Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Broadway and a Leek Man


New York is a wonderful town. It is easy to find your way around, the Bronx is up and the Battery’s down.  In my opinion anyone who has been to the Big Apple cannot help but be enchanted by it. I have my own personal favourites- Central Park, Greenwich Village, Central Station and Broadway. Broadway must have been an area of New York that a certain returning native of Leek must have known very well. In 1947 after an absence of 35 years William G Kelsall, a former pupil of St Mary’s, was sitting in the front room of his mother’s house 17 The Walks and reminiscing about the Leek he had left in 1914 as a 19 year old. He said the Sisters at his old school had taught him how to perform on stage. It was a lesson he learned well. The reporter who covered his home coming was something in awe of this well manicured, tanned middle aged man in his immaculately tailored suit and red and yellow silk tie. Mr Kelsey, to use his stage name, was bringing greetings from some of the established stars of the day such as Betty Grable, Rita Hayworth, Dorothy Lamour and George Raft. He also brought a large basket of fruit as a gift which in austerity hit Britain would have seemed miraculous.

He told his story on how he left Leek helped by his father who had also appeared on the Broadway stage. William Calvert appeared in a few comedies before the First World War. After he served an apprenticeship in Canada William came under the wing of Henry E Dixey a long established comedy actor and producer in New York. Kelsey went into vaudeville and then was involved with one of the long running hits of the 20s “Blossom Time”. Kelsey acted alongside the redoubtable Eugene Leontivitch who later starred in the play “Grand Hotel” in the role that Greta Garbo played in the film. Kelsey had worked with Bing Crosby in the early days of his career and a high point was performing before President Roosevelt at the White House. At the time of visiting his mother in Leek he was appearing in a long running TV program a review called “Gay Nineties”.

And yet he does not appear in the comprehensive Broadway performer database although his father does. A clue about Kelsey at this time can be found through his daughter Ena Rollini. Ena was married to Art who was a tenor saxophone player in the Benny Goodman Orchestra and played in the famous performance at Carnegie Hall in 1938. Art produced a memoir of his career as a jazz musician in the 1980s when he describes meeting Ena for the first time in 1932.  She was living with her mother the Shelton born May Kelsall who was running the cloak room  concession in a Californian club when she met Art. She told the musician that her father had appeared in “Blossom Time” but was suffering hard times and was working as a singing waiter. He could not afford to send any money to his family.


It may well be that William Kelsey recovered his status and wealth by 1947. If so he would have been very grateful to President Roosevelt the architect of the recovery