLY THEATRE FIRE

Kate Claxton (1848-1924) is the subject of this cabinet card portrait. Claxton was an American stage actress who made her first appearance in Chicago with Lotta Crabtree in 1870. That same year she joined Augustin Daly’s Fifth Avenue Theatre in New York. In 1872, she became a member of A. M. Palmer’s Union Square Theatre in New York. She played mostly in comedic roles. She began starring in theatrical tours in 1876. In 1876 she was performing the play “The Two Orphans” at the Brooklyn Theatre (in New York City) when a fire broke out killing 278 people. Soon after the tragic fire, she was in a St. Louis hotel when it caught fire and she made a narrow escape. After the two fires, Claxton was viewed by some audiences and theater professionals, as bad luck and a performer to be avoided.  There are some interesting asides about Claxton. First, the town of Claxton, Georgia was named after her in 1911, Second, her father was Colonel Spencer W. Cone, who was the commander of the 61st New York Regiment in the American Civil War. This cabinet card was photographed by Schloss, a famous New York celebrity photographer. To view other photographs by Schloss, click on this site’s category “Photographer: Schloss”. The reverse of this card has a hand written notation stating “Empire Theatre”. Perhaps this photograph captures Kate Claxton in costume for a role she played at the Empire. The second cabinet card captures Claxton sitting on the ground during a snow storm. The staged scene in this image is likely from one of Claxton’s performances. This photograph is by Sarony, famed New York City photographer. To view other images by Sarony, click on Cabinet Card Gallery’s category “Photographer: Sarony”.

Agnes Ethel: Broadway Stage Actress

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Agnes Ethel (1853-1903) was briefly one of the more popular and promising actresses of her time. She made her debut in New York in 1869 playing Camille. Augustin Daly signed her and she appeared in Play (1869). Daly’s biographer described Ethel as “a slender figure, candid eyes, flowing auburn hair, an oval face, and regular features always lit up by an expression of childish appeal.” Her biggest success was in Daly’s Frou-Frou  (1870). In 1873, he retired at the height of her career when she married Francis Tracy, a millionaire from Buffalo, New York. She stated her reason for leaving the stage was to aim “for quiet domesticity”. She spent post retirement supporting charities and helping struggling actors and actresses. When her husband died, she was involved in a nasty legal dispute about his will. She was eventually awarded his entire fortune. The photographer of this Cabinet card is the well known studio of Gurney & Son.