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Mary Ellis Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (3)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (4)  | Trivia (9)

Overview (3)

Born in New York City, New York, USA
Died in London, England, UK
Birth NameMay Belle Elsas

Mini Bio (1)

A promising star first with the Metropolitan Opera than on the Broadway and London stages, soprano Mary Ellis had little chance to prove herself as either a musical or dramatic film star with only a few creaky vehicles left for audiences to ponder. Her versatility on stage, however, was extensive, ranging from heavy doses of Shakespeare and Eugene O'Neill to the Restoration comedies of Sheridan and the light operettas of Oscar Hammerstein.

Born May Belle Elsas on June 15, 1897 of humble means in New York City, her family had emigrated to the States earlier from Alsace. Her father eventually prospered as a successful paper merchant. Mary inherited any artistic leanings from her mother who was a gifted pianist. She initially delved into painting before the desire to dedicate herself to song took hold. Studying with Madame Ashworth, Mary's had the makings of a great classical singer and was offered a multiple year contract with the Metropolitan Opera company at the age of 21. Given the stage name of Mary Ellis by the company, she made her debut with Puccini's "Suor Angelica" (1918) and went on to appear in "The Blue Bird" and "Boris Gudunov", among others. Arguably the highlights of her brief operatic career include her appearances opposite the legendary tenor Enrico Caruso in his final performance (Christmas Eve, 1920) of "The Elixir of Love" (he died the following year of pneumonia), and the renowned prima donna Geraldine Farrar in "Louise". However, in 1922, Mary's burgeoning desire to act on the legitimate stage took over and, against all advice, left the Met in 1922 to pursue her "new dream".

Already a name in opera, Mary joined the David Belasco theatre company. Belasco produced and directed her in her first Broadway production "The Merchant of Venice". A lovely, vibrant presence on stage, she subsequently appeared in "Casanova" and "The Merry Wives of Gotham", but did not become a full-fledged star until playing the titular heroine in Hammerstein's operetta "Rose-Marie". Career-threatening problems incurred when the impulsive Mary decided to leave the show before her tightly binding contract with Hammerstein was completed. As a result, she was prevented from ever performing again as a singer in America. She was now forced to return to high drama in straight plays. She subsequently appeared in a series of Broadway productions co-starring British actor Basil Sydney, which included her playing of Katherine to his Petruchio in "The Taming of the Shrew". Sydney became her third husband (following two short-lived marriages) in 1929.

Unable to escape her career restrictions, she and Sydney moved to England in 1931. She met with instantaneous success in O'Neill's epic drama "Strange Interlude" the following year. She also became a lovely muse for Ivor Novello on the 30s British stage, as noted in their successful teaming of "Glamorous Night" (1935) and "The Dancing Years" (1939). England gave her the opportunity to try films and she starred in two in 1934, the drama Bella Donna (1934) with John Stuart, Cedric Hardwicke and Conrad Veidt, and in the musical All the King's Horses (1935) in which she played the Queen of Langenstein. She also managed to return to America to star in the films Paris in Spring (1935) and Fatal Lady (1936). After filming her stage triumph Glamorous Night (1937) co-starring Otto Kruger back in England, she retired from the screen, unable to gain a strong footing.

Her marriage to Basil Sydney lasted but a few years. Her fourth and last husband, Jock Muir Stewart Roberts, a Scotsman, was a happy one until his tragic death twelve years later in a 1950 mountain-climbing accident. A volunteer nurse during WWII, Mary appeared sporadically on the post-war stage (notably the Old Vic) in such successful productions as "John Gabriel Borkman", "The School for Scandal", "The Browning Version" and "Hattie Stowe" in which she portrayed Harriet Beecher Stowe. After her husband's death she was seen less and less and took her last curtain call in "Mrs. Warren's Profession" in 1970. Isolated film appearances included The Magic Box (1951) and The 3 Worlds of Gulliver (1960).

Mary was seen briefly as late as the 1990s playing octogenarian roles, and during her twilight years published two autobiographies: Those Dancing Years (1982) and Moments of Truth (1986. Mary, who was childless, died in London at the ripe old age of 105 on January 30, 2003.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Gary Brumburgh / gr-home@pacbell.net

Spouse (4)

Jock Muir Stewart Robinson (1938 - 1950) ( his death)
Basil Sydney (1929 - ?) ( divorced)
Edwin H. Knopf (? - ?) ( divorced)
L.A. Bernheimer (? - ?) ( divorced)

Trivia (9)

Probably the last surviving singer to have created a rôle in a Puccini opera (Suor Genovieffa in "Suor Angelica" at the Metropolitan Opera in 1918).
Was Ivor Novello's inspiration for the leading ladies in his most successful operettas.
Joined the New York Metropolitan Opera at age 18.
In 1993, well past age 90, she appeared in a new TV series of Sherlock Holmes adventures.
She was married four times -- divorced three husbands, including actor 'Basil Sydney', and her fourth husband died in a mountain climbing accident.
Switched to acting after feeling she didn't have the commitment nor patience to dedicate herself to an operatic career.
She played Nerissa in a production of "Ther Merchant of Venice" in New York in 1922. Two years later, she played the titular heroine in "Rose Marie" on Broadway but left the show after an argument with managers and never sang in the United States again.
Moved to England in the 30s and continued theatre, finding success on the London stage with "Strange Interlude" and "The Browning Version" among others.
Was made a British citizen in 1946.

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