(Owners of Hollyrood Farm for 7+ Years, 1888-1895, 1897, 1903)Continued from PART 3
|Eleanor Merron Cowper, friend of James H. Wallick, with whom he later made a suicide pact. Photo and article from The Chicago Tribune, Saturday, 28 November 1908, page 2.|
ELEANOR MERRON––ACTRESS, WRITER, AND FRIEND
Even with all of their financial troubles, James and Mary seemed to be making their way and were considered to be quite successful. An article in Brooklyn Life in 1898 still listed James Wallick as one of the wealthiest actors with a fortune worth over $100,000. In the middle of this success, however, three events occurred in 1898 and 1899 that may have caused James H. Wallick to begin questioning the purpose of life. First, in late March his beloved wife, Mary––his companion, fellow performer, and financial advisor––became seriously ill and for several days lay in the Oriental Hotel in Middletown, New York in a semi conscious state; she passed away at the age of 50 years on the 4th of April. Mrs. Wallick was well-liked in the Middletown area where they lived after selling Hollyrood farm when they were not on the road with the acting company. She was described as “warm-hearted, generous..., and [someone who] did many acts of kindness and charity.” Later that same year, on the 5th or 6th of November, James’s mother, Susan Ellsworth of Rondout, Ulster County, New York, died and was brought to Middletown to be buried near his wife. Finally, a year later on November 9, 1899 his sister, and last surviving member of his immediate family passed away.
With no children of their own––with the possible exception of an adopted niece, Violet (Barney) Williams, who was married and living in Washington, D.C.––James was left with only two close friends, Archie and Eleanor (Merron) Cowper, both of whom were actors. James was particularly close to Eleanor, who acted in some of his plays and with whom he collaborated, producing her successful play, The Dairy Farm, and less successful play, Her Wedding Day. The collaboration may have begun in earnest, when James showed her he script of a play he was considering. Eleanor commented that she could certainly write a better one. James encouraged her to do so and the result was her play, The Dairy Farm. James managed the production and both he and Eleanor acted in the play. The play opened in September 1899 and was quite well liked by the critics and drew fairly good audiences over the next few years. For example, the Washington, D.C. Evening Times, said of the play that “The Dairy Farm last night [at the Columbia theater] presented one of the very best pieces of its class that has come to Washington this year and the excellent production won the hearty commendation of a large gathering,” while the Hazleton, Pennsylvania Plain Speaker stated that “Miss Eleanor Merron, the author of The Dairy Farm, has received over seven hundred letters from all the prominent clergymen in New York commending its merit as inspiring worthy ideas and affording much innocent amusement.” By October of 1901 the play had already been performed 109 times in New York City, 137 times in Philadelphia, and 133 times in Chicago.
|Poster for the Dairy Farm a play by Eleanor Merron with James H. Wallick as manager. Both James and Eleanor also acted in the play. Reproduction of the poster courtesy of the U.S. Library of Congress.|
Eleanor states that she left home and began acting with the Boston Theater Company when she was 14 years old (about 1872 if we use her correct birthdate) in a play called The Hidden Hand. Her career may have received a boost in 1888 and 1889 when, according to her own account, she was mentored by the famous actress Fanny Davenport when they performed together for two seasons in Sardou’s play La Tosca. Many other plays came and went over the years, including All The Comforts of Home, The Lights o’ London, The Private Secretary, and Gloriana. The first newspaper report of an appearance of Eleanor on stage that I have been able to find was published in September of 1882 when she would have been about 24 years old. That month, a new popular play by Paul Merritt and Augustus Harris from London, called Youth, opened in Boston with Eleanor Merron in the role of Alice Wenlock, one of the minor characters. Sometime around 1883, Eleanor met an actor by the name of Archibald “Archie” Cowper. Archie was part of an acting family which included his father, John C. Cowper, a brother, Will C. Cowper, a sister, Clara Cowper, and Archie himself. It was perhaps during 1884, while they were both acting in a play called The Lights o’ London, that they fell in love and decided to marry. The ceremony took place in Manhattan on 2 July 1885. Even with a busy acting career, Eleanor found time during this stage of her life to write a novel, As the Wind Blows, first published in 1895. The book received mixed reviews, with some finding it a nice moral story and others complaining that it showed all the marks of a novice writer.
Eleanor was described in contemporary reports as bright and clever, an interesting talker, plump with golden-hair, and “a stunning looking woman with a pair of blue eyes full of tenderness and sympathy and a keen sense of a jolly situation”; she was also considered a fine actress and writer. In recalling her early days of working with James H. Wallick she recounted the following in an interview in 1902:
I think the greatest strain I was ever in for mental and financial resources was about four seasons ago when I was about to appear in a new production under James H. Wallick’s management. Mr. Wallick had asked me to buy some things for the stage. I started out just after breakfast to select draperies, table covers, etc., and have them sent to the theater that evening before the performance, so that we could see the effect by electric light. They were to be paid for upon delivery. I could not find what I wanted at a reasonable price, so I decided to purchase the goods and make the articles myself. Then I remembered that I had not enough money to pay for them. I got into a cab, took the things along with me accompanied by a young man with the bill. I thought as it was only a matter of $50 they would certainly pay that at the hotel and charge it to me, but the manager did not appear to be used to such things. I explained and offered my ring for security. He said, “If you will bring me an order from Mr. Wallick, I will pay it.” “Good Lord man,” I interrupted, “if I could see Mr. Wallick I would not need to ask you.” So I drove over to the hotel where Mr. Wallick was staying, but he was not in. I swore a great big swear that those curtains should play in a star engagement that night. On my travels I had noticed a loan office. I had with me only two rings and a gold locket, but I dashed in and said, “I must have $50.” The man looked so astonished that I had to laugh in my excitement. I explained that I had lost my money and he gave me the cash. I had only four hours to cut, decorate and line the things, but I finished and was at the theater at a quarter before seven. When everything was arranged I felt thoroughly repaid and the effect delighted Mr. Wallick. The next day I confessed. Mr. Wallick looked stern. “In heaven’s name,” he said, “why did you do a thing like that?” I said in my chilliest manner, “I am very sorry to have offended you. I promised you to have the things for the scene in time and I thought I had redeemed my promise as few women would. Kindly take the money out of my salary, give me the things and consider the incident closed.” But I was wrong. I had made a big hit with Mr. Wallick. He was amazed and very much pleased.
In 1891, an actor friend of Archie and Eleanor’s, Henry Aveling, committed suicide. The night before, Aveling had met Cowper and told him he was going to end his life, but Archie did not believe him, even though he accompanied Aveling to the drug store to discuss the use of cyanide with the clerk. Apparently, Aveling had attempted suicide or stated his intent to attempt it a number of times before until it had become somewhat of a joke among his friends. This time it was not a joke. Again in 1894 a friend of the Cowpers, actress May Brookyn used carbolic acid to commit suicide. Did the suicides of these friends later play into Eleanor’s own decision to take her life? If nothing else, they may have planted a seed of an idea that later bloomed into reality.
Continued in PART 5
NOTES and REFERENCES
91. Brooklyn Life, Brooklyn, New York, Saturday, 30 April 1898, p. 32.
92. The Daily Argus, Middletown, New York, Monday, 28 March 1898, p. 5 and Monday, 4 April 1898, p. 5.
93. The Daily Argus, Middletown, New York, Monday, 4 April 1898, p. 5.
94. Gravestone in Hillside Cemetery, Middletown, Orange Co., New York; The Daily Argus, Middletown, New York, Tuesday, 8 November 1898, p. 5.
95. Gravestone in Hillside Cemetery, Middletown, Orange Co., New York.
96. The New York Dramatic Mirror, New York City, Saturday, 25 November 1899, p. 2.
97. The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, 5 September 1905, p. 26.
98. The Chicago Daily Tribune, Chicago, Illinois, Monday, 14 May 1900.
99. The Scranton Republican, Scranton, Pennsylvania, Thursday, 7 September 1899, p. 3; The Times, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Tuesday Morning, 19 September 1899, p. 2; The Democrat & Chronicle, Rochester, NY, Sunday, 1 October 1899, p. 14; The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, Tuesday, 9 January 1900, p. 9; The Boston Herald, Boston, Massachusetts, Tuesday, 18 September 1900, p. 9; The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, Tuesday, 9 October 1900, p. 5; The Morning Herald, Lexington, Kentucky, Wednesday, 13 February 1901, p. 2; The Cleveland Leader, Cleveland, Ohio, Sunday, 16 February 1902, p. 28; The Reading Times, Reading, Pennsylvania, Tuesday, 11 September 1906, p. 8.
100. The Plain Speaker, Hazleton, Pennsylvania, Friday, 20 April 1900, p. 4.
101. The Wilkes-Barre Times, Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Monday, 14 October 1901, p. 5.
102. “Maine Births and Christenings, 1739-1900,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FW19-8ZZ : accessed 23 February 2016), Dora Ellen Merrow, 31 Oct 1858; citing ; FHL microfilm 11,587. Several newspaper articles use the name Merrow, rather than Merron when reporting on Eleanor. See for example, The Courier, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Sunday, 29 November 1908, p. 1, The Reno Gazette-Journal, Reno, Nevada, Wednesday, 2 December 1908, p. 2, or The Boston Post, Boston, Massachusetts, Saturday, 17 September 1892, p. 5.
103. The North American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Monday, 25 September 1899, p. 9.
104. “Maine Births and Christenings, 1739-1900,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/FW19-8ZZ : accessed 23 February 2016), Dora Ellen Merrow, 31 Oct 1858; citing ; FHL microfilm 11,587.
105. 1860 US census, New Gloucester, Cumberland, Maine, p. 34 and 35, dwelling 267, family 288; 1870 US census, New Gloucester, Cumberland, Maine, p. 5 and 6, dwelling 42, family 33.
106. The North American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Monday, 25 September 1899, p. 9; New York Dramatic Mirror, New York City, Saturday, 25 November 1899, p. 2.
107. See the included advertisement and playbill for La Tosca from 1888 and 1889 performances of Eleanor with Fanny Davenport, as well as her own account of this time reported in The North American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Monday, 25 September 1899, p. 9 and in the New York Dramatic Mirror, New York City, Saturday, 25 November 1899, p. 2.
108. Most of this information comes from her own account published in the New York Dramatic Mirror, New York City, Saturday, 25 November 1899, p. 2; also The Boston Sunday Post, Boston, Massachusetts, Sunday, 27 May 1894, p. 11.
109. Boston Evening Transcript, Boston, Massachusetts, Wednesday, 20 September 1882, p. 4; The Boston Herald, Boston, Massachusetts, Sunday, 12 November 1882, p. 5; Eleanor may have played other parts in plays for the Boston Theater Company that year as she was listed as one of the members of the company (see The History of Boston Theater, 1854-1901 by Eugene Tompkins, Houghton-Mifflin Co., Boston and New York, 1908, p. 295.
110. The Boston Daily Globe, Boston, Massachusetts, Thursday Morning, 21 December 1876, p. 8; The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, Sunday, 15 October 1893, p. 7; Portland Daily Press, Portland, Maine, Wednesday, 3 January 1877, p. 3; The Detroit Free Press, Detroit, Michigan, Sunday, 19 July 1896, p. 15.
111. The Democrat and Chronicle, Rochester, New York, Sunday, 20 January 1884, p. 4; The Buffalo Courier, Buffalo, New York, Tuesday Morning, 15 January 1884.
112. “New York, New York City Marriage Records, 1829-1940,” database, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:24SN-42X : accessed 16 February 2016), Archibald Cowper and Dora Me...Ron, 02 Jul 1885; citing Marriage, Manhattan, New York, New York, United States, New York City Municipal Archives, New York; FHL microfilm 1,570,465.
113. The Salt Lake Tribune, Salt Lake City, Utah, Tuesday, 12 November 1895, p. 4; The Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Brooklyn, New York, Saturday, 19 October 1895, p. 10 and Thursday, 1 October 1896, p. 4; The Tennessean, Nashville, Tennessee, Monday, 21 October 1895, p. 4; The San Francisco Call, San Francisco, California, Sunday, 10 November 1895, p. 23 and Sunday, 1 December 1895, p. 21.
114. The Buffalo Courier, Buffalo, New York, For the Week Ending, 9 February 1902, p.2.; The Morning Times, Washington, D.C., Tuesday, 12 March 1901, p. 5; The North American, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Monday, 25 September 1899, p. 9; Titusville Herald, Titusville, Pennsylvania, Saturday, 31 March 1900.
115. The Minneapolis Journal, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Saturday, 19 April 1902, p. 18.
116. The Evening World, New York City, Friday, 20 March 1891, p. 3.
117. The Sun, New York City, Friday, 20 March 1891, p. 8.
118. The World, New York City, Sunday, 25 February 1894, p. 38.