Laura Joyce Bell

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Laura Joyce Bell
Laura Joyce Bell01.JPG
Born Laura (or Hannah) Joyce Maskell
(1854-05-06)May 6, 1854
London, England
Died May 30, 1904(1904-05-30) (aged 50)
New York City
Occupation Actress, singer
Spouse(s) James Valentine Taylor (1874-1878)
Digby Valentine Bell (1883-1904)

Laura Joyce Bell (May 6, 1854 – May 30, 1904) was an English-American actress and contralto singer mostly associated with Edwardian musical comedy and light opera. She was the wife of the American comedian Digby Bell with whom she frequently appeared with over the last two decades of her career.

Early life and career[edit]

She was born in London, the daughter of Maria Dauncey, a well-known dramatic elocutionist and voice teacher, and James Henry Maskell, a London theatrical agent.[1][2][3] Bell attended the Royal Academy of Music, a student of Francesco Schira, and made her London debut in a comic opera entitled Mina, and later appeared at the Royal Strand Theatre as Gertrude in a production of James Planché’s Loan of a Lover. During this early period Bell played the Count of Flanders in a piece entitled Cupid 'Mid the Roses, possibly inspired by the ballad from Joseph Knight, and The Ring and the Keeper, from John Pratt Wooler. She later participated in a British tour that showcased her talents in a two-hour presentation called Happy Hours, that was followed by a season at the Theatre Royal, Manchester and an engagement with Dion Boucicault as a soubrette singer at Covent Gardens.[4]

American career[edit]

Bell made her first notable appearance in New York in the spring of 1872 at Niblo's Garden performing in the “spectacle pantomime” Azeal, possibly based on the earlier musical by Daniel Auber, and afterward made a hit in the title role of the Edward E. Rice and J. Cheever Goodwin extravaganza, Evangeline, first played at the old Boston Globe Theatre on June 7, 1875 and reprised the following season at the Boston Museum.[5][6] Bell played Buttercup in H. M. S. Pinafore in May 1879 with the Grand English Opera Company at Haverly's Lyceum Theatre and the next year joined the company of actors and singers at Daly's Broadway Theatre in productions of the Edgar Fawcett musical comedy Our First Families, the musical comedy, Zanina, taken from Nisida by Richard Genée, Cinderella at School, a long running musical comedy by Woolson Morse from the Thomas William Robertson musical, School, that in turn was adapted from the German, Aschenbrödel, by Johann Strauss II; and productions of Fawcett’s comedy, Americans Abroad.[7]

She next signed with the Bijou Opera House and, beginning in a June 1882, Bell played Lady Jane in the Gilbert and Sullivan opera, Patience, that featured Digby Bell as Archibald Grosvenor and that October 17 appeared with Bell and Lillian Russell in The Sorcerer. On January 9, 1883, she sang at the Bijou in the Edward Solomon and Henry Pottinger Stephens opera, Virginia. [8]

In May 1883 Bell was with the McCaull Comic Opera Company at the Casino Theatre performing in an English adaptation of Offenbach’s, La princesse de Trébizonde, and that November with Rice’s Opera Bouffe Company appeared at the Bijou in Orpheus and Eurydice, Max Freeman’s adaptation of Offenbach’s Orphée aux enfers. On October 6, 1884 Bell was engaged at the Casino in a revival of, The Beggar Student, from the German, Der Bettelstudent, by Carl Millöcker. The following March at the Casino, Bell was Ruth to her husband’s Sergeant of Police in, The Pirates of Penzance, and to positive reviews in the spring of 1886 Bell and her husband toured with McCaull’s company in, The Black Hussars, from Millöcker’s comic opera, Der schwarze Husar. Later in 1886 the two toured with the same company in Don Caesar, possibly from Boucicault's play, Don Caesar de Bazan; or, Love and Honor, and The Crowing Hen, from Edmond Audran's Le Serment d'Amour, which was also served as the source of Sydney Rosenfeld’s, The Bridal Trap.[9][10]

In 1886 Bell played Lady Prue and her husband, Matt o` the Mill in McCaull’s presentation at the Star Theatre of Audran’s Indiana and Tronda in successful English adaptation of Franz von Suppé’s, The Bellman. She was Katisha, to her husband’s Ko-Ko in an April 1890 Broadway Theatre revival of The Mikado and in April 1897 played the strong willed mother-in law of Dr. Willow (Digby Bell) in the Augustus Thomas play, The Hoosier Doctor.[11][12]


On January 1, 1874, Bell married James Valentine Taylor (1843–1882), a Boston area architect and later theatre manager who had recently come into a family fortune. The two had met when Taylor was the manager at Niblo’s Theatre and had married over the objections of her father. A son was born that November 7 and by the summer of 1877 Bell would file for divorce with allegations of physical abuse and habitual drunkenness against her husband. Aside from support and custody issues, the divorce was granted in June 1878 after generating numerous headlines in the press.[13][14]

Bell’s son, Valentine Taylor (November 7, 1874 – May 3, 1943), was a Harvard educated lawyer who served as an assistant New York Attorney General, law secretary to several New York appellate judges and as council to New York governors, William Sulzer and Martin H. Glynn.[15][16]

She married Digby Valentine Bell over the second weekend of March 1883, a day or two after he’d received an absolute divorce from Lillian Brooks. Since Brooks had accused the couple of infidelity, a charge that was denied by both and never proven, the divorce decree forbade the two from marrying in New York. They wed in Pennsylvania instead and used a similar case involving a divorced New York judge as precedence for their marriage to be recognized in New York State.[17]


Bell died in May 1904 at their residence on Lexington Avenue, New York City. The year before she was with her husband and De Wolf Hopper in the long run of Mr. Pickwick (from the Charles Dickens novel, The Pickwick Papers) at the Herald Square Theatre and later the Grand Opera House. Digby Bell and her mother, Maria Maskell, both passed away in 1917.[18]


  1. ^ Note: A number of websites give Bell's birth year as 1858, if true, this would mean that she was only about thirteen or fourteen when she first came to America to perform at Niblo's and not yet sixteen when she married Taylor.
  2. ^ 1854 birth year Bordman, Gerald & Hischak, Thomas S.- The Oxford Companion to American Theatre,2006, p. 66 Retrieved August 10, 2013
  3. ^ May 6 birthday, Laura Joyce Bell, Find a Grave Memorial Retrieved August 10, 2013
  4. ^ Music and the Drama. Boston Daily Advertiser, (Boston, MA) Monday, April 26, 1875; Issue 98; col E
  5. ^ Clapp, John Bouvé & Edgett, Edwin Francis, Plays of the Present, 1902, p. 103 Retrieved August 8, 2013
  6. ^ Evangeline at the Museum. The Cambridge Chronicle, July 26, 1876, p. 4 Retrieved August 8, 2013
  7. ^ New York Times,
    Amusements. May 14, 1879, p. 4;
    Amusements. September 8, 1880, p. 5;
    Daly’s Theatre, September 22, 1880, p. 5;
    Theatrical Notes. January 9, 1881, p. 7;
    Cinderella at School. March 6, 1881, p. 7;
    Amusements. Daly’s Theatre. October 5, 1881, p. 7;
  8. ^ The New York Times,
    Amusements. June 25, 1882, p. 7;
    Amusements. October 18, 1882, p. 8;
    Music and Musicians. January 7, 1883, p.7;
  9. ^ The New York Times,
    The Casino. May 6, 1883, p. 8;
    Amusements. November 25, 1883, p. 15;
    Amusements. September 29, 1884, p. 8;
    The Casino. March 10, 1885, p. 5;
    Col. McCaull’s Black Hussar. June 29, 1886, p. 5;
    Josephine and Her Sister. August 15, 1886, p. 3
  10. ^ Welch, Deshler - The Theatre, 1886, p. 323 Retrieved August 9, 2013
  11. ^ Krehbiel, Henry Edward Review of the New York Musical Season 1885-1886 1887, p. 92 Retrieved August 9, 2013
  12. ^ The New York Times,
    The Triumph of The Bellman. August 28, 1887, p. 9;
    The Mikado Again. April 1, 1890, p. 4
    Augustus Thomas's New Play. April 23, 1897, p. 7
  13. ^ Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, Annual Record, 1883, p. 30 Retrieved August 8, 2013
  14. ^ The New York Times,
    The Joyce-Taylor Divorce Case. August 3, 1877; p. 1;
    An Actress' Divorce Suit. May 17, 1878, p. 5;
    The Taylor Divorce Suit. May 28, 1878, p. 2;
    Laura Joyce Granted a Divorce. June 4, 1878, p. 5
  15. ^ Harvard College Class of 1899, Fourth Report, 1914, p. 310 Retrieved August 10, 2013
  16. ^ Valentine Taylor, Law Secretary, 68. New York Times, May 5, 1943, p. 27
  17. ^ Digby V. Bell again Married. The New York Times,’’ March 19, 1883, p. 14
  18. ^ The New York Times,
    Events Past And To Come At The Various Theatres. April 26, 1903 p. 26;
    Laura Joyce Bell Dead. May 30, 1904, p. 5
    Digby Bell, Actor, Dies in 69th Year. June 21, 1917, p. 13;
    Obituary (Maskell). December 4, 1917, p. 13