- For a different actress with a similar name, see Edna May Oliver
|Born||Edna May Pettie
September 2, 1878
Syracuse, New York
|Died||January 1, 1948
Edna May Pettie (September 2, 1878 – January 1, 1948), known on stage as Edna May, was an American actress and singer. A popular postcard beauty, May was famous for her leading roles in Edwardian musical comedies.
Life and career
May was born in Syracuse, New York to Edger and Cora Pettie. Her father was a U.S. Postal Service letter carrier. Her surname at birth was spelled Pettie, but the family later changed the name, by the 1880 census, to Petty. Her siblings were Edelbert, Jennie and Marguerite. At the age of 5, she played Little Willie Allen in a production of Dora. The next year, her performances "charmed a number of audiences lately with her child voice". By the age of 7, she had joined a children's opera company and performed Gilbert and Sullivan productions in Syracuse. She studied music at the New York Conservatoire as a teenager.
May made her professional debut in 1895 in Si Stebbings in Syracuse. She then moved to New York to take the small role of Clairette in Oscar Hammerstein's Broadway show, Santa Maria. That year, she married Fred Titus, who held a world record for cycling. They had no children and divorced in 1904.
In 1897, May played Violet Grey in The Belle of New York with only moderate success. The following year, the production played in London, becoming a hit and running for 697 performances, making May a star. After that, among others, she played Gabrielle Dalmonte in An American Beauty in London (1900), Olga in The Girl from Up There (1901) in New York and then London, Edna Branscombe in Three Little Maids (1902), Lillian Leigh in The School Girl (1903–1904) in London and New York, Say-So-San in The Darling of the Guards (1904) in London, Alesia in La Poupée (1904) in London, and Angela in The Catch of the Season (1905) in New York. The Belle of Mayfair followed in London in 1906. May played the title character in Nelly Neil in London in 1907.
May was known for her beauty and received tremendous attention from male admirers. She was involved in a passionate but failed relationship with Prince Raj Narayan Bahadur (of the erstwhile kingdom of Cooch Behar in India) but could not marry him due to his parent's disapproval as she did not belong to one of India's royal families. Finally, in 1907, she agreed to marry millionaire Oscar Lewisohn and retired from the stage. The couple settled in England. They had no children, and Lewisohn died in 1917.
May lived at Winkfield in Berkshire during her retirement, but made brief returns to the stage in 1911 benefit performances of The Belle of New York at the Savoy Theatre in London and 1915's The Masque of Peace and War in London. Also in 1911, she appeared in the film Forgotten; or An Answered Prayer. She starred in a 1916 film version of The Belle of New York called Salvation Joan, donating the proceeds to charity.
- Pascoe, Charles L. Edna May milestones at the Edna May website (2009)
- "A Festival To-Morrow Night", The Syracuse Standard, June 1, 1885. See also: "In the Church of Christ", The Syracuse Standard, March 25, 1885, praising her singing of "Cuckoo Song" at a benefit in the church.
- "Studying Vocals in New York", The Sunday Herald, May 5, 1895
- "Olympia Theatre Opened; Santa Maria, by Oscar Hammerstein, Done in a Showy Way", The New York Times, September 25, 1896, p. 3.
- Culme, John. "Postcard of the week", Footlight Notes, 18 April 2009, accessed 13 February 2013, quoting "The Darling of the Guards", The Illustrated London News, 27 February 1904
- "Edna May Returns as a Movie Star". The New York Times, 10 April 1916, accessed 13 October 2010
- Pascoe, Charles. Edna May – Superstar: 1878-1948: Stage Actress of the Edwardian Era (2011; self-published, Montreal) ISBN 9780986853005
- Nicholson, Shirley. An Edwardian Bachelor, Roy Sambourne 1878–1946 (1991), The Victorian Society. ISBN 0901657301
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