Wednesday, January 26, 2011


I try to realize the hardships and the taken-for-granted daily doings of Life Upon the Stage---the rehearsals and the dodgy, dusty backstage bustle, the boardinghouse take-it-as-you-find-it meals and accommodations in the days of Saturday-night baths and no running water, and when in the opinion of much of the populace, the persons who strutted and fretted for their living were No Better Than They Should Be and not worthy of the consideration of Good Folks, anyway.

Four weeks here and six there; Run of Play, if you were lucky, and a checkerboard of Hamlet here and musical reviews there, punctuating the nights, and days of fitful, musty sleep as the travel of the sun danced the dust-motes into different angles in the borrowed-for-a-day room.

Just the dressing rooms and the flare of the smoky lamps around a hazy mirror, with a wardrobe long-hung and seldom cleaned, as well as the constant proximity of all the other players---what a calling it must have been, to know you had a talent for acting or song or dance, and this was what you had to endure to ply it.

Madame Scheller’s singing voice was a celebrated one, and her proficiency in both English and German dialogue was famous in the traveling theatrical circles, as well. I wonder---did they take a train from city to city, hoping for a rest on those velvety seats, in all weathers and when opening the windows to escape the heat left them open to the flying cinders, glowing or cold, which blew back from the smokestacks.

Or a coach, with its rattly sway and wooden seats, with unchosen, sometimes unsavory stops for rest and refreshment before swinging back up into that rolling crackerbox for more of the same. The perilous travels in some parts of the country were also to be considered, and I wonder if an artist of her stature perhaps had her own conveyance; I like to imagine she did, with neat trunks for her wardrobe, and nice padded seats, good insulation from the elements, a capable driver, and a little extra space for her ladies’ maid. I pray she was granted that much.
What I really wanted to find, romantic that I am, was that she swept into great cities aboard her own railroad car, awash in furs and diamonds, dining with the elite and champagne-toasted nightly.

In a letter, J. Guido Methua praises the versatility of his wife, German-American actress Marie Methua-Scheller. He refers to her “tremendous triumph as Desdemona” in Edwin Booth’s production of Othello, in which she spoke her lines in German to Othello and in English to Iago and the company. Inspired by the success of this production, Booth produced several more polyglot Shakespeare productions in which he appeared with stars from both the German and Italian stage. Folger

Her Ophelia opposite Edwin Booth’s Hamlet drew rave reviews, and her place in the German theater circuits was immediate and enduring. The routes took her to Minnesota and Nevada, and quite a few other states, as well as a great swing through Chicago, where her shows were sold out and well-reviewed.

Sifting through the numerous facts and mentions of her name grew into a several-days’ endeavor; there were newspapers and books and little self-published tomes by theater owners and managers and playwrights whose typos and arrangements of letters and words were so ill-arranged that scrolling down the page was like being bombarded by moths. Just enduring the scribbles until the two-hundredth page yielded a mere paragraph praising her work
in a long-obsolete musical farce, in order to draw praise to the farce itself---the sheer volume of those kept me cross-eyed for days. In the deep midnights as I sat, blanket-wrapped, needing bed and unable to resist just the next little blurb and the next, my approaching flu rendered the quest of such import that my cold hands just could NOT let go of the mouse, and my eyes were glued to each tiny glimpse like some manic gamer gritting on, holding out, just to get to that next level.

But the gleam of that pure nugget, when amongst the scatter of mis-matched letters the name Madame Marie Methua Scheller would shine out like the el Dorado in a miner’s pan---those midnight headaches were well worth the price. I learned of her triumphs and her travels, her talents praised and her admirers ardent. I learned a lot about this talented, dedicated woman, whose work and reputation still endure, and whose loss to the theater world and to her friends and admirers was unimaginably great, and I can understand why she would inspire such loyal following and ardent fans.

The devoted friendship of one such fellow Thespian---noted playwright, actor, and author in his own right, went far above and beyond the usual---his name was Milton Nobles, and of him----much moire non.
He deserves equal billing, for sheer kindness alone.


Beverly said...

Rachel, have I told you lately that I adore you. Your heart is pure gold.

Madame Marie Methua Scheller's star is shining brighter in the heavens, and it is all because of you.

racheld said...

OH, Beverly!! It's been such a roller-coaster this week, and it's been like finding (and losing) a friend.

Thank you for reading and for caring about such an obscure, strange subject---people we'd never heard of, and who've come to mean something.

Kim Shook said...

This is just so fascinating, Rachel. And told so well!

Kat said...

What fun to learn some history...thanks to your sleuthing. Fascinating.