Monday, March 25, 2013

Performing Arts History: Helen Redmond (Part Two)

Redmond 2ACelebrities always seem to have some kooky thing happening to them, and Helen Redmond’s best story was a doozy. There’s nothing funny about someone being stalked, and there’s nothing new about it either. Helen’s adventure describes something funny that happened because of a stalker, one who so resembled Redmond physically that she was often referred to as Helen’s double. The woman became obsessed with Redmond and even followed her performances on tour.

When The Ameer was performed in New York, Helen’s double booked a room in the same place where Redmond was staying. She sat in the front row for each show, and apparently began to believe that she was actually Helen Redmond. This behavior had long been of great annoyance and concern to Helen, but it now escalated to the point where the woman showed up at rehearsal as the show’s star, demanding that she be allowed to sing (her voice bore no resemblance to that of the prima donna’s).

The woman’s family consulted with authorities and a doctor, together concluding that placement in an asylum was the best option. To avoid alerting her to the plan, and since she now believed she was Redmond, they booked a carriage for transportation to the theater. Actually, the vehicle would be operated by personnel from the asylum, where she would be taken for treatment.

The carriage, appearing much the same as Redmond’s own, pulled up at the hotel. But at just that inopportune moment, Helen herself stepped from the building, uttering the single word “Theater” to the driver as she quickly climbed in―and discovered she wasn’t alone. Accustomed to riding solo, Redmond demanded identification from the carriage’s other occupant. “I’m the manager of the Ameer company,” he said. In reality, he was the asylum superintendent.

The New York Morning Telegram described what happened next: “Concluding him a stage-door Johnny who had slipped into her carriage in some way, Miss Redmond promptly determined to rid herself of his presence. Being an unusually robust and athletic young woman, she opened the door, intending to push him out with one fell shove. The superintendent, thinking his companion was demented and trying to escape, grabbed her. A tussle ensued, and before the contest was concluded, the sanitarium was reached.”

Ignoring Helen’s comments and protests, the asylum staff attempted to quiet her, but when she finally broke into song and beautifully rendered the show’s lyrics, they were shaken. The superintendent accompanied her back to the theater, where everyone was in a tizzy, wondering what could have happened to the show’s star. Everyone except her double, that is, who was having a ball until the real Helen arrived. The imposter was hauled away, and everything soon returned to normal.

It wasn’t Helen’s only brush with “celebrity news” items. About a month later, in January 1900, Redmond missed a performance, but according to her press agent, it was for good reason. Helen’s unusual daily regimen of icy cold baths in a very cold room had nearly done her in. Normally, she turned the warm water on after a lengthy soak, but the baths gradually became longer and longer, and on this occasion, it appeared that hypothermia (not yet a recognized clinical condition) had overtaken her.

Redmond 2BWhile soaking, she wasn’t thinking clearly, delaying the decision to turn on the hot water. When she finally tried, the water line had frozen. An attempt to climb out of the water failed, and when she was finally discovered, ice was said to have been forming on the tub and the bathroom walls. A doctor was called, and Helen soon recovered, but he refused to let her take the stage that night.

One skeptical reporter supposed it might have been a story concocted by the press agent, but there were two strong arguments against that proposal. One―Helen Redmond was a daily headliner, hardly in need of more publicity, and Two―the cold-bath scenario sounded normal for a person who regularly harnessed and walked her pet turtles.

In 1901, a headline story noted that the barbaric practice of tattooing was suddenly the “in” thing. Offered as evidence: none other than actress Helen Redmond had recently obtained one in San Francisco. She was also involved in a public contract squabble regarding her box-office worth. [It seems the show-biz headline stories of today are much like those generated a century ago.]

Redmond’s life was that of a star, playing Broadway and touring the country for five years in the role of prima donna, but she hadn’t forgotten her family. In 1900, Helen’s mother, three brothers, a sister, and a nephew shared a Manhattan address with her. All were employed except for mom (age 64 and retired) and the nephew, who was in school. It was a far cry from 20 years earlier, when the single mother of seven toiled as a hotel servant and cook in upstate Vermont.

Clinging to her roots, and to escape the constant limelight and media attention, Helen occasionally visited Port Henry, sometimes spending entire summers there, accompanied by her mother.

In 1900, the hit British musical Florodora came across the pond to Broadway, where it enjoyed even greater success. Among the players, and eventually a star of the show, was Helen Redmond in the role of Dolores. In the audience for virtually every performance was a Philadelphia physician, Dr. Frederick Kalteyer, who was smitten after watching Helen act and hearing her sing. The two became very good friends. Their relationship was later described by the New York Times as “one of the most romantic courtships of the stage.”

During her prima-donna role in a Philadelphia performance of The Silver Slipper, Helen fainted. “Is there a doctor in the house?” went out the common cry, and it was Dr. Kalteyer who responded from the audience. After tending to her in the dressing room, he proposed marriage. She turned him down, but Kalteyer stayed the course, and in early 1904, after a lengthy romance, they were finally wed.

Helen’s part in Florodora was considered by many as her greatest role. When she performed before an admiring crowd in 1902, one reviewer wrote, “Helen Redmond was just in her element as Dolores, and in her solo in the second act, she gave the finest interpretation of the song Boston has ever heard, receiving several recalls.” Her talents were no doubt compelling. In late 1903, emerging from a Broadway performance, Redmond was greeted by a brand new car, courtesy of a secret admirer. She requested that the chauffeur return it to its owner.

There were no signs that her brilliant stardom would fade anytime soon. Helen was still at the height of popularity when she married, enjoying great reviews for her lead role in Winsome Winnie. It was rumored she would soon be elevated to the status of stage superstar. But within weeks of her marriage to Dr. Kalteyer came the announcement that Redmond was retiring.

Redmond 3CIt was stunning, to say the least, but it was true, and Helen’s name was soon absent from the headlines. Finally, in 1907, after more than three years away from singing and acting, she attempted a comeback, appearing in several shows. But did she still have it after sitting idle all that time?

The critics certainly thought so. Variety: “She was given a warm welcome. She still sings sweetly and her beauty is retained.” Billboard: “She sang a number of solos and made a hit.” The Salt Lake Tribune:  “She is a great beauty and one of the most popular women who has ever sung in musical productions.”

Redmond continued to tour the country as a prima donna through the end of 1909, when she suddenly called it quits again, retiring at the age of 31. She and her 36-year-old husband were attended in their Philadelphia home by two servants (a maid and a cook), the very same jobs her mother had held when Helen was an infant. In 1910, Helen’s age in the census was given as 27, five years lower than the truth. Perhaps it was vanity, or maybe just a clerical error.

Early in 1914, the young retiree became ill enough to require hospitalization. Ten days later, on Friday, February 13, pneumonia ended the life of Helen Redmond, a big-city star with North Country roots.

By some odd coincidence, the newest show launched at the time of her death was The Return of Helen Redmond. Despite the title, the show was unrelated to Helen or her career, but it’s a good bet that with such a great sense of humor familiar to so many, she would have laughed at the irony.

Photos: Helen Redmond (1898); Advertisement (1900); Advertisement (1902)

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Lawrence Gooley, of Clinton County, is an award-winning author who has hiked, bushwhacked, climbed, bicycled, explored, and canoed in the Adirondack Mountains for 45 years. With a lifetime love of research, writing, and history, he has authored 22 books and more than 200 articles on the region's past, and in 2009 organized the North Country Authors in the Plattsburgh area.

His book Oliver’s War: An Adirondack Rebel Battles the Rockefeller Fortune won the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Book of Nonfiction in 2008. Another title, Terror in the Adirondacks: The True Story of Serial Killer Robert F. Garrow, was a regional best-seller for four years running.

With his partner, Jill Jones, Gooley founded Bloated Toe Enterprises in 2004, which has published 83 titles to date. They also offer editing/proofreading services, web design, and a range of PowerPoint presentations based on Gooley's books.

Bloated Toe’s unusual business model was featured in Publishers Weekly in April 2011. The company also operates an online store to support the work of other regional folks. The North Country Store features more than 100 book titles and 60 CDs and DVDs, along with a variety of other area products.

4 Responses

  1. Andrea says:

    A doozy, indeed! Thank goodness the stalker wasn’t much of a singer. Seems truth really is stranger than fiction. 😉

    Thank you for the great read!

  2. Tim Hubbard says:

    Lawrence-You have done it again! What a great part 2 of this amazing woman’s journey. This stalker tale is just good drama. Thank you again from one “in the business” for bringing to light someone I should have known about a long time ago. Well worth the read. Hope our paths cross sometime! And, thanks for the heads up on “Paper Girl” – as you saw, I ordered 4 copies for my family. They have arrived and I am through it like a flash! Very fun to read.

  3. Larry says:

    Andrea and Tim,
    Thanks again to both of you for the nice comments. It was time-consuming work (but fun as well) finding bits of her story here and there and putting it all together. Helen is one of those long-forgotten folks who should be featured in a local museum display. Maybe someday!

  4. […] Performing Arts History: Westport’s Helen Redmond […]

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