Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Born Today June 27: May Irwin


Canadian born actress, singer and vaudevillian May Irwin was born Georgina May Campbell on this day in Whitby, Ontario, Canada.  After the untimely death of her father, her mother encouraged her and her sister to take up singing and other performance to help make ends meet.  They were eventually billed as "The Irwin Sisters" and made a formal debut over the border  of the United States in Buffalo, New York.  The were eventually booked to perform in New York City.  Though they were finding more and more success, May struck out on her own around the age of 21.  In 1883, she joined a stock company and made her debut on the theatrical stage.  In 1884, she made her stage debut in London, England.  At this time, she was making a whopping $2,500 a week!  By the 1890's she had developed signature performance numbers on the stage, one of which ended in a kiss with her fellow performer John C. Rice.  This is where movie making history steps in.  One night, one Thomas Edison happen to catch their act and decided he wanted to memorialize the kiss for his Kinetoscope production.  He was well aware that no one had filmed an actual kiss yet; probably because it was deemed too risque for the times.  So the very famous Edison short The Kiss became the first kiss filmed for a motion picture; it dates from 1896.  As far as Edison shorts goes, this is by far one of the most famous!  She appeared in only one other silent film and that came in 1914 with Mrs. Black Is Back, which was based on a play that she had been the star of on the stage.  Her likeness from The Kiss appeared in the 1936 sound documentary Fashions In Love as archive footage.  She died two years later on the 22nd of October from pneumonia in New York City at the age of 76.  She is buried in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York

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