EMMA JANVIER as born Emma Pohlamus Spicer in New York around 1875 to a very prominent New York family. Her father was John Worthington Spicer. Her mother, of Mohawk Indian descent, was Nellie Francis Mansfield. The 1880 Census show the family living at 620 Lexington Avenue in New York City. John Spicer was a "white goods merchant". There were four older children then living at home, William, 21; Mary, 20; Edith, 14; and Nellie, 11 years of age.
Her father disowned her when she became a chorus girl, saying she disgraced the family. The Spicers were a prominent merchant family in New York City and in the Navy and militia of New York in the post-Revolutionary War years. She borrowed her stage name from an uncle, Thomas A. Janvier (1849-1913), the author of several books, both fiction and non-fiction and who wrote columns occasionally for some New York newspapers. Her aunt, Margaret Thomson Janvier (1844-1913), she wrote many books for children under the pen name Margaret Vandergrift.
Emma Pohlamus Spicer studied opera under a teacher known as Agremonto, whose identity apparently has been lost to history. She studied at the New York Conservatory of Music. Emma Spicer had started with the intent of singing in her Episcopal church choir, but ended up being a chorus girl in "Lost, Strayed or Stolen". Her next show was a small part in "The Moth and the Flame", and then the next bit part was "the Telephone Girl". She also appeared in "Papa Gou-Gou" in 1899. In 1901 she made her Broadway debut with "All on Account of Eliza". Also making his Broadway debut that night was William F. Carroll, popularly known as "Irish Billy" Carroll.
The next year she went on tour "Lovers' Lane," and followed that with a long engagement in "The Ninety and Nine." In December of 1904 Emma Janvier returned to Broadway, appearing in "Glad of It" which ran for a month at the Savoy, and then three subsequent roles in "Harriet's Honeymoon", "Vivian's Papas ", and "A Country Mouse."
In December of 1905 Emma Janvier appeared in a role that put her among Broadway's leading comediennes of the day, as as Madame Stitch in "The Mayor of Tokio". "The Mayor of Tokio" played all over the country to large crowds, and the overture was recorded by Vess Ossman, playing banjo for Columbia Records. There was even a popular candy-bar called "Sa-Yo" with the picture of a Japanese maid on the wrapper. She followed that up with another triumph "The Spring Chicken" which ran from October 1906 through April of 1907. This was followed by another huge success, in George M. Cohan's "50 Miles From Boston", from whence came the famous song "Harrigan". Early recording-star Billy Murray made the song a standard. Murray's 1907 1907 recording of "Harrigan" was the best-selling song in the country by September of that year.
After "50 Miles From Boston" closed she went to Chicago for a long engagement in "The Top o' The World". After returning to New York, she appeared on Broadway in Florenz Zeigfield's "Miss Innocence" opposite Anna Held. 1909 brought her a role in "The Silver Star", which wrapped up in February of 1910.
Emma Janvier married David Bryce Torrence in 1898, but the two eventually divorced. David Bryce Torrence was a Scottish stage actor. Both he and his brother, Ernest Torrence, would head west to Hollywood and make their marks in both silent and talking pictures. David and Emma were living at 620 West 116th Street in April of 1910, according to Census records.
Shortly thereafter Emma Janvier met and married Mortimer Fuller Smith, of Lynn, Massachusetts. His family's business, the Boston Woven Hose and Rubber Company, had one of the early patents on vulcanizing fire hoses, and was quite well known at the time. Emma and Mortimer Smith moved to Connecticut. Leaving the stage behind her, Emma gave birth to identical twins, John Spicer Smith and Joseph Mortimer Smith in 1911. The twins appeared vaudeville on several occasions, including some bits with W.C. Fields, who was a close friend of hers. A few years later, another son, Newhall Smith was born, sadly he died when he was 16 of encephalitis.
Emma and Mortimer divorced on June 27, 1918 in Connecticut. Emma remained in Connecticut. By September of 1918, when he registered for the draft, Mortimer Smith had taken up residence in New York City, where he worked for the Red Cross. He died during World War I, of mustard gas. The 1920 Census shows Emma (Janvier) Smith and her children at 19 Stevens Street in Danbury, Connecticut.
1921 saw Emma Janvier in another Broadway production, "Two Little Girls in Blue" and 1922 she returned again in "Molly Darling". In 1923 she created her final role, as Princess Vronski Mameluke Pasha Tubbs in the Broadway version of Poppy, which starred W.C. Fields.
Emma Janvier died during the production of Poppy, which was the first stage play at the Apollo Theater. Her gravestone was paid for by the cast of Poppy. The family story is that W.C. Fields would not have gotten the part in the play, because he wasn't considered suitable for stage. She intervened on his behalf and insisted. He was hired, and then went on to recreate that role in a full length motion picture. As Emma Janvier never appeared in movies, seeing Catherine Doucet in her role in the film version of Poppy is probably as close as one can come on video to one of Emma Janvier's roles.
"The Actors Birthday Book"
Two Little Girls
Two Little Girls in Blue premiered on May 3, 1921 at the George M. Cohan's Theater. The show enjoyed moderate success but closed after 135 performances on August 27 of the same year. The show is set aboard a ship at sea, the S.S. Empress, all three acts take place aboard ship. The cast included Madeline Fairbanks (1900 - 1989), her twin sister Marion (1900 - 1973), Emma Janvier and Frederic Santly (1887 - 1953).
"Dolly" is a duet between two characters, "Bobby" and "Jerry" played by Oscar Shaw and Fred Santly. and is a wonderfully melodic and gay (happy, carefree) song. The verse begins with a lovely slow ballad that sets the stage for a beautiful refrain that is more upbeat. This song is a great example of Broadway music at its best. It has a great deal of expressiveness and even a bit of drama. An interesting side note to this is that the co-lyricist, "Arthur Francis" was actually Ira Gershwin. One has to wonder why he resorted to use of a pseudonym? In many cases, such actions were taken to avoid contract conflicts, perhaps that was his reason.
to this "Blue" song. (Scorch
format) **** Listen
to MIDI version
from The Music of Old Broadway
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