THE GOLDEN AGE OF BRITISH THEATRE (1880-1920)
by Sydney Higgins
|(postcard, gloss, J J Samuels, JS170, c.1907)||(signed postcard, hand-tinted sepia, Aristophot, c.1908)|
|Marie Löhr as Margaret in Faust|
|Click photo to enlarge|
Marie Kaye Wouldes Löhr was born in Sydney (Australia) on July 28, 1890. Her father, Lewis J Löhr, had formerly been the treasurer of the Opera House, Melbourne, and her mother who, as Kate Bishop, had been a child actor in Bristol with Ellen Terry.
At the age of three, Marie Löhr made her first stage appearance with Charles Arnold in Captain Fritz at the Criterion Theatre, Sydney, in February and March, 1894.
She moved with her family to London in 1900 and in December 1901, aged ten, she made her London stage debut at the Garrick Theatre in Shock Headed Peter. In 1902 and 1906, she toured with the Kendals (Margaret Sholto & W H Kendall). She then made a number of appearances at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket, where she had her important break, appearing at the age of 18, at Bernard Shaw's invitation, as Mrs Reginald Bridgenorth in the premiere of his play Getting Married that opened on May 12, 1908 - a Vedrenne-Barker production. Afterwards, she joined Beerbohm Tree's company and over the next few years played many important roles with him at His Majesty's Theatre, including Margaret to his Faust (1908); the title role in a translation of Hautmann's Hannele (1908); starring with Tree in The Dancing Girl (1909); and Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal (1909).
Firmly established as a leading West End star, she continued to appear in both comedy and drama, playing opposite the most important actors of the period, such as Dion Boucicault, Jnr., Charles Hawtrey, Sir John Hare, Gerald du Maurier and Sir George Alexander.
She married Anthony Prinsep, the son of a famous artist and owner of several West End theatres. With him, in 1918, she took over the management of the Globe Theatre. At the same time, she starred in her second silent film, Victory and Peace, made by the American film director, Herbert Brenon. In a letter written to Louella Parsons of the New York Telegraph on October 6, 1918, he describes some of the problems he experienced while making the film.
... I had to make a beginning, so I began with the sub-plot, and with minor actors. I was waiting for the leading man and the leading lady and also the heavy man, with names. There was one leading woman above all others that I wanted. Her name was Miss Marie Lohr, the youngest and most charming woman star in England (like our sweet Elsie Ferguson). She had refused motion picture offer after motion picture offer.
At first she was adamant, and then she melted. 'I am putting on a new play,' she said. 'If it is a success, I will play the lead for you.' If it was a failure, she had to put on a new play; there was one hope gone, so thinks I to myself, 'This sub-plot is getting too important. I must start on the main plot. I must hire me a leading man.'
Matheson Lang was the most popular leading man in England. 'Certainly,' says he, 'if my play is a success; not just now. I am off to Brighton to put on the Purple Mask next Monday.' On Sunday night, I prayed in every different language I knew. On Tuesday morning, I got a telegram. 'Play a success, will need six weeks to whip it into shape; will then be glad to play for you.'
I was wearing the sub-plot threadbare. So I started on some of my spectacular scenes. Dear old Ellen Terry, bless her heart, came along and did a little sequence for me. I shall never forget those few days as long as I live. What charm, what everlasting youth, what talent, what beauty, what an angel! She bucked me up a whole lot, and the mere fact that she had done her bit encouraged the others.
It was drawing near to Mr. Lang's London opening. It was drawing near the time for Miss Lohr's opening. I had finished nearly all the scenes except those that they were in, when, one day, I come home from my exteriors and find a note to me from my secretary. 'Factory burned up at 2 o'clock today,' it said. 'Every foot of your negative is burnt.'
I do not think I shall ever forget those next few moments. I wanted to give up. I wanted to come home to America, I wanted my family, I wanted my friends; I felt my loneliness terribly; I felt weak for a second or two; I lacked courage, but only a second or two. A few comforting telephone messages came in: one from Miss Marie Lohr, who said, 'Whether my play is a success or not, Mr. Brenon, I shall play that part for you.'
In another five minutes, I decided to do it all over again, and the next morning, with a pretty heavy heart, but with as cheerful a face as I could dig up, I went to the studio, and, bless their hearts, my staff all set to with me again and in an hour we were in full swing again.
That week Miss Lohr opened in London in Nurse Benson and Mr. Lang in The Purple Mask, and both were great successes. In a few days, they were both down at the studio, and although not paid one penny, they gave their hearts and souls to their work. The cast was now practically complete, with a lot of big names. I have never had so fine a company in my life. I do not think I ever shall again.
Marie Löhr and her husband continued to manage the Globe Theatre until 1927 and she directed and often starred in many productions, including The Voice from the Minaret (1919) and Sardou's Fedora (1920). In 1921, she took these two plays on a tour of Canada, before presenting them in New York.
|Marie Lohr (left) and Edith Evans (right) with C Aubrey Smith in Caroline (1926)|
|Click photo to enlarge|
After her return to London, she continued to play the leading roles in musicals, comedy, drama, revues and even pantomime. Her major appearances included Lady Ware in Pleydell's The Ware Case (1924) - in which she and Sir Gerald du Maurier shared the lead - and Isabella Trench in W. Somerste Maughan's Caroline (1926), which also starred Edith Evans and C Aubrey Smith. In 1927, she gave up the management of the Globe Theatre and the following year was divorced from her husband.
Throughout the thirties, she starred in a string of commercial successes, including Somerset Maugham's The Breadwinner (1930) with a cast that included Jack Hawkins and Peggy Ashcroft; Dodie Smith's Call it a Day (1935) which ran for over a year; and Crest of the Wave (1937) in which she and the author, Ivor Novello, took the principal roles.
It was also during the 1930s that her film career really began. Specializing in dowager lady roles, she was to make nearly fifty films between 1932 and 1968. Among the parts she played were Mrs Higgins in Pygmalion (1938); Lady Britomat in Major Barbara (1941); Princess Scherbatsky in Anna Karenina (1948); and Grace Winslow in The Winslow Boy (1948). Her last film was The Great Catherine (1960).
She was absent from the London stage during the Second World War, but returned to play lead roles in a wide range of major productions that included Madame Desmortes in Christopher Fry's version of Ring Round the Moon (1950); Hester Bellboys in John Whiting's A Penny for a Song (1951); Lady Mortlake in John Osborne's The World of Paul Slickey (1959); and May Davenport in Noel Coward's Waiting in the Wings (1960), with Sybil Thorndike and Lewis Casson. Her final performance was as Mrs Whitefield in a revival of Bernard Shaw's Man and Superman (1966).
It was perhaps fitting that her 72-year career ended as it had taken off - in a play by Bernard Shaw.
| Centre page of the program
for A Penny for a Song (1951)
| Cast list from program
for Man and Superman (1966)
|Click photo to enlarge|
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