The news that Mary Ellis has died — featured in every major newspaper Jan. 31 — is a reminder of the glamorous days of 1920's and 1930's musicals, when she was a leading lady in New York and then London.
Ellis, born in 1897 (though she later claimed it was 1900), sang solo roles at the New York Met towards the end of the First World War (1918), appearing on stage with legendary figures like Caruso and Chaliapin.
Despite this early success in opera, she left the Met for life as an actress, appearing in The Merchant of Venice, among others, on Broadway. She changed directions again to star in Rose Marie in 1924 — one of the biggest musicals of the 1920's — before returning to "straight" plays.
Arriving in London to star in Eugene O'Neill's Strange Interlude, she was then persuaded, by the impresario C.B. Cochran, to star in Jerome Kern's Music in the Air. She was spotted by Ivor Novello, for whom he wrote two of his most successful Drury Lane musicals, Glamorous Night (1935) and The Dancing Years, as well as a flop, Arc de Triomphe (1943).
After Novello's early death in 1951, Noël Coward snapped her up for After The Ball (1954), a musical version of Wilde's Lady Windemere's Fan. This was a disaster, not least because Ellis' voice was no longer what it had been, and the chemistry between her and Coward was less than magical during rehearsals. She never sang on stage again. Although she lived for nearly half a century more, and won rave reviews as the callous wife in Rattigan's The Browning Version (1948), she will always be remembered as one of the most glamorous leading ladies of the musical stage in the inter-war years, and with her death an era really has ended.