Monday, February 7, 2011


Two Short, and unrelated, tales here. " What Really Happened to Earle Larimore?", and "The Dawn of the Puppeteer". Both have to do with early 20th century theatre.

First: What Really Happened to Earle Larimore?

For a number of years, it was a bit of a mystery as to the downfall of Earle Larimore. It was a life cut short, that's for sure. We know he was born in Oregon in 1899. And that he was drawn to theatre and acting at an early age, and by the 1920s, and into the '30s, he was performing as an actor in a number Little Theatre productions in major cities. And he performed on the Broadway stage, as well. The photo below is a standard head shot, or publicity photo, of Mr. Larimore.

In the next photo, Larimore poses in costume for the noted photographer, Florence Vandamm. Her imprimiter can be seen in the lower right. He is in costume as Marco Polo, the starring role in O'Neill's Marco Millions ( not to be confused with 'Marco's Millions', a science fiction novel).

While Earle Larimore also appeared in several other O'Neill plays, for some reason he seemed to fade away into obscurity after 1935. He died at the early age of 48, in his New York apartment. While I haven't been able to find information on the cause of his death, there are some clues to his disappearance from theatre, and the public arena in general.

In those early years of the 20th century, homosexuality, or bisexuality in the world of theatre and cinema was, by and large, kept largely under wraps by the powers that be. Hollywood clearly made efforts to suppress rumors that Clark Gable was bisexual. Homosexuality, bisexuality, or lesbian labeling was the 'kiss of death' in the eyes of the general public of that time. However, in later years, when several biographies of Clark Gable hit the market, we find that he was in fact, bisexual. And we also learned he had affairs with a number of men. Out of fear that these 'lovers' might possibly out him to the public, Gable instead, outed them. to the press. Hollywood Production moguls managed to suppress Gable's complicity, but for these other men, their careers were essentially ended by the scandal. One of these was Earle Larimore.


While puppet and marionette performances have a centuries old cross-cultural history, the actual use of the word 'puppeteer' did not appear until 1915 when it was first mentioned in The Oxford English Dictionary. Surprisingly, it was Ellen Van Volkenburg who is commonly believed to have coined the word.

In 1912, Van Volkenburg, an actress and director, and her playwright husband, Maurice Brown founded the Little Theatre of Chicago. That theatre, while short-lived, along with the founding of Toy Theatre in Boston marked the earliest beginnings of the Little Theatre Movement in America. As I mentioned in an earlier post, the Little Theatre Movement was an effort to turn away from the commercial trends of Broadway and mainstream theatre as well as the commercial trends in the cinema of the era. Little Theatre provided venues for new and more experimental works.

Ellen Van Volkenburg used the Little Theatre of Chicago to launch a 'marionette revival', moving the art away from the Punch and Judy kinds of works, and taking marionettes into Shakespearean Theatre. Her marionette productions sometimes called for the use of as many as 30 figures, which she made herself. Upon premiering a marionette performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream, she used the term 'puppeteer' to describe the people behind stage who operated the figures, and provided their voices.

In the photo below, we see Ellen Van Volkenburg in the role of the title figure of a (non-marionette) play, The Mother of Gregory, written by her husband, Maurice Brown. The photo was taken when the play opened in 1924, at the Theatre of the Golden Bough at Carmel-by the-Sea, California.

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