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"Our Gracie - Gracie Fields
The show "Our Gracie" - The Life and Songs Of Gracie Fields' has been really great to do (although, as usual, I have found learning the songs and script a hard task - but as it's one I set myself - I have only myself to blame!!) and has had many wonderful comments and reviews. Whilst touring the show I have been privileged to meet many fascinating people associated with Gracie and thought you might like to know a little about them....
Joan's latest book, released March 07, is called "Tin Hats and Gas Masks" - a story set around the war years - and is published by Hale of London. I've got it from my local library and am enjoying it enormously. It is well worth reading.
....John and Anne Taylor who are mentioned in every Gracie biography and who appear regularly on television and are listened to on radio. They keep Gracie's memory alive by relating their time spent with her. John began his life-long friendship with Gracie as a fan but it became a role reversal when Gracie began to rely upon him more and more. He spent hours answering her fan mail - she even taught him to forge her signature!
He and his wife Anne were often invited to Gracie's home in Capri 'Canzore del Mare' (Song of the Sea) whereas anyone else would be put up at the nearby hotel 'Regina Cristina'. As there was only one main bedroom, John and Anne slept in Gracie's private sitting room on two loungers. John would also 'ferry' across to Capri anything Gracie requested including every new record release. The following is a letter Gracie wrote to him after his return from one such trip to Capri where he had taken over all her latest records. He had had trouble with his hip whilst he was there but was fine after treatment.
John says he didn't know if Gracie would take to Anne - he met Gracie whilst he was single and she had warned him that if she didn't like Anne she would most certainly tell him! - Gracie invited them over for their honeymoon so she could 'check her out' and took to Anne straight away! John says he was relieved when Anne and Gracie got on "like a house on fire" and remembers their first conversation. They talked about how to cook a goodly portion of 'liver and onions' and then how to get rid of relatives who overstayed their welcome! They all remained great friends until Gracie's death and even now John and Anne make a twice-yearly pilgrimage to Capri to look after Gracie's Grave.
....Bill Hanks, who is the author of the book "The Sweetest Song In The World" about Harry Parr Davies 'A short story of the life & achievements of Neath born composer, lyricist & musician' (www.newsongsforold.co.uk) This wonderful pictorial biography tells the story of Gracie's favourite pianist who got the job by walking into the theatre where Gracie was performing at the time and declaring himself to be be 'the best'. "Alright", said Gracie, "Prove it!" - and he did!
Harry, a Welshman, was a great composer and wrote songs for many artistes including Anne Ziegler and Webster Booth, George Formby, Richard Tauber, Arthur Askey, Jeanette MacDonald and, of course, Gracie. His songs included "The Sweetest Song In The World", "Wish Me Luck", "Dear Miss Phoebe", "Sing As We Go" and "Pedro The Fisherman" (for Richard Tauber). Harry wrote the musical scores for many wonderful shows including "The Lisbon Story". He died in 1955 aged forty one.
....Florence Merton, who, at the age of three entered a new world when
she taken into GRACIE FIELDS HOME & ORPHANAGE.
Florence does remember her home in London and a small table where her father's things were kept. She says that amongst other things "There was a silver top black cane and a cloak with the monograms RHO - Richard Henry Oliver, his Christian names". (he chose his middle Christian name as his stage name). On the day he died, 26th June 1935, he was on his way to begin a lucrative contract on a Radio Show at the BBc. He was 43.
After losing her husband, Florence's Mother was left penniless (The Artiste Benevolent Fund paid for Henry's Funeral) and caring for two young children. Florence's brother, 9, could cope being at school during the day whilst their Mum was at work (seven days a week, also taking in work at home) but what to do with little Florence. Lottie Albert, secretary of The Theatrical Ladies Guild, had the answer.
When Florence arrived at the Orphanage in 1935, it had been open only two years and there were few children there at the time. She was well cared for and remembers her time there with fondness apart from the times Matron made her stand with a basin on her head for leaving food on her plate (she hated marrow and as marrow was often on the menu - she resigned herself to the basin - to this day she cannot stand marrow!).
'Auntie' Gracie visited as often as possible as did Gracie's sisters Berry and Edith. They would play, talk and sing to the children for hours. (You may remember that Gracie at one time had cancer and had to have a hysterectomy, leaving her unable to have children of her own, so she doted on these children). Florence says that sometimes they were invited to 'The Haven' - Gracie's house in Telscombe, nr. Brighton, for a holiday. This was a great treat eagerly looked forward to as the children would have a wonderful time there.
Florence remembers Betty taking the children, three at a time, up to the beautiful bathroom where she would bathe the children in the huge bath in Gracie's bathroom which "looked like a palace with it's elegant green and cream tiles" and then Betty and Gracie would sing them to sleep. Florence remembers there was always alot of singing and says "'Little Sir Echo' was always sung when Margaret, another girl there and I were pushed by Gracie on the garden swing". In fact the 'swing' held such happy memories for Florence that she tried to buy it in 1984 (Thursday 26th April) when she attended the pre-view of the auction of Gracie's house contents but it wasn't there!
After four years, with the war fast approaching, Florence's Mother, who was becoming self-sufficient, wanted Florence back home but there was a problem. Someone from America wanted to adopt her and they had great difficulty persuading 'Auntie' Lottie (Lottie Albert) to let her go!
Eventually, returning home Florence found herself with a new father - A step-dad Monty - who, she says was the best father anybody could have wished for.
A big thank you too to all the kind folk who have written
It keeps her memory alive.
Some of Gracies songs featured in the show include:
Sally - Sing As We Go - The Biggest Aspidistra In The World - When Our
Dreams Grow Old -
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