Details of Gracie’s early career are slightly confused, (the known facts not always agreeing with Gracie’s memories). Fortunately, enough is known to piece together Gracie’s steady rise from chorus girl, to the highest paid actress in the world . . .
First Stage Appearance . . .
In 1905 Gracie entered a talent show at the ‘Old Circus and Hippodrome’ in Rochdale. A ‘resting’ music hall singer, Lily Turner* had heard Grace singing outside her lodgings and offered to coach her for the competition, although at seven years old Grace was well under the 11 year rule for child performers being allowed on the stage.
The song Gracie sang was ‘What Makes Me Love You As I Do’ and she tied for first place, winning ten shillings and sixpence, (52 ½p to those who don’t remember proper money). This was Gracie’s first experience of being on stage.
After this Gracie continued singing around the Rochdale area in charity concerts, the favoured method of payment being 2d Pork pies !
Juvenile Troupe’s . . .
Following a few years gaining experience on stage, Gracie joined the juvenile troupe, ‘Clara Coverdale’s Boys and Girls’. She joined several other troupes after this first one, and it becomes slightly confusing as to how much time she spent in any of them, Gracie’s memories not always agreeing with everyone else’s!
Photos of a young Gracie for comparison
This is the one photo we ‘know’ has Gracie in, though even this is confusing. We are told Gracie is ‘third from the left’. Does this mean third person? or third girl? If anyone can shed light on this, please do ‘pop us a note through’.
Below are photos of juvenile troupe’s Gracie are variously mentioned as joining. Is Gracie in any of these photos? I think I can spot her in at least two of them, what do you think?
“I think that this one shows Gracie standing immediately behind my Grandfather (my Grandmother Daisy is sitting to the left of him). So Grace is the tall one at the back and it looks as though she might be wearing a moustache !”
‘Cousin Freddie’s Pierrot Concert Party’ . . .
In 1914 after finishing two years with ‘Charburn’s Young Stars’ (earning 4 shillings (20p) a week) Gracie was offered a season with ‘Cousin Freddy’s Pierrot Concert Party’ at St Anne’s-on-Sea, earning £3 per week!
Gracie later acknowledges that she learnt much of her stage craft from Fred Hutchins, she says she learnt three important lessons from him. Not to mind being laughed at; to be a generous performer; and timing.
‘Dick Whittington’ . . .
After this season Gracie was back home and looking for work again. She filled in with errand girl jobs, and anything else that earned a few coppers. It was now Gracie played in her one and only pantomime playing the Princess of Morocco in ‘Dick Whittington’. Because it was away from home, and during Christmas Gracie’s sister Betty went to keep her company. This was not a happy time for Gracie due to other cast members jealousy at her popularity.
Early in 1915 after the pantomime had ended (and Gracie had taken tap-dancing lessons in Manchester) Gracie, with her mother signed a ten year contract with Mr. Percy Hall. It was for £5 a week, but if any more where earned it was to be split 50/50 with Percy Hall.
Her first substantial part in a review, and she’s on her way . . .
After six weeks of bookings around Manchester Gracie was offered a substantial part in the Manchester based review ‘Yes, I Think So’, starring Mona Frewer, and a 35 year old comedian, Archie Pitt.