Jay Laurier

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Jay Laurier as Gregory in Tom Jones (1907) Jay Laurier in Tom Jones 1907.jpg
Jay Laurier as Gregory in Tom Jones (1907)

James Alexander Chapman (31 March 1879 8 April 1969), known by his stage name, Jay Laurier, was an English actor. Early in his career he was a music hall performer, but by the late 1930s he was playing in the works of Shakespeare at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon [1] as well as having a career in films. [2]


Early career

Laurier (left) Carrie Moore and Dan Rolyat in Tom Jones (1907) Scene from Tom Jones 1907.jpg
Laurier (left) Carrie Moore and Dan Rolyat in Tom Jones (1907)

Laurier was born in 1879 in Birmingham in Warwickshire. He made his professional debut in Arabian Nights at the Abertillery Public Hall in 1896 [1] before beginning a successful career touring the music halls of Britain.

As a music hall artiste he popularised such songs as 'Ring O' Roses' and 'I'm Always Doing Something Silly'. From December 1906 he was in the pantomime Red Riding Hood at the New Theatre in Cardiff. [3] His first performance on the legitimate stage was as Gregory in the comic opera Tom Jones in 1907. [4] Christmas 1907 saw him in the pantomime Mother Goose as Jack opposite the dame of Wilkie Bard at the Prince of Wales Theatre in Birmingham. [5] In 1922 he played Miffins in the pantomime Jack and the Beanstalk at the Hippodrome, London opposite George Robey as Dame Trot. [6] A Freemason, in 1919 he joined the Chelsea Lodge No 3098 the members of which were from the entertainment industry. [7] Laurier was Meander in the musical comedy Phi-Phi at the London Pavilion (1922) [8] and Pamphylos in the operetta Cleopatra (an adaptation of Die Perlen der Cleopatra (1923) by Oscar Straus) opposite Evelyn Laye in the title role at Daly's Theatre (1925). [9] He was in the British production of the musical Oh, Kay! at Her Majesty's Theatre (1927); [1] was Rudolph the Reckless in the pantomime The Sleeping Beauty at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane (1929–1930); [10] Nisch in The Merry Widow at the Hippodrome, London (1932), [11] and toured as Popoff in the latter show during 1936. [1] During the 1930s and 40s he acted in a number of films. [2]

Shakespeare at Stratford

He joined the company of The Old Vic in 1937 for whom he played Alfred Doolittle in Pygmalion [1] before joining the company of the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon in 1938 for whom he played Launce in The Two Gentlemen of Verona (1938), Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1938 and 1942), Touchstone in As You Like It (1929–1942), First Gravedigger in Hamlet (1940 and 1942), Porter in Macbeth (1938 and 1942), Pompey in Measure for Measure (1939–1940), Gardener in Richard II (1941), Sir John Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor (1940), Autolycus in The Winter's Tale (1942), Christopher Sly The Taming of the Shrew (1939–1942), Stephano in The Tempest (1938–1942) and Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night (1941). [12] [13] Laurier played Christopher Sly in The Taming of the Shrew , [14] Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night and Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing [15] in the Stratford Shakespeare season at the Kingsway Theatre in London. In 1945 he gave an acclaimed cameo performance as the jailer Frosch in Gay Rosalinda at the Palace Theatre in London. [1] He reprised the role of Sir Toby Belch at the Savoy Theatre in London in 1947. [16]

Personal life

In 1901 he married Elizabeth Mary Smith and with her had three children: Leslie James Chapman (born 1902), Sybil Constance Chapman (1903–04) and Marjorie Laurier Chapman (born 1908). They divorced in 1909 after he had abandoned her and his family to live with the married music hall performer Ouida MacDermott whose own husband divorced her in 1910 because of her adultery with Laurier. [17] [18] He married Muriel S. Griffin in 1932 [19] and Sybil Viney.

On retiring in 1956 Jay Laurier moved to Durban in South Africa, where he died in 1969 aged 89. [1]

Selected filmography

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  1. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Obituary for Jay Laurier, The Stage , 17 April 1969, p. 17
  2. 1 2 3 Films of Jay Laurier - British Film Institute Database
  3. Public Amusements - Evening Express and Evening Mail, 24 December 1906, p. 1
  4. Jay Laurier on Getty Images
  5. Programme for Mother Goose (1907) - Prince of Wales Theatre, Birmingham- Glenn Christodoulou Theatre Collection]
  6. J. P. Wearing, The London Stage 1920–1929: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, Rowman & Littlefield (2014) - Google Books p. 136
  7. England, United Grand Lodge of England Freemason Membership Registers, 1751–1921 for James Laurier: United Grand Lodge of England 1910–1921, Membership Registers: London K 2739-2946 to London L 2952-3162 - Ancestry.com (subscription required)
  8. Wearing, p.179
  9. Wearing, p. 368
  10. Cast of The Sleeping Beauty, Pantomimes at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, It's Behind You. Retrieved 14 May 2020
  11. Programme for The Merry Widow (1932) - Glenn Christodoulou Theatre Collection
  12. Jay Laurier in Twelfth Night (1941), Royal Shakespeare Company. Retrieved 14 May 2020
  13. Roles of Jay Laurier (1938–1942), Royal Shakespeare Company. Retrieved 14 May 2020
  14. J. P. Wearing, The London Stage 1940–1949: A Calendar of Productions, Performers, and Personnel, Rowman & Littlefield (2014) - Google Books p. 10
  15. Wearing, The London Stage 1940–1949, p. 8
  16. Wearing, The London Stage 1940–1949, p. 303
  17. England & Wales, Civil Divorce Records, 1858-1918 (1910), Ancestry.com (subscription required)
  18. 1911 England Census for Annie Louise M Macdermott: Middlesex, Chiswick - Ancestry.com (subscription required)
  19. England & Wales, Civil Registration Marriage Index, 1916-2005, James A Laurier (1932) - Ancestry.com (subscription required)