Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A Sutherland Pin-up Girl; or, Anne Sutherland, part I

In 1937 Winning Pendergast wrote of her distant Sutherland cousins, actors, describing “Edward, Anne and Josie” as “charming stage folk, whom Eliza knew in Boston.” It is a tantalizing line. But it wasn’t Boston they resided in; born for the most part in Washington, D.C., the siblings were raised in Chicago, Illinois. It was there they first took to the stage, later joining touring companies, appearing in New York, etc. While Winning recalls them as “charming”—and they may have been—in reality they were also remarkably scandalous, and perhaps “colorful” would have been a more appropriate appellation. One only has to recall Theodore Dreiser’s Sister Carrie (1900) to understand just what attitudes were towards the profession and its practitioners, both deemed morally suspect at best—more so the women. (That the novel is set in Chicago is even more fitting in this instance.) The great-grand nieces and nephews of Thomas Sutherland (1772-1850) were anything but conventional.

Thus brother Edward A. W. Sutherland (1872-1931) might have been amused or mortified to be remembered as an actor, depending on his perspective. In reality, he wasn’t a performer, but a mechanical engineer. That honor went to his brother, James L. Sutherland (1870-1904), a baritone whose wife (Georgia Ione Dewey) was also on the stage. Sister Josie Sutherland (1868-1897) was a secondary but noted player, often touring in operas and comedies, and generally described as very good, though in 1891 The Galveston News opined “Miss Josie Sutherland, the soubrette, dances fairly well, but her singing is nothing extra.” Nevertheless, she was of sufficient import that the Sunday Globe, of St. Paul, Illinois, informed its readers in 1884 that “Josie Sutherland and Will H. Mayo were married as long ago as Nov. 6 at Trinity Church, Chicago, Ill.” Likewise, The New York Clipper Annual would later report: “Josie Sutherland divorced from Will H. Mayo, Chicago on May 8, 1892.” Of course, tracing Josie Sutherland and Will Mayo in the records is complicated by the fact that both used stage names. Josie was baptized “Frances Josephine” and Will H. Mayo was really William H. Austin—or at least that’s the name he used for the wedding ceremony.

Ultimately, James and Josie had short careers; as the Chicago Tribune noted in 1893, it “was in error in the announcement that Miss Josie Sutherland, the soubrette, had recovered sufficiently to renter the theatrical profession, It is probable ill-health will keep her in Chicago at least three months longer.” She died four years later. James, who was at the time stage manager of The Wizard of Oz company, died from appendicitis in 1904 at the age of thirty-three, leaving behind a daughter, Margaret Mary.

By comparison, their sister Anne Bland Sutherland (1866-1942), known as “Annie Sutherland” for the duration of her time on stage—despite her three marriages, four if you count the fellow who repeated—had a longer and far more interesting career. A contralto, Anne began singing in the choir of the Church of the Messiah, making her professional debut as Little Buttercup in the Chicago Church Choir Pinafore Company’s juvenile production of H.M.S. Pinafore at Haverley’s Theatre in 1881. By that time, the Haverley juvenile company was an institution, though of uneven quality. Shortly before she joined, The Canadian Monthly Magazine had written of the production:

“The success attending the visit of Haverley’s Juvenile Pinafore Company was attributable rather to the ‘infant phenomenon’ craze by which astute managers like Mr. Haverley know so large a part of the public to be possessed, than to much intrinsic merit in the performance itself. The singing, especially in the choruses, was often shrill and hopelessly out of tune, while in some cases, especially in that of the Josephine (Annie Walker), it was rather pitiable than enjoyable to witness the unsuccessful attempts of the child to render music entirely beyond the compass of her voice.”

Presumably Anne was a superior performer to poor Miss Walker. Indeed, the shape of her career suggests as much. A later commentator would note of Anne that “Her professional experience has covered all lines of work, and she is a hard working and thorough actress and a general favorite.” The Chicago Tribune remembered her kindly: “Miss Sutherland had appeared with many of the greatest stars of her generation.” Her profession took her to England and the Savoy Hotel, London, as well, and led her to appear in at least seven movies between 1915 and 1931 with such wonderful titles as A Woman’s Resurrection (1915), My Sin (1931) with Tallulah Bankhead, and It Happened in Paris (1932). (My Sin can be purchased online—though there’s no way I can phrase that without sounding somewhat salacious, I tried.)

The plays and people Anne was associated with are now long forgotten, but it is clear that she had considerable cachet. In part we can determine this by the degree to which events in her life were reported on in the public press. Her marriage to the well-known comedian/dancer Richard Field Carroll in New York in 1886 appeared in print, as did their subsequent marital woes. Namely, in March of 1891, a headline appeared in the Philadelphia Record: “Anne Sutherland Wants to be Freed from Her Husband.” Identifying Isabella Urquhart (also an actress) as co-respondent, the press reported “The serenity of the first two years of Mrs. Carroll’s married life was dissipated by the discovery that her husband was finding more solace in the company of another woman.” Even the New York Times found the suit worthy of note.

Their divorce was covered in newspapers, as was their later remarriage that same year, and the inevitable second parting of ways shortly thereafter. Another spouse followed, and then a third, Charles H. Harding, a commercial traveler for a cotton mill (shades of Sister Carrie again). By 1920 they were over, as that year Anne identified herself as single and by her maiden name in the census, heading a household that included her mother, a sister (Margaret, another actress, also possibly divorced), and a niece. 1930 found her alone, describing herself as a widow—perhaps because her former husband Richard F. Carroll was now deceased.

Anne Bland Sutherland died after a long illness at the age of 75, in the Pilgrim State Hospital, Brentwood, New York. Her daughter Anne Carroll—who died quite young—was not mentioned in any of the obituaries printed, nor were her husbands, movies, career as a pin-up girl (more on that in part II), or even surviving family members. Instead she was eulogized in the theatre’s most respectful terms, as a “veteran trouper.”

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