Monday, June 3, 2013
Roy Pomeroy, The life of an Artist Part II: From England to Ohio and New York.
by Kate Corbett Pollack
What happened to Roy Pomeroy in the years preceding his Hollywood arrival? There is much more to his story, and continued research has revealed more details.
After the death of Roy’s father, William Henry Jobbins, Jeanette and the boys moved back to England. Jeannette, then in her thirties, found herself a widow who needed to provide for two young boys. She had been studying and developing her ideas on aesthetics and cosmetology for many years, and in 1895 started a company using the Pomeroy name she so cherished: Mrs. Pomeroy. In an interview from the era, Jeannette said she wanted to be able to give her boys a good education, which was the impetus for starting her company.[i]It was on Old Bond St. in London, and specialized in several areas of beauty, including electrolysis, dermatology, and hair and nail care, and carried a line of cosmetics. Her shop was right next to the Royal Arcade, a mall where Queen Victoria’s tailor worked. Bond Street was known for its affluent, high society patrons. By 1905, the company had become a success, and Jeannette was famous for her ideas on improving one’s countenance without surgery using the powers of the mind, a technique she claimed to have learned in India. Mrs. Pomeroy had shops in Dublin, Glasgow, and Birmingham, and Cape Town and Johannesburg in South Africa. Her advertisements promised that “Mrs. Pomeroy can do more for your face than anyone else in the world.” [ii]
The Rome Daily Sentinel (Rome, New York) announced in its November 24, 1905 edition that Mrs. Jeannette Pomeroy, “female scientist” would be visiting the United States for a tour. The article mentioned that Jeannette had studied “Asiatic and European races”, and suggested that some of Jeannette’s thoughts on beauty were controversial:
“As soon as Mrs. Pomeroy has scientifically ascertained the percentage of beauty in the American women, a purpose for which she intends making a tour of the continent, and has discovered whether the trend of physical charms is progressive or retrogressive she will conduct a series of free lectures in which she will point out the racial faults in form and face, locate the causes and suggest the remedies.”
Jeannette’s secretary, Charles Helmstreet, explained her intentions to the press in this same article:
“This is altogether an aesthetic and not an ethical movement…As a lover of the beautiful she desires that all people become physically perfect. She spent years in India, where she was born and where she learned how to direct the mind so that it may have an influence over physical defects.”
During this time period, it was not uncommon, even among progressives, to believe that certain features and traits were genetic flaws and could be scientifically “corrected” or eliminated in order to fit an idealized vision of human perfection. Ideas like Jeannette’s parallel the Eugenics movement, which in the early 20th Century was accepted as scientific by the United States and many European continues.
By about 1906, the company went into voluntary liquidation due to a hostile business takeover that Jeanette had trouble navigating. A group of businessmen wished to capitalize off her success, and were able to legally gain rights to Mrs. Pomeroy. A new company was formed by her rivals called Mrs. Pomeroy Ltd. Men hadn’t previously been a large part of her business, which had a confidential nature due to women wishing to keep their beauty rituals a secret. Jeannette likely faced backlash from her loyal customers who did not wish for men to be involved. She separated from James Scale at the time and started another business, attempting to continue using the Pomeroy name and retain her original customer base. However, she was not legally able to do so, despite the fact that she had her name and that of her sons changed to Pomeroy. Jeanette was ruined.
Defeated, Jeannette and her sons boarded an ocean liner for America. Her mother lived in Delaware, Ohio, where the family would stay. They arrived in America on March 30th, 1908. Roy was 15 and Arthur was 17. Their grandmother, Jeanette Gallagher Shepard[iii], was the matron of a house which boarded students on the Ohio Wesleyan College of Liberal Arts campus. The family went to live at the house, which was home to an eclectic mix of people including a family of four children whose parents were missionaries to South America. Roy was shortly afterwards accepted to the college.
Roy may not have ever known his biological father, who died when he was a year old, but he did inherit William’s artistic talent, as well as his mother’s scientific leanings. Roy studied electrical engineering at Ohio Wesleyan University, starting his freshman year at age 15. Arthur, also highly intelligent, had gone to Illinois to study entomology. By 1913, when he was 22 years old, Arthur was an entomologist at the United States Bureau of Entomology in Washington, DC. While Arthur had gone off on his own, Roy and his mother stuck together. She went with him wherever he traveled.
In 1913 Roy and his mother moved to Indianapolis, Indiana, where Roy had a studio in the Union Trust building. His illustrations appeared in the Indianapolis Star. Roy and Jeannette had an apartment on Julian Avenue in that city. It appears that the young man was taking care of and supporting his mother, who at this time was in her 60s.
By 1915, Roy was enrolled at the Art Academy of Cincinnati in Ohio, where he would study under Frank Duveneck, a talented artist who was a contemporary of Roy’s father and James McNeill Whistler’s back in 1880s Venice. Duveneck had been in Venice with a group of students at the time, and they had become enthralled with Whistler, who relished the attention and volunteered to show them some of his techniques (William Henry Jobbins, who disliked Whistler, was undoubtedly rolling his eyes the entire time.) Duveneck became a father-figure and mentor for Roy, and in his later biographies, Roy would credit the college and Duveneck as major influences on his career.
While in Ohio, Roy took a job as an artist for the Cincinnati Times-Star and the Dayton Journal, and did illustrations for Scribner’s, one of the most popular magazines in the country at the time. He also took a post-graduate course in “photographic chemistry”, according to his bio in the 1940 issue of Camera Craft magazine. Shortly after his graduation, Roy and Jeanette moved to New York. There Roy began his work as a portrait painter and scenic artist, as outlined in Part I of the story. However, there is much more to Roy’s New York years than initially written about in that post.
After his return to New York from WWI where he developed cameras for the Royal Air Force, Roy had developed a friendship with a handsome, enterprising young man who had similar interests: Nicholas Vladimir de Lippe Lipsky, a Russian prince who had arrived in New York in 1920 as part of the ballet company of Anna Pavlova. Anna Pavlova (1881-1931) was the first ballerina to tour the world, and founded her own ballet company. Roy had been given $50,000 by the British government for his camera inventions used during the war. He would have had the money at this time to keep up with a crowd of aristocratic people.[iv]
deLipsky had studied art, music and chemistry in Russia at the Imperial Universities, and had exhibited his theatre lighting and designs for European royalty. He was a master of innovative theatre lighting and used colored lights to create effects never before seen on the stage. Due to complex circumstances in Europe including the Russian Revolution, Lippe first traveled to Buckingham palace to stay, and found his way to America from there with Anna’s company by 1920.
Nicholas de Lipsky was well-received in New York, and designed sets for the Manhattan Opera House, the Criterion Theatre, and the Greenwich Village Follies. He also studied photography, and was able to transform negatives, using chemicals to make some aspects of photographs appear and others to disappear. He used a similar concept with his stage sets, making a scene change from night to day, inside to outside, and wintertime to summer in a matter of seconds. This was highly original and innovative for the early 20th century. An October, 1921 article in the New York Evening Post reported that de Lipsky “revolutionized the concept of stage setting in the theatre that has been built up laboriously in the last fifty years.” deLipsky’s innovations in photography were similar to Roy Pomeroy’s, and by 1921, local theatre news was reporting that the two men had teamed up to create stage effects for the Greenwich Village Follies . They also worked together on photoplays, which were films taken of the stage. Their work was clearly impressive and often astounding, according to newspaper and magazine articles from the era, which covered many of their projects.
Around this time, Roy met his future wife, Miss Sylvia Jewel, whose real name was Elizabeth Whittaker. Sylvia had moved to the city from Kentucky. She was born in Paris, Bourbon County, on 11 March 1894 to C. G. Whittaker and Sarah Newman. An aspiring actress, Sylvia worked as an artist’s model, and was very well-known as one of the most famous models around. In the April 24th, 1919 edition of the Fort Wayne News Sentinel of Indiana, Sylvia was called “the perfect woman”:
“The perfect woman has been found. At least that is the belief of many of the best known artists of New York. She is Miss Sylvia Jewel and she lives in a tiny room on the top of one of New York’s skyscrapers. Perhaps her wonderful golden hair has pleased you on the cover of your favorite magazine or her pretty face in the illustrations of the latest books.[v]
The couple most likely met when Sylvia posed for one of Roy’s many illustrations at his artist’s studio. Sylvia was part of a group of artists called “The Society of Illustrators”, formed in 1901 to promote art and illustrations and have occasional exhibits. Women were not initially allowed in the group, but Sylvia had performed with them in a stage show at the Garden Theatre in 1919, the year before they decided to admit women, and John Jacob Astor was in the audience. It is possible Sylvia’s talent influenced the group’s decision. Among the members was Charles Dana Gibson, creator of the Gibson Girl, and Frank Godwin, illustrator and comic artist.
Sylvia was the subject of American Impressionist Childe Hassam’s oil painting “Sylvia Jewell” which was exhibited at the Albright Art Gallery in Buffalo, New York in September of 1920.[vi] When Sylvia wasn’t modeling, according to the 1920 census, she worked in the movies. In 1922, she was working for the Spencer Lens Company in New York. It is possible that Sylvia’s connections led Roy to become introduced to Hollywood producer Jesse L. Lasky.
Roy’s Hollywood opportunity couldn’t have come at a better time: he had become embroiled in highly publicized scandal involving Nicholas de Lipsky. The married prince had been living with his mistress, Countess Claude de Montesse, in a rooming-house on West 88th St in Manhattan, under the guise that they were brother and sister. The Countess became pregnant, and an illegal abortion was performed by a private doctor. The Countess as a result became septic. Abortion, illegal in the United States before 1973, was sometimes performed in seclusion by a doctor in a woman’s home for a few thousand dollars. Often, a doctor did not know how to do one, and when the woman began to die, the doctor would flee the scene in order to avoid prosecution. This is what happened in the case of the Countess. As she languished, slowly and painfully dying, Roy and Nicholas frantically rushed to find a doctor who would treat her. Roy called his own doctor, who arrived at the scene, took one look at the dying Countess and refused to have anything to do with it. He knew she had received an illegal abortion, so he would not treat her. Nicholas managed to procure another doctor to operate, but by then, it was too late. The Countess died from septic peritonitis. The story would not have come to light if it hadn’t been for another brewing scandal: Nicholas’ estranged wife, Elaine, began a divorce proceeding in 1923, alleging that he had run off with her sister. Princess Elaine de Lipsky went to the press, and told them every sordid detail involving the Prince that she could think of, including the death of the Countess.[vii]
The story had so many layers of scandal: royal intrigue, illegal abortion, adultery and death; newspapers and tabloids pounced on it, running regular features. Roy Pomeroy’s name was frequently mentioned in conjunction with the story. A December, 1923 New York Times article reported that the police were looking to question him. Jesse L. Lasky’s arrival in Roy’s life had occurred at the perfect time, and provided him with a chance to leave New York for Hollywood at the height of the scandal.
Jeanette had continued to live with Roy this entire time, and was even mentioned in part of the scandal with Lipsky. She was the one who told de Lipsky’s landlord that he and the countess were not brother and sister. It appears at this time that Roy must have been out of money and unable to support his mother, because she was deported third class back to England. Perhaps his extravagant lifestyle with de Lipsky had drained his finances. Maintaining a studio in Manhattan, funding inventions and dating the most sought-after artist’s model in the city most likely contributed to his financial strains.
After arriving in California, Roy and Sylvia were married in Los Angeles in 1922. It seems she may have settled into married life at the time, because little is known about her after this date. Roy’s mother retired in England, where she died in Dartford, Kent in 1932. And in 1947, Roy took an overdose of sleeping pills.
What caused Roy to commit suicide? Both he and his mother reached very high levels of success, only to have it taken away from them. Jeannette wasn’t able to ever recover her success, and instead seemed to focus her attention on Roy, perhaps pushing him to achieve instead. Roy was clearly a talented, hard worker who easily fell in with similar people. However, their influence on him could be damaging. From his experience with de Lipsky to his difficulties in Hollywood, Roy found trouble interlaced with fame. He was never able to truly be a part of Hollywood royalty and perhaps felt bitter. It is also possible that he suffered from depression. After things fell apart with Paramount, Roy attempted to revive his career in England and help that country move into the talking picture era. However, this endeavor was unsuccessful. Was it Roy’s arrogant attitude that again led him to trouble in England? As we saw in Part I of this story, Roy returned to America and worked for a spell at RKO. However, he was unable to remain at any studio for long.
Like his mother, Roy’s work and creations as a director and effects technician were usurped and taken over by a group of people who did not originate them. Roy was pushed out of his position as sound effects technician by William DeMille, in a takeover masterminded by Jesse L. Lasky, just as his mother’s company had been effectively stolen from her by savvy businessmen. Neither was ever able to regain their former glory. Perhaps the disappointment was too much for Roy to bear.
What was the nature of Roy’s relationship with his mother? After her business failed, Jeannette invested a lot of energy into being around Roy all the time. It is possible she was trying to make him the success that she wasn’t. If this is so, it is possible that Roy felt he had failed his mother, and perhaps his wife, who was someone who also desired fame and success. For some reason Roy did not bring his mother with him to Hollywood, and Sylvia did not seem to remember Jeannette’s name on Roy’s death certificate despite the fact that Jeannette had lived with Roy almost up to his removal to California with Sylvia. Did Roy simply not talk about his mother with his wife? Roy could have continued to support his mother after he and Sylvia moved to California and he started making real money. Did he have her deported because he could no longer stand being around her?
Sylvia died on February 26, 1965 in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, an affluent area. She was 70. It does not seem that she remarried.
There are many questions that remain unanswered about Roy Pomeroy’s life. More research may be able to clear some of them up. In the meantime, we welcome readers to speculate. It is interesting also to note that Roy’s Oscar statuette for Engineering Effects for his work on “Wings” is still missing. Roy and Sylvia did not have any children. Perhaps there is a reader who has some information that could lead to the discovery of Roy’s Oscar.
[i]“A Successful Business Woman. Mrs. Pomeroy.” The Mail and Empire, Toronto, Saturday March 11, 1899. p. 5 col 4-7.
[ii]Mrs. Pomeroy. Advertisement.Who's Who 1905 1905: Ii. Print.
[iii]During the Civil War, “Soldier’s Fairs” were held to raise money for the Union, promote enlistment, and endow orphan’s asylums, among other things. Jeanette Gallagher Shepherd sent silk worms from India to aid in this effort. She had her own silk-growing establishment there.
[iv]“Pomeroy Has Mastered Many Professions”, The Standard Union, Brooklyn, NY. October 13, 1929 p.9 col 5.
[v] “Dainty 120-Pound, Five-Foot Five New Yorker Considered By Many As Most Perfect Woman” article, Syracuse Journal, Syracuse, Onondaga County, New York, 18 Apr 1919, p. 12/col. 1-3
[vi]Childe Hassom was a favorite artist of Brooke Astor’s. A painting she had of his, “Up the Avenue from Thirty-Fourth Street” was sold by her son Anthony Marshall in 2002 for $10,000,000. The painting was then sold by the buyer almost immediately afterwards for $20,000,000. Originally, Brooke had bequeathed the painting to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.Anthony Marshall had conned his senile mother out of her beloved painting so he could pocket the money, a scheme that was at the height of the scandal involving the Astor family in the late 2000s. Anthony Marshall was sentenced to prison.
[vii] “Death of Countess Here Investigated” article, The New York Times, New York City, New York County, New York, 22 Dec 1923, p. 2/col. 2