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Cigarette card for the week ending
Saturday, 14 February 2004

May Yohé (1869-1938)
American singer and dancer

May Yohé

May Yohé

Our cigarette card this week is a colour lithograph example published by John Player & Sons Ltd of the Castle Tobacco Factory, Nottingham, England. The subject is captioned, 'May Yohé in "Little Christopher Columbus."' The reverse bears the legend, 'Miss May Yohé (Lady Pelham-Clinton-Hope) who comes from America, gained distinction by her clever interpretation of what are known as Coon songs. Her musical abilities and sprightliness made her a welcome acquisition to the English stage.' The card was published shortly after Miss Yohé's marriage on 27 November 1894 to Lord Henry Francis Hope Pelham-Clinton-Hope (who succeeded his brother as 8th Duke of Newcastle in 1928), from whom she was divorced in 1902. She was later married in succession to Putnam B. Strong and John Smuts.

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May Yohé


May Yohé

(Lithograph after a photograph by Alfred Ellis, London, 1893/94)

Both the above illustrations show May Yohé in the costume she wore for 'Oh, Honey, My Honey,' the popular plantation song written for her by Ivan Caryll, with words by George R. Sims, for her appearance in Little Christopher Columbus. This production, called a burlesque opera, opened at the Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London, on 10 October 1893.

'That same year, 1893,' Eva Moore wrote thirty years later, 'I played [Pepita] in Little Christopher Columbus. Teddie Lonnen was the comedian. May Yohe played "Christopher", and played it very well too; I impersonated her, in the action of the play. We had to change clothes, for reasons which were part of the plot. She was not an easy person to work with, and she certainly - at that time, at all events - did not like me. This play was the only one in which I ever rehearsed "foxey" - that is, did not put in the business I was going to play eventually. The reason was this: as I gradually "built up" the part, putting in bits of "business" during the rehearsals, I used to find the next morning that they were "cut": "That line is 'out', Miss Moore," or "Perhaps you'd better not do that, Miss Moore." So "Miss Moore" simply walked through the rehearsals to the horror of the producer. I used to go home and rehearse there. But on the first night I "let myself go", and put into the part all I had rehearsed at home. The producer was less unhappy about me after that first night! However, it still went on after we had produced. Almost every night the stage manager would come to my room: "Miss Moore, a message for you - would you run across the stage less noisily, you shake the theatre"; would I stand further "up stage"; or would I do this, or that, or the other. Oh! May Yohe, you really were rather trying in those days…'
(Eva Moore, Exits and Entrances, Chapman & Hall Ltd, London, 1923, pp.36 and 37)

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'The lady I have worried the most in connection with this book of interviews, and to whom, in consequence, I owe the greatest number of apologies, is the olive-complexioned, hazel-eyed, neat-figured, uncommon-voiced beauty who, in the character of a gipsy, stole away my heart on the first night of The Magic Opal a the Lyric [Shaftesbury Avenue, London] on Thursday, January 19th, 1893; at which time, at which house, and in which piece, Miss May Yohé made her bow to an admiring British Public. Miss May Yohé, when I caught her at last in a disengaged moment, was not merely civil, but absolutely polite to me. I thought at first there must be something behind this politeness - probably a knife or a revolver - but such advertisement, alas! was not to be mine, for I soon saw that "Little Christopher's" sweetness was as unadulterated with rash intention as wine at railway bars is innocent of the intrusion of the grape.
'"I'm afraid I've worried you very considerably, Miss Yohé."
'"I'm afraid I can't say you haven't, Mr. Call Boy," she archly replied. "But I'll forgive you if you'll just interview me express speed now. I can't keep the stage waiting for you, you know. As the Call Boy, I'm sure you'll sympathise with me in that."
'"I think I could sympathise with you in everything, Miss Yohé! But that is not to the point. This is: Who was the trainer of your extraordinary voice?"
'"The owner, Mr. Call Boy."
'"You surprise me!"
'"I've surprised a good many - but it's a fact, anyway. I trained it to run on its own course - and very limited one it is, too. The music of Little Christopher Columbus had to be specially written to suit me - crammed, so to speak, into my voice's shrunken circumference. At one time - you'll just sit up to hear it - I possessed a soprano voice, but on my way home to America, from Dresden, where I was educated, it broke just like that ---"
'"A bit of Dresden china?"
'"No: like a boy's voice."
'"I see; unlike a bit of china, it broke before it dropped… Well, Miss Yohé, I don't think you have anything to complain of in the direction of your voice. I'm sure the public have not - and I'm sure you don't need telling that! Do you know, Miss Yohé, that yours is the sort of voice that goes right to the heart?"
'"Is it? Well, perhaps that is because it comes straight from it - at least, from the chest, which is somewhere in the same neighbourhood. There's not a head note in my composition."
'"You made your first appearance on the stage in your own country, did you not?"
'"Yes, in farcical comedy. My next engagement was as the Princess in Alfred Thompson's version of The Arabian Nights, produced at the Chicago Opera House. The season's programme included also The City Directory, Natural Gas, and Prince Prittiwitz ---"
'"In all of which you were a big success?"
'"You can put that down if you like. I'm sure it can't do any harm, and I don't think it's altogether untrue. After my Chicago engagement I toured in Australia, and returned home - having had a good time - and played in the successful Hoss and Hoss.
'"In which, I hope, you saw a good deal of the 'oof' of the 'osses, Miss Yohé?"
'"I don't know about that, but we used to see a good deal of the 'oof' of the cowboys when we were playing to them in a wild neighbourhood in Montana. When they're satisfied with the show there, they do something more than applaud - they pelt you with money."
'"How beastly!" And what do they do when they're not satisfied with the show?"
'"Can't say," was the significant reply. "But I can tell you this - that time's up, and you must 'bid me good-bye and go.'"
'And I bade her good-bye and got [sic].'
('On and Off.' Thirty-five Actresses Interviewed by 'The Call Boy', Judy's Annual for 1894, London, 1893, p.44)

May Yohé

May Yohé

(photo: Alfred Ellis, London, 1893/94, negative no.14827-8)

Man'zelle Nitouche, a musical comedy by Henri Heilhac and Albert Millaud, first produced at the Paris Variétés, 26 January 1883. It was first seen in London with May Yohé in the leading role at the Trafalgar Square Theatre on Saturday, 6 May 1893, and was revived, again with Miss Yohé, at the Court Theatre, London, on 1 June 1896.

'Nitouche, otherwise Denise de Flavigny, was designed for [Anna] Judic, and in due time fell into the expressive hands of Lotta [Charlotte Crabtree]. Nine years ago the quaint little American appeared [in London] as the demure convent girl at the Opera Comique. Her famous back-kick - modified by Mr. [Charles] Wyndham when he played old comedy "in a modern spirit" - had something to do with her success in the part, which demands incongruity, variety, and an inexhaustible fund of "go." On the whole, however, she was not so well equipped as Nitouche the Third, Miss Yohe. This very vivacious actress at once leapt into favour in the part. Her tireless spirits, her rich fresh voice, the feverish energy of her electrical style at once challenged attention, compelled amusement and extorted admiration. Unmitigated silliness is the characteristic of the piece - a jumble of exaggerated conventualism flanked by distorted Bohemianism - but the actress is equal to gracing the petty and obscuring the inane. Combining in herself the chic of Miss Kate Munroe, the cheery dash of Miss [Nellie] Farren, and the polished methods of Mdme. Selina Dolaro, Miss May Yohe is an important acquisition to the London stage, and for bringing her thus prominently forward the clumsy stupidities of "Nitouche" must be excused.'
(The Theatre, London, Thursday, 1 June 1893, pp.335 and 336)

'If one can forget that there ever was a [Hortense] Schneider and [an Anna] Judic, we may then enjoy Man'zelle Nitouche. To be sure one of the old school, who has seen that charming piece played as it was written, and interpreted as the author intended it to be, cannot forget those Queens of Comic Opera, nor can he quite forgive Miss May Yohe and Mr. [Louis] MacKinder, who make ducks and drakes of Mam'zelle and Celestin. But coming to the play in absolute ignorance of its origin, as many of our alleged critics have, one may find a great fund of enjoyment. Miss Yohe cannot sing the music of the part, but she can interpolate songs which show off her peculiar ground-floor voice, while Mr. MacKinder gives us an idea of how [the comic] Arthur Roberts might interpret the part.'
(The Mascot, London, Saturday, 27 June 1896, p.10a)

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© John Culme, 2004