Tuesday 12 April 2016

The Lottie Collins Libel




Mrs. COONEY, an actress and variety artist, professionally known as Miss Lottie Collins, brought an action for libel, in the Queen's Bench Division, before Mr. Justice Hawkins and a special jury, against Mr. Edeveain, proprietor of a weekly journal named Society. The defendant pleaded that the words complained of were in their natural and ordinary meaning fair comment and criticism upon a public performance.
     Mr. Henry Kisch was for the plaintiff; and Mr. Jelf, Q.C., Mr. E. U. Bullen, and Mr. Cane for the defendant.
     Mr. Kisch, in opening, said his client had sung " The Little Widow" in public some 2,000 or 3,000 times, and the song upon all occasions met with approbation. She had also sung "A Girl on the Ran-dan-dan." (Laughter.) In December last she was performing at the Palace Theatre, and the two songs were in her repertoire. In reference to this engagement an article appeared in Society, and in it was the following passage:

"At the Palace Theatre, Morton Consule, there is quite the best entertainment in London, a sort of show a man can with impunity take his maiden aunt to. There is nothing coarse about it anywhere and the only touch of vulgarity is supplied by Miss Lottie Collins, who successfully reproduces, in two of her songs at least, methods far from pleasing of the age which to its eternal sorrow used to applaud such monstrosities as that lion comique, now happily very near dead. One of her songs, `The Little Widow'—no connection, I am happy to say, of our very own sweet lady—is written in grossly had taste, which is not redeemed even by the singer's surprising agility and rose-red petticoats. To my mind Miss Collins has never done so well since "Ta-ra-ra-boom-de-ay."
     Mr. Justice Hawkins: What was meant by "Morton Consule." Was it the name of a place? (Loud laughter.)
     Mr. Fisch said he had at first taken it to be some French expression—(laughter)— 'but it seemed that it was intended to intimate that the place was under the management of Mr. Morton. (Laughter.) He regretted that he could not bring the whole performance before the jury; but at least he could bring "that little widow" before them. (Laughter.) Of course when he said "The The Little Widow" he meant the song. (Renewed laughter.) He would ask his lordship to let the jury read that song, so that they might form their own opinion as to "vulgarity," and as to the song having been written "in grossly bad taste."


Mr. Jelf: Had you not better read it yourself?
Mr. Kisch said he would with his lordship's permission, and he did so amidst peals of laughter.

Oh, dear, what I've suffered, there's nobody knows;
I'll endeavour to tell you my troubles and woes,
A lone little widow, two husbands I mourn,
And now I'm forsaken, heartbroken, forlorn.
No one to love me, no one to bless,
No one to tease me, none to caress,
And just twenty-one, 'tis true, on my word,
So I am thinking of taking a third.

I'm a widow, a little widow; I am simple, but I'm witty;
I'm stylish and pretty; yes, a widow, a charming widow.
But I won't remain single very long.

Dear George was my "first," he just doated on me;
And, oh, we were happy as happy could be.
He died, all the doctors said "shortness of breath"
The women, the wretches, said "worried to death!"
What could a poor little lone widow do?
Charlie consoled me, and became Number2 ;
And only last week he said, "Daisy, good- bye,
I'm going to meet George in the sweet bye-and-bye."
And I'm a widow, once more a widow; I am, &c.

I wonder why single girls are such mean things;
They'd like to be angels, of course, without wings;
Make eyes at the men with such a sly glance,
And won't give us dear little widows a chance.
But I'm going to show them of what we are made;
I'm looking around me; oh, don't be afraid.
If there's one here who'll be Number 3,
He find me as loving as loving can be.

Counsel added that he would hand the other song, "A Girl on the Ran-dan-dan" to his learned friend, who could read it if. he liked. (Laughter.)
     Mr. Jelf, amidst renewed laughter, read a few lines of it.
     Mr. Justice Hawkins thought that, with a little more rehearsal, counsel might be able to sing the songs. (Loud laughter.)
     The plaintiff was then called. She said that she was the wife of Mr. Stephen Patrick Cooney, but was professionally known as Miss Lottie Collins. She had so performed at the principal theatres and halls in London and in the provinces, and also in the United States.
     Did you sing "The Little Widow" at the Palace Theatre in "The New Barmaid"? "Possibly," interjected Mr. Kirsch, his lordship had heard of "The New Woman," and The New Barmaid" was probably a development of that idea. (Laughter.)
     Witness said that both songs had always been received very well, and no objection to them was ever made by managers or by anybody else. She did not think that she indicated any vulgarity in singing either of these songs.
     Cross-examined: "The Little Widow" she believed to be as popular as ever.
     And you yourself are as popular as ever?
     I hope so.
     You do not deny that Society has very often praised you?
     I have seen notices there that praised me.
     And you agree that everybody is entitled to have his own opinion upon a public performance?
     Oh, yes! but where the word "vulgarity" was used it was rather far-fetched. Witness added that she did not think that there was any touch of vulgarity in "Ta-ra-ra-boom- de-ay." It must be borne in mind that the audience went to music-halls to be amused; they did not go to church. (Laughter.) When she was singing "The Little Widow" she was, dressed all in black, except the petticoats, which were red. (Loud laughter.)
     Mr. Jelf : Is not that, an important point, that petticoat?
     Witness: I beg your pardon—petticoats. (Laughter.)
     Mr. Jell: Ah, that is my ignorance. (Renewed laughter.)
     The petticoats of red suddenly made their appearance during the song?—Yes.
     And that had a startling effect?—No doubt it had. (Laughter.) Continuing, witness said she still kept her position upon the stage; but this libel had been sent abroad through the world, and she feared that it would do her a good deal of harm in America. She had never had the word "vulgarity" applied to her singing before.
     Mr. G. H. Payne, managing director of the Canterbury Hall, of the South London Theatre of Varieties, and of the Paddington Theatre of Varieties, said he had had twenty years' experience connected with music-halls, and had known the plaintiff from the time when she was a child. He had heard her sing both these songs.
     Have you noticed any procedure or gesture on the part of Miss Lottie Collins that was vulgar?— No.
     Cross-examined: Naturally there were differences of opinion upon such matters.
     Mr. Charles Morton said that he was the manager of the Palace Theatre of Varieties, and had been engaged in connection with music-hall engagements ever since 1848. He was invariably on duty every evening at his theatre, and he looked closely after everything that took place. He had heard Miss Collins sing " The Little Widow" on many occasions, and he had never seen anything on her part that was vulgar.
     Would you allow it to continue if you did see it?—No. He had heard "The Girl on the Ran-dan-dan" sung, and he had never observed any objection to it on the part of the audience.
     Cross-examined: Do you consider that this article has done Miss Collins the slightest injury?—No. She is still receiving the same salary as she received before.
     Mr. Lionel Monckton, a member of the bar, upon the critical staff of the Daily Telegraph, said he had heard the plaintiff sing "The Little Widow" more than once. He did not know Miss Collins at all, and he had not until that day ever seen her off the stage. He had never seen anything on her part that was vulgar.


Mr. Jeff addressed the jury for the defendant, contending that what had been published amounted to nothing more than fair criticism upon a performance. He also submitted that there was no evidence to show that any damage had been inflicted upon the plaintiff.
    The jury, without leaving the box, said their verdict was for the plaintiff, with £25 damanges.
Illustrated Police News, 24 Ju;y 1897


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