Rita Jolivet

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Rita Jolivet, 1918

Rita Jolivet (born Marguerite Lucile Jolivet; 1890 – 2 March 1971) was an English actress of French descent in theatre and silent films in the early 20th century. She was known in private life as the Countess Marguerita de Cippico.

Ancestry[edit]

She was born in Paris, France, one of the three children of Charles Eugene Jolivet (1840–1920) from Carmansville, New York, USA, an owner of extensive vineyards in France and his French wife, Pauline Hélène Vaillant (1857–1957), a talented musician. After marrying in 1879, Pauline did not appear again on the concert stage. Jolivet had a sister, Inez Henriette, and a brother, Alfred Eugene. Jolivet's great-great grandmother was the only member of her family to avoid the guillotine during the French Revolution. Her grandmother Vaillant was among the beauties in the court of Napoleon III. She was also a singer. On 14 November 1908 Jolivet married Alfred Charles Stern, but the marriage soon failed.

Social prominence[edit]

Jolivet was an intimate of the inner society circles in London. She was a close friend of the family of Lord Lowther, the British ambassador to Turkey. Her sister, Leigh, was a noted violinist, who performed as Inez Jolivet. She had been awarded decorations from King Edward VII and Czar Nicholas II.

Theatre[edit]

She began her stage career as a youth. Jolivet made her London debut in Much Ado About Nothing. Jolivet acted the part of Juliet for William Poel of London, who produced Romeo and Juliet. Poel maintained a company of players which performed in university towns in Britain, giving performances of Shakespeare. Jolivet was a pupil of Mademoiselle Thenaud. Thenaud was a former leading actress of the Comédie-Française and a personal palm reader to Queen Victoria. In 1910 Jolivet was the leading lady of George Alexander in his play, The Eccentric Lord Comberdene.

Jolivet played the role of Marsinah in the first American stage production of Kismet in 1911. Produced by Harrison Grey Fiske, the principal role of Hajj the beggar, was portrayed by Otis Skinner. Kismet was staged at the Knickerbocker Theatre in March 1912.

She was in the cast of A Thousand Years Ago presented at the Shubert Theatre in January 1914. The play was based on the book A Thousand and One Tales, written by a Persian monk in the 13th century. Jolivet played the Princess Turandot, Princess of China. A critic described her as lovely and attractive. He commented: She plays charmingly, though inclined to be overshrill in the more dramatic episodes.

RMS Lusitania survivor[edit]

She was a passenger on the RMS Lusitania on 7 May 1915, when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank in the Atlantic Ocean. Jolivet was rescued after standing with Charles Frohman on the bridge when the liner went down. The theatrical producer uttered his final words to Jolivet: Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure in life.

Jolivet was saved when she climbed on a chair and obtained a life preserver which was in her stateroom. She plunged into the Atlantic Ocean before being saved. Jolivet testified in the Federal District Court during a hearing regarding a petition of the Cunard Steamship Company, which owned the Lusitania. The company was seeking a limitation of liabilities for the deaths and damage which occurred from the tragedy.

Jolivet's brother-in-law, George L. Vernon, was drowned on the Lusitania. He was going to join Jolivet's sister, Inez Vernon, who was residing in Europe. Inez Vernon became depressed following her husband's death and committed suicide in apartment 19 of the Sumner Apartments, 31 West 11th Street, New York City in late July. Vernon shot herself in the right temple with a pistol. She was found by an apartment superintendent after being dead for at least three days.

In November 1919, Jolivet's younger brother Alfred had married 29-year-old American Beatrice Witherbee who was also a Lusitania survivor. She had lost her mother Mary C. Brown and her 3-year-old son Alfred Scott Witherbee, Jr. in the sinking and never publicly discussed it since then.

Jolivet, a strikingly beautiful woman, was being groomed for stardom by Frohman. Jolivet also performed in films at this time but after Frohman's death her career essentially came to a halt. Her stardom had not been secured yet as had Ethel Barrymore, Maude Adams or Elsie Ferguson, to name a few, all of whom were Frohman protégés.

Marriages[edit]

On 27 January 1916 she married her second husband, the Italian nobleman Count Giuseppe de Cippico in Kew Gardens, Surrey. He had a son from a previous marriage. Cippico and Jolivet had no children together, and the marriage ended in divorce.

After the divorce, Lady Marguerite Allan (the wife of Sir H. Montagu Allan of Ravenscrag, Montreal), another survivor of the Lusitania, introduced Rita to 'Jimmy' her husband's immensely popular Scottish cousin, Bryce Allan of The Cliff, Wemyss Bay, Renfrewshire. He was the son of Captain Bryce Allan of Ballikinrain Castle, Stirlingshire, and his wife, daughter of Stewart Clark (1830–1907) M.P., D.L., of Dundas Castle, South Queensferry, and grandson of James Allan of Glasgow, older brother of Sir Hugh. Bryce was a nephew of Sir John Stewart-Clark and Sir Thomas Dixon, 2nd Baronet.

Jimmy and Rita's marriage took place at the Church of Scotland in Paris on 26 April 1928, and was 'celebrated with much fanfare'. The reception was held at Ballikinrain Castle (his father's 4,000-acre (16 km2) estate which employed fifty servants), which Jimmy had recently inherited. After the war the couple took up travelling again and sold Ballinjinrain moving to a smaller castle in Scotland where parties were regularly thrown with royalty, heads of state and many other famous people on their lengthy guest lists.

Film career[edit]

An International Marriage (1916)
Lest We Forget (1918)

Jolivet preferred film work to theatre in some respects because the silent drama allowed her more scope for dramatic expression.

Her film career started in Italy with the Ambrosia Company. She made Fata Morgana (1914), Zvani (1915), Onore di Morire, L' (1915), Mano di Fatma, La (1915), and Cuore ed arte (1915). She returned to Italy to make Teodora (1921). She portrays the Empress Theodora in a famous romance by the French dramatist Victorien Sardou. Historians disagree about the character of the wife of the Emperor Justinian. The film depicts both her beauty and charm accurately. The film was first shown in American cinemas in 1922.

Jolivet went to America and was affiliated with Famous Players-Lasky. Her first Hollywood film was The Unafraid from 1914. In 1917 Jolivet and Vincent Serrano made One Law for Both. The drama, directed by Ivan Abramson, illustrates the secret and stirring methods of revolutionaries.

Jolivet and her husband donated the proceeds from Lest We Forget (1918) to 'the alleviation of suffering caused by World War I.' She was an avid Liberty Bond booster. It was reported that she sold more of them throughout the United States than Douglas Fairbanks, Sr, Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford combined. In a single week in May 1918 Jolivet disposed of more than $5,000,000 in Liberty Bonds in Baltimore, Maryland.

Lest We Forget was shown in Washington, D.C., with Jolivet addressing audiences prior to three of its screenings. She told them of her riveting personal experiences since the war began in August 1914. At the outset of the conflict she was in France. In the film she plays Rita Heriot, who is a soprano in Paris. Heriot is rescued from the RMS Lusitania sinking after playing an engagement at the Metropolitan Theatre in New York.

Jolivet continued making films in France and Italy through 1926. The filmography of her later screen work includes the titles The Bride's Confession (1921), Roger la Honte (1922), Messalina (1922), Phi-Phi (1926) and Marchand de bonheur (1926).

Jolivet died in Nice France.

Selected filmography[edit]

References[edit]

  • "The Jolivet Family and the Lusitania" by Mike Poirier and Jim Kalafus, Voyage Magazine, Issue 48, Titanic International Society
  • "Actress, On Lusitania When Torpedoed, Pays Visit Here". Indianapolis Star. May 3, 1918. p. 9. 
  • "Theodora Enormous Spectacle, At Rivoli Today To Wednesday". La Crosse Tribune. May 28, 1922. p. 17. 
  • "Fiske Entertains Author of Kismet". New York Times. November 11, 1911. p. 13. 
  • "Play Producing On A Wholesale Scale". New York Times. January 4, 1914. p. XA6. 
  • "Mackaye Play Is Rich In Romance". New York Times. January 7, 1914. p. 11. 
  • "Lusitania Widow Commits Suicide". New York Times. July 23, 1915. p. 9. 
  • "Rita Jolivet Tells How Frohman Died". New York Times. April 18, 1918. p. 8. 
  • "Lusitania Picture Here On Wednesday". Ogden Examiner. April 7, 1918. p. 15. 
  • "Stage". Syracuse Herald. February 24, 1918. p. 3. 
  • "English Girl With Skinner". Washington Post. December 17, 1911. p. 106. 
  • "An International Star". Washington Post. May 26, 1918. p. 47. 

External links[edit]