The Disappearing Lady

Cassie was Louise's grandaughter and therefore my grandmother's older cousin by some nineteen years. I don't know how much she knew about her but she was alive for much of my grandmother's life and died just after I was born. My grandmother knew that there were relatives out there. She used to scan the 'Looking For...' column in a weekly newspaper and my Aunty Hannah apparently contacted someone and arranged a meeting but got cold feet at the last minute and didn't follow it through; if she had met any of the missing cousins, I would have liked it to have been Cassie.

I have already talked a little about her early life and how she began appearing in various productions such as pantomimes and revues as she moved into her teens. Her big break as far as I can tell, was in the Oscar Barratt Cinderella of 1893. She was again in pantomime in 1894; this time in Santa Claus, wih her costume designed by Wilhelm. This is the caption which appears with the drawing in the Victoria and Albert:

Costume design by Wilhelm (Charles William Pitcher, 1858-1925) for Miss Cassie Bruce as Holly and Miss A Drayton as Mistletoe in the pantomime Santa Claus as performed at the Royal Lyceum Theatre on 27th December 1894, Wilhelm Pantomime Designs.

The designer Wilhelm (William Charles Pitcher RI, 1858-1925) was one of the most inventive and prolific late 19th century costume designers, whose early passion for stage spectacle led to his employment designing pantomime costumes for Drury Lane Theatre. His attention to detail and his ability to create visually stunning and decorative costumes appealed to producers and public alike and led to a constant stream of work.

A review from The Era of February 1895 says, 'Miss Cassie Bruce and Miss A. Drayton realise their parts agreeably,' and a footnote to the costume design picture adds

Costume design by Wilhelm (Charles William Pitcher, 1858-1925) for Miss Cassie Bruce as Holly and Miss A. Drayton as Mistletoe probably in 'Snowland', scene 4 of the Epilogue in Horace Lennard's pantomime Santa Claus produced by Oscar Barrett, Royal Lyceum Theatre, 27th December 1894, Wilhelm Pantomime Designs.

While Cassie was establishing herself throughout 1894 and 95 (she also appeared at the Garrick Theatre), her step-uncle - her grandmother Louise's youngest son from her second marriage, Edward Serle Elton is working with one of the most famous magicians of the time at The Egyptian Hall - John Neville Maskelyne. He appears in sketches, providing both musical accompaniment and as an actor in the short plays which acted as vehicles for the Maskelynes' tricks and illusions. Up until 1896 he reguarly appeared in Egyptian Hall sketches with an actress called Olive Elton (pictured below from a series entitled Footlights Favourites 1894-95). I presume that she was related to Edward but having researched carefully, I think that she is in fact, Edward's wife, Eva Jane Churchward whom he married in 1885. I think she acted under the name of Olive Elton and this is further borne out by the fact that their first daughter was named Eva Olive - her mother's real name and her stage name combined?

Olive's appearances with the Maskelynes fade after being at their peak around 1895 and her roles are gradually taken over by Cassire Louise. This seems logical if Olive had decided she wanted to spend more time at home and there was someone slightly younger who was happy to step into her shoes. 

In any case, Cassie started to appear with the Maskelynes around 1896 and by 1898 she is regularly established. The Morning Post for December 1897 describes her appearance in the Egyptian Hall Christmas Holiday Spectacular. She is in two shows a day, taking place at 3 and 8 pm precisely and appears in the 'miraculous illusions of Trapped by Magic.' Her co-stars are Mel B. Spurr and David Devant, two of the most famous names in Victorian variety theatre. Earlier in the year, according to newspaper reports (including one in The Times), Cassie leapt out of a huge cardboard pie in Japanese costume and executed 'a pretty little oriental dance.'

If 1898 had been busy, then 1899 seems to have been even more so beginning with the Easter entertainments of that year; from April, Cassie's name appears regularly as the female star on the bill. Not only that, she had obviously become relatively famous outside The World of The Egyptian Hall and The London Standard highlights her as appearing as one of the artistes at a concert given in front of 600 people in aid of The Sunbeam Fund which was set up by members of the firm of WH Smith, designed 'to give poor children a day in the country during the summer months.' As the year progressed, she played a variety of parts in the Maskelyne's shows including those of Gretchen which was reviewed in The Times, Dolly in 'Will, The Witch and the Watchman' and even 'The Oracle' in another short piece.

On February 22nd 1899, The Sketch newspaper carried an article with the headline:

The Wonders of The Egyptian HalI. It concentrated Cassie's career until that point, just after her twenty third birthday, having become established as the leading lady of the Maskelyne shows.It begins by telling readers how she opened the latest show by delivering Sing a Song of Sixpence after leaping out of the famous pie. It goes on to praise her singing voice and tells a little story about how her first singing tutor said she had no vocal ability to speak of, however,  Cassie had evidently proved him or her wrong In a quite spectacular fashion

At the same time as she was playing all these parts, she was growing closer to the Maskelyne family. At the height of her fame, she is listed in the Census of 1901 as  a 'visitor' at their home: Spring Cottage at Chapel Row in Bucklebury. There have been a number of noteworthy residents living in the village according to records, include Kate Middleton so I hope her family duly appreciates their proximity to my cousin and the illustrious Maskelynes!

The significance behind Cassie's stay as a visitor becomes quite evident in the light of what happened a few years later. In the theatrical gossip columns of 1906 appears a sweet little story entitled 'Wizard's Wedding.' 'Mr. Maskelyne to Marry the Disappearing Lady.'

This afternoon at the Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone, will be celebrated the weding of Mr. E.A. Maskelyne, younger son of Mr. Maskelyne the famous magician and Miss Cassie Bruce, the lady that has been connected with the Maskelynes for many years at the old 'Home of Mystery,' The Egyptian Hall. Mr. Maskelyne and Miss Bruce first met each other when they were about six years old at a Christmas pantomime and Mr. Maskelyne said to our representative, 'I did not meet her after that for some time. I was busy studying Chemistry at Kings' College for five years, but,  a year or two ago, I left it to take up my position at the hall as business manager. There I met Cassie. We fell in love with one another and I must admit that it is with some regret that during the show, I had to make her disappear. A strange thing will take place at the wedding; after the ceremony, we shall vanish and next day re-appear in Paris where we shall spend our honeymoon. One more thing; we have been engaged for five years and I consider long engagements are the best.'

from the Evening Telegraph, 27th June 1906.

And so, on the same day that this story appeared, Cassie and Archie were married. The register is signed by both fathers as witnesses. John Nevil Maskelyne, illusionist and Henry John Bruce, Custodian. Archie was living at 91 Hallam St and Cassie at 20 Upper Tollington Park with her aunt, Katharine (known as Kathleen Bruce), and it is here that the young couple lived when they returned from honeymoon.

Here is an account of the wedding on from the Era of June 30th 1906,

The marriage of Mr E A Maskelyne and Miss Cassie Bruce was celebrated at Holy Trinity Church, Marylebone on Wednesday afternoon, the reception being afterwards held at St. George's Hall. The brid, who was given away by her uncle, Mr. Elton, looked very pretty in a simple white silk dress with lace insertion trimmed with orange blossom and white heather (her national flower), and a wreath of the same, her only ornament being an amethyst necklace and pendant, the gift of her aunt, Miss Kathleen Bruce and she carried a shower bouquet of white roses and lilies. The two bridesmaids, Miss Maud Bruce and Miss Olive Elton, (sister and cousin of the bride), wore pale pink dresses, painted chiffon picture hats of the same delicate tint and carried bouquets of pink and white flowers. The bridegroom presented them each with a gold chain and pendant composed of pearls and amethysts, the latter being the bride's birthstone.

A large number of guests were received at St. George's Hall by Mr. and Mrs. J N Maskelyne. Lunch was served on the stage, charmingly decorated with garlands of flowers, sparkling with electric lights, the tables being festooned with garlands of smilax. Mr. David Devant proposed the health of the bride and groom in a most amusing speech, including the titles of the various sketches in which Miss Cassie Bruce has appeared since she joined the company. Later in the afternoon, after the wedding party had been photographed

 

The couple stayed at Upper Tollington Park for the duration of their marriage and continued to act with the Maskelynes when thay moved to their new premises at St. George's Hall in Langham Place. In 1909, for example, she is listed as having played Hecate in one of their productions. 

 

 

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Bob Davenport | Reply 18.01.2017 08.17

I've cited you as a source in my own blog post on Cassie Bruce at https://studiedmonuments.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/e-a-and-cassie-maskelyne-magic-couple/

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18.01 | 08:17

I've cited you as a source in my own blog post on Cassie Bruce at https://studiedmonuments.wordpress.com/2017/01/17/e-a-and-cassie-maskelyne-magic-couple/

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Hi Jean,
How lovely to see your comment. He was obviously a man of immense talent, Best, Susanne

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