Vandamm: A Journey's End
This post could also be called "In praise of Internet research." In terms of research, it was a triumph; in all other senses, a tragedy. Thanks to NYPL's electronic resources and Internet connection, I went from not knowing of the existence of a first husband to knowing where he was buried in 75 minutes.
Since starting to work on Florence Vandamm's professional biography, I have been spending odd bits of time searching her name on NYPL's amazing supply of electronic resources. So, one Friday afternoon, I searched the name Vandamm in The Times of London. I was working my way through legal notices involving her solicitor father and an occasional concert review, when I found a marriage announcement. To my surprise, it was Florence, getting married to a Leonard E. Notcutt on June 20, 1915. I knew that, in 1919, she had married George Thomas (who used the professional name Tommy Vandamm), so who was Notcutt and what happened to him? More Times searches let me know that he was an actor, and had received the Bancroft Gold Medal on graduation from the Academy of Dramatic Art (now RADA) in 1912, and had been a member of the Beerbohm-Tree Shakespeare Company. Research here at LPA confirmed that he had small but showy roles (such as Cinna in Julius Caesar) and was the one next to Claude Rains in at least 3 full stage shots. Additional Google-ing of his name proved difficult since Notcutt is the name associated with a successful, widespread gardening supply chain in England.
The marriage announcement cited Notcutt as a member of the 7th Royal Fusiliers. That set off Masterpiece Theatre bad vibes—when a character disappeared between 1916 and 1919, it generally meant World War I or the 1918 Flu Epidemic. So I searched military records, including the British War Office, and discovered that he had been killed in the Arras Offensive of Spring 1917. Thanks to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and a site called www.findagrave.com, I discovered in which military cemetery he was buried.
Notcutt's death, or his existence, was not mentioned in anything written by or about Florence Vandamm. I wonder if his name came up in any of her frequent photo sessions with Rains or any of the other transatlantic stage community who may have known and worked with him. I know that she photographed him at least once, since it is listed in the program for the 1914 gallery show (see earlier blogs), but his name is not on any of the identified photographs. So, today's image is the final scene from the New York production of Journey's End, 1929. The character, here played by Colin Keith-Johnston, is about to leave the relative safety of the trenches to "go over the top," back into battle, is about to die. The image and the play itself have become symbols of the War and immanent death.