Sometimes the fantasies of revenge and triumph that drive the plots of dramas and films poison the imaginations of performers. Adele Ritchie's final scene had all the lurid sensation of a 1930s woman's picture about an aging beauty gone made. In April 1930, the 56-year-old ex-musical comedy singer gunned down Mrs. Doris Muray Palmer, a young beauty whose popularity had prompted Laguna Beach's Society women to elect her in charge of the annual community play, which Ritchie had directed for years. Richie invited Mrs. Palmer to tea, shot her in the back, turned the gun on herself and committed suicide. In the desk she left a letter containing a concocted a story about a suicide pact.
Born in Pennsylvania, and trained as a classical singer in Paris, her first roles were in opera. She premiered in 1893's "The Algerian." She broke into Broadway just before the turn of the century. Her trim appearance and a vocal style that recalled singers of the 1870s and 1880s, gave rise to a strong following among long-time patrons of the musical stage who dubbed her "The Dresden China Prima Donna."
Vain and irritable, she was frequently in the law courts suing various tormenters, real and imagined. The court room was an ideal venue for displaying her assortment of enormous designer hats. In one widely reported episode in 1910, she pummeled her leading man Carter De Haven on the stage immediately after the final curtain fell for removing a posting she had pinned to the theater's bulletin board. She was married and divorced three times; her most notable spouse was actor Guy Bates Post from 1916 to 1929.
A profligate spender, Ritchie declared bankruptcy in 1910, despite being enormously popular and enjoying a brisk career as a concert singer as well a musical comedy star. She played leads in Reginald DeKoven's "Mandarin" and Victor Herbert's "Wizard of the Nile." She made a great hit in "The Motor Girl." In 1916 she left Broadway to concentrate on vaudeville touring.
After her suicide, her "ghost" was tried and found guilty of murder in a California court.
NOTES: Boston Daily Globe (Oct 17, 1893), 1; "Adele Ritchie in Motor Girl," Washington Post (Oct 19, 1909), 9; "Adele Ritchie in Pig Suit," NY Times (Aug 14, 1913), 4; "The Ghost of Adele Ritchie Found Guilty," Chicago Tribune (Feb 20, 1931), 5; "Actress Stage Favorite," LA Times (Apr 25, 1930), 2; "Adele Ritchie 'Pokes' Actor," Chicago Tribune (Mar 12, 1910), 1. David S. Shields/ALS