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November 27, 2021

May de Sousa: Edwardian Beauty With a Tragic Life

Born 1884 in Chicago, Illinois, American singer and Broadway actress May de Sousa came to fame in 1898 as the singer of “Dear Midnight of Love”, a ballad by Bathhouse John Coughlin. She attracted such attention that at end of her first full season in 1901, whilst still only a teenager, she was engaged by Frank L. Perley as one of the principals for his touring company for the musical comedy The Chaperons. With thirty four speaking and singing roles and a chorus of sixty it was said to be the largest musical organization so far seen in America.

In April 1904, May was engaged to replace Bessie Wynne in the role of ‘Sir Dashemoff Daily’ in The Wizard of Oz and in September of that year followed that same actress in Babes in Toyland. By now she was an established success and much in demand.

May went to London after all as a star in her own right, and first appeared on the London Stage as ‘Cinderella’ at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane. Other London successes followed, including Castles in Spain, The Geisha and The Girls of Gottenberg.

Now she was a major star on both sides of the Atlantic and it seemed she had the World at her feet. Personal tragedy struck on January 31, 1910 however, when her mother was discovered dead in a gas filled room. It was not determined whether the tragedy had been a suicide or the result of an unfortunate accident. Continuing her career on both sides of the Atlantic, she was in France shortly before the outbreak of the Great War and escaped the German invasion by the margin of only a few weeks. De Sousa played the role of a model Juliette in the 1911 play of “The Count of Luxembourg” at Daly’s Theatre in London. In 1913, De Sousa declared bankruptcy.

De Sousa retired in 1918, and eventually moved to Shanghai. In 1943, following a seven-month imprisonment as a civilian internee under the Japanese in Chapei Civil Assembly Center, in Shanghai, China, she returned to the United States on the Gripsholm and took a job in Chicago as a scrubwoman in the public-school system. Her years of internment had taken their toll on her health however, and soon she was forced to quit working because she was too weak to continue. Without means to support herself, her condition worsened through malnutrition and she died, penniless and alone, a charity case in the county hospital on 8 August 1948.

Once the toast of Europe and America, whose voice had thrilled royalty and the nobility as well as countless masses, she died alone and unloved, unable even to feed herself. Her body lay unclaimed in the morgue and was interred in a paupers grave, at age 66.

Take a look at these vintage photos to see the beauty of a young May de Sousa in the early 20th century.

1 comment:

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