Thursday, January 28, 2016

Huntress 3: Harry goes coastal, creates a bungalow

Harry's innovative bungalow today, more than a century after its reincarnation.

This is the third of several posts about Chariton's Harry Hemphill, a star of the vaudeville stage who performed from 1894 until 1916-17 as "Huntress," musician, dancer and female impersonator extraordinaire. When the last post ended, Harry, now 32, had just given a triumphant benefit performance in cooperation with another Chariton-based vaudeville act, the Martins, at the Armory during June of 1908, then joined his troupe in Alton, Illinois, for a new season. The photo at left was taken during 1907, when he was at the mid-point of his dancing career.


By 1909, Harry was well established on the vaudeville circuits of both the upper Midwest and the West Coast and during March of that year, after concluding the winter season in Minneapolis, he departed for San Francisco to begin a 40-week tour of the Pacific states.

He returned to Chariton during early December with, according to the Patriot, several new acts and a fine new wardrobe. By this time, the dashing young man in a dress had begun to go bald --- not noticeable on stage of course because elaborate wigs also were elements of his costumes --- and had acquired a small dog that accompanied him.

"What's the use of Doc Anderson bragging about his dog costing $100?" the Herald-Patriot asked. "Harry Hemphill has a little pet dog with him this trip, not as big as one lung of Doc Anderson's dog, and it cost $125."

Harry also was booked at the Temple Theatre for a five-day run that concluded on Christmas day, 1910, his first official booking in a Chariton theater. Although the south-side Temple was Chariton's newest and largest vaudeville venue, its stage still was not large enough to contain all the elements of his act, but he was able to improvise. Here's how The Leader's Henry Gittinger --- who could be a trifle cranky about someone so exotic as Harry --- promoted the performance:

Imagine if you can a man --- a bald-headed one at that --- transforming himself in full view of the audience from a genuine representative of the male sex into a French soubrette or a typical Gibson girl. That is what will happen 5 days next week, commencing Tuesday, Dec. 21st, at the Temple Theatre when Huntress, the celebrated impersonator and male drapery dancer, will appear on the local vaudeville stage for the first time in this city. It will be especially interesting to the feminine part of the public to see how this man looks when transformed as if by magic into a true representative of their sex and it must be said if the advance reports that have preceded him are to be relied upon that so clever is the deception that few if any women, if they did not see the process of transformation, would know the difference. In his manner, walk and voice, Huntress gives all the attributes of one of the gentler sex and the effect is startling in the extreme. In connection with these impersonations, which include that of Anna Held and Edna May, Huntress presents his drapery and fire dances and the color and lighting effects are marvelous creations of the electrical and scenic art. The act carries a wealth of gorgeous scenery. The price for the five days will be 10 and 15 cents.

The Herald-Patriot's promotional story was more ornate --- the Herald-Patriot staff had known him since the 1890s and had attended several of his performances in Chariton and elsewhere --- and noted that Harry's act is "the most pretentious ever seen here in the history of Temple vaudeville" and that "he carries plush draperies and two full settings of the most gorgeous and beautiful scenery."

After his impersonations, The Herald-Patriot reported, "the velvet draperies are drawn away on a beautiful dragon setting in the full stage, and after a very quick change Huntress appears in his dance, "La Revene des Sorciere," or the dream of the witch, which is done in a sort of Salome costume, but it is not the Salome dance, but done with huge draperies extended on long bamboo poles, and an abundance of electrical effects are used to illuminate the dancer while he manipulates the draperies. The dancer alights and a large globe is rolled in and on this he does his dance. Georgeous electrical effects follow the dancer as he rolls over the stage on the globe manipulating the huge white draperies which hang in graceful billows from his shoulders. This dance is called "L'esprit du Nord," or the Spirit of the North. These dances are on the order of the fire dances, made famous by La Loie Fuller and the far famed Papinta and the entire act is gorgeous in the extreme.

Harry's act had been brought to Chariton by the Temple Theatre management, The Herald-Patriot reported, "at a big expense." According to follow-up reports, the investment paid off --- crowds at the Temple were the largest of the year.


1909 also was the year Harry's mother, Elizabeth, finally decided to divorce her husband and Harry's father, William H. Hemphill, citing desertion as the cause. Their relationship had broken down several years earlier and by early in the new 20th century, he had moved on first to Creston, then to Las Vegas, New Mexico.

Elizabeth was living in the cottage at 1219 West Braden Avenue, two and a half blocks west of the square, that Harry had purchased for her during 1898.


During early January, 1910, Harry departed for Minneapolis to rejoin his company and continued an upper Midwest tour, including Chicago, for much of the year. During late 1910, he returned to the Pacific Coast for another season, not making it home to Chariton again until May of 1911 --- with plans to spend the summer.

His major project during the summer of 1911 was a total renovation of the family cottage on West Braden Avenue, which also was the only permanent home Harry had during those years spent on the road.

That project had been completed by July and on the 11th of that month, The Herald-Patriot published the following "review" of his innovative renovation:


For years Harry Hemphill, Chariton's talented young impersonator, whose stage name is "Huntress," has been gathering ideas in house building as he traveled from one end of the country to the other, and this summer, while he is home with his mother on a well earned vacation, he gave vent to all his pent-up ideas by having her cottage west of the square rebuilt in true bungalow style.

To those who knew the house before, the transformation is simply wonderful. A low sloping roof in front, with a sleeping porch and pergola, is the only hint of the interior beauties. The parlor is as pretty and artistic a room as there is in all Chariton. Finished with panel work of Harry's own designing, and with comfortable looking lounging seats that by a twist of the wrist can be transformed into downy beds, which in turn can disappear into the walls and re-appear on the other side as the front of a roomy dresser --- these are some of the wonders that Harry has worked in the little cottage.

A dainty corner for his new baby grand piano, a massive oak chandelier, a china closet of original design, a neat little bath room with handy arrangements for running water from a cistern nearby --- these and many other new ideas in bungalow building are some of the things that Harry has worked into his mother's house. It only shows what can be done when one has a taste for pretty things and is not afraid to break away from the old conventions.

Coming next: Harry's Egyptian phase

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