Uptown

Here’s a photograph from the January 20 1927 edition of the Toronto Daily Star of an actress appearing in a movie that was about to play in the city.

Beatrice Lillie (1894-1989) was a British stage actress who was born in Toronto. She started her career performing in small towns in Ontario with her mother, Lucie Ann, and her sister Muriel, while her father, John, rented out the Toronto family home as a boarding house.

The 1910 Toronto city directory lists John A. Lillie as a plumber living at 190 Sherbourne, and lists Lucie as a vocalist and Muriel as a pianist at the same address. There was also another John Lillie working as an engineer and living at 180 Sherbourne; I have no idea if they were related. (190 Sherbourne looks like it still stands as half of a duplex, though it looks like it has been remodelled. 188 Sherbourne looks like it has not changed since 1910, though.)

The three Lillie women relocated to London after that, and Beatrice Lillie made her West End stage debut in 1914. She continued appearing in revues and shows in London and was widely praised for what Wikipedia refers to as her “exquisite sense of the absurd”.

She returned to New York City in 1926, and appeared in the movie Exit Smiling (mentioned in the photo) after that, starring opposite Mary Pickford’s brother, Jack Pickford. (The Pickfords were also born in Toronto.) She continued performing on both sides of the Atlantic until the Second World War.

At the time of this photo, she was married to Robert Peel, a used car salesman who eventually became the 5th Baronet Peel. His family had a title but no money, so Peel spent his wife’s money instead. They separated but never divorced; he passed away in 1935. Their son, who became the 6th Baronet, was killed in action in 1942.

She continued performing until suffering a stroke in the mid-1970s. The day after she passed away in 1989, her long-time companion, John Philip Huck, died of a heart attack. Huck, an actor, singer, and former U.S. Marine, was nearly three decades younger than she was.

YouTube has some footage and recordings of Beatrice Lillie, including “There Are Fairies At The Bottom Of Our Garden”, recorded in 1934, and a TV performance in 1950 of a sketch titled “Double Damask Dinner Napkins”.

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