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Irene Perry

Biography: 

(1865-1941)

Handsome singing actress Irene Perry enjoyed a transatlantic career during the final decade of the 19th century. An agile-voiced singer, a passable, albeit dainty, dancer, she emerged as did so many singing girls of the 1880s in a touring Gilbert & Sullivan troupe, singing Isabel in D'Oyley Cart's American staging of "Pirates of Penzance" (1880).

When the tour ended in 1881, Perry signed onto Edward Rice's Opera Company (sometimes called "The Surprise Party"), performing Angelo, a trouser role, in "The Mascotte" and as Lady Saphir in Rice's pirated version of Gilbert & Sullivan's "Patience." For several years Perry continued in support of comedian Henry Dixey and leading lady Rose Temple in productions such as "Billee Taylor" and "Cinderella at School." In the 1882-83 season Rice elevated her to the lead in "Pop, the Author" but Kate Castleton stole the show singing "For Goodness Sake Don't Say I Told You." Nonetheless, it was in this piece that critics began to notice Perry's talent for "legitimate acting."

In March of 1884 Rice's company collapsed. Perry quickly found a place in the New York staging of "Blue Beard." In autumn of 1884 she joined the McCaull opera company, perhaps the finest light opera troupe in the United States with talents such as Mathilde Cottrelly and Digby Bell on the roster. She sang supporting roles in "Nell Gwynne" and Lady Angela in "Patience." Perhaps the highlight of her comic opera career was her participation with Cottrelly and DeWolf Hopper in the tour de force English language staging of Strauss's "Die Fledermaus" at the Casino Theatre in New York in March 1885. She played Prince Orloffsky in trousers.

Her marriage to Albert Weber led to a decade-long hiatus in Perry's career. When the marriage collapsed, she returned to the stage, first with Hoyt & McKee's "The Black Sheep." Rice booked her the next season (1895-96) for "Excelsior, Jr." In autumn 1897 Augustin Daly secured her services, having long admired her skills as an actress, for "Number Nine, or the Lady of Ostende." For three years she worked in the Daly Company, but in time bridled at being the perpetual second fiddle to Ada Rehan.

A sojourn in London sweetened her temperament and she returned to join Weber and Fields zany company during their 1890s efflorescence. Fields, conscious of her ambition, assigned her the lead in "Rounders" which she performed creditably, if not with the galvanic spirit of the company's usual leading lady, Lillian Russell. 1900 saw her undertake a second European tour. When she returned to the United States, she was playing in "Defender" in Boston when she fell in love with and married Harvey Bell. Entry into married life meant departure from the stage. David S. Shields/ALS