Wednesday, 14 August 2013

Curious the Life of Maud Allan (The Salome Dancer)

To tell the tale of impressionistic dancer Maud Allan one has first to speak of her brother Theodore for his murderous inclinations influenced her career in ways both strange and emphatic.
Theodore was born two years before his sibling. It was in Toronto, Canada that both he and sister Maud came into this world as the children of William Durrant, a cobbler by trade and shoemaker by profession and his wife Isabella. 
Theodore was born in 1871 and Beulah Maud in 1873.
In 1879, the family packed up their store to move south to the sunny climes of San Francisco there to ply the only trade their father knew in the hopes of partaking in the great American dream.
Unfortunately, for Theodore, all his dreams were nightmare inflicted, riddled with thoughts most dark and filled with lusts of a peculiar nature. By the time of his twentieth year, now a student at Cooper Medical College and with a vested interest in the faith teachings of the Emanuel Baptist Church, the young gentleman prowled places where no gentleman would go. He regularly visited bawdy houses partaking in sins of the flesh but tainted with his own rare peccadilloes. 
One of his ritual acts, having had pleasure with a woman of his choice, was to cut the throat of pigeon or chicken that he had brought with him in a wooden box for such a purpose and then let the fowl blood flow across his torso.
This debauched behaviour, paid for in cold coin, may have found mixed views among the whores of the brothel but the cash placed in their wanton hands alleviated all concerns. If any had fears for their safety none came forward to voice them.
It had been known, though few spoke of it, that the young Theodore suffered from a cruel malady in the form of deep and dark depressions. Just how base they were, remained pure conjecture but might now, with the tragic gift of hindsight, explain what happened and why.
It was at the time of his twenty-third birthday that Theodore took his odious practices to levels of arcane depravity.


Theodore Durrant

Blanche Lamont, a twenty-year-old teacher who had moved to San Francisco to further her education met with Theodore Durrant  at the Polk Street trolley stop on 3rd April 1895.  They had had prior assignations but of what nature is not recorded. They traveled together in good amenability with she laughing as he whispered sweet nothings into her ear. They disembarked together then went to the Emanuel Baptist Church where they were seen by Caroline Leak and then George King, the church choir director and organist.
Later, a pale, drawn Theodore was seen ascending the steps. He looked drained as though feeling greatly fatigued.

Blanche Lamont with her pupils
Some hours later Mrs. Noble, a friend of Blanche's called upon Theodore asking if he had seen the young teacher saying how worried she was to which he replied in the negative. Mrs. Noble, being civic-minded and of good morals informed the police that her friend was missing. They then placed Blanche's name on the missing person register.
Days passed but there came no word or sign of Blanche Lamont who it seemed had disappeared without a trace.
No one found the act of Theodore pawning  female rings odd.

Nine days later Minnie Williams of whom Theodore had been courting, was seen in a heated argument with the erstwhile medical student. One onlooker described Durrant's behaviour as unbecoming of a gentleman but was pleased to note the affray settled down into a more harmonious attitude before the couple entered the church together.
Only one of the pair came out alive even though Theodore Durrant returned for the evening session.
The following day, a Saturday, female members of the congregation entered the church intending to decorate it for the forthcoming Easter celebrations. Upon opening a cabinet they found the mutilated corpse of what appeared a female body.
The police were called for. Upon arrival and further examination, they identified the body as being that of Minnie Williams.
The police then investigated the church loft whereupon they found the remains of Blanche Lamont. Her head had been wedged betwixt floorboards in a manner most gruesome.
The search for Theodore Durrant, the last person to see both women alive, began in earnest.


A picture of Minnie Williams
Minnie Williams (on far left) with friends




Durrant was captured the following day, Easter Sunday. Declaring his innocence he was placed in gaol pending judge and twelve good men's arrival. The trial was convoluted and taxing. A lack of blood found on the clothing of Durrant was used by defense counsel as proof of innocence but other evidence gathered along with testimony from Blanche's sister and that of witness statements confirming his attempt to sell rings belonging to the deceased brought down the charge of guilty onto the Canadian's head.
Durrant maintained his innocence. A short reprieve followed  but eventually, in 1898, he was executed having served sentence in San Quentin.
The murders along with the trial were much publicised throughout the American continent. The name of Theodore Durrant found a fame unsought for and, as far as sister Beulah was concerned, unwelcome.
Goodbye to Beulah Durrant. Hail and hello to Maud Allan



1895 saw Maud move to Germany to study piano at the Hochschule fur Music in Berlin. Events in California had played its part in her changing her name (which she did years later) but the learning of the arts was a passion she long held. The murders committed by her brother, depressing and shaming though they were, had no impact on her desire to become part of a world she saw herself connected to.
The ramification of her brothers actions saw Beulah give up learning a musical instrument turning instead to interpretive dance. Whatever torments she must have gone through are undocumented so we are left judging her career by her performances leaving the analysis of emotional effects upon her to speculation. 



As Maud Allan, the former Miss Durrant developed a highly stylised method of dance. It was both expressionists but also charged with an eroticism that defied the lugubrious standards of the era she was born in. The foundation stones she laid favoured the future of dance and its influence can still be seen to this day even if what was once thought risque is now acceptable.
She had no formal training, unlike the legendary Isadora Duncan of whom she disliked and was affronted by when compared to.

Maud was athletic, lithe and defined her moves with bold statements that sought to give a suggestion of the narrative within her dance. Of her costumes these she designed herself often sewing the garments with sequins in highly imaginative ways. These lead to many a raised eyebrow as they were far more revealing than the conservative tastes of the day. 

Her most famous routine came from the pen of Oscar Wilde. She took his play, Salome, and interpreted it in her individualistic way breathing a dangerous life into his already contentious themes. So deftly did she perform this work and so provocatively that she became known as "The Salome Dancer." It was an epithet she would later rue.   

In 1908, she published her first book entitled "My Life and Dancing." A memoir of her life and the gifts that blessed her. In the same year, she toured England where she received huge acclaim even though she was now in her mid-thirties with her best years fast fading. She committed to 250 performances whilst in England. It was an act that cemented her fame to the love she received from English audiences.

In 1915, as war was waged in Europe, Maud made her first silent film. In "Dementia" she starred as 'The Rug Makers Daughter.' It was a role, even as a forty-two-year-old, she was made to perform. But it was her dance as Salome that would return to haunt her along with the buried ghost of her brother. 

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Noel Pemberton-Billing was a right wing, homophobic conspiracy theorist. Like many who fold their crumpled wings in despair at the footfall of liberality, he was a bigot even though a highly intelligent one. His views on same-sex resonate still in the feeble minded empty shells of homophobes who appear woefully incapable of letting others live their lives as they chose. Garnished with fear and oozing pernicious rhetoric, like all such paleolithic primates, Pemberton-Billing saw the demise and downfall of society as being part and parcel of homosexuality.
As a successful businessman and a member of parliament, he had a voice, one that was listened to  in the way a brass instrument played loud is listened to. Not by the beauty of its sound but merely because it is loud.

In 1918 he published in his own periodical, Vigilante, an article entitled "The Cult of the Clitoris" (It has to be said here that I am amazed him and society, in general, knew what one was). By implication, he suggested that Maud Allan was lesbian. He also went on to allege that as such she was in cahoots with Imperial Germany. It was something Maud Allan hotly refuted suing Billing for criminal libel.
Into this confused mix was thrown charges of obscenity, including necrophilia, of supporting Wilde's obvious homosexual preference and of performing indecent acts on a public stage. Lord Alfred Douglas, the former lover of Wilde now 'jilted John' and reformed heterosexual, joined the fray on the side, unbelievably and a tad hypocritically, of Pemberton-Billing.  
The whole episode of her brothers heinous crimes was dragged up and thrown at Maud Allan like mud at a barn wall. The mud stuck. Her families name was besmirched with claims stating they all, including Maud, had insane sexual tendencies. She lost the case and Pemberton-Billing walked away a very happy bunny. 

Maud Allan retreated into virtual obscurity with her lover Verna Aldrich to Los Angeles, California where the couple lived until Maud's death at age 83 in 1956. 

And to this day the right wing prefer to dictate a moral message that is both unasked for, inaccurate, biased  and wholly reprehensible.
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Russell Cuts the Corn From The Brewers Whiskers and tickles the wheat chaff with ornamental charm

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