Name-dropping Rockland's famed actress

By Daniel Dunkle | Mar 07, 2019
Source: Wikipedia (Public Domain photo) Gertrude Elliott was a famous actress from Rockland about 100 years ago, who acted on the stage and in silent films.

The March 4, 1919, edition of The Courier-Gazette includes a front-page letter home from Jesse Rosenberg, who had been traveling in Europe and reported meeting one of two famous actress sisters, who were born in Rockland.

The headline was: "MET GERTRUDE ELLIOTT."

"This is not a particularly pretty city," Rosenberg says of Saint Nazaire, France. (This struck me as funny, but when I looked it up online, others seem to agree). He goes on, "But I have spent such a short time in France that I simply enjoy the experience of being here. But I am longing to get home... However, don’t worry — I am feeling extremely well — and almost fat.

"When I was in London, I saw Gertrude Elliott. I sent up a note to her and she sent down an orchestra ticket and asked me to see her after the performance. I saw the play and saw her in the theatre after the play. She introduced me to her young son and was pleasant, she asked me to bear her greetings to all in Rockland. She is very pretty."

Gertrude Elliott is mentioned online on Wikipedia and the Internet Movie Database and even in the "Shore Village Story," Rockland's history book. Some online sources spell her name "Elliot."

She would have been 44 at the time of her meeting with our somewhat oddly blunt Jesse.

She was born Dec. 14, 1874, in Rockland. She and her more famous actress sister, Maxine Elliott, grew up in a house that no longer exists on Pleasant Street, and there's a bronze plaque (pictured) remembering them at Trackside Station. The plaque was placed there by the Woman's Educational Club in 1937, and I must add this group was a friend to the historian, having placed plaques in several places in the city.

I will also digress to add that the property where we find Trackside today and where their house once stood was also the location of City Hall at one time.

The sisters were stars of the stage and some of the early silent movies. Gertrude had roles in plays by Oscar Wilde and in a 1913 movie version of "Hamlet." She played Egyptian queen Cleopatra at one point.

She was married to Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson, who sounds very important anyway. She died Dec. 24, 1950, in Kent, England.

She must have been quite a celebrity that her mere mention in a brief letter merited front-page coverage. Who would be that celebrity from Rockland today?

Also, if someone suggests you are fat, you can say, "No, I'm extremely well, thanks."

In other news from a century ago, there were several letters in the Courier concerning the problem of prostitution, which I mentioned last week. "The Point," was apparently a center of this activity, being either a brothel or a red light district on the waterfront.

Looking back 50 years would bring us to March 1969, and the very entertaining Black Cat column. It was reported in this long-running column that the University of Rhode Island's Graduate School of Oceanography had built a mathematical model of the birth-to-death cycle of Homarus americanus -- the New England lobster. Anyone else have a "Roadrunner" flashback there? Data was loaded into an IBM System 360 Model 40 computer. It being 1969, this thing probably was the size of a room and 100 times less powerful than the phone irradiating your pocket right now.

"The study has revealed that state laws protecting large lobsters actually reduce the total catch without increasing the lobster population," it was reported. "Large male lobsters cannot mate with small female lobsters and they drive away small male lobsters that can. 'The result,' reports Prof. Saul B. Saila who is the study director, 'is that the female, who can only mate for a single 48-hour period every two years, loses her big chance.'" Then I love this kicker: "Somebody ought to report this to the Playboy crowd!"

The science is outdated, so I share this only for entertainment value. Also, I'm picturing Prof. Saila as the computer guy from "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory."

While I was visiting 1969 in my time machine over at The Rockland Public Library, I came upon a fun photo of a DeCoster Egg Farms tractor-trailer truck overturned as it rolled down to Rockland harbor from the Knox Pier, spilling mountains of chicken feed. The driver had shown up at the Knox Lincoln Farmers Co-op early on a Saturday morning and gone inside to do some paperwork. When he came out, the truck's brakes had failed and it had slid down into the harbor at low tide. It's the kind of picture we enjoy taking.

I was struck this week by the news that Stephen Burke of Warren had died. You may remember him as the founder of Sirius Graphics.

Most famously, he was one of the organizers of the protests against the widening of Route 1 in Warren. In June of 2002, the DOT construction project was faced with protesters trying to save local trees, especially one called the Elephant Tree.

If you were following the news in those days, you will remember perhaps the photo of Susan Higgins of Boothbay being placed in handcuffs, or maybe Lizzie Dickerson playing her guitar.

Burke was a rebel and a rabble-rouser, and was always willing to take a stand against something he saw as wrong. He fought for other causes, including trying to help get humanitarian aid to people in Cuba.

If you met him in person, he had a kind of charisma, with mischief in his eyes, but a warm smile, and it always seemed to me he cared deeply about other people. I would recommend reading his full obituary (https://knox.villagesoup.com/p/stephen-burke/1802946). It was printed in the Feb. 28 Courier.

I was touched by his way of looking at life, which is included at the end of the obituary:

"People first

Truth to power.

Simple as that.

Period."

Daniel Dunkle lives in Rockland. He is author of the novel, "The Scrimshaw Worm." Send in your stories, photos and memories via email at: ddunkle@villagesoup.com; or snail mail to: 91 Camden St., Suite 403, Rockland, ME 04841. Vintage Ink columns rely on back issues of The Courier-Gazette for source material. Other sources will be cited specifically.

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This plaque on the wall at Trackside Station remembers Rockland actresses Maxine and Gertrude Elliott. (Photo by: Daniel Dunkle)
A DeCoster Egg Farms truck overturns at Rockland Harbor in 1969. (Source: The Courier-Gazette)
Comments (1)
Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Mar 07, 2019 13:14

thanks for the memories....loved reading this!



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