British dancer and actress Mabel Love (1874 - 1953) with her blue eyes and golden hair, curling and hanging loose over her shoulders, was one of the great stage beauties of her age. Her international career spanned the late Victorian era and Edwardian period. In 1917 she also starred in a silent film. A year later she retired.
British postcard by J. Beagles & Co., London, no. 8010.
Disappearance of a Burlesque Actress
Mabel Love was born Mabel Watson in Folkstone, England, in 1874. She was the second of three daughters of Lewis Grant Watson, a wine agent, and his wife, the actress Kate Watson. Her grandfather was the popular entertainer and ventiloquist William Edward Love. Mabel made her stage debut at the age of twelve at the Prince of Wales Theatre. At Christmas 1886, she played here the Rose in the first stage adaptation of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. In 1887, she played Roxalana, one of the triplet children in Masks and Faces at the Opera Comique. Later that year, she appeared in the Christmas pantomime at Covent Garden. Still only 14, she enjoyed widespread popularity in George Edwardes' Burlesque Company at the Gaiety Theatre playing the dancing role of Totchen, the vivandière (camp follower) in Faust Up To Date (1888-1889). In March 1889, under the headline "Disappearance of a Burlesque Actress", The Star newspaper reported that Love had disappeared. Three days later, she was discovered in Dublin and brought back to her parents. Presumably, the pressure of being in the public eye had become too much for the 14-year-old star. Later that year she was saved at the Thames Embankment, after trying to commit suicide. Don Gillan at Stage beauty: "She was removed to the St. Giles Infirmary and later brought before the Bow Street Police Court where she was charged with attempting to commit suicide (it being a criminal offence in those days). She was released into the custody of her mother on the condition that she be taken from London to rest and recuperate. Thankfully this unhappy period soon proved to have been only a temporary blip in her life however, which was never repeated." Ironically, this publicity served merely to increase the public’s interest in her. The men-about-town flocked to watch her performances. And lots and lots of postcards were produced of her.
British postcard in the Rotary Photographic series, no. 209 O. Photo: R.W. Thomas.
British postcard by Millar & Lang, Glasgow/London, the National Series. Sent by mail in Great Britain in 1906. Photo: R. W. Thomas.
Beautiful Mabel Love had countless admirers. Many men found her irresistible. According to Sydney Higgins at The Golden Age of British Theatre, she was a great favourite of Edward, the Prince of Wales, and it is possible that he provided her with a London house. Even Winston Churchill wrote to her in 1894, asking for a signed photograph. Over the following 25 years, she starred in a series of burlesques, pantomimes and musical comedies. Among her successes were her roles as Francoise in La Cigale (1890) at the Lyric Theatre, which ran for fourteen months, and as Pepita in Ivan Caryll’s Little Christopher Columbus (1893), which ran for 279 performances at the Lyric. Later, she appeared at the Folies Bergères (1895) in Paris and in Man and Superman (1912) on Broadway. She appeared opposite many of the top leading men of the day, including Lewis Waller and Herbert Beerbohm Tree. In 1917 she played the lead in the silent film In Another Girl's Shoes (1917, Alexander Butler, G.B. Samuelson). It was a romance about parents, who assume that a girl with amnesia is married to their soldier son (Lion Belcher). A year later, Love retired from the stage, and in 1926, she opened a dancing school in London. Although an accomplished actress and singer, it was as a dancer that she had excelled. Her only return to the stage was in 1938, as Mary Goss in Profit and Loss at the Embassy Theatre. After this, she went to live in a hotel in Weybridge, Surrey. There she resided with her close friend Vesta Tilley (who was famous as a male impersonator) for the next 15 years until her death. In 1953, Mabel Love died at Weybridge at the age of 78. Her daughter Mary Loraine was also a stage actress. She later became a secret agent. Operating behind enemy lines for the SOE (Special Operations Executive), she was captured and tortured by the Gestapo. She survived the war but for the remainder of her life would suffer mental health problems. She was unaware of how well her mother had provided for her, having inherited £2,600 in government bonds that turned out to be worth a fortune. Mary died in 1973 of a house fire at her Brighton home in apparent poverty. The bonds had remained untouched despite Mary being, at the time of her death, about to be evicted for owing £55 in rent.
British postcard by Rotary Photo e.c., no. 4337. Photo: Foulsham & Manfield.
British postcard by Ettlingers Photocolour Series, the Royal Series, no. 4559-7. Photo: Johnston & Hoffmann.
Sources: Don Gillan (Stage Beauty), Sydney Higgins (The Golden Age of British Theatre), Wikipedia and IMDb.