“The Eternal Flapper,” Fannie Ward, died in 1952 at age 79, or thereabouts. There’s a good chance that you never heard of her, but Fannie was well-known on stage from about 1890 and continued to appear regularly in the press right up until her death. Her obituaries made the front cover of the papers.
If you do know her there’s a good chance you’ve seen her in one movie: Cecil B. DeMille’s The Cheat from 1915 co-starring Fannie Ward with Sessue Hayakawa and Jack Dean. Dean was a regular co-star of Ward’s and would very soon emerge as her second husband. If you never have seen Fannie in the 1915 version of The Cheat you may have seen Tallulah Bankhead reenacting the same role in Paramount’s 1931 remake. We’ll talk more about The Cheat in a bit.
What’s worth noting at this point is that by the time of The Cheat Fannie Ward was by most estimates 43 years old. While that doesn’t sound too far over-the-hill by modern standards, as the years ticked by Fannie Ward’s advancing age would prove to be what kept her in the headlines.
One report from near the time of her death reported that Fannie Ward got away with playing a 7-year-old on stage in London in 1927. She would have been 55! Well, 55-ish.
Now nobody thought old Fannie really looked like a girl of 7, but there was no denying that the petite celebrity certainly passed for far younger than her actual years from the time of her middle-aged film debut and beyond.
A feature about her in the American Weekly in 1949 was titled “The Girl Who Wouldn’t Grow Old.”
There was a bit of a mythical quality about her in the papers from the time her film career began in the mid-1910s right up until her death in 1952.
Though after spending the past several days looking at Fannie Ward I’m more in the camp of Eve Golden, who wrote in her Golden Images: “In looking at mid-life photos of her today, Fannie looks like nothing so much as a middle-aged woman being kittenish” (196). Golden adds, “So a lot of the effect had to have been in her personality.”
Even in The Cheat 43-year-old Fannie looks about--fortyish. The thing is, she looks fortyish by our standards a hundred years later. People didn’t age nearly as well then as they do now. They weren’t nearly as healthy and didn’t know how to best take care of themselves. Fannie did.
She credited a secret facial treatment handed down by the French stage star Gaby Deslys for keeping up her youthful appearance. But there were other claims. Rumors of plastic surgery as well, though those were strongly denied by Fannie.
She was born Fannie Ward Buchanan in St. Louis Missouri on a date that may have been February 22, 1872. Her father, John Buchanan, was a Sunday School superintendent who strongly disapproved of Fannie’s desire for a theatrical career.
According to Fannie a John W. Norton took an interest in her while she was on the local St. Louis stage and brought her to New York for an interview with Daniel Frohman. Fannie was chaperoned by her mother, Eliza, who would be a regular companion over the next several years. Both women apparently left John Buchanan behind for good in St. Louis.
Frohman convinced her to drop the Buchanan off her name and be billed simply as Fannie Ward.
She made her Broadway debut as Cupid in Peppino for Frohman on November 26, 1890. She subsequently appeared in the Broadway productions Across the Potomac, Adonis (as Cupid again, for Henry E. Dixey), The Rainmaker of Syria, Le Voyage en Suisette and Love’s Extract.
The she ran into her first bit of negative and curious press.
Fannie Ward met Clarence Eugene Brown, a young man of means nicknamed “The Duke,” in 1891 while she was playing Cinderella at the Academy of Music. According to The World’s 1895 report, “It was not long before he had a latch-key for the flat on Columbus avenue where Miss Ward lived with her mother.”
One night in the Duke’s presence Fannie and her roommate had a quarrel, which may have been an act for his benefit. The result was Fannie begging the Duke to move her from her apartment, which he did, into the Oriental Hotel where the Duke registered as Clarence E. Brown and wife. “He paid for all the household expenses, kept horses and a landau [carriage] for Fannie and loaded her with jewels.”
Once she had secured this comfortable position Fannie stopped paying attention to the Duke. He kept sending her mother money but Fannie just wouldn’t see him. The Duke wound up hiring a detective, J.H. Deutsch, to keep tabs on Fannie and the actor Henry E. Dixey, the same fellow who had cast her in Adonis.
Eventually the despondent Duke came clean about Fannie to his father. Brown, Sr. was the source of the Duke’s funds and his reaction was harsh though not surprising. The Duke was immediately dismissed him from his job and sent West, out of Fannie and Mrs. Buchanan’s reach.
When the money stopped flowing to them Fannie and her mother tracked down the Duke’s father and accosted him on the street! From our lengthy 1895 report: “Brown repulsed her. A few days later she sent him a letter begging his help for the sake of herself and the child that she was to bear. In that letter she said that if her demand was not granted she would kill ‘The Duke’ one night. She gave him three days time to decide.”
Brown, Sr. would not concede to Fannie and Mrs. Buchanan’s demands. The Duke’s father eventually received correspondence threatening his own life. It was highlighted by “a big sputter of red ink on the letter, which was labeled ‘human blood.’”
The detective who the Duke had hired, Deutsch, was accused of writing that letter and of being in league with Fannie and her mother. The entire story came out during Deutsch’s trial. By this time Fannie and Mrs. Buchanan had left the country.
Fannie Ward was making a new name for herself in England.
Fannie later claimed that she first went to England on a pleasure trip in 1895, though given the timing of Detective Deutsch’s October 1894 indictment I can’t help but to get the feeling that she was laying low. At any rate she met George Edwardes, who engaged her for her London debut in The Shop Girl that year.She became a popular London attraction over the next few years working regularly in plays such as Cheer Boys, Cheer! in September 1895; A Night Out in 1896; with Charles Hawtrey in Lord and Lady Algy in March 1897; in The Cuckoo in 1898; and in Coralle & Co. and The Climbers in 1899.
By the time that the century turned Fannie Ward was off the stage. For awhile at least.
She took up residence at 3 Berkeley Square, nearby Buckingham Palace, as the wife of South African diamond merchant Joe Lewis. Fannie Ward was one of the richest women in London with a country home, Stratton Place, rumored to be the spot where Milton had written Paradise Lost. Lewis was reportedly worth some 40 to 50 million dollars.
Quite often the old Fannie Ward newspaper files confused themselves through a bit of mistaken identity involving her first husband. Fannie married Joe Lewis in, according to most reports, the year 1900 (some list 1898, most notably a 1952 edition of Life magazine). The papers made Fannie Ward a widow in 1901 when British financier Sam Lewis passed away. The press had the wrong Lewis and the wrong widow.
Fannie Ward had married Joe Lewis, whom by my best guess the international paper trail leads to a circa 1854 birth in Lithuania. This Lewis was the younger brother of Isaac Lewis who arrived in South Africa in 1870 and soon formed a partnership with his cousin Sammy Marks. Together the firm of Lewis and Marks built a fortune off of the Kimberly diamond mine. “Diamond Joe” Lewis must have followed because he was soon a member of the firm.
At any rate when this completely unrelated Sam Lewis died it stirred up a big round of publicity for his wealthy widow, believed by the press of 1901 to be our Fannie Ward. There was talk of her coming out of retirement, though at her then current worth I’m not quite sure I buy that.
A daughter, Dorothé Mabel Lewis, was born in 1900. Today, it appears to be common knowledge that the child did not belong to Joe Lewis, but was the result of an affair between Fannie and Charles Stewart Henry Vane-Tempest-Stewart, who, as the lengthy moniker may prepare you, held the title of 7th Marquess of Londonderry KG MVO PC PC (Ire), though was simply Viscount Castlereagh at the time of his dalliance with Fannie. Of course this wasn’t even hinted at in the period press during any of the lifetime of any of these figures.
Lord Londonderry supposedly conducted the affair with Fannie just prior to his November 1899 marriage. This makes the question of Fannie Ward’s marriage to Lewis all the most interesting: Did it occur in 1898 or 1900?
I lean 1900 as a single sentence reporting their union was syndicated across several American newspapers in May 1900. The only earlier connection I find between the pair is a July 1899 Syracuse Post Herald report of Lewis being Fannie’s most ardent admirer off the stage at a time when she was definitely in the market for a wealthy husband.
Fannie Ward Returns
She returned not just to the stage but to America and Broadway to play in A Marriage of Reason at Wallack’s Theatre in April 1907. Back and forth she went, to play In the Bishop’s Carriage in London in June 1907; back to the U.S. to play in A Fool and a Girl; and then back to London once again for The Marriage of William Ashe in April 1908.
And she kept right on working once she was home appearing in two additional London plays that year. When Fannie Ward returned to America in early 1909 she had one of her biggest hits in The New Lady Bantock.
“My heart and soul is in the theater. I can’t leave it. I would rather be what I am than have all the money in the world to spend and not be permitted to act,” she said at the time of her divorce from Joe Lewis in January 1913.
What had caused Fannie Ward’s return to the stage in 1907? Following the newspaper reports it was a desire that could not be restrained and, somewhat understandably, it eventually led to marriage strains.
When Diamond Joe Lewis died in 1928 his will left us able to imagine a more likely scenario:
“I wish to place on record that, having been a well-to-do man up to the year 1905 and never having owed anyone a single penny, in that year I met with great financial misfortune, and although the result of this meant absolute disaster to myself, I discharged all accounts owed by me, notwithstanding that in order to do so I rendered myself practically penniless” (’A Diamond Pioneer’s’).
Diamond Joe Lewis, whose wealth was often estimated at between $40-$50 million at the time of his marriage to Fannie Ward, went bust in 1905. Fannie returned to the stage in 1907 and more or less planted herself in America by 1909.
Fannie remained in America from the time of The New Lady Bancock. Joe Lewis obtained a divorce in London proving misconduct and naming a fellow actor, John H. Donovan, as co-respondent. One report of the 1913 proceedings carried the headline, “Fannie Ward Was a Very Naughty Girl.”
Fannie’s co-star in The New Lady Bantock, and later in her final Broadway show Madam President (1913), was John Wooster Dean. In December 1914 Mrs. Dean brought a $100,000 alienation of affection suit against Fannie. Almost precisely one year later, December 30, 1915, Fannie Ward married Jack Dean at the home of their friends Mr. And Mrs. Thomas Meighan.
Fannie Ward made her film debut earlier in 1915 for Paramount in a film titled The Marriage of Kitty. Jack Dean made his first movie appearance in this same title. They left their lasting legacy in Cecil B. De Mille’s The Cheat, released by Paramount about two weeks prior to their marriage.
While Edith Hardy of The Cheat is unlike the lighter fare that Fannie Ward had been playing on the stage for so many years, early in the movie, before her character gets in too deep, you can see evidence of the buoyant personality that likely made Fannie Ward so popular from 1890 onward.
The story is exactly the same as Paramount’s 1931 remake, though Fannie plays the wife a lot differently than Tallulah Bankhead. In fact, getting to know Fannie better during my work on this piece, I’d say each actress completely brings their own personality, or at least their publicly perceived personalities, to the role.
Tallulah slinks around acting the sophisticate and seems pretty hungry for Irving Pichel during even their earliest encounters. Fannie is happy-go-lucky, spoiled and irresponsible. While each woman runs through their respective husband’s money, Fannie seems more attached to him while doing so. Tallulah seems ready to throw herself off a bridge even before she finds herself lured to a compromising position.
While the most iconic images of Fannie Ward come courtesy of the infamous branding scene with the Japanese-born actor Sessue Hayakawa, Fannie shares just as much screen time with Jack Dean in The Cheat.
As with Tallulah and Harvey Stephens in the remake, the most memorable scenes between Fannie Ward and Jack Dean come with Dean’s revealing his turn in financial fortune to Fannie’s character and the eventual trial that wraps the movie up. Basically the scenes sandwiching the more memorable branding scene with Hayakawa.
As the problems mount and Fannie Ward has the happiness trampled out of her carefree character she turns into a raging animal calling to my mind some of Lillian Gish’s more animated moments of fury on the silent screen.
Fannie Ward and Jack Dean remained active for Paramount through the remainder of the 1910s and Fannie kept busy with sporadic sojourns into vaudeville throughout the 1920s.
Her daughter, Dorothé, had married Captain Jack Barnato, son of another big 19th Century South African diamond merchant, Barney Barnato, but was widowed slightly less than a year later when Barnato fell victim to influenza. Dorothé was said to inherit a fortune of over $3 million.
Her mother and step-father returned to Europe and Fannie even appeared in a couple of films in France.
When Dorothé married again, this time to Terence Conyngham Plunket, the 6th Baron Plunket, Fannie settled nearby. A 1925 clipping reported that Dorothé lived in one of London’s best areas and that she became a popular member of the British nobility. It was said that she “entertained lavishly,” often with her mother by her side.
That report on Dorothé actually originated from an article whose focus was otherwise entirely upon Fannie Ward. When the Paris caricaturist Sem came out with his latest collection of illustrations, including the one of Fannie and Jack Dean shown just below on this page, Fannie was outraged and slapped his face.
It’s hard to imagine the feud that this would ignite were it to happen today, but in 1925 Sem was “profusely apologetic.” He went home and had several of best works delivered to Fannie. Not only that, he removed the offensive cartoons of Fannie from his latest album causing the copies in circulation to become collector’s items, “now being bid on at fabulous prices.”Eve Golden wrote that Fannie opened a Paris beauty shop called “The Fountain of Youth” in 1926, though in 1925 she had been talking about opening just such a shop in New York.
Tragedy struck when Lord and Lady Plunkett were killed in a California plane crash in 1938. Dorothé and her husband were both just 38 years old. They left three children behind.
I’m leaving out a few lawsuits, both filed by and against Fannie over the years and a popularly reported penchant for having valuable jewels turn-up missing, but I don’t want to be the one to write that complete biography I wished for in my previous post.
Fannie and Jack remained married until his death in 1950. Jack Dean was 75.
Fannie Ward was reported to have been in ill health some time before her death. She was living in New York and had been unable to attend her grandson’s wedding in London some time soon before she passed.A friend found her unconscious inside her Park Avenue apartment on January 21, 1952. The papers reported that Fannie Ward was in a fight for her life, believed to have fallen into a coma the day before she was discovered.
While the Fannie I came to knew certainly would have enjoyed milking a few extra days press coverage from her calamity, her health unfortunately did not improve and she died January 27, 1952.
What we have to remember her best by, The Cheat, was barely mentioned in her obituaries. Instead there was her legacy of fame and fortune. Her 1890s trouble with The Duke was left unmentioned, as were other indiscretions throughout the years. The press chose to concentrate on the Fannie Ward who’d somehow kept cropping up in those most recent decades, the “Fountain of Youth Girl” who defied age.
I highly recommend The Cheat starring Fannie Ward, Sessue Hayakawa and Jack Dean. It can be viewed online on YouTube or the Internet Archive. It is also available on this DVD from Kino which also includes Leatrice Joy in another early DeMille title, Manslaughter (1922).
- ”Actress Dies in New York.” Frederick News Post 28 Jan 1952: 1. Newspaper Archive. Web. 21 Feb 2013.
- ”All the Wealth of South Africa Couldn’t Keep Her from Stage.” Des Moines Daily News 18 Jan 1913: 4. Newspaper Archive. Web. 22 Feb 2013.
- ”A Diamond Pioneer’s Misfortune.” Sunday Times (Perth) 13 Jan 1929: 6S. Trove. Web. 25 Feb 2013.
- ”Began in the Chorus: May Yohe, Edna May and Fanny Ward Conspicuous in London.” Syracuse Post Standard 9 Jul 1899: 16. Newspaper Archive. Web. 23 Feb 2013.
- Bertelli, C.F. “Fanny Ward and Paris Cartoonist Near Blows.” San Antonio Light 26 Aug 1925: 8. Newspaper Archive. Web. 22 Feb 2013.
- Camelon, David. ”Legendary Ladies: The Girl Who Wouldn’t Grow Old.” The American Weekly 24 Jul 1949: 16-17. Newspaper Archive. Web. 21 Feb 2013.
- ”Detective Deutsch Indicted.” New York World 10 Oct 1894: 9. NewspaperArchive. Web. 21 Feb 2013.
- ”Fabulous Fannie Ward Fights for Her Life.” Syracuse Herald Journal 22 Jan 1952: 1. Newspaper Archive. Web. 21 Feb 2013.
- ”Fannie Ward, Actress, Near Top of English Social Ladder.” Piqua Leader Dispatch 8 Jul 1908: 2. Newspaper Archive. Web. 21 Feb 2013.
- ”Fannie Ward Was a Very Naughty Girl.” Fort Wayne News 14 Jan 1913: 2. Newspaper Archive. Web. 21 Feb 2013.
- ”Fanny Ward Is Sued for $100,000.” The Syracuse Herald 17 Dec 1914. Old Fulton NY Post Cards. Web. 23 Feb 2013.
- ”Fanny Ward Weds J.W. Dean.” The Sun 31 Dec 1915: 7. Old Fulton NY Post Cards. Web. 23 Feb 2013.
- Golden, Eve. Golden Images: 41 Essays on Silent Film Stars. Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2001.
- Hanaford, Harry Prescott and Dixie Hines. Who’s Who in Music and Drama New York: H.P. Hanaford, 1914
- ”No Wonder Fanny Ward Slapped the Sardonic Sem’s Face.” Hamilton Evening Journal 20 Feb 1926: 15. Newspaper Archive. Web. 22 Feb 2013.
- ”Senior Brown’s Turn.” New York World 29 Oct 1895: 3. NewspaperArchive. Web. 21 Feb 2013.
- ”Survived by Three Sons.” Glasgow Herald 25 Feb 1938: 13. Google News. Web. 25 Feb 2013.
- "United States Census, 1880," index and images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/M6NC-39C : accessed 25 Feb 2013), Fannie Buchanan in household of John Buchanan, St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, United States; citing sheet 11C, family 3, NARA microfilm publication T9-0734.
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