Emma Janvier

From the Sheet Music
"Perfectly Terrible"

EMMA JANVIER as born Emma Pohlamus Spicer in New York around 1875  to a very prominent New York family. Her father was John Worthington Spicer. Her mother, of Mohawk Indian descent, was Nellie Francis Mansfield. The 1880 Census show the family living at 620 Lexington Avenue in New York City. John Spicer was a "white goods merchant". There were four older children then living at home, William, 21; Mary, 20; Edith, 14; and Nellie, 11 years of age. 

Her father disowned her when she became a chorus girl, saying she disgraced the family. The Spicers were a prominent merchant family in New York City and in the Navy and militia of New York in the post-Revolutionary War years.  She borrowed her stage name from an uncle, Thomas A. Janvier (1849-1913), the author of several books, both fiction and non-fiction and who wrote columns occasionally for some New York newspapers. Her aunt, Margaret Thomson Janvier (1844-1913), she wrote many books for children under the pen name Margaret Vandergrift.  

Emma Pohlamus Spicer studied opera under a teacher known as Agremonto, whose identity  apparently has been lost to history. She studied at the New York Conservatory of Music. Emma Spicer had started with the intent of singing in her  Episcopal church choir, but ended up being a chorus girl in "Lost, Strayed or Stolen".  Her next show was a small part in "The Moth and the Flame", and then the next bit part was "the Telephone Girl". She also appeared in "Papa Gou-Gou" in 1899. In 1901 she made her Broadway debut with "All on Account of Eliza". Also making his Broadway debut that night was William F. Carroll, popularly known as "Irish Billy" Carroll.

Broadway Productions Dates of Production
All on Account of Eliza  [Original, Play, Comedy]
Performer: Emma Janvier
Sep 3, 1900 - Mar 1901
Glad of It  [Original, Play, Drama]
Performer: Emma Janvier
Dec 28, 1903 - Jan 1904
The Mayor of Tokio  [Original, Musical, Farce, Operetta]
Performer: Emma Janvier [Madame Stitch]
Dec 4, 1905 - Jan 13, 1906
The Spring Chicken  [Original, Musical]  
Performer: Emma Janvier [Mrs. Girdle]
Music by Ivan Caryll (1861-1921) and Lionel Monckton (1861-1924)
Lyrics by Adrian Ross, Percy Greenbank and George Grossmith, J
Computer Generated Midi Opera Version
Oct 8, 1906 - Apr 20, 1907
Fifty Miles from Boston  [Original, Play, Play with music]
Starring: Emma Janvier [Mrs. Tilford]
Feb 3, 1908 - Mar 8, 1908
Miss Innocence  [Original, Musical, Extravaganza]
Starring: Emma Janvier [Miss Sniffins];
Starring: Emma Janvier [Mme. Pompignac]
Nov 30, 1908 - May 1, 1909
The Silver Star  [Original, Musical]
Performer: Emma Janvier [Mrs. Vera Willing]
Nov 1, 1909 - Feb 1910
Some Baby!  [Original, Play]
Performer: Emma Janvier
Aug 12, 1915 - Oct 1915
The Amber Empress  [Original, Musical, Comedy, Opera]
Performer: Emma Janvier [Mrs. Harriet Scott]
Sep 19, 1916 - Sep 30, 1916
Go to It  [Original, Play]
Performer: Emma Janvier
Oct 24, 1916 - Nov 1916
Two Little Girls in Blue  [Original, Musical, Comedy]
Performer: Emma Janvier [Hariette Neville]
May 3, 1921 - Aug 27, 1921
Molly Darling  [Original, Musical, Comedy]
Performer: Emma Janvier [Mrs. Redwing]
Sep 1, 1922 - Nov 25, 1922
Poppy  [Original, Musical, Comedy]
Performer: Emma Janvier [Princess Vronski Mameluke Pasha Tubbs]
Sep 3, 1923 - Jun 28, 1924

The next year she went on tour "Lovers' Lane," and followed that with a long engagement in "The Ninety and Nine." In December of 1904 Emma Janvier returned to Broadway, appearing in "Glad of It" which ran for a month at the Savoy, and then three subsequent roles in "Harriet's Honeymoon", "Vivian's Papas ", and "A Country Mouse."

In December of 1905 Emma Janvier appeared in a role that put her among Broadway's leading comediennes of the day, as as Madame Stitch in "The Mayor of Tokio". "The Mayor of Tokio" played all over the country to large crowds, and the overture was recorded by Vess Ossman, playing banjo for Columbia Records. There was even a popular candy-bar called "Sa-Yo" with the picture of a Japanese maid on the wrapper. She followed that up with another triumph "The Spring Chicken" which ran from October 1906 through April of 1907. This was followed by another huge success, in George M. Cohan's "50 Miles From Boston", from whence came the famous song "Harrigan". Early recording-star Billy Murray made the song a standard. Murray's 1907 1907 recording of "Harrigan" was the best-selling song in the country by September of that year.

After "50 Miles From Boston" closed she went to Chicago for a long engagement in "The Top o' The World". After returning to New York, she appeared on Broadway in Florenz Zeigfield's "Miss Innocence" opposite Anna Held. 1909 brought her a role in "The Silver Star", which wrapped up in February of 1910.

Emma Janvier married David Bryce Torrence in 1898, but the two eventually divorced.  David Bryce Torrence was a Scottish stage actor. Both he and his brother, Ernest Torrence, would head west to Hollywood and make their marks in both silent and talking pictures. David and Emma were living at 620 West 116th Street in April of 1910, according to Census records. 

Shortly thereafter Emma Janvier met and married Mortimer Fuller Smith, of Lynn, Massachusetts. His family's business, the Boston Woven Hose and Rubber Company, had one of the early patents on vulcanizing fire hoses, and was quite well known at the time. Emma and Mortimer Smith moved to Connecticut. Leaving the stage behind her, Emma gave birth to identical twins, John Spicer Smith and  Joseph Mortimer Smith in 1911. The twins appeared vaudeville on several occasions, including some bits with W.C. Fields, who was a close friend of hers. A few years later, another son, Newhall Smith was born, sadly he died when he was 16 of encephalitis. 

Emma Janvier returned to Broadway in the summer of 1915 in Some Baby!, and worked in two productions in the fall of 1915 on the Great White Way, "The Amber Empress" and "Go to It."

Emma and Mortimer divorced on June 27, 1918 in Connecticut. Emma remained in Connecticut. By September of 1918, when he registered for the draft, Mortimer Smith had taken up residence in New York City, where he worked for the Red Cross. He died during World War I, of mustard gas. The 1920 Census shows Emma (Janvier) Smith and her children at 19 Stevens Street in Danbury, Connecticut.

1921 saw Emma Janvier in another Broadway production, "Two Little Girls in Blue" and 1922 she returned again in "Molly Darling". In 1923 she created her final role, as Princess Vronski Mameluke Pasha Tubbs in the Broadway version of Poppy, which starred W.C. Fields

Emma Janvier died during the production of Poppy, which was the first stage play at the Apollo Theater.  Her gravestone was paid for by the cast of Poppy.  The family story is that W.C. Fields would not have gotten the part in the play, because he wasn't considered suitable for stage.  She intervened on his behalf and insisted.  He was hired, and then went on to recreate that role in a full length motion picture. As Emma Janvier never appeared in movies, seeing Catherine Doucet in her role in the film version of Poppy is probably as close as one can come on video to one of Emma Janvier's roles.

From "The Actors Birthday Book"

A DESERVEDLY popular comedienne, one whose fame and reputation increases with successive seasons, Emma Janvier now occupies a proud professional position as a feminine fun-maker, such as very few of her sex can boast. For sheer artistry and subtle comedy touches, she is nothing short of a wonder, injecting rare characterization into each of her varied roles, and without stooping to any coarse or low comedy methods, she can strike a telling note with an effectiveness that brings an immediate response from her audience.

Though her fame is of comparatively recent date, she is by no means a novice in stage circles, she is not one of the " flash-in-the-pan " variety, those who have their brief triumph and then sink into oblivion.

Miss Janvier's early stage days were passed playing small rôles in such productions as "Lost, Strayed or Stolen", "Papa Gou-Gou," with Thomas Q. Seabrooke 

in 1899 at the Casino, and with Herbert Kelcey and Effie Shannon in "The Moth and the Flame." It was the season of 1900-01 that really saw the turning-point in Miss Janvier's career, she appearing that season as the gossiping villager, Susie Lennon, in "All on Account of Eliza." with Louis Mann and Clara Lipman. The next year she appeared on tour as the schoolmistress, Molly Mealey, in "Lovers' Lane," after which she spent a season in "The Ninety and Nine." The two years following this Miss Janvier filled four very congenial engagements, divided equally between "Glad of It." at the Savoy, and with Mary Mannering in "Harriet's Honeymoon" and with Blanche Ring in "Vivian's Papas " and Edna Wallace Hopper in "A Country Mouse." Then came Miss Janvier's sweeping triumph as Madame Stitch in "The Mayor of Tokio," supporting Richard Carle, she being at once conceded a leading place among our principal comediennes, displaying exceptional originality in her conception of this rôle. She remained with Mr. Carle a second season, creating Mrs. Girdle in "The Spring Chicken" and all of her previous success was again to the fore.

The season of 1907-08. Miss Janvier originated the role of Mrs. Tilford in "50 Miles From Boston." and her happy knack of making a faithful portraiture of a gossiping busybody was clearly illustrated, bringing to the part all the clever, brainy touches for which the name of Emma Janvier has now become a synonym. In the summer of 1908 she appeared in Chicago as leading woman in "The Top o' the World." A remarkably gifted woman is Miss Janvier, one whose work is ever full of delightful surprises, she being a much younger and prettier woman than the type of character roles with which she has become identified, and it is a keen pleasure to anticipate her appearance in a new role each season.

New York Times
October 7, 1906

New York Times
October 9, 1906

New York Times

November 29, 1908

New York Times
August 22, 1915

New York Times
September 20, 1916

New York Times

October 22, 1916

Two Little Girls
In Blue

Two Little Girls in Blue premiered on May 3, 1921 at the George M. Cohan's Theater. The show enjoyed moderate success but closed after 135 performances on August 27 of the same year. The show is set aboard a ship at sea, the S.S. Empress, all three acts take place aboard ship. The cast included Madeline Fairbanks (1900 - 1989), her twin sister Marion (1900 - 1973), Emma Janvier and Frederic Santly (1887 - 1953).

Music by: Vincent Youmans
Words by: Arthur Francis & Schuyler Greene

"Dolly" is a duet between two characters, "Bobby" and "Jerry" played by Oscar Shaw and Fred Santly. and is a wonderfully melodic and gay (happy, carefree) song. The verse begins with a lovely slow ballad that sets the stage for a beautiful refrain that is more upbeat. This song is a great example of Broadway music at its best. It has a great deal of expressiveness and even a bit of drama. An interesting side note to this is that the co-lyricist, "Arthur Francis" was actually Ira Gershwin. One has to wonder why he resorted to use of a pseudonym? In many cases, such actions were taken to avoid contract conflicts, perhaps that was his reason.

Listen to this "Blue" song. (Scorch format) **** Listen to MIDI version
from The Music of Old Broadway