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Vernon and Irene Castle's Ragtime Revolution

Vernon and Irene Castle's Ragtime Revolution

Eve Golden
Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 360
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  • Book Info
    Vernon and Irene Castle's Ragtime Revolution
    Book Description:

    Vernon and Irene Castle popularized ragtime dancing in the years just before World War I and made dancing a respectable pastime in America. The whisper-thin, elegant Castles were trendsetters in many ways: they traveled with a black orchestra, had an openly lesbian manager, and were animal-rights advocates decades before it became a public issue. Irene was also a fashion innovator, bobbing her hair ten years before the flapper look of the 1920s became popular. From their marriage in 1911 until 1916, the Castles were the most famous and influential dance team in the world. Their dancing schools and nightclubs were packed with society figures and white-collar workers alike. After their peak of white-hot fame, Vernon enlisted in the Royal Canadian Flying Corps, served at the front lines, and was killed in a 1918 airplane crash. Irene became a movie star and appeared in more than a dozen films between 1917 and 1922. The Castles were depicted in the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers movie The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle (1939), but the film omitted most of the interesting and controversial aspects of their lives. They were more complex than posterity would have it: Vernon was charming but irresponsible, Irene was strong-minded but self-centered, and the couple had filed for divorce before Vernon's death (information that has never before been made public). Vernon and Irene Castle's Ragtime Revolution is the fascinating story of a couple who reinvented dance and its place in twentieth-century culture.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-7269-9
    Subjects: History, Performing Arts

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: New York, December 31, 1913
    (pp. 1-3)

    It’s a chilly Wednesday evening in Manhattan, just above freezing, and you’re out on the town for some fun. Maybe you’re a tired businessman, an out-of-town tourist, a pretty little ribbon clerk, a bored housewife on the loose. Here you are in Times Square, bundled up in your fur or overcoat, and you want to have some drinks, a bite of food. You might go to the theater and see Anna Held at the Casino, Billie Burke at the Lyceum, Bert Williams at the Palace. But if you are really in the swing of things in 1913, you’ll want to...

  5. Chapter One Take Me Back to Dear Old Blighty
    (pp. 4-8)

    William Vernon Blyth was born in Norwich, England, on May 2, 1887, into a family of hotel keepers. His paternal grandfather, William Blyth, had since 1872 been the proprietor of Norwich’s Royal Hotel Branch, located not far from the city’s train station. When Vernon was six the hotel was rebuilt and renamed the Great Eastern. It was a three-story building of red brick; the ground floor had a welcoming, awning-shaded veranda overlooking the River Wensum, with a whitewashed corner entrance on Prince of Wales Road.

    Though at its economic height in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, Norwich was still a...

  6. Chapter Two About Town
    (pp. 9-18)

    Vernon’s backstage caperings while visiting his sister attracted the attention of Lew Fields, thirty-nine-year-old theatrical magnate. In the 1870s, Fields had teamed up with Joe Weber, another Jewish ghetto kid from New York’s Lower East Side. Their bumptious, rude comedy had made them stars by 1890: the taller, explosive Fields and the shorter, bumbling Weber (think Abbott and Costello, but with German or Yiddish accents). At their Weber and Fields Music Hall, they produced and starred in a series of hit shows from 1896 through 1904, when the team broke up. Their specialty was burlesque, in the old sense of...

  7. Chapter Three Only Forty-five Minutes from Broadway
    (pp. 19-24)

    “I don’t think there’s a childhood I would trade for mine,” Irene Castle wrote late in her life. And, indeed, it seems in retrospect impossibly quaint and bucolic: a lovely hometown; upper-middle-class, eccentric parents; zany show business friends; even Irene’s constant fights with her sister sound like fairly harmless sibling rivalry.

    She was born Irene Foote on April 17, 1893, the second (and last) child of successful doctor Hubert Townsend Foote and his wife, the former Annie Elroy Thomas. Her home was New Rochelle, New York, a booming town “only forty-five minutes from Broadway,” as George M. Cohan wrote in...

  8. Chapter Four “We would be much happier if we just relaxed and enjoyed school life”
    (pp. 25-29)

    All was not idyllic in the Foote family as Irene entered her teens. Her father’s homeopathy could not cure the tuberculosis that steadily weakened him and compelled the Footes to take frequent winter trips to Mexico for the dry, warm air. Mexico did not prove to be healthy for Foote’s finances: he speculated on a sugar plantation and lost his inheritance. Still, Irene described the family’s financial situation as “comfortable.”

    Irene developed an active interest in the opposite sex that was to continue unabated for her entire life. Dreamy evenings at the New Rochelle Yacht Club led to romances with...

  9. Chapter Five “I could tell by looking at him that he was not my cup of tea”
    (pp. 30-32)

    In the summer of 1910, Vernon took rooms at a New Rochelle theatrical boardinghouse that someone had recommended to him: the famed forty-five-minute ride got him out of the city and to a quaint town with a quiet, small-town atmosphere, congenial friends, and much cleaner air than Manhattan. It was there—at the Rowing Club—that he met seventeen-year-old Irene Foote. They were introduced by their mutual friend Gladwyn MacDougal, a middle-aged Canadian who was friendly with Dr. and Mrs. Foote (MacDougal had been treated to many a rendition of Irene’s “Yama-Yama Man”), and who knew Vernon from his work...

  10. Chapter Six Zowie, “the Monarch of Mystery”
    (pp. 33-36)

    By the late summer of 1910, Irene’s campaign had begun: she was fond of Vernon and found him an agreeable, amusing companion, but at this stage he was mostly a step up the show business ladder. “He was very nice about it, but, as I remember, he showed no particular enthusiasm,” she admitted.

    In the fall of 1910, Vernon returned to his duties inThe Midnight Sonsand had less time to spend with Irene in New Rochelle. Dr. and Mrs. Foote vacationed in Mexico, still hoping the warm, dry air would be good for the doctor’s tubercular lungs. Sister...

  11. Chapter Seven “They liked to test out their guns”
    (pp. 37-40)

    Actress Elsie Janis wrote bluntly of the Castles in her memoirs: “Vernon was the most tactful person I ever knew! Irene the least! The result was that women, unless they knew her well, were not terribly enthusiastic about her. To know her well was about as easy as getting chummy with the Sphinx!” Janis eventually did become friends with Irene, but only after the two were no longer theatrical rivals and both had heartbreaks to nurse.

    We have no surviving accounts to tell us Vernon’s opinions of his wife’s overwhelming personality, but Irene had ample opportunity to write about Vernon....

  12. Chapter Eight Enfin . . . une Revue
    (pp. 41-44)

    Enfin . . . une Revue(which means, appropriately enough,Finally . . . a Revue) was a hodgepodge in two very long acts, divided into seven tableaux. Vernon’s barbershop sketch, performed in act 1, did not go over well at all with French audiences (of course, his new partner may not have had the comic timing and skills of a Lew Fields). It was a “complete and abysmal failure,” recalled Irene. In act 2, tableau 4, came the Castles’ big moment, a dance that Irene always felt was their very best, based on Hans Christian Andersen’s tragic tale of...

  13. Chapter Nine “I saw the fat years ahead!”
    (pp. 45-50)

    By mid-April 1912, Vernon and Irene had accomplished as much in Paris as they felt they were going to. Irene was homesick for America, and Vernon wanted to get back to New York to pick up the shreds of his old career and see if he could incorporate this new dancing business into it. That May, Irene received a cable from her mother: Hubert Townsend Foote had finally died from the tuberculosis that had been weakening him for years. Irene booked the first passage she could, and Vernon made plans for another visit to his family in England before joining...

  14. Chapter Ten Everybody’s Doing It
    (pp. 51-57)

    To understand why the Castles became such a phenomenon, it’s important to see that they came along at exactly the right time: in the early 1910s, in New York, just as ragtime music was catching its second wind and ragtime dancing was spreading like wildfire. Had they met and married five years earlier or five years later, they would have had very different lives. Had they not been so slim and attractive, had they not won the attention of society doyenne Elisabeth Marbury . . . But Vernon and Irene lucked out, and they had the talent and the ambition...

  15. Chapter Eleven “Two adolescent palm trees”
    (pp. 58-62)

    In the autumn of 1912, an opportunity arose for the Castles to gain some public notice. In September, producer Charles Dillingham signed Vernon to appear inThe Lady of the Slipper,a musical comedy retelling of Cinderella. Twenty-three-year-old rising star Elsie Janis was cast in the leading role, with the comedy team of Montgomery and Stone backing her up. Janis, who described herself as “an ambitious puppy, striving to please but with one eye on the thickness of my part,” was accompanied everywhere, including auditions and rehearsals, by her notorious stage mother.

    Vernon was handed a nice little role, not...

  16. Chapter Twelve “Gowns are more or less a business with me”
    (pp. 63-67)

    Not having succeeded in turning Elsie de Wolfe into a star, Elisabeth Marbury set her sights on Irene Castle: twenty years old, slim as a reed, with perfect “camera bones” and a sense of self-entitlement worthy of an opera diva, Irene was material ready for the molding. Marbury was well aware of the popularity of publicity photos and their ability to create and sustain stardom. Actresses such as Adah Isaacs Mencken and Lily Langtry became as well known for their publicity photos as for their performances. By 1910, the art of the publicist was at its early peak. People who...

  17. Chapter Thirteen “The best dancing music in the world”
    (pp. 68-72)

    If Elisabeth Marbury invented and promoted the Castles’ look and public profile, James Reese Europe was largely responsible for their sound. The composer, musician, and bandleader was an imposing figure: tall, solidly built, with a stern, serious gaze. He was born in 1880 in Mobile, Alabama, to a former slave (his father, who later went to law school at Howard University) and a freeborn mother. Highly educated and ambitious, the Europes and their children moved to Washington, D.C., in 1889. Musical talent ran in the family, and young James learned the piano from his mother.

    Europe entered show business as...

  18. Chapter Fourteen “More like a pair of schoolchildren”
    (pp. 73-77)

    A good many dance teams came and went without leaving a permanent mark on history. Who today remembers Frances Demarest and Joseph C. Smith, Jack Jarrott and Louise Alexander, or the Marvelous Millers? Still, many soon-to-be-famous personalities made their debuts as imitation Castles. The teenaged brother-sister team Fred and Adele Astaire studied and copied the Castles carefully. French music hall star Mistinguett discovered and tutored (in more ways than one) her young partner, Maurice Chevalier; their style was more acrobatic and sexier then the Castles’ (some feel they popularized, if not invented, the Apache dance). Vernon’sAbout Townpal Mae...

  19. Chapter Fifteen “Syncopation rules the nation”
    (pp. 78-85)

    As the Castles’ triumphant year of 1914 dawned, they took temporary leave of New York for a trip up to Boston, where they danced at Copley Hall, the Hotel Somerset, and half a dozen private parties. Irene showed off a brilliant new emerald green and black gown, and both Castles showed off their maxixe step, which garnered “screams of ‘brava.’”

    There were already many dancers onstage, in nightclubs and cabarets. It was possible to make a decent living for a brief period of time, till one’s vogue passed, at that profession, but Elisabeth Marbury and the Castles had their eyes...

  20. Chapter Sixteen “The Most Talked About House in New York”
    (pp. 86-94)

    The Castles had fame, cachet, lots of work coming in—but they needed a “command post,” a focal point to serve as a gathering place and magnet for their growing cult of followers (and a place to attract the all-important press, as well). That’s how the idea of Castle House, a combination club and dancing school, was born.

    But setting up a moderately famous dance team in an East Side hall was not enough: Elisabeth Marbury knew that she had to “sell” the Castles, she had to remake them in the most marketable of images. “Time was essential, as the...

  21. Chapter Seventeen “Dancing with Vernon was as easy as swimming with water wings”
    (pp. 95-101)

    Eager to take advantage of the Castles’ wave of popularity, Elisabeth Marbury instituted what would today be called a multimedia blitz. In the spring of 1914, movie cameras were set up at Castle House before a small audience of invited friends, and Vernon and Irene went through half a dozen or so steps. The short film was released with the imaginative titleMr. and Mrs. Castle before the Cameraand was a big success, bringing $35,000 a week to vaudeville managers. “The picture is life-size,” marveled one reviewer, “and it is remarkable how fascinating the tango dancing is really holding...

  22. Chapter Eighteen “The spirit of success . . . oozes from these two young people”
    (pp. 102-105)

    The money went out as fast as it came in. In the spring of 1914, Vernon bought the Ely estate on Manhasset Bay, near Long Island Sound. An upscale area rich in fishing, boating, and horseback riding, Manhasset Bay was a lovely spot for weekend relaxation, convenient enough to the city for quick getaways. Although the area had been served by the Long Island Railroad since 1895, Vernon preferred hopping in his roadster and driving back and forth, to the enrichment of the town’s coffers (he was regularly pinched for speeding).

    Vernon paid $70,000 for their estate, to the amusement...

  23. Chapter Nineteen “The Castles Are Coming! Hooray! Hooray!”
    (pp. 106-115)

    As the Castles’ profile rose in early 1914, Elisabeth Marbury came up with a new scheme, one that would earn them more money and publicity than a regular vaudeville tour: the Castles would dance from city to city, from coast to coast. In the 1939 biopicThe Story of Vernon and Irene Castle, their 1914 Whirlwind Tour was cleverly depicted by director H. C. Potter, cinematographer Robert de Grasse, and choreographer Hermes Pan. Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers were shot on an outdoor set, dancing atop a huge map of the United States, one-stepping happily and smoothly from one coast...

  24. Chapter Twenty “We were both miserable on those vaudeville tours”
    (pp. 116-123)

    Vernon and Irene were hoping to spend the summer of 1914 recovering from their Whirlwind Tour while spending some of their profits in Europe. Paris, Deauville, perhaps a night or two of dancing to pay for their passage. They sailed on July 18, aboard theImperator, despite rumblings in the newspapers about “the situation” in Europe. On landing, they renewed ties with “Papa” Louis at the Café de Paris.

    After the war, Irene claimed that she and Vernon had noted “a current of unrest . . . something unusual” in France and England that summer of 1914, but that would...

  25. Chapter Twenty-one “Their enthusiastic followers never . . . go to bed at all”
    (pp. 124-129)

    Vernon and Irene had plenty to occupy themselves with and take their minds off the recent debacles in vaudeville and in print. In November 1914 they found themselves in Syracuse, trying out the Broadway-bound musical comedyWatch Your Step, the first nonrevue show with songs by Irving Berlin.

    The show’s book was written by the prolific Harry B. Smith, who had been in the theater since 1879 and had written lyrics or book for such hits asA Parisian Model, Miss Innocence, and several editions of theZiegfeld Follies. He recalled in his memoirs that “Mr. Charles Dillingham gave me...

  26. Chapter Twenty-two “Mrs. Castle is exhausted”
    (pp. 130-133)

    All was not well with Irene, and in late January 1915, she vanished from the cast ofWatch Your Stepat the height of its early popularity. Was she sick? Was she in a snit? Were she and Vernon on the verge of a split? Newspapers put forth all of these theories, as Vernon stated that she was “resting” at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital in New York, “not seriously ill,” but suffering complications from her appendectomy a few months previous. Her doctor “advised that she go into the hospital and forbade her from dancing for the present.”

    Vernon showed a rare...

  27. Chapter Twenty-three “Castles in the subway, / Castles in the ‘L’”
    (pp. 134-139)

    The summer of 1915 was to have been a leisurely one, with Vernon and Irene peacefully enjoying their Long Island home, being interviewed and photographed, attending horse shows and dog shows and automobile shows. But Vernon got a big idea, put into his head by first-time film producers John and Edward Cort. Egged on by Gladwyn MacDougal, Vernon decided to write a film about, and starring, himself and Irene. As usual, Vernon “plunged into it with all the zeal of an explorer setting foot on an uncharted continent,” said Irene. The script, she claimed, was finished in three hours. It...

  28. Chapter Twenty-four “Oh, give me a gun and let me run to fight the foreign foe”
    (pp. 140-147)

    Ever since the Castles had returned from Europe in August 1914, the war had been preying on Vernon’s mind. In December 1914, he and Irene had danced in aid of Belgian relief, and when they reopened Castle House for the season that month, first-day receipts went to the same cause. In the spring of 1915, a dance was held for the Blue Cross at Castles in the Air, “for the comfort of horses wounded in the war.”

    Irene noticed the change in Vernon: he was quieter, more thoughtful, even a bit embarrassed to be dancing for a living. “There must...

  29. Chapter Twenty-five “When I get old I shall be able to tell our children all about the Great War”
    (pp. 148-160)

    While Vernon was finishing up hisWatch Your Stepcontract and taking flying lessons, the war was grinding on. Often called the “first twentieth-century war,” it combined the fresh enthusiastic patriotism of the nineteenth century with the horrible new weapons of the twentieth (Vernon’s beloved planes among them). In 1915, German U-boats blockaded Britain; more than half a million Armenians died in a genocide still being argued about today; the Allies suffered horrendous casualties on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey; the first use of poison gas was recorded; the new “tommy gun,” a lightweight machine gun, debuted.

    The Canadian Air...

  30. Chapter Twenty-six “Kiss all the pets for me, dear”
    (pp. 161-163)

    When he wasn’t complaining about missing his “mate” or passing along (nonsensitive) war news, Vernon wrote about his animals. A lot. Mostly his German shepherd, Tell, and his monkey, Rastus, both of whom he seemed to miss as much as he did Irene: “Kiss all the pets for me, dear, and tell Rastus his Daddy loves him.”

    In addition to presents sent to Irene, he mailed Rastus “a card-board mandolin, full of sweets” and a jack-in-the-box, the latter a rather sadistic present for a monkey (“I wish I could see him open it, bless his little heart”). Disaster hit the...

  31. Chapter Twenty-seven “A super motion picture of . . . epoch-making magnificence”
    (pp. 164-175)

    On March 31, Irene hosted a Mrs. Castle Cabaret affair for the 110th Battalion, which was shipping out the next day. She auctioned off a dance with herself, and proceeds from the evening went to buy camp equipment. She was also feted by the American Legion and by Burton’s Bantams, a regiment of men under five feet tall. In May 1916,Watch Your Stepventured north of the border, playing in Toronto. As the wife of a Royal Air Force hero, Irene was given a terrific greeting, and the opportunity to raise some money. One reporter noted that “Toronto girls...

  32. Chapter Twenty-eight “He was out to see the Kaiser defeated”
    (pp. 176-179)

    In late February 1917, Irene sailed again for England to see Vernon, who was able to get a week’s leave in London. It was a terrible, stormy crossing, rife with fears of submarines, and no Vernon to greet her at the pier. Fearing him dead or injured, she fretfully took the train to London, where she found his leave had been postponed at the last minute. Late in the afternoon of Irene’s arrival, he managed to fly across the Channel in his biplane.

    They reserved a suite at the Savoy; Vernon brought Hallad with him and a diamond-studded wing pin...

  33. Chapter Twenty-nine “An hour’s pleasant diversion”
    (pp. 180-183)

    The success ofPatriaboded well for Irene’s career: in April 1917, she was signed by Pathé, the American branch of the successful French company, to appear in feature films. “I consider the engagement of Mrs. Castle one of the most important steps we have taken,” said Pathé’s general manager, J. A. Berst. “This is in line with our new policy of engaging only the biggest stars with an established box-office value.” Irene’s films were to be produced and distributed under Pathé’s Astra and Gold Rooster subsidiaries.

    Her first assignment wasSylvia of the Secret Service, a five-reeler (about an...

  34. Chapter Thirty I Love My Wife, but, Oh, You Kid!
    (pp. 184-189)

    Vernon arrived in New York in the early spring of 1917, tanned, lean, dashingly uniformed, and hobbling slightly on his walking stick, to find Irene commuting between their Lexington Avenue home and the Astra Studios in Fort Lee. He was eager to sample the New York nightlife but had to do so mostly by himself, as Irene had to be in bed early for the next day’s shoot. April 24 saw him at theMidnight Frolics, where he was spotted from the stage by his friend Will Rogers. Irene did join Vernon to seeThe Century Girl, starring their friends...

  35. Chapter Thirty-one “Never in my life have I been subjected to such humiliation”
    (pp. 190-193)

    The year 1917 is generally seen as the year ragtime died and jazz was born: ragtime pioneer Scott Joplin died on April 1, and the Original Dixieland Jass (later Jazz) Band’s “One Step” and “Livery Stable Blues” were recorded on February 26. It wasnotto be a good year for Irene.

    Having made good in films, Irene was ready to give the stage one more try, for the first time as a solo artist. She was persuaded to join a huge, star-packed revue calledMiss 1917in which she would be given a dance specialty. She signed a contract...

  36. Chapter Thirty-two “His plane dove straight into the ground”
    (pp. 194-196)

    Much to the dismay of Vernon and Gwen, the fliers of Camp Mohawk packed up their kits as the fall of 1917 approached and shipped off to Camp Taliaferro in Benbrook, Texas, a suburb of Fort Worth, where the winter climate was warm enough to enable them to continue training. Jeffrey and Vernon’s bright yellow roadster and drums came along with him, but Gwen and Irene were left behind.

    Benbrook was one of three Royal Flying Corps training fields in Texas opened in 1917 (all under the umbrella of Camp Taliaferro) at the suggestion of General Pershing. It was a...

  37. Chapter Thirty-three “Death is nothing to me, sweetheart”
    (pp. 197-205)

    That afternoon, Irene was at home on Lexington Avenue with her secretary, Mrs. Wagner (“Waggie” to Irene). According to her production schedule, she had probably just returned from Marblehead, Massachusetts, where she’d been filmingThe Girl from Bohemia. Irene was amusing herself with a pet parrot when Mrs. Wagner answered the phone. It was a reporter with news of Vernon’s death. Since every few months for the last two years, someone had called with news of Vernon’s death, Wagner did not take it too seriously. But “they were extremely persistent,” she recalled. “[Irene] heard me say three or four times,...

  38. Chapter Thirty-four “Robert was sweet, sympathetic, and besides he did all of my bidding”
    (pp. 206-208)

    It was very shortly after Vernon’s death that Irene began keeping company with the man who would become her second husband—a handsome thirty-year-old scion of Ithaca society named Robert Treman. Some newspaper stories claimed that Irene and Treman had been childhood friends, that their fathers had known one another. But Irene had no reason to lie in her memoirs when she said that she first met Treman in February 1918 when she advertised to sell Vernon’s car and he showed up to look it over. The two threw off sparks right away, and within days they were seen riding...

  39. Chapter Thirty-five “A well-known dancing dame”
    (pp. 209-215)

    In October 1918, Irene sailed for England, ostensibly to appear in a film for the Red Cross, which never came to fruition. Leaving her new husband behind, she also planned to visit hospitals and raise funds for the wounded. But rather than making a public name for herself as a Lady Bountiful, Irene unexpectedly found herself the subject of unpleasant press coverage—after nearly a decade of being the nation’s darling.

    London in the 1910s was in the midst of a drug epidemic, which grew only more intense when the war ended. Though government regulations made many recreational drugs illegal,...

  40. Chapter Thirty-six “Poor Irene Castle. She certainly isn’t what she used to be”
    (pp. 216-222)

    Having enjoyed such brilliant success so young, Irene felt herself old and outdated before her time. She saw herself as a dancer, not an actress, even though she might easily have continued her acting career had she wished to take smaller character parts. Other actresses born in the early 1890s found fame in the 1910s and held onto it into the 1920s and beyond: Mae West, Lillian Gish, Peggy Wood, and Ina Claire worked well into old age; Norma Talmadge, Leatrice Joy, Ann Pennington, and gold digger extraordinaire Peggy Hopkins Joyce held on till the talkie era. Charlotte Greenwood, Fay...

  41. Chapter Thirty-seven “Jazz, jazz, jazz! . . . The paradings of savages”
    (pp. 223-227)

    Irene was nothing if not realistic, and she saw that she was never going to make her fortune as an actress. Her real reputation and talent was as a dancer. As early as 1920 she was talking about forming a vaudeville act, and that same year she was in negotiations with British producer Charles Cochran about doing a revue in London (the show never came off, and late in the year she sued Cochran for $20,000, alleging breach of contract).

    In the fall of 1921, Irene began auditioning prospective new dance partners. Her trade paper ad was answered by every...

  42. Chapter Thirty-eight “To Chicago high society, she was a chorus girl”
    (pp. 228-233)

    When Irene and Billy Reardon sailed for Europe in 1923, Robert Treman did not accompany them. There had been published rumors of the Tremans’ separation as early as mid-1921, which were denied by both parties. In November of that year, Irene completely lost her temper with one reporter, winning her no friends in the press: “It’s a lie. We are as much in love as when we were married. . . . I know your game. You understand nothing. I hate newspapermen and always have . . . you’re always stirring up mud in a clear puddle.”

    No one really...

  43. Chapter Thirty-nine Orphans of the Storm
    (pp. 234-236)

    After her marriage to Frederic McLaughlin, Irene ramped up her animal rights activities, denouncing cruelty at horse and dog shows, visiting animal shelters, speaking at the Maryland and New York Anti-Vivisection societies. She resigned in tears from the Humane Society in 1930 after steamrolling over the gentler feelings of longtime members and demanding that those who were “no longer active and did not make material contributions” take their names off the letterhead. At which, as one paper phrased it, “the ladies became unladylike, several arose and said harsh things about Mrs. McLaughlin.” Not used to being second-guessed and thwarted, Irene...

  44. Chapter Forty “What do you do for an encore to what they had?”
    (pp. 237-241)

    In the early 1930s, as her third marriage continued to fall apart, Irene began looking about for something more to do than shill for Cutex nail polish and Corticelli Silk. Even her animal rights crusades didn’t seem to fill her life, and certainly she was a hands-off mother. Irene began looking wistfully back at her career. “She did not accept graciously making those lifetime adjustments that must come when you come off the pinnacle,” says her son. “The ultimate cruelty is that she had so much life ahead of her [after Vernon’s death]. I mean, really, what do you do...

  45. Chapter Forty-one The Story of Vernon and Irene Castle
    (pp. 242-247)

    One thing that did make Irene happy in the 1930s was the return of couples dancing, with the advent of swing, boogie-woogie, and big band music. Still, she found fault: “As an exhibition this Shagging and Trucking is amusing enough,” she said. “Some of the youngsters perform amazing athletic feats, but you can’t call it dancing. It’s hopping about to mad, jumped-up rhythms. It’s not becoming to the average age and figure, and really has no place on the ballroom floor. It’s movement, not steps, that charms. Dancing must start up here, in the head. Mr. Castle and I always...

  46. Chapter Forty-two “Isn’t old age awful!”
    (pp. 248-252)

    Marriages, births, and deaths punctuated Irene’s life through the 1940s. Her daughter, Barbara, married Irving Kreutz in 1943 at eighteen; they gave Irene four grandchildren (three girls, Mary Nichole, Charlotte, and Elizabeth, and a boy, Gregg). “I think Mother was a bit disappointed none were named after her,” says William McLaughlin. “I know she was very pleased when I named my daughter Irene Castle McLaughlin.” After Irene’s death, William had a son, David Lee, with his second wife, Dorothy, whom he married in 1975.

    Irene’s brother-in-law Lawrence Grossmith died in 1944 and was buried alongside Vernon and Coralie Blythe Grossmith,...

  47. Appendix: Stage and Film Appearances of Vernon and Irene Castle
    (pp. 253-267)
  48. Notes
    (pp. 268-297)
  49. Bibliography
    (pp. 298-301)
  50. Index
    (pp. 302-315)
  51. [Illustrations]
    (pp. None)