The Rise of Christie MacDonald, Winsome Portrayer of Madcap Royalty
The Little Princess of the Stage
The Rise of Christie MacDonald, Winsome Portrayer of Madcap Royalty
By MARGARET BELL
No actress in comic opera to-day is more popular than Christie MacDonald. Winsome and winning in manner with a voice of unusual sweetness and a thorough knowledge of the arts and wiles of the commedienne, she has established herself as a prime favorite with stage goers everywhere. Miss MacDonald is a Canadian by birth and her holidays are always spent in this country. Needless to state, Canadians take an unusual interest and pride in her work. In the accompanying article Margaret Bell tells in bright style the story of the rise to mimic greatness of the little star.
THE little town of Pictou, Nova Scotia, was effervescing.
Now, there are many things which will make a small town effervesce. The most standard being the descent of sudden fortune, or the indiscretion of some citizen in doing what he pleases.
Pictou was outraged because one of her daughters had dared!
The absurdity of the dare never appeared to them. Only the unfairness of it. Nor did one of them stop a moment to consider whether the report of her daring was true. It might have been more wise, had they done this. For the news of the astounding thing had come to them through the press. A most unreliable messenger to be sure.
All of which may sound somewhat ambiguous.
The gist of the whole thing is this. News had come to Pictou that Christie MacDonald had journeyed all the way from Basswood Island—which is one of the Thousand—to New York, for the sole purpose of buying a coffin for her pet cat lately deceased.
And that was not all. The price of the coffin was five hundred dollars! Which sum the grief-stricken mourner had paid, without a murmur!
■> Small wonder the citizens of Pictou gasped. Small wonder that there were afternoon rockings on front verandas, and numerous cups of tea and discussions!
Following up the discussions were letters, vicious, scathing letters, addressed to Miss MacDonald at her summer home on the St. Lawrence.
It was a rare treat which awaited her, one day, after a round on the links. Mandy, the dark-hued maid, who looked after Miss MacDonald’s personal affairs, kept an eye on the golf links, and paused, now and then in the act of polishing a silver scent bottle. Mandy was a conscientious maid, with a Kentucky drawl and South African color scheme. Moreover, she had a certain discernment about her unusual in maids of any color.
That is how she came to run down the stairs and out on the veranda, down the steps and past the croquet lawn. She had seen her mistress coming, and she wanted to break the news!
“Oh, Mis’ MacDonal’, dere’s such heaps an’ heaps ob lettahs, from dat town Pictou, I do believe dere’s someone dead!”
And she dabbed the corner of her polishing rag into the white part of her left eye.
Servants have a way of hovering around, when they are interested in anything. Mandy’s duties kept her on the veranda, all the time it took her mistress to go through the Pictou mail. Now and then, she saw Miss MacDonald smile, and guessed that nothing was seriously wrong.
“It’s all right, Mandy. There’s nothing wrong.”
And the petted prima donna of the American stage leaned back in her chair and laughed till tiny rivulets appeared on her cheeks.
Of course the good people of Pictou were indignant. When the weekly newspaper arrived, with a huge picture of Christie MacDonald, on the front page, accompanied by the news that she had paid five hundred dollars for a coffin for her pet cat, they sat down and wrote her their thoughts on the subject.
Such indignation burned in their words! If she wished to throw away money, why not endow a dog and cat hospital in her home town? Why not send a cheque to be the embryo of a fund for the prevention of hydrophobia? Why not? Why not? Oh, the viciousness of their satire !
Miss MacDonald had not enjoyed such a good laugh, for many a day. And it was the first she had heard of her extravagant purchase.
Which goes to show that one must not take a press notice too seriously.
As a matter of fact, the good people of Pictou had been waiting for their opportunity for some time. Fifteen years, to be exact. Ever since the MacDonald girl, of the MacDonalds of Glenlivet, left home to study for the stage.
That was a coming-off! Play actin’, the stage, all such terms were synonymous with “eternal destruction,” “Hades,” “heat” and all such pleasant anticipations.
True, they all admitted that the girl had talent. She always was a good mimic, they said. And many a time, when she was a wee thing—even more wee than she is now—she sent them home in a happy state of self-contentment, after an entertainment at “the kirk.” For little Christie was never sparing of her talent.
If members of “the kirk” had been superstitious, they might have guessed that some evil was going to befall them. For Christie’s last appearance at one of
the local entertainments was the occasion of much sadness. Not because it was her last. They did not know that, then. But just before she made her bow to the audience, it was discovered that “the kirk” was on fire. There was a great panic, great consternation. And the little MacDonald girl was carried out, even before making her bow.
Surely that portended something! To have “the kirk” destroyed, just before Christie MacDonald said her piece!
There were frowns a-plenty when she packed her telescope and round-topped trunk, and set out for “Boston Toon.” Then to a life of hard work and study. Then to a vista of tall buildings, smoke and hazy skies. Christie MacDonald was following in the wake of Margaret Anglin and all the ambitious ones who had set out but a few years before.
The hall bedroom was the recipient of all her joys and disappointments. And there were plenty of both. For a young girl’s life is not hedged in by roses, when she starts out to tramp its paths.
Many a night when she came in from strenuous hours of declaiming and singing of scales, she would wish for the green fields of Pictou and the cosiness of the home fireside. It is a poor sort of girl who has never tasted the pangs of homesickness.
And she would turn out the light, roll up the shades and snuggle down by the window.
The same old moon looked down on the Pictou home. That was something, even if everything else was so different.
She knew names she never knew before.
She had peeps into a life she had dreamt of, but had never felt certain existed. 11 was different from the quiet of Nova Scotia.
But she was learning. She was going to be great, some day.
She would show a 11 the people back in the home town, that it was not such a disgrace to leave home to go on the stage. And so on, and so on. Who can ever tell the thoughts which go careening through a girl’s head, when she is preparing for something really worth while?
One day, Francis Wilson came to Boston, Francis Wilson, the great actor, in a revival of his former success “Ermine.” Christie’s teacher obtained an interview with him, and told him of the little girl from Canada who was anxious for a part, no matter how small.
Francis Wilson sent for this little Canadian and asked her to sing for him.
Which she did. Oh, the agony, the
pain, the bliss of being sent for and asked to sing! But it was soon over, and the great man was kind. More than that, he was enthusiastic. He talked with her teacher for a few moments. She wondered what they were saying about her.
For she knew it was about her. One never needs to be told when one is being talked about. One feels it. Especially a woman.
Well, Christie MacDonald was engaged for the chorus. It was a beginning. Small, but a beginning nevertheless. And it enabled her to pay for the lessons she still continued. They took almost all her salary, together with the rent of the little room. So that she was still dependent
upon the boxes and baskets of excellent home-cooked food, which found their way from the little town of Pictou. They came regularly, every week, eagerly looked forward to by the aspiring, little chorus girl.
One day Francis Wilson told his new member of the chorus that she was to understudy the principal parts.
More work, more study. But she did not mind. It was an opportunity And the home-cooked food tasted even better, after a day of strenuous understudying.
For four weeks, this work went on, without any chance to display itself. But that was not very long. Some people spend most of their life studying, and
never have the opportunity of putting that study into practice. It was evident that the star which peeped down on Pictou, the night Christie MacDonald first blinked her baby eyes, was a very lucky star. Four weeks! It was but a breathing spell.
Lulu Glaser was playing Javotte in “Ermine.” One night, she could not appear. That was Christie Macdonald’s opportunity. She took Lulu Glaser’s place. People wondered who was the new singer, but all they learned was her name, which neant nothing to them. That is, it meant nothing then.
In three or four months, it did. For Miss MacDonald had the part of Javotte for her own.
When Christie used to “say pieces” in the old “kirk” at Pictou, she often dreamt that she was appearing as a great princess, in some play. It did not take long to have her ambitions realized. When Francis Wilson chose her, some little time later,, to appear in “Half a King,” she was really a stage princess, with beautiful clothes and jewels and all sorts of people to wait on her. It was about that time when the baskets of home-cooked food began to be less necessary. Christie MacDonald was going to “make good.” “Making good” r equires a great deal of courage, observation and tact. One needs to keep one’s eyes open. That’s what this popular singer has always done.
When it was about time for “Half a King” to be thrust into the dungeon of obscurity, “The Bride-Elect” was produced. This was an operetta by Sousa. It also had a princess.
Christie MacDonald was watching. And what’s more to the point, oeople were watching her. Usually, when people are focusing the rays of public opinion on someone else, there is some reason for it.
Miss MacDonald was to be another princess. Sousa had approved of her princess capers in “Half a King,” so it was only natural that he should want her to appear in his own operetta.
Which she did. And there were more court dresses to be ordered and made, more songs to learn, more work. And when the opera was produced, there were long press notices, interspersed with praise.
But the Scottish ancestry in the little prima donna would not allow her head to be turned. Flattery was received with a smile, and dismissed without a moment’s
thought. If one were to pay much attention to the flattery one receives—particularly an actress— one would have no time for more serious things.
Miss MacDonald, by this time, was beginning to be known by her princess parts. When one thought of her, one thought of court trains and the like. For she was a fascinating bit of stage royalty.
And even her next role was a royal one, the title part of “Princess Chic.” Her success in this opera is too well known to need particular comment.
It has been said that too much persistence in similar parts is not too good for one’s art or versatility. So, the little Nova Scotian, having a wise head set firmly upon her shoulders, decided that it was time for a change.
And she made it. She took an important part in “Miss Hook of Holland,” and scored a great hit.
It happened that there was to be a revival of the “Mikado,” soon after that. And it seemed natural enough that the Canadian prima donna should be chosen for it. Her work was so successful that unbiased critics—if such there be— said she carried off all the honors. A great burden surely for so small a person.
As yet, Miss MacDonald had not advanced far enough to consider further study unnecessary. All the time, she kept up the vocal exercises which had been taught her, when first she went to Bos-
ton. Strange as it may seem, she was never carried away with the idea that there was nothing more for her to learn. She had not yet seen her name in front of a theatre entrance, glittering out the news that a new star had flickered its way into the world. But she hoped for the time to come, and believed it would, when she was ready for it.
Which was not far distant. One season, not many years ago, the New York papers bristled with the information that there was a new operetta produced by a new firm, with a new star twinkling through it. And everyone went to
They saw. And they went again. They listened to the most sprightly music that had been heard in New York in years. They saw the most refreshing, little operetta that had been seen there in years. And they cheered themselves hoarse for the new star.
“The Spring Maid’ gave Christie MacDonald the opoprtunity she had always wanted. And she gave “The Spring Maid” the success it never might have had without her.
A whole season in New York was followed by a tour of the country. It was then that the little Highland star came back to her own land to show its doubting Thomasines that she had done what she started out to do.
Continued on Page 97.
The Little Princess of the Stage
Continued from Page 35.
And Canada saw, and believed. And the little town of Pictou was proud.
She bought Basswood Island, among the Thousand Islands. There she spends tier summers, golfing and boating and motoring to her heart’s content. Basswood Island was the scene of her pet cat’s ieath. And incidentally, the recipient of the letters mentioned above.
For the past season, Miss MacDonald has been appearing, with great success, in Victor Herbert’s latest operetta, ‘Sweethearts.”
And despite the indignant letters—for people must find fault—it is gratifying to the Pictou folk to open a magazine and see Christie MacDonald, who used to ‘recite pieces” to them, scattered through it in different poses. It is with a feeling >f intense pride that they read how her idvice has been sought by girls who are imbitious to go on the stage.
All this is gratifying because they still consider her one of them. And what can Pe more pleasant than the feeling that >ne has a share in a great glory?
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