Jeanne Gordon Wins Her Laurels
The girl from Wallaceburg, Ontario, achieves her heart’s desire, in a manner here recorded for the first time, in the concluding instalment of Miss Bell’s graphic feature.
DOROTHY G. BELL
JEANNE GORDON’S memories of those hectic days with the Creatore Opera Company are of comfortless nights and days in second-class trains, reeking with smell of black cigars and garlic: of small cheerless hotel bedrooms, which she had to share frequently with another singer; of washing underwear and handkerchiefs, which they could not afford to send to the laundry; of singing every night and studying every spare hour during the day. In the midst of this strenuous period, there came another ■wire from New York—this time from Scotti.
It contained a double message, first,to join his company that fall, secondly, to come to New York to see Mr. Gatti again. But Jeanne, grief-stricken by her father’s death, overworked and tired, merely wrote through her agent that she would see both of them whenshefinished her tour. But Scotti was not to be put off so lightly. He wired again, giving her definite roles to prepare. When she finally arrived in New York, after completing her tour with Creatore, she remembered her word to Scotti. She telephoned him from the station and asked him, listlessly, if he wanted to see her. His vehement reply startled her into action.
“Thank God, Jeanne Gordon, you are here! Come up right away.”
She hailed a taxi and drove to the Knickerbocker Hotel where Scotti was waiting. As she entered, he seized the telephone and called Gatti-Casazza.
“I’ve got that Gordon here at last,” he said.
A little further conversation ensued and then, turning to Gordon, he said, peremptorily:
"You are coming with me!”
The Pinnacle in Sight
TOGETHER they went to the Metropolitan Opera House where, in less than half an hour, Jeanne was to sign her firet contract with them. Mr. Gatti handed her the form. But, weary after her long tour and heavy work, with a spirit as nearly broken as such a spirit could be, she wa3 indifferent. With her big opportunity within reach at last, she was dazed, beyond feeling, beyond thinking and, almost, beyond earing.
“I don’t know whether I can sing well enough for you or not,” she told Mr. Gatti.
“I know you can,” replied the manager, confidently. “Well, then, I don’t know whether I want to sing for you or not,” protested Miss Gordon again.
Mr. Gatti lost patience.
“WTat’s the matter with you?” he asked sharply. “Do you think that you are such a big artist that the Metropolitan is not big enough for you?”
“Quite the contrary, Mr. Gatti. I feel that I know nothing.”
The manager again placed the contract before her. “Sign there, Mias Gordon, please.”
His tone carried almost a command. Mechanically, she picked up a pen which Scotti had pushed toward her and ^egan to write on the dotted line. But Scotti stopped her. '“Wait,” he said quickly, “aren’t you going to read it?”
Apparently, it was a new thought to her. She considered the paper for a moment—then-—
“All that?” she questioned, helplessly. “Heavens, no! I simply couldn’t,” and without further comment she completed her signature to what happened to be a threeyear contract.
Ten days after the completion of her tour with Creatore and her arrival in New York, Jeanne Gordon went out
with Scotti and through the whole spring she was on the road with his company. When the tour was over she went to Northport, Maine, to study opera roles under Wilfrid Pelletier, a French conductor from Montreal. The following autumn she again joined Scotti until the opening of the opera season. Receiving word that she would “debut” either in “Oberon” or “Il Trovatore” the second week of the season, she spent every available moment studying. She worked out her scores on the train en route to the cities where her company was booked. Arriving at her destinations, she dashed to the theatres to rehearse her Metropolitan roles before performances. It was then that Scotti helped her, coached her, sang with her and did everything in his power to help her perfect her parts in preparation for her debut.
WITH her return to New York began the rehearsals at the Metropolitan. A newcomer in opera! The staff watched her with a cruel and jealous interest, but during those rehearsals she won the hearts of all of them. It was probably her natural manner, the lack of any attempt on her part to make an impression, that first claimed their admiration. She rehearsed in any old dress she happened to be wearing. She rarely did more to her hair than brush it and shove it up under a hat and when that was tossed with an impatient gesture into the wings, her hair would fall in a wavy mass about her shoulders.
The weather was bad during that rehearsal week and the new singer wore an old pair of high hiking boots
made for use in the Canadian woods. They caused a great deal of comment and amusement. On one particularly wet day, however, she appeared in a pair of thin slipper». A stage hand, watching her from the wings, waited until she took a breath in the part she was practising and then called out:
“Hey, Miss Gordon, what happened to the ‘non-skids’
“The ‘non-skids?’ ” questioned Miss Gordon, puzzled for a moment and then as she saw his glance settle on her feet, “Oh, you mean my boots? Why—I believe I forgot to put them on. Feet soaked, too.”
It was her cheery acceptance of just such raillery as this, her ability to enjoy it and fling it back, that made the opera staff and the choristers love her.
But it is not only her love of a joke that has endeared her to the back-stage folk. They love her because she is human enough to find time to talk to them, to hear their troubles, to be interested in their dreams, their ambitions, their lives. And not only does she listen to their woes and advise and help them, but she opens her own heart to them because she has found them more human, more sympathetic, more understanding, perhaps, than any others.
In leaving the stage in one of her roles-—Amneris—she has to pass through a group of choristers, assembled for their entrance. Always they stop her to congratulate her, to praise her, sometimes throwing their arms about her in enthusiasm over her success. Their criticism, when warranted, though, is as ready as their appreciation.
“Gordon, that last entrance—it is not too good. A bit stiff. Now supposing you did it this way—”
And Jeanne Gordon, Metropolitan Opera star, who has attained the heights of all their ambitions, listens to, accepts and, what is more, is grateful for their suggestions.
“Without the wonderful backing, the encouragement, the criticism and the help I have received from the choristers, I feel that it would have been very much more difficult for me to have won even a small measure of success,” she acknowledged.
Later in her career her popularity with the Opera house staff was evidenced by a conversation between a curtain boy and a newspaperman who was back-stage for the purpose of getting material for a personality story of the stars. The boy was holding the curtain waiting for the signal when the newspaperman standing near began what he hoped would terminate in an enlightening conversation. It did.
“Jeritza,” he observed, confidentially, “I’ve always thought she must be a very nice person.”
“You bet she is,” came enthusiastically from the boy. “But for a real, good all-round sport and everything, you ought to talk to ‘Jinny’ Gordon. We think she’s all right!”
Before that first week of rehearsal was over, everyone in the Opera house was hoping for her success.
On the night of her debut in “Il Trovatore,” she was calm and collected, so apparently unconcerned, in fact, that Agnini, the stage director who had coached her so carefully, found it impossible to get any response to his own excitement. Back-stage he helped her with her costume and make-up, talking rapidly all the time.
“To-night,” he said, “you will sing as you have never sung before, perhaps, even, as you will never sing again. But to-night, of all nights, you must sing. Promise me, you will!”
He failed to strike a spark from the seemingly impassive Jeanne.
“You Must Sing To-night”
HE walked excitedly up and down the dressing-room, every moment giving her some instruction, telling of the success she must achieve. But she showed no enthusiasm, no eagerness. Was she indifferent, blind, to this opportunity, this greatest moment of an artist’s life? Was this woman, whose voice, he knew, could arouse in an audience a white heat of emotion, to chill it with an indifferent stage presence? He wondered, yet searching the shadows of her black eyes he could see no coldness, only apathy.
“Are you nervous?” he asked, anxiously.
“No,” she replied.
“Then what’s the matter with you?”
“I don’t know,” she said, flatly, “—just tired.”
Were her long months of training and. hard work going to break her at this moment of all moments? Agnini was distraught. He wrung his hands.
“Try your voice,” he commanded, and she ran the scale perfectly.
Having worked himself into a frenzy, he threw himself to his knees before her.
“You must sing, to-night, you simply must!”
Then in a final burst: “Dio mio, Jean! Tell me you will sing! For the sake of your brother Agnini, promise me!”
Jeanne Gordon looked at him calmly and then in her glorious voice, softly, very quietly, she said with rare gentleness:
“Oh, go to the devil, my brother. Of course,
Agnini was content.
As she was about to leave her dressing-room, Francesca Pearalta, with whom Jeanne was still sharing her apartment, burst through the door, weeping in her excitement.
“Oh, Jeanne,” she sobbed, “all the way in the taxi I have prayed that the wheel would come off so that I would never get here. I don’t know how I can stand it. You don’t begin to know what you will go through to-night!”
“Go to it, Gordon!”
PEARALTA was right. Jeanne realized that the moment she stepped out on the stage and that moment she recalls as the most terrifying of her life.
“As I looked at the big curtain,” she said, “and knew that the greatest audience in America was waiting there for me, my heart turned to ice. Stage fright seized me. I was paralyzed, absolutely powerless and I hate to think what might have happened. But at that moment a chorus girl, who used to be with Scotti, reached out and touched me on the arm and said in English:
“ ‘Go to it, Gordon!’
“It was all I needed. As the curtains parted, I mastered myself. But even then I could not tell whether I was singing well or badly. I found myself in a wild uncertainty which might have led to panic. Then I heard a whisper from the wings:
“ ‘Oh, Gordon, you’re great!’
“The relief was tremendous.”
At the close of the first act, the house thun-
dered with applause. There were repeated curtain calls and the new star had to go out alone to receive one of the greatest ovations the house had ever known.
Utterly bewildered, the glorious diva then slipped away from the congratulatory group back-stage and fled to her dressing-room. Dazed beyond any power of thought, she began to take off her costume and don street clothes. It was thus that Agnini, searching for her to give her her curtain for the second act, found her. He stared, aghast.
“Where are you going?”
“WTell, I don’t know,” replied Gordon, blankly. "Home, I suppose.”
“You have just two minutes to reach the stage!” he said, tensely.
With Scotti’s aid and that of a couple of flustered dressers, he got her back into costume and she finished the performance still too much overcome with excitement to realize the glory of her triumph.
After it was over the new prima donna, almost smothered with the flowers she had received in tribute, drove home to her unpretentious little apartment, the applause of her “first night” still ringing in her ears.
She had crossed the chasm to fame!
If Jeanne Gordon imagined that her troubles were to end there, those dreams were shattered. With her name
on the lips of every music lover in New York, with fame at her finger tips, she found herself face to face with difficulties that she had not known existed.
“Artistic temperaments,” like small sharp stones, did much to harass her feet on that ever upward trail of operatic achievement.
One of the first encounters she had with such a temperament was when an Italian singer was told that he would have to sing with the new cantatrice. He flew into a rage.
“Who is Gordon?” he asked. “Why should I sing with her? I don’t know her.”
After he had heard her sing another part, Agnini and Pelletier found him in a little restaurant. He stopped them.
“The Gordon—?” he enquired civilly, almost respectfully. “WThere is she? Would she do me the honor of allowing me to congratulate her? WThy did you not tell me she could sing?”
Curbing Her Temper
AGAIN an orchestra leader reprimanded her severely in the midst of a rehearsal.
“Gordon,” he said, rapping sharply with his baton and stopping the performance, “what is the matter with you? If you do not improve, the whole thing will be a failure.” Again and again he rapped with his cane, each time he spoke more caustically; each time he added insult to his censure. The star bit her lip, closed her teeth resolutely only to open them in other attempts to please him. It was impossible. He bullied her until she was at the point of tears. Then Mr. Gatti appeared at the back of the stage. Gordon, frightened and humiliated, struggled through her part and fled to walk the streets in misery for the rest of the day.
Was she so bad? Would the performance fail because she could put no more of her voice into it? She lost all sense of time, of direction, and it was not until that night that she turned again towards the Opera house. It was there that another musical conductor and one of Mr. Gatti’s secretaries found her.
“Jeanne,” exclaimed the former, “where have you been? We have searched the whole house for you. Mr. Gatti wants to see you.”
“Oh, I know,” she cried, “he’ll hate me! He’ll never let me sing again! He’ll—”
“Jeanne, Jeanne, listen to me,” broke in the other, hastily. “You’re wrong—all wrong. Mr. Gatti wants to thank you, to congratulate you, for keeping your temper this morning.”
The singer burst into tears. A few minutes later another member of the cast found the three of them the star, the secretary and the conductor—sitting on the stage steps, crying together like children.
That is only one of the times that Mr. Gatti has stood behind Miss Gordon. In the Opera house he is known as “the silent person.” He seldom speaks when it is unnecessary, but when he gives a word in praise or in rebuke it is justified. He is always ready to stand behind his stars.
On another occasion Gatti appreciated Jeanne's efforts under trying circumstances.
He asked her to appear itt a role
There was no time for stage direction. Agnini gavther a plan of the stage and oral instructions regarding her entrance. Here was a chair, he told her, there a table, and a little further down a stool from which she must sing.
From where she stood to take her cue she could not see the back-stage musical director and. in consequence, was a moment late in making her appearance. Catching the music, she entered at her own judgment. Agnini had either forgotten or definitely neglected to tel! her that on the stage with the table, the chair and the stool were 150 choristers.
Stepping from the wings into their midst, she was naturally astounded. She hesitated for a moment, startled, bew ildered.
Taken by surprise, she was unable to find the stool at once but, a few seconds later, she mounted it with no outward sign of agitation.
From hack-stage she was severely reprin anded for a disgracefully bad entrance. Mr. Gatti, however. knew that from the front of the house the effect had been reasonably good.
“It was well done,” he said.
Could Hard Work Kill?
\ I-L through those days few knew how hard A~* Jeanne Gordon worked. Perhaps she did not realize it herself until suddenly she broke under the strain and collapsed in the Opera house during a rehearsal. The theatre doctor, very much upset and excited, rushed into Gatti's office.
'You’ve killed her,” he cried.
‘T haven't killed her,” retorted Gatti. "Whom and what are you talking about?”
“Gordon,” exclaimed the M.D., “you have overworked her and now she is ill.”
Gatti-Casazza lost no time in making investigations. He learned that there was one who had been responsible for allowing the work to pile up for Miss Gordon. No one knew what Gatti said to that person but he disappeared from the Opera house for a whole day and when he returned there was no more bungling of the distribution of work, no more unnecessary strain oh the stars.
Another boulder which blocked Gordon’s path for a time was the technique of opera. The fundamentals of that technique, of course, she had been taught. But the finer details, the polish, she worked out herself, line by line, phrase by phrase. When she played “Delilah” for the first time, her technique was so good that those back-stage in the Opera house would not believe that she had not played it before.
“Where did you do it? Where have you sung it?” they questioned after her first performance.
Jeanne gave them a non-committal answer. She did not tell them that she had worked out the entire role alone in a small studio, lined with mirrors.
This extraordinary woman realized early in her career the value of originality. One of her greatest helps in the mastery of this personal development has been Chas. Jehlinger, head of the American Academy of Dramatic Art. He not only has worked with her personally but has allowed her to work by herself on his stage after class hours.
One day she dashed into his studio while he was conducting a class.
“Please give me some props and a man to sing to,” she exclaimed, “1 have an idea.”
The art teacher, as surprised as his pupils, hesitated a moment. Then he complied with her request and Jeanne, herself, supplied the balance of the lesson in her “Work-out.” Another time she went to him with a new song.
“I want to sing this,” she said.
“I advise you not to,” he cautioned, “it’s hardly your type.”
She flashed at him.
“I’m sick to death of singing my type. I’m tired of the moon and the stars and love. I want a song that tells a story for a change. Here it is. I’m going to sing it.”
She did, and Walter Dam-
rosch’s “Looking Glass” has since become one of the most successful and popular songs in her concert repertoire.
“Mr. Jehlinger has always helped me, more perhaps than any one else,” she said appreciatively. “All my stage troubles and worries I take to him and he smooths them out so that they do not exist for me at all.”
It was from Mr. Jehlinger that she learned to combat “stage hogging” on the part of other artists, a practice which at first left her helpless. When she was booked once to sing a duet with a tenor unknown to her, who, she was warned, would “hog” the stage if he could, she appealed to Mr. Jehlinger.
He rehearsed the part with her.
“Now,” he cautioned, “this is where he will try to get you at a disadvantage. After he has crossed the stage to you here, he will leave you again and sweep up and down the centre. He will try to
Continued on page 52
Jeanne Gordon Wins Her Laurels
Continued from page 16
command the whole space and his voice will be heard to completeadvantage,while yours—if you let him do that won t be heard at all.”
‘‘What shall I do then?” she asked
‘‘There is a way to make him hold his position,” replied the other confidently.
Jeanne listened carefully to his instructions and that night on the stage she stood in a long, flowing train waiting for the tenor’s advance. He came as she expected but before he could make a move towards the centre of the stage again she turned swiftly, gracefully, in front of him, and then behind him, cleverly swinging her long train so that it draped itself artistically but firmly around his legs. He
vas a fast prisoner. . , .,
“Dammit! Unwind me, whispered the /ictim in his first pause. His fair gaoler vhispered back between the lines:
“No. The pose is perfect. Dare move ind you’ll trip and ruin everything.
She kept him there until her end had ieen accomplished and then skilfully, leautifully, she released him so that the
How To Die Gracefully
THE art of operatic technique has, it is said, no abler exponent than Geraldine Farrar, but Jeanne Gordon tells of one of the many instances when herfellow artist s spontaneity and originality led her to take liberties with it. Miss Farrar appeared one day in the role of ‘ Marguerite in “Faust” with a pair of huge, glittering buckles on her shoes. Her manager, furious at the incongruity, hurried back
“I have always stood for everything you do,” he exclaimed wrathfully, “but you have gone too far this time. I do not stand for those damned searchlights. Take them off.”
“Gerry,” said Jeanne, ‘ uses less technique in the art of dying and does it better than anyone I know. I have seen her die the same death in twenty different ways.”
Laughing, she continued :
“Dying nearly killed me once! In the role of a queen I was supposed to die at the top of a flight of stairs, and drape myself gracefully in the process over the two top steps. I had never died before and had no idea it was such a difficult thing to do. I slipped on the top step, fell headlong down the whole flight to the bottom. I had on pink tights, under my flowing robes, and the audience certainly got its money’s worth that night. It was hardly graceful and, I don’t suppose, a bit queenlike, but there I was. By the time I reached the bottom of those stairs and lay there waiting for the courtiers to pick me up, I wished I were really dead. The six attendants picked me up. My mad career down the stairs had loosened my crown and, as they lifted me, it fell off and rolled away across the stage. Panicky by thistime, one of the men dropped his portion of me, which happened to be a silk-clad leg, and ran after the crown. The other five proceeded to carry me ouL with the ‘dead’ leg dragging behind us.” _
In Paris under Madame Weinshenk, Jeanne took up dying seriously and put in a great deal of work and study on it. Her mother, staying with her for the time, could not understand why _ her daughter came home so tired every night.
“I would like to go with you and see what it is you do,” she suggested.
So mother and daughter went together to the studio the next day. Madame
Weinshenk, a large, red-headed, blueeyed Austrian, had all the grace, the technique and the understanding of the stage but she was heartless. She pushed her pupil down, and made her get up only to fall again and again, until Jeanne, tired, bruised and sore in every limb, could scarcely move.
“That is better,” she said after half an hour’s tumbling. “Now do the whole thing again.”
It was too much for Mrs. Gordon. She dashed out into the middle of the floor and seized her daughter by the arm.
“Indeed, you’ll not do it again,” she exclaimed. “You’re coming right home with me. That woman will really kill you.”
But even after years of study and practice, this Metropolitan star still “trips” over death occasionally. For her final performance last season in “Carmen” she bought a new dress, resplendent in gold lace, hoops and panniers. With no rehearsal, its bulk was difficult to handle. As she was about to throw herself to the floor in the death scene, her foot caught and she fell away from the footlights, the hoop skirt flying in a golden cloud above her head. The tenor, in an endeavor to right matters, made it worse, for every time he tried to pull it down, it snapped back over her head. She appeared before the curtain later to accept goodnaturedly the hilarious amusement of the house.
In Miss Gordon’s opinion inspiration, however, is the soul of operatic technique.
“It may be born,” she said, “at the moment of something just seen or heard before the curtains part; it may be a sudden memory of someone or something a long way back; it may be just something that springs within you at the psychological moment. But, whatever it is, it usually comes of its own accord. But it doesn’t always come. One isn’t always in the mood and it’s rather a terrible thing to have to sing when one doesn’t feel like it because—well, one so seldom feels like it. Caruso said that he sang the way he felt about once in ten times. But that’s the way it is. It’s like a man’s batting average, I suppose. It has to be reasonably good.”
WHILE Jeanne Gordon struggled to make perfect in detail her remarkable talent and fought to rise above the difficulties of an operatic career, there occurred countless amusing instances to relieve the tensity of her daily life.
One of these concerned a singer, who at the time of her domestic partnership with Francesca Pearalta was very much in love with Jeanne and who came every day to tell her of his adoration. Pearalta disliked him openly and Jeanne herself did what she could to discourage him. He would not take discouragement of an ordinary nature and when Jeanne saw her opportunity to use more forceful methods of dissuasion, she took it.
He paid court most dramatically and the greater the audience the more dramatic he became. Coming to her apartment one day, he found Gordon and Pearalta engaged in discussing and working out a role. They resented the intrusion, but the adoring one threw himself on his knees.
“Bless me, Jeanne,” he pleaded, “at least, bless me!”
“For goodness sake, Gordon,” exclaimed Pearalta, “bless him and let’s get on with this.”
“There, you’re blessed!” responded Jeanne, and lifting her hand she struck him none too lightly on the cheek.
It was while she was still living with Miss Pearalta that Jeanne’s love affairs took another amusing turn. This man, too, was a singer. He appeared unexpectedly one afternoon with a dozen carnations and a box of cigarettes. She began her hospitality by being kind and sympathetic, but when he, too, threw himself on his knees before her, declaring his undying love but admitting in the same breath that he had a wife and six children, she became panicky.
“I have an appointment right away,” she told him. “I must go.”
Still pleading, he said he would walk to the corner with her, but when they reached the street he begged her to walk at least six paces in front of him. If his wife saw them together, he confessed, she would probably kill him. Jeanne promised, instead, to walk six paces behind him and so they proceeded
cautiously down the street. They turned downtown on Fifth Avenue and in the first crowd Jeanne jumped on an uptown ’bus and lost him.
“Apparently, his ardor cooled, or his jealous wife did away with him,” she laughed. “Anyway, I never saw him again.”
Making Ends Meet
FOR the coming star things were better financially, but there were many heavy expenses and Jeanne had not yet caught up. Shortly after her debut, she was to sing in concert. She had no suitable dress. Francesca Pearalta came to her rescue.
“You will wear one of mine, Jeanne,” she said. “There, this one. You will look well in it.”
Jeanne was delighted. The clothes problem for that night, at least, was
solved. She promptly proceeded to forget all about it. It did not occur to her to try on the dress.
That night as she was dressing, her companion heard her call from the next room:
“Cesca, I’m having difficulty with your clothes. Can you come?”
When Pearalta entered and Jeanne turned her back to present the difficult fastening, her friend gasped.
“Good Heavens, J. G. It doesn’t meet—oh, by inches. Whatever will
“Do? Why, I’ve got to wear it, happen what may,” exclaimed the other. Then calmly: “I’m due on the stage in twenty minutes. Pin me up as best you can and remember that high note I’ve got to hold. Fix those pins so they won’t burst.” Francesca fixed them, but she could find no way to hide the wide gap that appeared all the way down the back. But that was not all. The slippers that matched the dress were at least two sizes too small. Jeanne stuck them under her arm and rushed to the concert hall where she put them on just before she went on the platform.
If her entrance, her acceptance of the applause that greeted her, was a bit stiff that night, there was just reason, for with the fear of a resounding rip at any moment and her toes cramped painfully into the small shoes, she was in agony of both mind and body. She got through safely, however, and backed off the stage as gracefully as possible under the circumstances. Her exit from the front was reasonably good but her manager stood behind her as she made it.
“If you will do concert work entirely and stay with us, I would like to advance you $10,000,” he said.
“Whatever for?” gasped Jeanne.
“To buy clothes!”
“Yes,” admitted Jeanne, kicking off first one torturing shoe and then the other. “I need them.”
For seven years Jeanne Gordon has known success, but fame has not changed her. She is just as natural, just as
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Continued from, page 53
ingenuous, as in the rough and tumble days of childhood. Her most engaging charm, even in the moment of a great ovation, is her personal touch with her audience.
This characteristic is particularly well illustrated by a little incident which occurred in a small western town a couple of years ago. While on concert tour of the West, she was thrown from an automobile in a collision, and had her hip severely injured. Though she suffered intense pain, she refused to cancel any engagements. She drove from her hotel to the concert hall and was set down as near as possible to the entrance of the platform. She walked slowly and painfully onto the stage with the aid of a cane which had been decorated with a corsage bouquet. The silence during her entrance broke suddenly into a buzz of conversation. She stood a moment and watched keenly the sea of inquisitive faces. Then:
“No,” she said, “it’s not an affectation. I was an a motor smash.”
Her remark brought an instant reaction. There was murmured sympathy for her plight; laughter at her abruptness; whispered appreciation that she should so quickly and correctly have sized up her audience—because it did look like an affectation, the cane and the flowers.
A Thorough Canadian
THE prima donna leaned on her cane and waited for the house to quiet. When the hush of expectancy fell, it was suddenly broken by a youthful masculine voice from the top of the hall. ^“Knee?” it asked solicitously.
“Hip,” she replied laconically, and began to sing.
Fame has claimed Jeanne Gordon as an American, but to that she will not consent. She is always proud of the fact that she was born a Canadian and she does not allow her success to rob her of her Canadian associations and her Canadian friends. Of the latter, Arthur Stringer, the novelist, is one.
During my visit with her, he came to lunch one day at her apartment, and they spent much of the time in reminiscence.
Mr. Stringer recalled with delight an incident that occurred in Chatham. It was some years ago, after both Miss Gordon and Mr. Stringer had left Canada and entered professional life. The call of home claimed them both at the same time and they returned to Chatham, neither knowing that the other was there. The first thing Jeanne did when she arrived was to dig out an old bathing suit and to go for a dip. As her eyes first scanned the water’s surface, she thought she was alone, but after she had been swimming a little time she saw a familiar black head pushing its way easily through the water toward her. She swam to meet it. It belonged to Arthur Stringer. They floated about for some time, talking hard, for naturally they had a great deal to say to each other after so many years. Finally, their feet touched the shore and they stood up to their necks in the water, still talking. They talked and talked. Jeanne’s teeth began to chatter. Her lips turned blue; she shivered so that the water rippled around her. But still they talked and neither made a move to leave the water. Then Jeanne could stand it no longer.
“For Heaven’s sake, Arthur,” she said. “Duck while I get out of the water. This bathing suit is all topi”
Jeanne laughed heartily with Stringer as he told the story, then parried the thrust. She recalled the time that Mr. Stringer and his divorced wife, the beautiful Jobina Holland, came to tea at her apartment. Jeanne herself, out of the room for a moment, returned just in time to hear the following conversation: “Oh, Arthur,” Jobina was saying, “I’ve just bought twelve of the most adorable hats—”
“Thank the stars,” Stringer interrupted, fervently, “I don’t have to pay for them.”
A Question of Age
IN THE midst of luncheon Jeanne was called to the ’phone. During her absence Mr. Stringer remarked that he had known Jeanne Gordon for a very long time and that he had been one of the first to mark in her the temperament of an artist, and to encourage her to seek a career.
“You went to school together, didn’t you?” I asked him.
Stringer jumped in his chair.
“Great Scott! No!” he denied. “Jeanne would have a fit at that idea.” Then we heard our hostess skipping down the hall.
“Arthur, oh, Arthur, I’ve made some money. B. M. T. has gone up, away up.” As she entered her face was radiant, her eyes sparkling with excitement.
“But I’m holding on—it’s going still higher!”
“The old Scotch Gordon thrift,” he remarked.
“Yes, and I made more money the other day,” she babbled on. “Sold my country place, you know. Been there four times in four years—too far away to be of any use to me.”
“How long does it take you to get there?”
“An hour and forty minutes.”
“Not such an eternity,” remarked Stringer.
“No, the hour was all right but the forty minutes—I just couldn’t stand it.” “Of course, you couldn’t,” agreed Stringer. “But, Jeanne, by the way, if you want to execute this young lady, I’ll help you.”
“Why?” from Jeanne.
“Because,” he answered, “she has just suggested that we went to school together.”
“Well, let me see, Arthur, didn’t we?” “Why, Jeanne, how absurd! I’m so much older than you are—at least a year!”
Stringer, still standing by his chair, waiting for her to take hers, was suddenly seized and spun around. Together they waltzed about the table, both singing “School Days” at the top of their voices.
The experiences, the hardships, the tragedies, of a very full life have failed to dull the edge of her enthusiasms, her impulses of youth. Success, lionizing, have not turned her head, stage artificiality has not changed the naturalness of her disposition. Jeanne has her serious moments, her days, aye, even weeks, of depression, but she has never quite grown up. She still enjoys those delightful moments of childlike exuberance.
Flushed and breathless, she dropped into her chair, then sobered suddenly.
“Butthis question of age,” she said. “That is really a serious matter. You know I am twenty-eight. That is not in my contract with the Metropolitan, but it ought to be. It’s the popular age for a prima donna. When I signed up with Mr. Gatti, I told him that I was twentyeight and that I always would be twentyeight. Just a few months ago I was going over some papers with him and he said: “ ‘By the way, how old did you say you were?’
“I said: ‘Mr. Gatti, how old was I last year?’
“He looked at me sharply and then he laughed.
“ ‘Why, of course, how stupid of me. You’re twenty-eight,’ he remembered.”
A Winner of Friends
IT IS this humanness which wins for this woman friends from every station in life, every group of society. Her success has not lost her the “common touch.” To Jeanne it makes no difference who her friends are or whence they come. She likes them all and is ready to stand by them, and they by her. Without losing dignity, she joshes the elevator boys, the porters; she jollies the policeman on the street; she converses with the darky who clears the gutters. To all of them she gives a moment’s pleasure as they catch her smile, her cheerful greeting. From their simple philosophies of life, their visions, their hopes, she finds real truths.
All the taxi-drivers in her vicinity know Miss Gordon and are anxious for her as a “fare,” not alone because she is generous, but because they like her and have come to look upon her as a friend. She drove uptown one morning from her apartment. It was a long ride. When she got out of the taxi, she found she had nothing but a $20 bill.
“Great Scott! Miss Gordon, I can’t change that,” exclaimed the driver.
“But you can get it changed,” she suggested.
“Naw,”said the driver, shutting the door, and climbing back into his cab,
“this ride’s gonna be on me to-day,” and, touching his cap, he whirled away.
Telephoning one day to the Opera house, she asked to speak to Mr. Ziegler, one of the managers. She was informed that he was not in.
“Who is it speaking?” she enquired and when she heard it was the doorkeeper:
“Oh, hello,” she said. “This is Jeanne Gordon,” and throwing herself back on the lounge where she was sitting she propped the receiver up to her ear with a cushion and gave herself up to a few minutes’ “shop-talk.”
As easily as she chatted with the doorkeeper, so a little later at the call of Eddie Ziegler, she joshed the assistant manager.
“How is your leg?” he enquired solicitously, for it was shortly after her accident.
“It’s fine,” she replied. “Just finein fact, Eddie, it’s beautiful.”
“I do not find it hard to believe,” he answered. “But I’m one of those chaps from Missouri—”
“All right,” she interrupted, “but you’ll have to wait until I wear the costume I have just had made for my new role.”
Together with her great love for people goes an intense passion for children and Miss Gordon is a Pied Piper to all of them. When little Jane is with her mother, the apartment is open house for all the neighborhood youngsters. And when time permits Jeanne herself is often the centre of their games in Central
Her Grubby “Kids”
A LITTLE street urchin got mixed up in the party in the Park one day and some time later she came to the door of the apartment.
“Where is Jane?” she demanded.
“I don’t know where she is,” said Jane’s mother. “She went out and I have not seen her for some time.”
More quizzing on the part of the child failed to throw any light on Jane’s whereabouts. Feeling perhaps with the intensity of her type that_ there may have been some wish on Miss Gordon’s part to keep them apart, she put her hands on her hips and her foot in the doorway and said, determinedly:
“Now, where the hell is that kid?” Even in the Opera house Miss Gordon’s remarkable love for youngsters, and theirs for her, have been marked. One day not long after she had come to the Metropolitan, three dirty little Italian youngsters followed her into the theatre from the street. No one knew much about Miss Gordon then, but it had been rumored among the staff that she was married. As Jeanne passed with the trio, a stage hand in a spirit of fun asked:
“My kids,” she replied, and turning to the unkempt little youngsters—“Aren’t you?”
“Betcha, we are!” came a chorus from the three.
The star does not care what kind, class or color they are—she loves them all.
Once in her portrayal of an Egyptian queen, three pickaninnies were engaged to fan her. Just as the word was given to clear the stage before the curtains parted, Gatti, who had been talking to Jeanne, stumbled over the colored children as they scampered into position.
“For goodness’ sake,” he exclaimed, “what in the world are you?”
One of the little girls pulled herself up proudly, and answered:
“We’s Jeanne Gordon’s flappers!” Perhaps it is that instinctive love of children—and her own child—that has prompted the prima donna to keep in such close touch with home life.
“Every woman, if she is human,” she remarked, “craves the care of a home. It is our birthright and I do not believe that any of us are really happy without it. As I turned to a career as a secondary choice, so have many other women who are successful in their professions to-day. And I have found, too, that very often when a woman reaches that professional success the man who is protecting and caring for her loses much of the consideration which he may have shown her before. The attentions, the kindnesses, which every woman at the bottom of her heart
loyes and looks for, are given to some other, and the woman who ceases to receive them is unhappy!”
In her little New York apartment Miss Gordon has come nearer the attainment of a home ideal than she has ever done before.
“In the home of my own making, I am probably more happy than I would ever be in one provided by anyone else,” she said. “My faith in men has been too completely shattered for me ever to find a place for them again in my scheme of things. My home isn’t palatial—it isn’t even big—but it is my own and for that reason, probably, it is one of my greatest joys.”
In that home life Mammy is, perhaps, the most important factor. She came into Miss Gordon’s life after a long, long search. An elevator boy in the apartment house found her.
“Tell her to get a big apron and come oyer right away,” said Miss Gordon. Mammy came—to stay. Since that time the house has moved on smooth wheels. Silent, slow-moving, unexcitable, Mammy meets every emergency and she has learned to know and to understand her mistress as does no one else.
With all her worldliness, her cares, her sorrows, her triumphs and her joys, her motherhood, Jeanne Gordon is almost a child herself sometimes, one who must be cared for, looked after and protected from herself. Mammy does just that.
A Jewel of a Mammy
MISS GORDON came in one night, tired after a long day at the Studio, and threw herself across the bed with her head on her arms. Mammy found her that way.
She came up to her softly, and whispered:
“You homesick to-day, Miss Go’don?” “No, Mammy.”
“Then you blue?”
“Aren’t you moody at all, Miss Go’don?”
“No, Mammy, not a bit.”
“Then Ah guess Ah’ll go uptown and see mah niece for a little while.”
Again when Miss Gordon hadn’t been well for some days, Mammy was worried about her. After she had cleared away the supper things she went out. Some friends of Miss Gordon came in that evening and when the telephone rang one of the men standing near answered it. A soft, cultured voice asked for Miss Gordon. He was surprised then when he heard his hostess say, after she had taken the receiver:
“No, Mammy, I’m not in bed yet.” Then a moment later, “Allright, Mammy, I’ll ask them to go soon.”
“Mammy never gets cross at me,” said Miss Gordon, “although I think I give her plenty of cause—especially with my diets.”
“Lor, Miss Go’don!” said Mammy once. “Ah can’t see why yo’ want to go on any diet and Ah just can’t see mahself giving yo’ potatoes and skimmed milk for breakfast, ’cause Ah know yo’ wouldn’t eat it.”
Always the last thing before Miss Gordon goes out she whistles down the hall to Mammy. And then:
“Oh, Mammy, I’m g-o-i-n-g!”
And always the answer comes back: “All right, Miss Go’don.”
As soon as she enters the house, she whistles and calls again:
“Oh, Mammy, I’m h-o-m-e.”
And again the cheery answer, from the region of fried chicken:
“All right, Miss Go’don.”
With her love of domesticity, Miss Gordon is not content to let Mammy do all the work all the time. Nervous, full of energy and enthusiasm, she often finds rest and contentment in the homely tasks of the household and when she “skins to the country” she sometimes spends 'her time washing windows, scrubbing floors, cooking and doing other chores. It gives her the mental relaxation she needs.
And when Jeanne Gordon works, she works with enthusiasm. Anyone working with her is bound to catch the spirit. This was evident in the case of a darky who was helping her to move from one apartment to another.
“How much do you charge for a day’s work?” she asked before she employed him.
He told her $4 a day.
He proceeded to carry up the books, move the furniture, put down the rugs and do the heavy work of moving. Working hard all the time herself and conversing with the colored man, she kept him hard at his job and almost before he had finished one thing, she had him at another. At the end of the day when she was about to pay him, she said: “How much did you say you charged?” The colored boy replied:
“Ma’am, when I wuks foah anybody else, Ah cha’ges fouh dollahs but, Ma’am, much as Ah hates to do it, Ah cha’ges five when Ah wuks fo’ a lady like yo’.”
The Queen of Sheba
ANOTHER particularly feminine char>■ acteristic of Miss Gordon is her love of clothes. Her choice of them is as original, as individual, as everything else about her. She chooses them because she likes them, not because they are the fashion or the correct thing. For this reason she is the despair of her dressmakers.
Crossing to Europe one summer, Miss Gordon met the proprietress of an exclusive New York shop. Unaware of her identity, she called her “the Queen of Sheba,” not only because of her beauty but because of her clothes. Neither was she known to “the Queen of Sheba.” They were talking on the deck one afternoon, when suddenly the woman, whose business it was to dress other women, looked at Jeanne with open admiration.
“My Heavens,” she cried, “if you’d just dress your type, you’d knock ’em cold.”
On her return to New York Jeanne often visited “Betty” in her little shop. But “Betty” herself admits, sadly, that she has failed to reform her new customer. She will not dress her type.
The star seldom plans to shop. She shops as she does everything else, more or less on the spur of the moment. Dropping into her apartment one morning I found her scantily attired.
“I’m not dressed,” she said, laughing at her obvious remark. “The fact is that I haven’t anything that’s fit to put on.” Then in sudden decision: “Let’s run over to Betty’s. I must have some clothes.” “Mammy, oh Mammy,” she called, “bring me a d-r-e-s-ss” she ended on the usual high note, without letting her voice drop and then: “I don’t care, Mammy, any one that’s whole.”
On went the dress and the black hair was shoved under the small hat she had worn the first day I met her, and away we went to Betty’s, which was just around the corner.
Betty herself,, dark, vivacious, young, very slender, met us at the door.
“For goodness’ sake, Jeanne Gordon,” she began, before we could greet her, “will you never stop wearing that awful black hat? All those beauties I sold you lying upside down in your cupboard, I’ll bet. You will break my heart!”
“Betty dear,” replied Jeanne, not taking the slightest notice, “I simply must have some new clothes.”
Pulling off the despised black hat and tossing it deftly onto a stand beside a smart tulle creation, she let her hair tumble, as usual, down about her shoulders. Then she disappeared into a dressingroom and a moment later came out in a colored smock.
“How do you like me in Betty’s latest?” she cried, as eager as a child with a first party dress. “But, no, Betty,” she teased, “I don’t think it’s my type. Bring on another.”
She whisked it off over her head as a small boy might discard a sweater and there she was, pirouetting around the open shop, apparently quite unconscious of the fact that she had on even fewer clothes than when I had seen her in the morning.
The shop was on the second floor, the only entrance to it being by elevator and stairway. Suddenly the elevator stopped at Betty’s floor, but before the door could open, Jeanne Gordon, her black hair flying behind her, silk-clad legs flashing as she ran, scuttled the length of the shop, whirled on one heel around the nearest
corner and disappeared from sight until the customer had left the shop.
But most amazing to those who know the temptations that beset the path of an artist is the fact that she has come through them all absolutely unscathed.
"Perhaps my temptations have not been severe enough and perhaps if temptations came with love, 1 would be a fool to resist. But my illusions about love were demolished early and all the so-called ‘temptations’ that have come my way have meant nothing to me.”
She tells of an experience in Europe, however, that gave her some grave moments. In Munich, shortly after the war, during the Bolshevist uprising there, she met a man and his wife whom she had known in America. When a little later the man’s wife died she sent him the usual message of sympathy. In response to it, he came immediately to see lier. Under the cloak of his loneliness and grief, he continued to come for two or three days in succession, but the cloak was soon tiling aside and he declared openly bis love for her. She fled to Paris.
Two days later she returned to her hotel there to find her room and the hallway into it filled with flowers. Her lavish suitor, for it was he who had supplied the flowers, was a wealthy and influential man. He appeared at the hotel.
“If you won’t marry me,” he said, “I can still help you. I want to take you out of all this struggle. I want to make you one of the greatest successes the world has ever known. But if you refuse to let me do this, I will use all my money to buck you and to break you. Take your choice.”
Jeanne took it. She sailed for New York. When she reached home, she found a cable from him saying that he was following by the next boat, and that he would expect her to be ready to welcome
him. She left a note at his hotel that she had gone from New York for the summer and that she did not want to hear of him again, but he was not so easily fooled. He came to her apartment. Jeanne, in her own home, met him squarely.
“I’ll give you one chance to disappear for good,” she said. “If you come one step farther into this room, or ever speak to me again, I’ll expose you and your whole beastly plan from start to finish.”
She has not heard of him from that day to this.
“Had that man been attractive, that temptation to get to the top without any more of the work and anxiety might have allured. Perhaps it’s not my fault that I’m moral. Temptations simply haven’t fitted in with my ambitions.”
“What are your ambitions then?” I asked her.
“I don’t really know,” she laughed. “I suppose I’d like to be the greatest mezzo - soprano in the world,” she shrugged her shoulders as if in jest, but according to critics that is not a remote chance. She is well on her way.
“When I have finished my work, when I have reached the top of my career, my hope then is a permanent home—in Canada, perhaps—with Janie.”
Throughout the trials, the sorrows, the difficulties, of Jeanne Gordon’s professional life, the love of her little daughter has been her greatest inspiration. As a guiding star throws its gleam down into the blackness of an inky night to strike across a weary climber’s trail, so Jeanne Gordon’s love for Janie has guided her across the yawning depths, the dangerous precipices, the tangled “blowdowns” of possible failure, to lead her at last to the clean-swept heights of triumph and
Her path beyond lies through a sunny glade.