Chauncey Olcott

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Chauncey Olcott
ChaunceyOlcott-pre1897.jpg
Chauncey Olcott & co-star, c.1895
Born (1858-07-21)July 21, 1858
Buffalo, New York, U.S.
Died March 18, 1932(1932-03-18) (aged 73)
Monte Carlo, Monaco
Resting place
Woodlawn Cemetery, The Bronx, New York, United States
Spouse(s) Cora Estell Henderson
Margaret O'Donovan
Children 2
Awards Songwriters Hall of Fame

Chauncey Olcott (born John Chancellor Olcott) (July 21, 1858 – March 18, 1932) was an American stage actor, songwriter and singer of Irish descent.[1]

Biography[edit]

He was born in Buffalo, New York. His mother, Margaret (née Doyle), was a native of Killeagh, County Cork.[2]

Actor Chauncey Olcott, c. 1896

In the early years of his career Olcott sang in minstrel shows, before studying singing in London during the 1880s. Lillian Russell played a major role in helping make him a Broadway star.[3] When the producer Augustus Pitou approached him in 1893 to succeed William J. Scanlan as the leading tenor in sentimental operettas on Irish themes, Olcott accepted and performed pseudo-Irish roles for the remainder of his career.


Olcott combined the roles of tenor, actor, lyricist and composer in many productions. He wrote the complete scores to Irish musicals such as Sweet Inniscara (1897), A Romance of Athlone (1899), Garret O'Magh (1901), and Old Limerick Town (1902). For other productions he collaborated with Ernest R. Ball and George Graff in works such as The Irish Artist (1894), Barry of Ballymore (1910), Macushla (1912), and The Isle o' Dreams (1913). There are some 20 such works between 1894 and 1920.[4]

He was a good songwriter who captured the mood of his Irish-American audience by combining melodic and rhythmic phrases from traditional Irish music with melancholy sentiment. Some numbers from his musicals became very popular, such as "My Wild Irish Rose" from A Romance of Athlone, "Mother Machree" from Barry of Ballymore, and "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling" from The Isle o' Dreams. Sometimes he borrowed tunes from others, such as the title track from Macushla from Irish composer Dermot Macmurrough (pseudonym of Harold R. White) or Too Ra Loo Ra Loo Ral (Irish Lullaby) by James Royce Shannon for his production Shameen Dhu (1914).[5]

In 1925, a serious illness forced him to retire, and he moved to Monte Carlo where he died of pernicious anemia in 1932. His body was brought home and interred in the Woodlawn Cemetery in The Bronx.

Legacy[edit]

Olcott's life story was told in the 1947 Warner Bros. motion picture My Wild Irish Rose starring Dennis Morgan as Olcott and with Dennis Day providing the singing voice.[6] The film's plot was based on the biography by Olcott's widow, Rita Olcott, Song in His Heart (1939).[7]

In 1970, Olcott was posthumously inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

Bibliography[edit]

  • Rita Olcott: Song in His Heart (New York: House of Field, Inc., 1939).
  • Mari Kathleen Fielder: "Chauncey Olcott: Irish-American Mother-Love, Romance and Nationalism", in: Éire-Ireland 22 (1987) no. 2, p. 4–26.
  • William H.A. Williams: "'Twas Only an Irishman's Dream". The Image of the Irish and Ireland in American Popular Song Lyrics 1800–1920 (Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1996), ISBN 0-252-02246-7 (cloth); ISBN 0-252-06551-4 (paperback).

External links[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Walter Brown & E. De Roy Koch. "OLCOTT, Chauncy (John Chancellor)". Who's Who on Stage, 1908. NY: B. W. Dodge & Co. p. 333. 
  2. ^ Axel Klein: "Olcott, Chauncey", in: The Encyclopaedia of Music in Ireland, ed. by Harry White & Barra Boydell (Dublin: UCD Press, 2013), p. 775–76; ISBN 978-1-906359-78-2.
  3. ^ One of his shows not listed in the IBDb database is Pepita; or, the Girl with the Glass Eyes. See Welch, Deshler. - The Theatre, vol. 1, 1886, p. 150, accessed June 27, 2013; and Brown, Thomas Alston. A History of the New York Stage, 1903, p. 176, accessed June 27, 2013.
  4. ^ Klein (2013), as above.
  5. ^ "SHAMEEN DHU [musical show]:Bibliographic Record Description". Performing Arts Encyclopedia. Library of Congress. Retrieved 2014-12-18. 
  6. ^ RCA Victor P 191, album set of four 78rpm records (1947): "Dennis Day sings songs from Warner Bros.' technicolor production 'My Wild Irish Rose'".
  7. ^ "The screen play was based on the story written by Chauncey's widow, Rita Olcott, in her book, "Song in My [sic] Heart." (liner notes to 1947 RCA Victor album).