Who was Edward Dolly?
Eddie Dolly was ostensibly the brother of the legendary Dolly Sisters. A talented dancer like his sisters, he became a prolific choreographer for both his sisters and major London theatrical producers and found a particular niche staging cabaret shows in the 1920s.
Sometime in 1910, as the Dolly Sisters (Rosie and Jenny) neared their seventeenth birthday, their mother made a visit to their home country of Hungary. When she returned to New York in August she brought back a son, Edward, aged 11. Strangely, Edward was listed as US born and later claimed he was born on 25 October 1898, the same day and month as his ‘sisters’. If he was the brother of the Dolly Sisters, and if his age is correct, he must have been born in Budapest, because the family relocated to America until 1905 and he must have been left in Hungary when his mother and sisters moved to New York. Is this really possible?
In a few later press interviews the Dolly Sisters stated quite clearly that they did not have any siblings. And yet, by the early 1920s, Eddie was being described as their brother. It helped that he was dark-haired and dark-eyed and bore some resemblance, and perhaps the fact that he was taller and bigger built was explained by the fact he was a boy. In all likelihood, Mrs Dolly (real name Deutsch) rescued the son of a close relative on a trip back home to give him a better life in America and by the 1920s Eddie had become a fully-fledged Dolly.
Little is known about his early life but growing up in the shadow of his famous ‘sisters’ it was almost a foregone conclusion that he would follow somewhat in their footsteps. His fist appearance on the stage was with the legendary Mary Pickford in the David Belasco fairy tale A Good Little Devil staged at the Republic Theatre in January 1913 along with Lillian Gish. Later, through his sister Jenny’s influence, he joined the cast of Maid in America in April 1915 as a bartender and dancer. He claimed to aspire to be a comedian, but like his sisters he found it difficult to break out of the dancing mould.
What happened to him for the next few years is not known but in late 1921, along with his parents he arrived in London for the first time to visit his sisters who had been appearing with huge success in C.B. Cochran’s League of Notions. He enjoyed himself so much that he decided to stay. Tall, handsome and debonair, he was as vibrant a personality as his two sisters. It helped that Eddie was also an accomplished dancer. He ‘had the kind of face that doesn’t do too much to you, but you can’t forget the twinkle in his eye’ said Kit Peters, who worked with him in one of his later shows.
The Dolly Sisters persuaded Cochran to give him a job orchestrating some of the dance numbers for their next show, a Christmas pantomime called Babes In the Wood assisting Stowitts, the multi-talented American dancer, decorator, painter, producer and film star. Thus began a few years of training with both his sisters and others in the art of arranging dance numbers a job at which he appeared to excel.
In early February 1922, his sisters left for a trip to New York and a vaudeville engagement and Eddie remained to help Stowitts choreograph Cochran’s next show Mayfair and Montmartre starring Alice Delysia (9/3/22). Sadly, for a variety of reasons, including the illness of Delysia, the show did not last long.
On their return to Europe, Rosie went off on a romantic trip and Jenny appeared in cabaret at the Acacias nightclub in Paris. But in July Jenny arrived in London to help Eddie arrange the dances for Cochran’s Phi Phi, launched at the London Pavilion (16/8/22) with Clifton Webb, June and Evelyn Laye. He may also have accompanied his sisters to Deauville where they appeared in the Casino during August.
In mid October 1922, Eddie followed his sisters back to New York, although they both took different boats, Interestingly, he was registered on his arrival in New York as Edward Irving Daly. So was his surname Daly and not Deutsch like his supposed parents and sisters? Or simply was it a misspelling of Dolly? The main purpose of their visit was an eight-week run in the Keith vaudeville houses opening in Washington DC on 4th December in a dazzling dancing divertissement together with the singer and dancer Harry Richman. Eddie and the debonair Harry had great fun chasing the girls. Indeed Kit Peters said ‘he couldn’t leave the girls alone.’
On 30th January 1923, serenaded by Mal Hallett’s band, Eddie with his sisters, boarded the Berengaria, regarded as the most fashionable of all the liners, and returned to Europe, and in early February left Paris for their first excursion to the French Riviera. Performing at the Ambassadeurs Restaurant in the Cannes Casino, the Dolly Sisters created a sensation and in one of the themed gala evenings called the Venice of Casanova they gave a performance with Eddie. After the pleasures of the Côte d’Azur, Jenny travelled to London with Eddie to arrange the dances for the Cochran show Dover Street to Dixie, launched at the London Pavilion at the end of May 1923. The show was divided into two halves, the first all white with the talent of comedian Stanley Lupino and Odette Myrtil and the second, all black featuring the debut of the incomparable Florence Mills in an adaptation of Lew Leslie’s original Plantation cabaret show from New York. It proved to be sensational.
No less sensational was the debut of the Dolly Sisters in the French capital. Oscar Dufrenne presented them modestly at the Ambassadeurs theatre off the Champs-Elysées in early June 1923 in a show entitled Paris Sans Voile or Brighter Paris, a title that may have been used to evoke the success of Brighter London at the London Hippodrome. The show became a showcase for Eddie fresh from his London triumphs for Cochran, who had arranged the dances for a troupe of eight ‘London Boys’. As the Dolly Sisters made Paris their main home, each year Eddie usually spent Christmas with them and his father.
Back in London, Eddie landed his first big ‘solo’ project, arranging all the dances and ensembles for Cochran’s production of George M. Cohan’s song and dance show Little Nellie Kelly (launched 2/7/23) at the New Oxford Theatre. Starring June, Sonnie Hale, Maidie Hope and Anita Elson it was a mish-mash of traditional musical comedy, a romantic drama, a good ‘spoof’ crime play and a satirical revue. Dancing was one of its most important facet and featured the American Forde Sisters, Henry de Bray and Terri Storey and Santry and Norton.
That autumn Eddie was spotted in Paris accompanying the actress Velma Deane and the dress designer Dolly Tree at the gala opening of the winter show at Le Jardin de Ma Souer. He was clearly in Paris for the launch of Oscar Dufrenne’s new revue Oh Les Belles Filles starring his sisters at the Palace on 13th November. The appearance of Dolly Tree in his circle is significant. She was becoming renowned for her artistic creations and had designed some of the costumes for Little Nelly Kelly and for the Dolly Sisters in their current show. They would collaborate with each other for several years to come.
‘Dolly’s Revels’ the first cabaret at the Piccadilly Hotel was devised and staged by Eddie and was launched on 8th February 1924 dressed with impeccable taste and creativity by Dolly Tree. The show included the popular singing duo Norah Blaney and Gwen Farrer, the Forde Sisters, Santry and Norton, Bobby Blythe and the eight Dolly Girls. For the next six months Eddie changed the programme on a regular basis and the cabaret swiftly became the toast of London. In late July, Harry Foster and Major E.O. Leadlay took over from Eddie and presented a new show entitled ‘Playtime at the Piccadilly’ or ‘Piccadilly Revels’
Eddie was also busy with other projects including performing in a charity show with his sisters in Paris (mid March), arranging the dances for Tom Webster’s Cartoons (19/4/24) and Dion Titheraadge’s revue The Odd Spot (30/7/24) and performing in vaudeville with the Forde Sisters (from July). In April he joined a consortium with Harry Foster and Mr Humphreys who took over the Elysee Restaurant in Coventry Street. After a complete revamp it was re-opened as the now legendary Café de Paris on 1st June with a sparkling show produced by Harry Foster, Edward Dolly and Martin Boones and featuring non other than Eddie’s beau Velma Deane. He then produced another ‘Dolly’s Revels’ at the Grafton Galleries (September) with costumes designed by Dolly Tree and supplied a troupe for the film Nets (a Destiny film directed by Arthur Rooke).
However, the most momentous event was his marriage to Velma Deane on 24th July 1924 and they lived at 7 East Chapel Street, Upper Gloucester Place. Sadly, the marriage did not go well and they divorced in April 1925. At the time Eddie was once again referred to as Edward Irving Daly and Velma as Mrs Elsie Daly. Justice Swift in the Divorce Court said ‘This is one of the most brutal methods of a husband obtaining a divorce that I have ever come in contact with.’ Allegedly trouble arose because of her husband’s relations with other women. In the early part of November 1924 Velma went to Gloucester and when she returned Eddie had a valet named Lionel Jeffries. Eddie wanted her to go away again and said, in the presence of the manservant, that he would starve her out and if he could not starve her out he would shame her out. On 27th November, Eddie instructed the manservant that a young woman was coming round and she was to be taken up to his bedroom. Eddie answered a ring at the door and took a woman upstairs whom she did not see. Jeffries refused to discuss so Velma left the house and started divorce proceedings.
At some point Eddie joined Cochran’s rival, Julian Wylie, through his relationship with Dolly Tree, who was Wylie’s exclusive dress designer. Gus Scholke had staged most of Wylie’s earlier shows, but, with his death in June 1924, Eddie took his place. He worked on all of Wylie’s pantomimes, musicals and revues, both in London and in the regions, well into the early 1930s. His first credit with Wylie was his big spectacular revue Better Days at the Hippodrome in March 1925 and this followed by further London shows Turned Up (1/26), The Apache (9/26), Mr Cinders (9/28) and Out of the Bottle (1/32).
Eddie was also busy producing his own shows. First there was the touring revue A Laugh a Song and a Dance presented by Harry Adams from April and featuring Lilian Low, Monty Wolf and the six High Steppers (subsequently, in February 1928, Harry Adams opened the Stage Door in St Martin’s Place with Eddie running another ‘Dolly Revels’ show). And second, another ‘Dolly’s Revels’ starring his sisters at Edmond Sayag’s glamorous summer location, the Kursaal, Ostend in July. By mid August, Eddie was back at the Piccadilly Hotel and produced 6 new versions of the Piccadilly Revels that ran through to the summer of 1927 before assisting in arranging the dances for Paris – New York at the Casino de Paris (May 1927) – the last show in which the Dolly Sisters would appear.
Throughout 1928 and 1929 Eddie was working on a variety of Wylie shows but in November 1929 he was signed to Fox Studios as a choreographer by studio head Winfield Sheehan in Paris and he clearly moved out to Hollywood in early 1930. He worked on various projects as dance director but seemingly did not got screen credit except for Are You There? (Released 30 Nov 1930). Eddie appears to have criss-crossed the Atlantic and he arranged the dances for Norman Lee’s British film Strip, Strip Hooray (6/32) and there are indications that he may have produced films for Fox in Europe and may have worked for the Shuberts’ in New York.
When sister Jenny suffered critical injuries in a car crash, Eddie along with his sister Rosie, rushed to Paris from America in the summer of 1933. They spent a few months with her and also enjoyed a vacation on the Riviera returning to America in November 1933.
By Christmas 1934 he was back in London and staged the dances for Julian Wylie’s last show – the pantomime Cinderella at Drury Lane. Sadly, Wylie died on 6th December before the show was staged and Eddie’s source of considerable work dried up.
In the spring of 1935 Eddie traveled to Australia to produce The Crazy Nights show at the Princess Theatre, Melbourne. A Mr Thring had imported The Crazy Gang show from the Palladium Theatre, London with a cast of twenty-five principals and the added attraction of one hundred beautiful girls and a ballet of twenty-four. Thereafter, Eddie appears to have moved to Los Angeles for good and married a Towyna Thomas. When his sister Jenny (she committed suicide 1/6/41) arrived in Hollywood to visit him in January 1941 he was working for America’s largest purveyor of general merchandise via mail order – the Sears Roebuck Company in Los Angeles.
In late January 1956 Edward Dolly died in Los Angeles after a long illness, once again he was named as Edward Daly and left a widow named Grace (presumably wife number three).
All images and text © copyright Gary Chapman / Jazz Age Club and must not be re-used without prior consent
Chicago Tribune, Variety, The Sketch, The Stage, The Era, Eve, The Illustrated Sporting & Dramatic News, The Sunday Referee, The Bystander, The Encore, Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, The Isle of Man Examiner, The Age
Interview with Kit Peters
A Hell of A Life by Harry Richman
The Cochran Story by Charles Graves
Ellis Island website (www.ellisisland.org)
- 1921: Babes in the Wood/London (12/21)
- 1922: Mayfair and Montmartre/London (3/22) and Phi Phi/London (8/22)
- 1923: Dover Street to Dixie/London (5/23), Paris Sans Voile/Paris (6/23), Little Nellie Kelly/London (7/23) and Better Than Ever/regions.
- 1924: ‘Dolly’s Revels’/Piccadilly Hotel, London (2/24), Cartoons/London (4/24), The Odd Spot/London (7/24) & ‘Dolly’s Revels’/Grafton Galleries, London (9/24)
- 1925: Better Days/London (3/25), Flyaway Peter/Newcastle (8/25), Sleeping Beauty/Liverpool (12/25)
- 1926: Turned Up/London (1/26), A Laugh a Song and a Dance/regions (4/26), Brighter Blackpool (6/26), ‘Dolly’s Revels’/Ostend (7/26), Brighter Douglas (summer 1926), The Apache (9/26), My Son John/London (11/26).and Humpty Dumpty/Manchester (12/26)
- 1927: Paris – New York/Paris (5/27), The Circular Tour/ Blackpool (6/27), Douglas Follies of 1927 (summer 1927), Gay Dogs (1927), Humpty Dumpty/Liverpool (12/27), Sleeping Beauty/Manchester (12/27),
- 1928: Blackpool Follies (6/28), Douglas Follies (7/28), and Humpty Dumpty/Glasgow
- (12/28), Sleeping Beauty/Leeds (12/28), Aladdin/Manchester (12/28), Mr Cinders (1928), The Yellow Mask (1928 with Max Rivers)
- 1929: The Show of Shows/Blackpool (7/29), Sleeping Beauty/London (12/29)
- 1931: Dick Whittington/Glasgow (12/31), Queen of Hearts/Leeds (12/31)
- 1932: Out of the Bottle/London (6/32), Mother Goose/Manchester (12/32)
- 1934: Cinderella/London (12/34)
- 1935: The Crazy Nights Show/Melbourne (4/35)