Saturday, February 21, 2015

Jacques', Annie Louise Ames, and Jean Dixon

Jacques' Theater was a legendary downtown landmark during the first half of the 20th century. Jacques' (pronounced "Jake's") opened in 1886 on the corner of Abbott and Phoenix Avenues as Jacques' Opera House. It began as a premiere theater; by the 1940s it had become a burlesque theater. The building was demolished in the 1950s.

The theater was established and managed by Eugene "Jean" Jacques (1855-1905), who was born in Plymouth but grew up in Waterbury. His father, John J. Jacques, was a physician and pharmacist who operated a drug store downstairs in their apartment building on the Green, near Exchange Place. Jean worked in his father's drug store for years before launching himself into the theater business.

Postcard view of Jacques', circa 1905

Jacques' Opera House met with serious competition beginning on December 15, 1897, when Poli's Theater opened around the corner on East Main Street. Although his theater was smaller, Jacques had one major advantage: he held the rights to post bills in the city, thus controlling all poster-style advertising. Jacques and Sylvester Poli battled for two years before finally agreeing to form a partnership, with Jacques managing both theaters.

Interior of Jacques' Theater, c. 1896
Illustrated in Anderson's Town and City of Waterbury, Vol. III, p. 1095

Jacques was involved in various other ventures, including a roller skating rink on Grand Street (where the Buckingham Garage is now located), which was also used for polo matches. He opened an Auditorium on South Main Street in 1891 which boasted a 5,000 square foot dance floor. He also owned and operated the Diamond Bottling Works, and produced Naugatuck Ginger Ale.

At some point, Jacques met actress Annie Louise Ames (1865-1915), no doubt when her company came to Waterbury to perform at his theater. She had performed at Jacques' Theater in 1887, the leading lady in "Dawn" with Atkinson & Cook's Stock Company.

Jean and Annie were married on June 4, 1889 in Boston. Annie retired from the theater to settle down in Waterbury with Jean. The couple had two children: a son who died in infancy, and a daughter named Marie Mercedes Jacques, born in 1894.

Annie Louise Ames (Mrs. Jean Jacques), 1890.
Waterbury Sunday Herald, 9 Feb 1890.

Annie Louise Ames was an accomplished, successful actress. Born Annie Louise Nugent in 1865 at Boston, she studied music and the arts in school. Her mother allowed her to pursue a career on the stage. Annie adopted the stage name Ames and joined the Boston Museum Stock Company. She later appearing in the Madison Square Repertory, where she performed in "Esmeralda," "Hazel Kirke," and "May Blossom." Her managers included A.M. Palmer and Dion Boucicault. Her most successful role was in 1888 at the Hollis Street Theater, Boston, in "Angela," based on H. Rider Haggard's novel, Dawn. (Hartford Courant, 2 Mar 1899)

Atkinson & Cook's Stock Company advertisement,
Fitchburg (MA) Sentinel, 8 Nov 1887

 In 1898, Annie came out of retirement as part of a deal worked out by her husband with James R. Waite, who agreed to partner with Jean Jacques in a new stock company if Annie would be their first star (J. Richard Waite, "James R. Waite, Pioneer of the Ten-Twenty-Thirty Repertory," Dissertation, Texas Tech University, 1979). Annie traveled the circuit with the Waite Stock Company, sometimes performing a variety of roles to showcase her range of talent, sometimes hosting a tea or light luncheon for female fans happy to pay for the privilege of meeting her and getting a close look at her much-advertised expensive wardrobe.

Waite's promotional material emphasized Annie's physical beauty: "Nature has been a generous god to her and unlike some of the much talked of beautiful women, who resort to milk baths and mechanical effects to produce beauty, Miss Ames is indebted to nature above for her beauty. Her form is perfect and she was selected to pose for Chevalier Jose's famous painting "L'Oreaux" which hangs in the National Academy of Fine Arts in the Champs Elysee in Paris." (Elmira Daily Advertiser, 14 Nov 1898).

Waite's Stock Company advertisement,
Trenton (NJ) Evening Times, 14 Jan 1899

Other press declared, gushingly, "Annie Louise Ames is without doubt the most beautiful woman, all things considered, upon the American stage. She is more beautiful than Josie Mansfield for whose smiles Ed. Stokes killed Jim Fisk, and besides she is a pure and good woman of the stage of to-day... Both she and her husband, Mr. Jacques, are good fellows, Bohemians as it were, and Mr. Jacques' wealth has been freely lavished upon his wife in supplying her with the most expensive wardrobe of any actress, with the possible exception of Sarah Bernhardt." (Elmira Telegram, 30 Oct 1898)

Annie Louise Ames, 1898
Photo by Collyer, Waterbury, CT
Printed in Metropolitan Magazine, January 1899

The costumes were an important part of Annie's return to the stage. A brief article in one paper focused exclusively on the clothing: "Miss Annie Louise Ames, who will appear this week with the Waite Stock company at the Whitney opera house, will exhibit her magnificent wardrobe on the stage right after the matinee Tuesday. Some of these gowns cost over $1000 each, and were designed and manufactured by Adolph Kriveruk, who for the last eight years has been the court costumer of Vienna and has made all the apparel worn by the royalty of Austria. All ladies are invited to inspect this magnificent work of fashion and art." (Fitchburg Sentinel, 26 Sep 1898) 

Although accounts of Jean Jacques' wealth and the expensiveness of Annie's costumes are likely to have been exaggerated, the couple were very well off. A hint of their wealth appeared in the papers following the devastating fire of 1902, which destroyed several blocks of downtown Waterbury: Annie Ames reputedly lost $10,000 worth of jewels in the fire.

Annie Louise Ames, photograph by J. T. Collyer, Waterbury, CT, 1898
(Collection of The New York Public Library, Billy Rose Theater Division)

Annie's return to the stage lasted only two years, but by the end of that time her husband Jean was being referred to in his own publicity as "well known in New England as the husband of Annie Louise Ames, the favorite actress." (Fitchburg Sentinel, 3 Jan 1900)

It's interesting to note that Annie was called "Miss Ames" during her comeback tour, not "Mrs. Jacques" or even "Mrs. Ames." I assume historians have looked at the influence of actresses on the feminist movement during the Victorian era. A married woman being called "Miss" and her husband being best known for being married to a famous woman seems remarkable for the time period.

Jean Jacques died suddenly in 1905. The Waterbury rumor mill speculated that his young daughter, only 11 years old, would be the beneficiary of a $10,000 insurance policy (Waterbury Republican, 7 Dec 1905).

Eventually, Sylvester Poli took out a long-term lease for Jacques' Theater, retaining the Jacques name and paying Annie Louise, Jacques' widow, a minimum of $4,000 per year for ten years, as well as granting her "certain theatrical privileges." (Scranton Truth, 2 Jul 1906)

Annie Louise Jacques' emergency passport application, 1915

Annie Louise and Jean Jacques' daughter, Marie Mercedes Jacques (1894-1981), followed her parents into the theater. After briefly attending St. Margaret's School in Waterbury, she traveled to Paris in 1908 as a student, remaining until 1915. During her stay, she studied with the legendary Sarah Bernhardt, among others. Marie's mother, Annie, joined her in Paris in 1910, staying there for several years. The Jacques returned to Waterbury in May 1915, taking up residence at the Elton Hotel.

Marie Jacques' emergency passport application, 1915

Annie Louise Ames died at the Elton on August 6, 1915 and was buried alongside her husband, Jean Jacques, at Riverside Cemetery. She was survived by her daughter and by her mother, Mrs. Richard Nugent of Boston. Marie Jacques, now an orphan at the age of 21, moved to New York City to pursue a career on the stage. She performed initially with stock companies, as her mother had done, before heading to Broadway and Hollywood.

Marie took the stage name Jean Dixon ("Jean" after her father) and made her Broadway debut in 1926.

Jean Dixon

In 1928 or '29, she headed off to Hollywood, shaving two years off her age and eventually landing roles with William Powell and Carol Lombard in My Man Godfrey (1936) and Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant in one of my favorite movies, Holiday (1938). Jean married Edward S. Ely, an artist, in 1936. The couple settled in Gloucester, Massachusetts. After a decade in Hollywood, Jean returned to Broadway, where she continued to perform until her retirement in 1959.

Here's a video clip of Jean Dixon with Cary Grant and Edward Everett Horton in Holiday:


Steven Daveluy said...

I'm new here and absolutely LOVE your attention to detail. Thanks so much!!!

Steven Daveluy said...

I'm new here, thanks so much for your attention to detail as well as your tenacity!!!