Friday, May 30, 2014

Rex Ryan and Dennis Clyde

In an earlier post on Rex Ryan I traced some of his history as an actor and playwright from 1925 until 1930 with his wife, Annie Howard, who used the stage name Pauline Duke.  Elspeth Caton, their granddaughter, recently told me in an email that he also used the stage name Dennis Clyde and that he was a partner in a theatre company called “Kimberley & Clyde.”  Another search of The Stage Archive reveals that he used the name Dennis Clyde from about 1907 to 1924, and that Kimberley & Clyde was in fact a repertory company. 

Dennis Clyde is listed in the 1911 census and it seems clear from the entry that he is Rex Ryan.  He is an actor, born in Liverpool around 1881 and has been married for less than twelve months to Nita Clyde, also an actor.  Both are living in a boarding house in Brixton with other actors.

The marriage is confirmed by a notice in The Stage dated 12 Jan 1911: “Dennis Clyde & Nita Imeson thanks all their friends who sent congratulations and handsome presents on the occasion of their marriage; also compliments of the season.”

'Nita Imeson' was almost certainly the stage name of Elizabeth Hornsby, as we know they were married on 21 December 1910, and had a son, Peter.  

The first appearance of Dennis Clyde that I've found is in August 1906 (playing the villain in "The Rich and the Poor of London"), four years after his father was found guilty of company fraud and sent to prison for 18 months.  On 23 May 1907 there is an advertisement for “Mr and Mrs Dennis Clyde (Miss Violet Lesborough)”, which indicates that Rex Ryan was married at this time to Violet Lesborough (it seems likely this was the stage name of Rex Ryan's wife, Florence Bailey, who died shortly after the birth of their son, Lancelot, in 1909; certainly the name 'Violet Lesborough' does not appear in either the 1901 or 1911 census). 

Dennis Clyde and Nita Imeson were the billed stars of Almost His Bride and A Woman’s Passion, which may have been written by Clyde.  The marriage didn’t last long.  By July 1913 he was advertising his own plays – in this case, Slaves of Vice - and acting in them with Annette Howard, who I take to be Annie Howard, his partner for the rest of his life.  From that time Clyde and Howard were the principals in his plays – in 1914 these included The Sorrows of a Nun and Should Girls Marry Young, popular melodramas that were typical of the period.  Either from the beginning of their relationship or shortly afterwards, Dennis Clyde and Annette Howard collaborated on writing plays, and they had significant successes, including Anna of the Night Club.


Advertisements claimed that they collaborated on twenty five plays in a variety of genres, including titles that reflect the themes and titles of the Anglo-Eastern Publishing Co, who we know Rex Ryan wrote for, such as The White Slave’s Wedding, The Painted Woman, Forbidden Love and Should Girls Marry Young? 

Digitised copies of The Stage Yearbook are available online up to 1919, and a check of these reveals that some Clyde & Howard plays made the Plays of the Year list: in 1914, Slaves of Vice by Dennis Clyde, in 1915, What Every Woman Wants by Dennis Clyde, and in 1917, Anna of the Night Club and The Temptations of a Lonely Wife by Dennis Clyde and Annette Howard.

Other successes were Tommy’s Best Pal (1919):

The Woman and the Beast:


Another interesting collaboration between the two was The Hooded Death, here is a contemporary review:

"The Hooded Death"
On Friday, September 16, 1921, was produced at the Royal, Wolverhampton, a drama in three scenes, by Dennis Clyde and Annette Howard, entitled:
“The Hooded Death”
Ambrose Richmond…Mr Dennis Clyde
John Hanna….Mr Paul Ash
Lemuel Richmond…Mr Alan Ward
Sam Bristol….Mr Morris Maud
Elvira Bristol….Mis Olga Jefferson
Faith Richmond….Miss Margaret English
Rose Paline….Miss Mabel Stacey
Marissa Richmond…Miss Annette Howard
Mr Dennis Clyde and Miss Annette Howard’s latest production enjoyed a capital reception in the Black Country metropolis on Friday.  Their repertory company have occupied the Royal boards for a fortnight.  The piece is not really so eerie or weird as the title suggests, and the story is soon told.  Marissa Richmond is the mother of grown-up children, Ambrose and Faith.  The former is a priest in a monastery in Cornwall, in the vicinity of which is his parent’s home.  Marissa’s husband, Lemuel, is and has been for a long period a selfish man about town and fond of paying too much attention to the opposite sex.  In fact, in the opening scene he is guilty of love-making with Rose Paline, a guest of the Richmonds.  The conversation is mainly about a spectre that has repeatedly appeared in the district and become known as “the hooded death”. Visitors are announced in the persons of a local fisherman, Sam Bristol, a man with a strong Scottish accent, and his stepdaughter Elvira. Bristol gives vent to his feelings regarding “the hooded death,” and implores his hearers to leave the district.  The Bristols go home, and the others retire for the night, Richmond, senr., meanwhile arranging to meet Rose later. Rose returns, and is surprised to see one whom she believes to be Ambrose enter by the window in his monastic garb, but with his head covered. Rose realises that she is found out, whereupon the nocturnal visitor raises the hood, revealing a white skull. Rose dies from fright. Ambrose enters, and, finding the body, awakens the household. Richmond senior admits his duplicity, and holds himself responsible for Rose’s death. Hereabouts Mrs Richmond acquaints her daughter and prospective son-in-law, John Hannan, a medical practitioner, with something of her own past life. It appears that she also had a second son, but by her own interference with nature he was born to be a curse, and at her own request was taken away whilst an infant by Sam Bristol. She implores Faith and John to do the right thing should they have children, which they promise to do. Elvira warns them again of “the hooded death,” remarking that when it calls in silver tones “Come to me,” none can resist it. Faith and John are last to retire, the former insisting on remaining downstairs. John departs, ostensibly for the night, when Faith hears the fatal call and leaves by the window. John returns to find her missing, and the household is again awakened. Eventually John decides upon tracing her whereabouts, armed with a revolver, but Mrs Richmond objects, instructing her husband and son to detain him by force whilst she searches for her daughter. Faith is next seen bound hand and foot in a house amongst the rocks, calling for help. John appears first and releases her, but an ankle injury prevents her moving. Mrs Richmond next arrives, and John goes to find help. Mrs Richmond discovers the head and skull previously mentioned. Later Ambrose enters, but not as the loveable son. He reproaches his mother with her past sin, and demands that she shoot him, thereby saving his sister, whom he intends to kill. It transpires that long ago Ambrose suffered an injury to the head, since when he has led a double life, acting the good Samaritan according to his calling, and yet desirous of his mother’s and sister’s death. Elvira has been mainly responsible for the latter, blackmailing Ambrose by telling him of his mother’s sin, but eventually admitting that the second son died in infancy, and did not now exist, as was thought by the Richmonds. Mrs Richmond refuses to shoot her son, but threatens to turm the weapon on herself.  With the return of John there is reconciliation.

Despite their change of programme nightly, the company were letter-perfect in their parts, and everything pointed to careful and skilled rehearsals. The chief acting honours fell to Miss Annette Howard and Mr Dennis Clyde, the former being pathetic as Mrs Richmond, the latter giving a capital delineation of the son, Ambrose. As John, Mr Paul Ash acquitted himself creditably.  Miss Olga Jefferson was pleasing in the difficult role of Elvia, and Miss Margaret English found favour as Faith.  Mr Alan Ward was well placed as Lemuel, and the little required of Mr Morris Maud as Sam Bristol and Miss Mabel Stacey as Rose was well done.

The play also seems to have been known as The Hooded Terror:

Steve Nicholson’s excellent Censorship of British Drama 1900-1968 mentions The Hooded Death in a chapter on Horror; the Comptroller described it as “three acts of horror and gloom” and “a farrago of rubbish,” and went on to say “the horror is too silly to frighten educated people but it is a question if an average audience should be exposed to it” and observed that “the growing taste for horrors needs discouragement.”  Another Clyde/Howard play mentioned by Nicholson is The Secret Mother (1920) which was done for a touch of sadism, a feature of the R.R. Ryan novels: the censors ‘insisted on removing as ‘an unnecessary horror’ the visual evidence of a character having been flogged, and demanded ‘a written undertaking that the towel and shoulders marked with red will be omitted.’

It's also apparent that the popular theatre of the time influenced the excessive horrors of the R.R. Ryan novels.  Nicholson describes a play call The Horror, which was licensed for the county theatre, St Albans, in August 1928 (author unknown): 'a play centring on a creature which is half man and half bird, and which is the resulting offspring of a woman who has been raped by vultures.  The monster, Veldt, has been kept in a cage in his house by Sir Gordon, whose daughter rescued the woman who gave birth to it; however, after declaring its love for a young woman in the house, the creature commits a series of violent attacks on the males whom it identifies as its rivals.'  Bizarre stuff.  

At some point Dennis Clyde partnered with the playwright F.G. Kimberley to form the Kimberley & Clyde Repertory Co. that travelled around the country putting on plays written by Kimberley and by Clyde & Howard with the latter as the principal actors.

The company evidently continued to perform Kimberley & Clyde plays up to 1924, although a notice in the London Gazette says it was wound up by mutual consent in 1922.

In 1924 the names Dennis Clyde and Annette Howard cease to appear in The Stage and in 1925 Rex Ryan and Pauline Duke start to appear.  I'm not sure what precipitated this, but it is conceivable that Elizabeth Hornsby had tracked him down seeking child support. What is clear from the notices in The Stage is that Dennis Clyde and Annette Howard were constantly travelling around the country performing and staying for short periods in different towns and cities where he would often manage local theatres.

Here is an image of Olga Jefferson, one of the main actors in the Kimberley and Jefferson repertory company: