02 April 2015

Phyllis Dare

English singer and actress Phyllis Dare (1890-1975) was famous for her performances in Edwardian musical comedy and other musical theatre in the first half of the 20th century. She appeared occasionally in films and was one of the leading Picture Postcard beauties of the Belle Epoque.

Phyllis Dare
British postcard in the Valentine's Series. Photo: Foulsham & Banfield.

Madge Lessing
British postcard by H. Vertigen & Co., London, Series no. 6204. In the centre: Madge Lessing. From left under with the clock: Gabrielle Ray, Phyllis Dare, Adrienne Augarde and again Phyllis Dare.

Phyllis Dare
British postcard by Tuck's in the Silverette series, no. P 318.

Leading Picture Postcard Beauties

Phyllis Dare was born Phyllis Constance Haddie Dones in Chelsea, London, in 1890. Her father, Arthur Albert Dones, was a divorce clerk, and her mother was Harriette Amelia Wheeler. Dare was the youngest of three children. Her sister, Zena, three and a half years her senior, also became a well-known musical comedy actress. They had a brother named Jack.

Phyllis first performed on stage at the age of nine, in the Christmas pantomime Babes in the Wood (1899) at the Coronet Theatre in London. Her sister Zena was also cast in this production, and they both adopted the surname of Dare. Both soon became leading Picture Postcard Beauties at the turn of last century.

Phyllis appeared as Little Christina in Ib and Little Christina (1900) at the Prince of Wales's Theatre. She played Mab in the Seymour Hicks musical Bluebell in Fairyland (1901), featuring Hicks himself as Dicky and his actress wife Ellaline Terris as Bluebell.

At the age of 15, she took over the starring role of Angela in The Catch of the Season (1905). She travelled to a convent in the Belgian Ardennes to continue her studies. A rumour circulated that her sudden departure was a result of a pregnancy. In any event, she returned to London with her father in haste in 1906. On short notice she had to take over the title role of Julia Chaldicott, in Leslie Stuart's The Belle of Mayfair when American star Edna May left the cast. Just 16 years old, the role established her as a major performer in London.

In 1909, Dare created the role of Eileen Cavanagh in the hit musical The Arcadians, which played for 809 performances, and Dare stayed for the entire run. The musical marked the beginning of Dare's association with producer George Edwardes, and she went on to star in several more of his productions in the next three years, including The Girl in the Train (1910), Peggy (1911), The Quaker Girl in Paris (1911) and The Sunshine Girl (1912–13). In 1913 she joined the cast of The Dancing Mistress.

Occasionally, she appeared in films. During the 1910s, she starred in the Hepworth production The Argentine Tango and Other Dances (1913) and Dr. Wake's Patient (Fred Paul, 1916). In the first, she danced two drawing-room dances with George Grossmith: the Bunny Hug and the Spanish Tango.

Dare began to develop a relationship with the composer Paul Rubens. He had written the music for The Sunshine Girl, and they became acquainted. He would write the music for her next series of shows, including The Girl from Utah at the Adelphi (1913), Miss Hook of Holland (1914) and Tina (1915). He also dedicated his most famous song, ‘I Love the Moon’ to her. During the run of Tina, Dare became engaged to Rubens. Their engagement ended when Rubens became very ill with consumption. He died in 1917 at the age of 41.

Phyllis, Jack and Zena Dare
Phyllis, Jack and Zena Dare. British postcard by Rotary Photo, no. 4494 E. Photo: Foulsham & Banfield.

Phyllis Dare
British postcard by Rotary Photo in the Rotary Photographic Series, no. 1948 T. Photo: Foulsham & Banfield.

Phyllis Dare
British postcard by Rotary Photo in the Rotary Photographic Series, no. 1875 J. Photo: Bassano. Sent by mail in 1913.

Phyllis Dare
British postcard by Davidson Bros. in the Glossyphoto Series, no. 1261.

Phyllis Dare
British postcard by Davidson Bros. in the Glossyphoto series, no. 1391. Sent by mail in 1908.

Moving with the time

Phyllis Dare continued to star in successful stage productions throughout the 1920s, such as in The Lady of the Rose (1922) and The Street Singer (1924). As fashions changed, she moved with the time.

Later at nearly 40, Dare turned to straight theatre plays. These included Aren't We All (1929), Words and Music (1932) and The Fugitives (1936).

She also appeared in a number of films, including the American drama The Common Law (George Archainbaud, 1923), the classic British crime film Crime on the Hill (Bernard Vorhaus, 1933), the drama Debt of Honour (Norman Walker, 1936) starring Leslie Banks, the drama Marigold (Thomas Bentley, 1938) and the comedy Gildersleeve on Broadway (Gordon Douglas, 1943).

In 1940, for the first time in over four decades, Phyllis and Zena Dare shared the stage, in a tour of Ivor Novello’s Full House. In 1941–42, she was Juliet Maddock in Other People's Houses, and in 1946 she played the Marchioness of Mereston in Lady Frederick.

In 1949, Dare opened as Marta the mistress in Ivor Novello's musical, King's Rhapsody, again with her sister Zena. Nearly eighteen months later Novello died while the play was still running, and at the end of seven more months, in October 1951, it closed. It was Dare's last theatrical endeavour.

At the age of 61, she retired to Brighton in 1951. In 1975, Phyllis Dare died in Brighton at the age of 84. Her sister Zena had died only six weeks earlier.

Phyllis Dare
British postcard by in the Philco Series, no. 3178 B.

Phyllis Dare, The Belle of Mayfair
British postcard by Rotary, no. 4168 I. Photo: Foulsham & Banfield. Publicity still for the stage play The Belle of Mayfair (1906).

Phyllis Dare
British postcard by Davidson Bros. in the Real Photographic Series, no. 1667.

Phyllis Dare
British postcard by Rotary, no. 4369 G. Photo: publicity still for the stage pantomime Cinderella (1907).

Phyllis Dare
British postcard by Rotary Photo in the Rotary Photographic Series, no. 4077 N. Photo: Foulsham & Banfield.

Sources: Alan Courtney (Stage Beauty), Thomas Staedeli (Cyranos), National Portrait Gallery, Wikipedia and IMDb.

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