Florence Smithson (1884-1936)

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Florence Smithson (1884-1936)

Florence Annette Smithson was born in Leicester on 13th March, 1884. She was the daughter of Will Smithson, a well known provincial theatre manager, and his dancer wife Laura. She was raised in the English Midlands and in Wales where she studied at South Wales College. As the scion of a theatrical family it was perhaps inevitable that she be involved in theatre from an early age, making her first appearance in the pantomime "Dick Whittington" at the Old Theatre in Longton, Staffordshire, when she was only three. That was only the beginning of a long career as a child performer, mostly under her fathers management.

After completing her education at the London College of Music, and an unsuccessful marriage to a George Robinson (of whom little is known), Florence embarked on her professional stage career, her main chance arriving when she was engaged by Robert Courtneidge to tour with his company in "The Cingalee". With Courtneidge she made her first appearance on the London stage as 'Chandra Nil' in "Blue Moon" at the Lyric Theatre on the 28th August 1905, before touring the following year in the same part. In 1906 she appeared in "The Dairymaids" at the Apollo Theatre alongside Dan Rolyat (real name Herbert Taylor) who would soon become her second husband, their professional careers over the next few years becoming closely entwined, appearing exclusively together.

In 1909 Florence scored a major success as 'Sombra' in the musical comedy "The Arcadians". The production ran for two years and her part in it is generally considered to have represented the pinnacle of her stage career. She sang so beautifully in fact, that the celebrated singer Madame Adelina Patti, who was present one night threw a note on stage congratulating her on her performance. Whilst touring with that production, tragedy struck for Rolyat and he met with a severe accident with kept him from the stage for over a year. Florence meanwhile toured as a vocalist in variety theatres and perhaps because of this the couple grew apart and thereafter went their seperate ways, never again appearing in the same production. Rolyat subsequently remarried.

Over the christmas seasons of 1912 and 1913 she scored a further hit as Princess Marcella (the title role) in "The Sleeping Beauty" and "The Sleeping Beauty Re-awakened", before embarking on her first foreign tour, to Australia, in June 1914. Returning to England the following year she turned her back on the 'legitimate' theatre and henceforth only appeared in variety and pantomime.

She conducted a further tour of Australia in 1923-24 followed by a tour of South Africa in 1926-27. The following year she entered into management and toured with her own variety company in a production entitled "Evening Stars", continuing to be a regular on the variety stage until 1932. Florence Smithson passed away in a Cardiff Nursing Home on 11th February, 1936.

At the height of her career, Florence was a hauntingly beautiful woman with an exceptional singing voice. Her voice was a faultless crystal clear soprano, and her ability to hit the high notes was second to none. A recording of Florence singing "The Waltz song" from "Tom Jones", recorded in London in 1912, still exists to this day.


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