Edna May

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Edna May Edna May.jpg
Edna May

Edna May Pettie (September 2, 1878 – January 1, 1948), known on stage as Edna May, was an American actress and singer. A popular postcard beauty, May was famous for her leading roles in Edwardian musical comedies.


Life and career

May was born in Syracuse, New York to Edger and Cora Pettie. Her father was a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier. Her surname at birth was spelled Pettie, but the family later changed the name, by the 1880 census, to Petty. Her siblings were Edelbert, Jennie and Marguerite. [1] At the age of 5, she played Little Willie Allen in a production of Dora. The next year, her performances "charmed a number of audiences lately with her child voice". [2] By the age of 7, she had joined a children's opera company and performed Gilbert and Sullivan productions in Syracuse. She studied music at the New York Conservatoire as a teenager. [3]

Syracuse, New York City in New York, United States

Syracuse is a city in and the county seat of Onondaga County, New York, in the United States. It is the fifth-most populous city in the state of New York following New York City, Buffalo, Rochester, and Yonkers.

Gilbert and Sullivan Victorian-era theatrical partnership

Gilbert and Sullivan refers to the Victorian-era theatrical partnership of the dramatist W. S. Gilbert (1836–1911) and the composer Arthur Sullivan (1842–1900) and to the works they jointly created. The two men collaborated on fourteen comic operas between 1871 and 1896, of which H.M.S. Pinafore, The Pirates of Penzance and The Mikado are among the best known.

The cover of the Vocal Score The Belle of New York Vocal Score.jpg
The cover of the Vocal Score

May made her professional debut in 1895 in Si Stebbings in Syracuse. She then moved to New York to take the small role of Clairette in Oscar Hammerstein's Broadway show, Santa Maria . [4] That year, she married Fred Titus, who held a world record for cycling. They had no children and divorced in 1904. [1]

Oscar Hammerstein I opera impresario

Oscar Hammerstein I was a German-born businessman, theater impresario, and composer in New York City. His passion for opera led him to open several opera houses, and he rekindled opera's popularity in America. He was the grandfather of American lyricist Oscar Hammerstein II and the father of theater manager William Hammerstein and American producer Arthur Hammerstein.

<i>Santa Maria</i> (operetta) opera

Santa Maria is an operetta, or 'comic opera', in three acts with music and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein I. It opened at Hammerstein's Olympia Theatre in New York City on September 14, 1896. After closing on December 19, 1896, it went on tour, starting at the Alvin Theatre in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, on December 21, 1896.

In 1897, May played Violet Grey in The Belle of New York with only moderate success. The following year, the production played in London, becoming a hit and running for 697 performances, making May a star. After that, among others, she played Gabrielle Dalmonte in An American Beauty in London (1900), Olga in The Girl from Up There (1901) in New York and then London, Edna Branscombe in Three Little Maids (1902), Lillian Leigh in The School Girl (1903–1904) in London and New York, Say-So-San in The Darling of the Guards (1904) in London, [5] Alesia in La Poupée (1904) in London, and Angela in The Catch of the Season (1905) in New York. The Belle of Mayfair followed in London in 1906. May played the title character in Nelly Neil in London in 1907.

<i>Three Little Maids</i> musical

Three Little Maids is an English musical by Paul Rubens with additional songs by Percy Greenbank and Howard Talbot. The story concerns three simple curate's daughters who go to London to earn their livings serving tea in a Bond Street tea shop. They become the romantic rivals of three ladies of fashion but succeed because of their freshness.

<i>The School Girl</i> musical

The School Girl is an Edwardian musical comedy, in two acts, composed by Leslie Stuart with a book by Henry Hamilton and Paul M. Potter, and lyrics by Charles H. Taylor and others. It concerns a French school girl from a convent, who goes to Paris to help her lovesick friend. Through mistaken identity, she learns secrets that help her at the Paris stock exchange and ends up at a students' ball in the Latin Quarter. All ends happily.

<i>The Catch of the Season</i> musical

The Catch of the Season is an Edwardian musical comedy by Seymour Hicks and Cosmo Hamilton, with music by Herbert Haines and Evelyn Baker and lyrics by Charles H. Taylor, based on the fairy tale Cinderella. A debutante is engaged to a young aristocrat but loves a page.

May in 1915, by William Orpen William Orpen Mrs Oscar Lewisohn.jpg
May in 1915, by William Orpen

May was known for her beauty and received tremendous attention from male admirers. She was involved in a passionate but failed relationship with Prince Raj Narayan Bahadur (of the erstwhile kingdom of Cooch Behar in India) but could not marry him due to his parent's disapproval as she did not belong to one of India's royal families. Finally, in 1907, she agreed to marry millionaire Oscar Lewisohn and retired from the stage. The couple settled in England. They had no children, and Lewisohn died in 1917. [1]

Cooch Behar City in West Bengal, India

Cooch Behar or Koch Bihar is a city and a municipality in the Indian state of West Bengal. It is the headquarters of the Cooch Behar district. It is in the foothills of the Eastern Himalayas at 26°22′N89°29′E. Cooch Behar is the only planned city in North Bengal region with remnants of royal heritage. One of the main tourist destinations in West Bengal, it is the location of the Cooch Behar Palace and Madan Mohan Temple and has been declared a heritage city. It is the maternal home of Maharani Gayatri Devi.

May lived at Winkfield in Berkshire during her retirement, but made brief returns to the stage in 1911 benefit performances of The Belle of New York at the Savoy Theatre in London and 1915's The Masque of Peace and War in London. Also in 1911, she appeared in the film Forgotten; or An Answered Prayer. She starred in a 1916 film called Salvation Joan, donating the proceeds to charity. [6]

Winkfield village and civil parish in the Bracknell Forest unitary authority of Berkshire, England

Winkfield is a village and civil parish in the Bracknell Forest unitary authority of Berkshire, England.

Berkshire County of England

Berkshire is one of the home counties in England. It was recognised by the Queen as the Royal County of Berkshire in 1957 because of the presence of Windsor Castle, and letters patent were issued in 1974. Berkshire is a county of historic origin, a ceremonial county and a non-metropolitan county without a county council. The county town is Reading.

Savoy Theatre Theatre in London

The Savoy Theatre is a West End theatre in the Strand in the City of Westminster, London, England. The theatre opened on 10 October 1881 and was built by Richard D'Oyly Carte on the site of the old Savoy Palace as a showcase for the popular series of comic operas of Gilbert and Sullivan, which became known as the Savoy operas as a result.

She died in Lausanne, Switzerland, at the age of 69.

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  1. 1 2 3 Pascoe, Charles L. Edna May milestones at the Edna May website (2009)
  2. "A Festival To-Morrow Night", The Syracuse Standard, June 1, 1885. See also: "In the Church of Christ", The Syracuse Standard, March 25, 1885, praising her singing of "Cuckoo Song" at a benefit in the church.
  3. "Studying Vocals in New York", The Sunday Herald, May 5, 1895
  4. "Olympia Theatre Opened; Santa Maria, by Oscar Hammerstein, Done in a Showy Way", The New York Times, September 25, 1896, p. 3.
  5. Culme, John. "Postcard of the week", Footlight Notes, 18 April 2009, accessed 13 February 2013, quoting "The Darling of the Guards", The Illustrated London News , 27 February 1904
  6. "Edna May Returns as a Movie Star". The New York Times, 10 April 1916, accessed 13 October 2010

Further reading