Madeleine Parker – sighs and whispers
Haskell was well aware of her fatigue, pallor, and insomnia throughout the sea voyage. They had first met in 1935, on another journey, on board the liner the Ile to France, when they were both travelling from New York to London with one of the many Ballets Russes companies. Haskell later recalled that the first time he saw Parker, ‚Äúshe was spraying her throat with a small atomiser‚ÄĚ.
As he wrote in his memoir, Dancing Around the World: ‚ÄúShe was pretty in a fragile manner, her features delicately modelled, but the first impression she made on the Russian Ballet was not a favourable one. With her long coils of corn-coloured hair she would have seemed more in place in Hollywood, and she dressed it in a singularly unbecoming fashion that dwarfed her small features and gave her a large head, a mortal sin in ballet. In contradiction to her appearance, she was timid, diffident, retiring and no one seemed to know her well or enjoy her confidence.
‚ÄúHer first big role was that of Frivolity, in Les Presages, undertaken at a moment’s notice to replace [Tatiana] Riabouchinska, who had been left behind in New York with scarlet fever. The task was a formidable one, made more so by the fact that she did not yet belong to the large hypercritical family who asked nothing better than to keep an interloper outside until such time as she had proved herself beyond doubt. All this, together with the fact that she did not feel over strong, resulted in an indifferent performance. She knew it, and was worried at not having done herself justice. She felt an atmosphere of hostility. I was as sceptical about her abilities as any, but I liked the girl and consoled her, using arguments and excuses that I did not believe in myself. Also I plucked up courage and told her about her hairdressing, which she altered, now giving full value to her charming little head.‚ÄĚ
My new research into Parker‚Äôs life takes Haskell‚Äôs story as a starting point, but the more I read of his account, the more I realised how much had remained hidden. I delved into the online archive of Australian Newspapers to find out what others had said, what else had happened.
Parker was born in Fitchburg, Massachusetts, in 1912. She told Australian reporters in October 1936 that she began to learn ballet at the age of 8 (her first teacher was Michel Fokine, the Russian choreographer who had moved to the United States in 1919) and that she appeared on the stage of the Metropolitan Opera House when she was 12. Her mother was widowed and moved to New Hampshire. Parker trained with different teachers in the United States and performed professionally, but by the time she reached her early 20s, decided to try her luck in Hollywood. She appeared as an extra in two films shot in 1934, the ballet-themed The Night is Young, starring Evelyn Laye and Ramon Novaro, and Midsummer Night‚Äôs Dream, starring Dick Powell, Olivia de Havilland and James Cagney. In a fluffy white tutu surrounded by pointe shoes she was photographed by the London celebrity photographer, Sasha, (real name: Alexander Stewart). The photo‚Äôs date is given as April 25, 1929 meaning Parker would be only 17. Either the date is wrong, and it was actually taken in London in 1935, or Parker, accompanied by her mother visited London in the late 1920s.
Her film career was brief for early in 1935, she joined the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in Los Angeles during its long tour of the United States, and returned with the company to England later that year. On that journey, she became friendly with a small group including Haskell, the dancers Jean Hoyer, his wife Natalie Branitzka, the teenage dancer, Lelia Russell (stage name:¬† Lelia Roussova), and Lelia‚Äôs mother, Mrs Russell, known as ‚ÄėPete‚Äô.