Edna Maison, at Home in the Rarefied Aria of Opera and Silver Screen

Edna Maison; Picture Player Camera Men's Ball Souvenir Program, 1914

Edna Maison; Picture Player Camera Men’s Ball Souvenir Program, 1914

 

Maison, Maison

Carmen Edna K. Maisonave[1] (Masion, Mason, Masonave, Maysonave, Malsonave) was born on August 17, 1886, (not in 1892 is as so popularly quoted) in San Francisco, California to Peter (Pierre) Maisonave and Mary Ely; Edna’s only sibling, Marie Elise was born 1895. If Edna was not born into a wealthy situation, she at the least was birthed into an industrious household, which would benefit her greatly as an example of work ethic. Her father was a long time Los Angeles grocer, who immigrated to the United States from France, in April of 1872, at the age of nineteen, on his own. Peter Maisonave brought his background of farming to the States and that occupation never really played a part (besides the entrepreneurial spirit that accompanies it) in America for this ambitious young man. His initial work was as a cook but the following year he had risen to clerk at the Miner’s Restaurant at the southwest corner of Dupont and Broadway; while in San Francisco he became a naturalized citizen, this being in 1877. His next residence was in Los Angeles, where he met and married Mary Ely just three days before Thanksgiving, 1884;[2] the young couple moved to San Francisco in 1886 where he picked up the trade of cattle dealer and the Maisonaves welcomed Enda to the world.

The family moved from the City by the Bay in 1888, back to the Los Angeles area and Peter started the first incarnation of his grocery store, which work he would continue through 1893, and then taking a position with Edward Duggan a local restaurateur.  Mary Ann Ely Maisonave took care of their home and their two daughters; that task must have been daunting at times, considering that Peter’s business was often housed in their home. In between the different versions of the Masonave grocery store, Peter owned a wood, coal, hay and grain supply business.

This birthdate confusion (as stated above) for Edna Maison is of course as always an attempt to make the young actress seem younger still, and may have been added to by her parents. In the 1900 Federal Census she was born in 1886 and for the 1910 Federal Census her date of birth is listed as 1888. None of this age-play information in any way detracts from her early, distinct talents. Ms. Maison was a young woman of “much rich, dark beauty,” easily looking the part of a woman of Spanish bloodline,[3] she with brown hair and brown eyes. The family was Catholic and attended the Sacred Heart church in East Los Angeles; Ms. Masion was involved in singing in Catholic festivities and fund-raising events.[4]

 

Maison, Preamble to Hollywood

She began her performances at the age of six with the Fred Cooper Stock Company,[5] which operated at the Burbank Theater; the theater,[6] which was under construction was finally ready for patrons on Monday, November 27, 1893.[7] Her first professional operatic position was at the age of fifteen with the Tivoli Opera House in San Francisco in 1901;[8] it was after she developed her “rich contralto voice” that the renowned contralto Estafanin Callamarini, took up teaching Edna;[9] some thought that Maison gave Callamarini a run for first place as a contralto.[10] After a year with Tivoli, she migrated to Fisher’s Theater, playing in that stock company.

The Wave July 27, 1901

The Wave July 27, 1901

 

Whatever Edna’s theatrical pursuits were during the following period (the remainder of 1902 through the summer of 1903), they either were not news worthy or have been lost to us. When seventeen, Edna’s parents desired a practical education for her and she was enrolled at Woodbury Business College in 1903, graduating in 1904, where she learned stenography (working in that field for portions of 1904-1905-1906) and was a starter on the women’s basketball team there; hers was the privilege of being part of the first group of women to play hoops at Woodbury.[11] Maison also used some of her spare time while at the Woodbury Business College, acting with fellow students; we can see Edna front and center in the photo that the Los Angeles Herald published along with their story.

Ms. Maison at a Woodbury College state production; Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, February 9, 1904

Ms. Maison in a Woodbury College stage production; Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, February 9, 1904

 

Maison was quiet for a while on the stage working as a court-stenographer in the office of the Los Angeles County Clerk, C. G. Keyes, often taking dictation from Mr. Keyes and registering voters;[12] she did this until another opportunity presented itself. That circumstance happened in the early summer of 1906 with baritone Evan Baldwin; Baldwin wrote a sketch (Why Dorothy Went to College) and he and Edna performed the skit at the Orpheum Theater.[13] This (the Baldwin sketch) of a sort re-launched Maison’s singing career and thereby her part in film history.

Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, June 25, 1906

Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, June 25, 1906

 

In Ms. Maison’s next engagement, that began in the spring of 1907 with the California Opera Company, better known as, The Californians, she was under the direction of Tom Karl. Karl an operatic tenor had won his fame as a member of, The Bostonians, which was formally known as, The Boston Ideals, a touring opera company. During his later career he relied upon recitals in music halls and hotels for his income; he moved to the Los Angeles area in 1905. In 1907 he co-founded, The Californians, with Dollon M. Dewey, who had also been a backer of, The Bostonians. Edna was not among the list of principals of the troupe, who all were east-coast folks, but was definitely a member of the group; her engagement ended with, The Californians, with the ending of the company in late August of 1907.[14] It was her time with, The Californians, that she met Robert Z. Leonard who was a supporting member of the same company;[15] besides this operatic connection they had little (two recorded appearances together on film) in common professionally, except working at Universal with the same people.

For the 1907-1908 season Ms. Maison performed with the Princess Theatre of San Francisco, which presented a slate of comic operas and musical comedies; many of those (including Robert Leonard) who had appeared with, The Californians, were in this company, sans Tom Karl.[16] Theater critic James Crawford considered her the beauty of the cast, with a voice “not large” but of a “pretty color.”[17] She was a contralto soloist with the Edgar Temple Opera Company of Los Angeles, in 1908; again working alongside “Big Bob” Robert Z. Leonard.[18] In July of 1908 Edna performed with the Manhattan Opera Company, along with Nigel de Brulliere (Brulier, Brouillet),[19] who would appear with her in, The Dumb Girl of Portici, in 1916. The spring of 1909 found Maison with the Florence Stone company for a brief time; she was brought in to bolster the singing. The company went to Minneapolis at the end of May but returned quickly to Los Angeles.[20] At the first of July of 1909 Masion was again signed by the Majestic Musical Company, but, by Independence Day, she was taken ill and lost the position.[21]

Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, July 1, 1909

Los Angeles Herald, Los Angeles, California, July 1, 1909

 

Maison at the Movies

Maison was in many respects the picture of a cultured woman, fitting well the description oft written by author Jane Austin of a young lady of society. Her interests included painting, specializing in flowers, working with oils and water colors. Edna loved nature and the open spaces; she was quite fond of animals and enjoyed riding.[22] This last love was instrumental in getting her a job in motion pictures; they wanted a leading lady who not only fit her physical appearance but who could also ride a horse. Ms. Maison said she “had little difficulty in the landing the position,” and that the movies afforded her the advantage of staying home with her mother and father instead of the constant travel with an opera company. Edna was very nervous about the change from the stage to celluloid, not knowing if she “would make good or not,”[23] but that worry was unwarranted for she was quite the popular young star in Hollywood. Maison brought to the stage and to the camera an “apparently tireless vivacity” which when singing left her “vocalizations” composed; she was considered to have a phenomenal voice.[24] It must have taken significant back-bone and self-confidence to move from one field of endeavor where she was highly praised to another where she was an unknown and her most notable talent could not be appreciated.

1913 saw Edna Maison and Margarita Fischer run on the Suffrage ticket in the newly incorporated town of Universal City, with a population of more than one-thousand-three-hundred in the municipality inhabited exclusively by moving-picture people. Ms. Fischer ran for Fire Commissioner and Maison for one of the two Aldermen offices available in Universal City; each of the ladies won their campaigned for seats.[25]

Altoona Tribune, Altoona, Pennsylvania, May 20, 1913

Altoona Tribune, Altoona, Pennsylvania, May 20, 1913

 

In 1916, Edna Maison had the opportunity to sit in the chair of assistant director for, Alias Jane Jones, for which she also starred in; she stated that she preferred acting to directing.[26] Cleo Madison is credited as the lead but all surviving evidence points to the contrary. Besides the aforementioned blurb that ascribed assistant-directing duties and the lead by, Motography magazine, Maison is also listed in the leading role in numerous (the majority) newspapers of the day.[27] The confusion of who starred in the film is not confined to today only, but in 1916, many ads accredited Cleo Madison as the leading lady, and one melded the names and reported that it was Edna Madison who starred in the movie.[28]

In the spring of 1916 Maison left Universal, to consider an offer from vaudeville; in reality, she was quite ill and needed time to recuperate; she took those weeks into the summer of 1916 to weigh her options.[29] She stayed with Carl Laemmle at Universal Film for the following year and finally ended her film acting career with the H. N. Nelson Attractions production of, The Mysterious Mr. Browning, which was released in December of 1918; a year-and-a-half after her last Universal project opened. This marked the end of both the stage and screen career of Edna Maison, yet, although she was off the silver-screen and no longer treading the boards of the theater, she was none the less still remembered in Hollywood; she was one of those “early day associates” of Carl Laemmle, who attended his funeral in 1939.[30]

Edna Poste Griffith Masion was a busy actress during her seven or so years in the moving making community, with no less than one-hundred appearances before the cameras. This number of film roles that we are aware of now, may be short of the actual total. The Story World and Photodramatist magazine reported that Maison worked early with director Charles K. French of the original Bison Company, the western branch of the New York Motion Picture Corporation; Bison Motion Pictures released over one-hundred-seventy-five pictures from November of 1909 through July of 1910 under the direction of French;[31] if this reportage is accurate, then we have no idea how many films Maison was in, but we do know that it is more than what is currently listed.

Oddly enough, it was July of 1909 when Maison was taken ill and lost her job with the Majestic Musical Company, with no other reports of stage appearances for her, or any news items, from July of 1909 through autumn of 1912 (where her work with Pathé is mentioned). Could this be the period (summer of 1909 through the summer of 1911) of early film-making for the actress? We will most likely never know for sure. Maison was engaged no later than in the middle of 1911 with the Pathé Western Company,[32] yet, with Bison and the additional six or so months added to her Pathé period, our current knowledge (with documentary evidence) of her first flick was, and still remains, The Girl Sheriff (Pathé), released in April of 1912. Two films, one from 1913, the other form 1914 are missing from Ms. Maison’s catalog of movies, both of which, peculiarly starred Robert Z. Leonard; not that Leonard was peculiar but that two of Maison’s missing credits were with Leonard. The first was The Stolen Idol, 1913[33] and When Fate Disposes, released in 1914.

Santa Ana Register, Santa Ana, California, September 4, 1914

Santa Ana Register, Santa Ana, California, September 4, 1914

 

Maison Married and After:

Edna Maison married Tom Poste in the late spring of 1911 (the couple eloped and the ceremony was in Santa Ana),[34] he a haberdasher, owning the Alexandria Haberdashers of Los Angeles, located first,  in the Hotel Alexandria (at Spring Street and 5th Street), then taking a storefront next to the hotel.[35]

Hotel Alexandria Where Tom Poste had his haberdashery; circa 1906

Hotel Alexandria Where Tom Poste had his haberdashery; circa 1906

 

Poste was eleven years her senior and their marriage had many problems from the outset. Maison filed for divorce in late spring of 1913, submitting evidence of a tooth which had been knocked out of her head by her husband; while going through tough times Ms. Maison would move back in with her mother and father. And in fact, the couple resided with the Maisonaves for while; it was a crowded household, for Edna’s sister, Elise (she was an actress as well, known as Elsie Maison[36]) was living there as well. Poste countered Maison’s accusations with a report that she had “a superabundance of temperament;” Edna accused him of as she put it, “a razor hunt,” in early 1913, threatening to kill her. In November of 1912 Masonave tipped a quart of ice water over Poste’s head, while he knocked at the door of their home;[37] a violent and tumultuous relationship is putting it lightly. Maybe the most unusual charges presented by Masonave were those that Poste’s “love of fine clothes was satisfied to the extreme, when she had to wear a summer hat in the winter time.”[38] But the divorce was put on hold until in January of 1915, when the Poste residence was raided by the Police in Glendale, California, for vice related activities and Edna announced she would use the evidence of the raid in her divorce suit; which evidently she did not file.[39] Poste then counter-sued Maison for divorce in 1915, but the case was dismissed; in 1916 he would sue again in early autumn.[40] That was the action which dissolved their marriage sometime in the first ten months of 1917.

Ms. Masonave’s second husband was Beverly Howard “Speed” Griffith and unlike her first hubby, Griffith was a Hollywood insider. He was a strikingly good looking man, with dark hair, brown eyes and a dark complexion; not overly tall 5, 10½ and at one-hundred-seventy-five-pounds, a moderate statured man. Griffith, like Masonave, enjoyed the outdoors, swimming, boating and auto-racing. The couple was wed on Thanksgiving Weekend, of 1917 in Los Angeles.[41]

Beverly Griffith, Motion Picture Studio Annual 1916 by Motion Picture News

Beverly Griffith, Motion Picture Studio Annual 1916 by Motion Picture News

 

Griffith was in the film-industry in the administrative field and was a resident of Universal City. He began working with Keystone as an assistant property-man, following up by earning the position of assistant to Mack Sennett. Next he was the assistant to general-manager F. J. Balshoffer at the newly organized Sterling Motion Picture Company. Then Carl Laemmle hired him as the business manager for five producing companies at Universal; also Griffith managed Animated Weekly and was the chief cameraman for the news branch at Universal. He also was responsible for some scenarios at Kalem, Sterling and Universal,[42] and in 1918 he was with Sunshine Comedies (a subsidiary of Fox), as an assistant manager.[43]

Not long after their marriage, Masonave quit the movies with no explanation whatsoever. When her husband was stationed in Washington for his service in the army she lived with her parents in Los Angeles. After his discharge, Mr. Griffith traveled much during their marriage, with extended time apart, often taking a room at a boarding house rather than at a hotel. Contrary to popular belief, Masonave and Griffith did not remain wed until her death; the couple was divorced in 1938, it being finalized in Dade County, Florida.

Edna Maison became ill either in late 1941 or early 1942, which sickness she fought for four years;[44] she died on January 11, 1946, in Los Angeles, California. She was buried under her married name of Griffith at Calvary Cemetery on Whittier Boulevard where her father was interred in 1924, and followed three years later by her mother and finally her sister Elise in 1984. Each member of this close-knit family had the same style gravestone, with one word of description above their respective name, that of their relation; in order of their passing: Father; Daughter; Mother; Daughter. Although her career ended almost one-hundred years ago, it is important for us to remember and to celebrate that star of so long ago, who shone brightly for albeit, a brief period of time, yet her distinctive mark is forever left upon the annals of Hollywood’s ever growing biography.

 

Movie Card, Circa 1914

Movie Card, Circa 1914

Motion Picture Magazine, October, 1914

Motion Picture Magazine, October, 1914

 

By C. S. Williams

 

[1] Marion star (Marion, Ohio) December 6, 1913

[2] Monday, November 24, 1884

[3] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) April 5; 7 1908

[4] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) October 30; December 16; 18,  1906

[5] I can find no corroborating evidence that Maison performed with Cooper, but Fred Cooper was the theater’s manager. Also, if Maison was there she was seven, not six, when she began with the company.

[6] Dr. David Burbank had originally begun work on the theater in the 1880’s but it had come to naught because of land title issues, which were cleared up in 1893. His was not the only money involved in the project, un-named investors from San Francisco helped back the building: Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) May 3, 1893

[7] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) November 26; 28, 1893

[8] Motion Picture Studio Directory and trade Annual, published by Motion Picture News, 1916

[9] Marion Star (Marion, Ohio) December 6, 1913

[10] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) June 24, 1906

[11] Los Angeles Herald (September 27, 1903; January 17, 1904

[12] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) June 24, 1906

[13] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) June 25, 1906

[14] Atlanta Constitution (Atlanta, Georgia) February 28, 1880; The Critic (Washington, D.C.) February 18, 1888;

Saint  Paul Globe (Saint Paul, Minnesota) December 9, 1888; Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California)

December 31, 1905; January 7, 1906;  Santa Ana Register (Santa Ana, California) April 24, 1907;

Santa Cruz  Weekly Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California) August 24, 1907; Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California)

November 1, 1907; Marion Star (Marion, Ohio) December 6, 1913

[15]  San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California) January 14, 1912

Marion Star (Marion, Ohio) December 6, 1913

Motion Picture Studio Directory, Published by the Motion Picture News, 1916, 1919

[16] Santa Cruz Sentinel (Santa Cruz, California) November 1, 1907

San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California) November 3, 1907

Billboard, November 7, 1907

[17] San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California) October 29, 1907

[18] San Bernardino County Sun (San Bernardino, California) April 4, 1908

Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) April 16, 1908

[19] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) July 12,, 1908

[20] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) May 9, 1909

[21] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) January 15;  July 1; 4, 1909

[22] Marion Star (Marion, Ohio) December 6, 1913

[23] Motion Picture Magazine, January, 1915

[24] Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) April 5; 22, 1908

[25] Altoona tribune (Altoona, Pennsylvania) May 20, 1913

Daily Capital Journal (Salem, Oregon) June 13, 1913

[26] Motography, April 8, 1916

[27] Leavenworth Times (Leavenworth, Kansas) June 15, 1916; Daily Courier (Connellsville, Pennsylvania) June 21,

1916; Ottawa Herald (Ottawa, Kansas) July 6, 1916; Ogden Standard (Ogden, Utah) August 15, 1916;

Daily Republican (Rushville, Indiana) August 22, 1916; Daily Times-Democrat (Macon, Missouri) September 28,

  1. etc., etc…

[28] Tacoma Times (Tacoma, Washington) June 8, 1916

[29] Motography, April 22, 1916

[30] Film Daily, September 27, 1939

[31] Story World and Photodramatist, September, 1923

[32] Moving Picture World, November 30, 1912

[33] I attempted to refrain from mentioning the obvious, connecting the title with the fact that it is missing, but I was not successful in my effort, as is seen from this endnote.

[34] Morning Oregonian (Portland, Oregon) June 16, 1913

[35] The Grizzly Bear, December, 1907

Los Angeles Herald (Los Angeles, California) February 18; March 12, 1910

[36] Elise Maison among the movies she appeared in were : The Potter and the Clay, 1914; The Lumber Yard Gang;

Mr. Opp, 1917, and a handful of other films, citations:  Moving Picture World, September 26, 1914; Motion

Picture News, February 19, 1916; Moving Picture World, August 4, 1917

[37] San Francisco Call (San Francisco, California) June 16, 1913

[38] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) July 6, 1913

[39] Oakland Tribune (Oakland, California) January 30, 1915

[40] Variety, September 29, 1916

[41] Variety, December 14, 1917; the ceremony was held on Friday, November 30, 1917

[42] Motion Picture Studio Directory and Trade Annual, Published by Motion Picture News, 1916; 1918

[43] Photoplay, January, 1918

[44] Ogden standard-Examiner (Ogden, Utah) January 13, 1946

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