Posts Tagged ‘First World War’

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Healy Gill, Dülmen Prisoner of War Camp, Germany, 1918

September 12, 2015

Healy Gill (1897-1973), English actor, as he appeared in the ‘Inspiration Dance’ for a production at the Camp Theatre of the Dülmen Prisoner of War Camp, Westphalia, Germany, probably 1918.
(postcard photo: unknown, probably 1918; an autographed copy of this postcard was sold on eBay on 10 March 2012, inscribed in ink, ‘Yours sincerely Healy-Gill’)

Healy Gill, whose real name was Edward James Gill, was the eldest child of Edward John Gill (1875-1965), a printers’ warehouseman, and his wife, Alice Minnie (née Healey [sic], 1875-1931). He was born in the Southwark area of south London on 21 November 1897. According to his World War I service record he was a private in the 23rd London Regiment and later a private in the East Surrey Regiment. He was registered at Dülmen Prisoner of War Camp on 24 March 1918, when his date of birth was recorded as 21 November 1898 rather than 1897. Gill was soon recruited for the Dülmen Camp Theatre, appearing over the next few months in a number of plays, including Caste (a favourite Victorian comedy by T.W. Robertson, first produced at the Prince of Wales’s, London, in 1867), A Fireside Flirtation (a music hall sketch first played in London by William Burr and Daphne Hope in 1916, which provided ‘serious and light-comedy songs, and racy patter’), and ‘Down on the Farm’ (which probably refers to a musical burlesque of that name making the rounds of the British music halls in 1917).

In peacetime, Healy Gill had a modest career on the stage. He is mentioned in June 1921 as appearing in a small part in a ‘bright and animated’ touring revue entitled Lizzie, starring Sara Rosebury and Ted E. Cowley. The following year, at the beginning of August 1922, Gill joined Murray King and Clark’s autumn tour of Romance, Edward Sheldon’s hugely successful play which was first performed at Maxine Elliott’s Theatre, New York, on 10 February 1913, with William Courtenay and Doris Keane in the leading roles respectively of Bishop Thomas Armstrong and Margherita Cavallini. Romance opened at the Duke of York’s Theatre, London, on 6 October 1915 (transferring a month later to the Lyric, for a total run of 1047 performances), with Owen Nares as Armstrong and Doris Keane reprising her role as Cavallini. For the 1922 Murray King and Clark tour those parts were taken by Henry C. Hewitt and Frances Dillon; Healy Gill appeared as a minor supporting character.

Gill’s final professional engagement appears to have been in the modest role of Arthur Bellairs in the Percy Brown Company’s autumn 1924 tour of Fred C. Somerfield’s ‘powerful heart-stirring attraction,’ Geoffrey Langdon’s Wife. This well-tested play was first produced at the Rotunda, Liverpool, 22 June 1908, when Bellairs was played by Ivan Mavis.

Meanwhile, Healy Gill (Edward James Gill) was married in 1921 to Blodwen Gerrard (1900-1962), a chauffeur’s daughter. Some 36 years later the couple visited Canada when the ship’s manifest for their return journey to England (SS Empress of England of the Canadian Pacific Line form Montreal, arriving Liverpool, 29 July 1957) lists them as living at 70 Lessington Avenue, Tooting, London, SW17, and Gill’s occupation as ‘waiter.’ He outlived his wife by nearly 11 years and died in 1973.

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It is worth noting that Healy Gill’s outfit for his ‘Inspiration Dance’ bears a remarkable likeness to the Parisian courier, Paul Poiret’s ‘harem trousers,’ which he first introduced in his Spring 1911 collection.

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January 23, 2013

Nora Bayes (1880-1928)
American vaudeville and musical comedy star,
who introduced George M. Cohan’s 1917 hit, ‘Over There
(photo: unknown, probably New York, 1917;
sheet music published by William Jerome Publishing, New York, 1917,
artwork by ‘Barbelle’)

Nora Bayes, whose real name was Leonora Goldberg, began her highly successful career in vaudeville and musical comedy in Chicago in 1899. Her second of five husbands, Jack Norworth (1879-1962), whom she married in 1908, became her stage partner for a while and together they wrote the lyrics for ‘Shine On, Harvest Moon,’ featured in the Ziegfeld Follies of 1908. It is one of the tragedies of light entertainment history that this recording of their most popular song was a technical failure, deemed unsuitable for issue, when they committed it to disc for the Victor Talking Machine Co in New York on 7 March 1910. Although the couple returned to the same studios several more times that year, they did not attempt ‘Shine On, Harvest Moon’ again.

‘Shine On, Harvest Moon’ has been recorded by many other artists since 1908, one of the earliest being by an unnamed male singer (who sounds very much like Bob Roberts) accompanied by female chorus, from Mark Best’s Old Time Victrola Music Page).

Miss Bayes, who made many records for both Victor and American Columbia, had a string of songs with which her name is connected. ‘How Ya Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm,’ George M. Cohan’s ‘Over There,’ and ‘The Japanese Sandman’ are among them.

‘Nora Bayes, with her inimitable foolery and clean fun, her admirable imitations and clever and witty songs, became in a very short time one of the greatest favorites on the American stage, and she continues to hold the attention as well as the admiration of her audiences – through sheer talent. Miss Bayes is the life of every production with which she is connected, and gives a zest to every moment she is on the stage. This talented artist has sung for the Victor [Talking Machine Co.] some of her greatest successes and the records are among the most entertaining in the catalogue.’
(1923 Catalogue of Victor Records, Victor Talking Machine Co., Camden, New Jersey, USA, December 1922)

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‘The town of Great Neck, Long Island, now regarded George M. Cohan, his wife and children, as permanent members of the colony – a colony that included Arthur Hopkins, Gene Buck, Charles King and Lila Rhodes and Sam Harris. Cohan liked Great Neck for his family but he never got used to working there.
‘It was there, however, and let it go into the record, that he got the inspiration for the song that will live as long as this republic [of the United States] stands.
‘America went to war. On April 6, 1917, after Congress had acted, Woodrow Wilson put his signature to the document that declared the United States at war with Germany.
‘In Great Neck that morning Cohan read his newspapers with puckered brow. He rose several times to go to is car for the drive into [Manhattan], but before getting into the car he sat down at his desk, took a pencil, and began scribbling. There was a new melody in his head and he was seeking the words to go with it. He wrote one word, “Chorus,” across the top of a sheet of paper and in less than half an hour he had written these words:

Over there, over there,
Send the word, send the word, over there,
That the Yanks are coming, the Yanks are coming,
The drums rum-tumming everywhere.
So prepare, say a prayer,
Send the word, send the word to beware.
We’ll be over, we’re coming over,
And we won’t come back till
It’s over over there!

‘Now, with that much done, he went quickly to his car and before he reached the Cohan & Harris offices he had written a verse that ran:

Johnnie, get your gun, get your gun, get your gun,
Take it on the run, on the run, on the run;
Hear them calling you and me,
Every son of Liberty.
Hurry right away, no delay, go today.
Make your daddy glad
To have had such a lad,
Tell your sweetheart not to pine,
To be proud her boy’s in line.

‘In later years, in telling me of the writing of that song, Cohan’s exact words were these: “Funny about them giving me a medal. All I wrote was a bugle call. I read those war headlines and I got to thinking and to humming to myself – and for a minute I thought I was going into my dance. I was all finished with both the chorus and the verse by the time I got to town and I also had a title. I tried the thing first on my friend Joe Humphreys (famous ring announcer of Madison Square Garden) and Joe liked it and he never was a fellow for lying. Joe really said he was crazy about it and he said, ‘George, you’ve got a song.’ And it seems I had.”
‘”Over There” swept America and the world. A month after publication it was being sung, hummed, whistled in every corner of the United States. It became the song of the war, and so it is held today. The average song hit of present times will achieve a sale of from one hundred thousand to three hundred thousand copies. “Over There,” first professionally sung by Nora Bayes, reached the million-and-a-half mark in total sales. This was a total considerably in excess of that of Irving Berlin’s “Oh, How I Hate to Get Up in the Morning” [of 1918]…’
(Ward Morehouse, George M. Cohan, Prince of the American Theater, J.B. Lippincott Company, Philadelphia and New York, 1943, pp.125-127)

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The ‘million-and-a-half mark in total sales’ for ‘Over There’ mentioned above refers to the quantity of its sheet music. Besides the original featuring a tinted half-tone photograph of Nora Bayes in exotic military attire (see above), several other covers were published, including one by the artist Norman Rockwell (‘as sung by’ the celebrated Italian tenor, Enrico Caruso); and another featuring a futuristic design.

Like all popular songs of the period, ‘Over There’ was recorded a number of times. Nora Bayes herself committed the number to disc for the Victor Talking Machine Co (Victor 45130) in New York on 13 July 1917. Another version was made by Caruso on 11 July 1918, again for Victor; and a third, for Edison (50443) in 1917, by the popular recording artist Billy Murray and the American Quartet.

Nora Bayes
(photo: Sarony, New York, circa 1910)