Mysterious Margery

I found a most curious item in my inbox recently: a photograph of Margery Booth sent by Russ Parry (aka Frankie Berlin), who lives in the same Lancashire town of Southport that Margery grew up in (see my previous post on the contralto turned spy here). It was given to Parry's great aunt who was a friend of Margery's before the war. After the war?  Margey's efforts on behalf of Britain went unrecognized, and she endured the unfair assumption of having cooperated with the Nazis. Not able to find employment singing, she moved to New York.

Did she sing in New York?  It is hard to know. There is no evidence that she sang at the Metropolitan Opera or with The New York City Opera. However, we do know that she died here at the age of 47, having left Britain already stricken with cancer. Curiously, in 1935, she sang for a benefit at the Christie Cancer Hospital and Holt Radium Institute at the Palace Theatre in London. 

Miss Margery Booth

The death occurred in New York on Saturday of Margery Booth, the opera singer who was born in Wigan and who sang at the Berlin State Opera during the War.  Miss Booth was formerly married to a German brewer, Dr. Egon Strohm, but the marriage was dissolved.  After singing on the Continent, she made her first appearance at Covent Garden in 1936, and when the war began she was singing in Berlin. She remained there, and the Germans believed that she had pro-Nazi sympathies.

Her sympathies, however, were with the Allies, and when she sang at a British prisoner-of-war camp she passed on to the camp leader information she had obtained from Nazi officials.  As a result several escapes were successfully organized.  When the camp leader, Batterly Quartermaster-Sergent Owen Brown, was suspected by the Gestapo of complicity Miss Booth took charge of his documents. After the war she said she never let them out of her sight, and when she sang on the stage she used to hid them in her costume.   Manchester Guardian, April 14, 1952. 

What else do old newspapers tell us about Margery? We know that she studied at the Guildhall school (did she study with Herman Klein who taught there?), and when she appeared at the Promenade Concerts at Royal Albert Hall in 1935, had already been singing in Germany for nine years. In Berlin in 1932, she was noted as having a voice "reminiscent of the old Italian school." Curiously, another "old Italian school" singer was also taken note of in the same article. That was Charles Kullman, a student of Anna E. Schoen-René, who has appeared on these pages. In 1936, Margery opened the season at Covent Garden singing in Die Meistersinger, afterward appearing at Bayreuth until 1939.

Now to the photo. It's a far cry from the one that was sold at auction, where Booth was captured (in more ways than one) smiling and looking rather chic. This one is glamorous, recalling the era of Greta Garbo, Joan Crawford, Gloria Swanson and Mary Pickford, all stars of the silver screen. It's also intense and somewhat surreal. Booth looks into one's soul, or her own, with a determined yet questioning expression, not unlike Carmen,  a role she sang with success. Judging from the length of her hair, it was only a few years before she was singing with state secrets stuffed in her costume.

Special thanks to Russ Parry for revealing more of Margery Booth.