Tuesday, January 31, 2023

Postcard: Maude Adams as Peter Pan

This month I've been reading Armond Fields' 2004 biography Maude Adams: Idol of American Theater, 1872-1953.

Maude Ewing Adams Kiskadden is a fascinating figure. For a time, she was the biggest star in American theater and earned vast amounts of money from her performances. She was also incredibly private about her life and became a recluse upon retirement. Her privacy was likely related, at least in part, to her sexuality; she had long-term relationships with two women during her life. (I'm at about the 75% mark of Fields' book, and so far it sticks mostly to her stage career, plus her sabbaticals to address exhaustion and her health.)1

For her stint as Peter Pan in the American debut of J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up, Adams appeared on stage about 500 times, nearly all to standing-room-only crowds. Fields describes that run's final performance at Broadway's Empire Theatre on January 4, 1908:

"Champagne was served in the lobby; autographed programs were given out to patrons; and no one wanted the play to finish. At the final curtain, instead of taking bows herself, Maude brought out the entire company to share the stage with her. Applause continued for many minutes. Although the crowd shouted for speeches, none were given. In a final gesture, Peter simply blew on his pipes and skipped merrily off the stage."

Peter Pan memorabilia and fashion were a craze in popular culture. Fields notes that Peter Pan hats and especially Peter Pan collars were all the rage. There was a limited edition souvenir book, filled with photos, that sold for $1, the equivalent of about $33 today!

And, of course, there were postcards. I wrote about a postcard of Adams' summer home in 2020. This card actually features Adams, dressed as Peter Pan. The photograph is by the Otto Sarony Company and is part of the "Rotograph" Series. 

The card was mailed in 1906 to a woman in Kidders, near Cayuga Lake in central New York state. In that year, messages could only written on the front of the card. This is the short cursive message below Peter Pan:

Sunday, Oct. 14

Going to-morrow, to spend the week in New York. Will go to see Peter Pan Wednesday afternoon. Wish you could be with us, is such a sweet play.

I'm not even going to hazard a guess on the signature. Have fun, if you wish...


1. Last month, Kaz Rowe released an hour-long documentary on YouTube titled "Maude Adams and the LGBTQ History of Peter Pan." It's well worth your time if this topic interests you.

1 comment:

  1. I was obsessed with Maude Adams back in the 80's due to the movie Somewhere in Time in which the main female lead played by Jane Seymour is based upon her. I have some sheet music with her photo on the front and did have her autograph for a while, though I ended up selling that.