Madcap May: Mistress of Myth, Men, and Hope
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May Yohe was a popular entertainer from humble American origins who married and then abandoned a wealthy English Lord who owned the fabled Hope diamond--one of the most valuable objects in the world and now exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. May was a romantic who had numerous lovers and at least three husbands--though the tabloids rumored twelve. One included the playboy son of the Mayor of New York. May separated from him--twice--and cared for her next husband, a South African war hero and invalid whom she later shot.
Crossing the paths of Ethel Barrymore, Boris Karloff, Oscar Hammerstein, Teddy Roosevelt, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and the Prince of Wales, May Yohe was a foul-mouthed, sweet-voiced showgirl who drew both the praise and rebuke of Nobel laureate George Bernard Shaw. Nicknamed "Madcap May," she was a favorite of the press. In later years she faced several maternity claims and a law suit which she won. She was hospitalized in an insane asylum and escaped. She ran a rubber plantation in Singapore, a hotel in New Hampshire, and a chicken farm in Los Angeles. When all else failed, she washed floors in a Seattle shipyard, and during the Depression held a job as a government clerk. Shortly before her death, she fought, successfully, to regain her lost U.S. citizenship.
How was this woman, May Yohe, able to charm her way to international repute, live an impossible life, and also find the strength to persevere in light of the losses she suffered--in wealth, citizenship, love, and sanity? Madcap May, assembled from her writings and historical interviews, archival records, newspaper stories, scrapbooks, photographs, playbills, theatrical reviews, souvenirs, and silent film, tells her heretofore lost story.
figures who stood in her way or sought to do her wrong—the courts, the critics, the government, the British peerage. She also surmounted her ambivalence about the curse of the Hope diamond—a legend she herself helped invent. May Yohe’s resolve to win her battles and continually pick herself up from divorce, deceit, fraud, poverty, and disenfranchisement stemmed from a strong, almost uncanny adherence to her own self-made, ever-changing image. May saw herself not as a victim, but rather as a
Hastings and wife, and were intending to sail to Japan. May carefully planned her exit. She had to, traveling as she did with twelve trunks and other assorted luggage, one or two servants, and five dogs. She had informed the papers of her intention to go back to England. She had called her lawyer, Emanuel Friend, a few days before, saying “The white dove is flying over Castle Blayney. The trouble is all over—we have buried the hatchet, and I’m going to him.”4 The couple’s alias was probably
including the playboy son of the mayor of New York. May separated from him, not once, but twice. Her next husband was a South African war hero and invalid whom she later shot. May Yohe was a sweet-voiced, foul-mouthed showgirl who crossed paths with many famous people, including Ethel Barrymore, Boris Karloff, Oscar Hammerstein, Teddy Roosevelt, Consuelo Vanderbilt, and Edward, Prince of Wales. George Bernard Shaw, the Nobel laureate and playwright, praised her for her lively presence and
months later, handed him over to the Thomases, thus depriving him of his birthright. Despite public statements by Robert Thomas about the chance discovery of his adoption papers and his desire to meet May and get to know her as a “warmly affectionate friend,” the lawsuit was really an effort by Thomas to establish the right to inherit a portion of the estate left by Mary Urania Strong, Captain Strong’s wealthy mother.8 Robert Edgar Thomas and Rosa M. Thomas, 1935. (photo credit 15.1) Mrs.
Illustrated Sporting and Dramatic News, May 27, 1893, 434. New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, MWEZ+NC 20, 360. 5.5. Photograph by Alfred Ellis, October 24, 1893, London. John Culme’s Footlight Notes Collection. 5.6. Penny Illustrated Paper, June 6, 1896, issue 1828. 5.7. Photograph by Alfred Ellis, October 24, 1893. London, National Archives, United Kingdom, Kew, no. 14827-19, copy 1/414/302. 5.8. Color lithograph after a photograph by Alfred Ellis, c. 1893, published by Hopwood