Helen Carte

Helen Carte

Helen Carte or Helen Lenoir (May 12 1852 – May 5 1913) was the second wife of impresario and hotelier Richard D'Oyly Carte. She is best known for her stewardship of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company and Savoy Hotel from the end of the 19th Century and into the early 20th Century.

Life and career

Susan Helen Couper Black was born in Wigtown, Scotland, to George Couper Black (1820–c.1874), procurator fiscal and banker, and his wife, Ellen, née Barham (1823–1875? from Penzance), the second of four siblings. One of her brothers, John McConnell Black, later became a well-known botanist. Her grandfather, Robert Couper, M.D. was a Scottish poet. [Seeley, p. 17]

She attended the University of London from 1871 to 1874 and was a gifted student, passing the examinations for Special Certificates in mathematics and in logic and moral philosophy (the university did not award degrees to women until 1878). She also spoke several languages. She registered at the university as Helen Susan Black. After her studies, she taught mathematics and had a brief acting career, during which she changed her name to Helen Lenoir ("Black", in French). [Seeley, p. 18] She appeared at the Gaiety Theatre in Glasgow, Scotland, in "The Great Divorce Case". While a member of the Theatre Royal, in Dublin, Ireland in September 1875, Helen met Richard D'Oyly Carte. He was there to manage the first tour of "Trial by Jury", and Helen became fascinated by his vision for establishing a company to promote English comic opera. [Ainger, p. 111] She gave up her next engagement to join his theatrical organisation.Stedman, Jane W. [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/59169, "Carte, Helen (1852–1913)",] "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, September 2004, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/59169 accessed 12 September 2008]

In 1877, Helen's mother, then a widow, relocated with Helen's sister and two brothers to Australia. Helen, however, had just become secretary to Richard D'Oyly Carte and remained in London to help with production of "The Sorcerer" at the Opera Comique.

The woman behind the man

From the time that she was hired as Carte's secretary, Helen was intensely involved in his business affairs and had a grasp of detail and organisational and diplomacy skills that surpassed even Carte's. [Ainger, pp. 111–12] She became the business manager of the company and was also responsible for the Savoy Hotel, into which she introduced the new hydraulic passenger lifts. One of Helen's early tasks was to produce the British copyright performance of "The Pirates of Penzance" in Paignton. She made fifteen visits to America in order to promote Carte's interests, superintending arrangements for American productions and tours of the Gilbert and Sullivan operas. She also assisted in arranging American lecture tours for Oscar Wilde, Matthew Arnold and others. Helen, more than anyone else, was able to smooth out the differences among W. S. Gilbert, Arthur Sullivan, to ensure that the two produced more operas together. [Jacobs, Arthur. [http://www.oxforddnb.com/view/article/32311, "Carte, Richard D'Oyly (1844–1901)",] "Oxford Dictionary of National Biography", Oxford University Press, September 2004, accessed 12 September 2008, doi:10.1093/ref:odnb/32311] She also tactfully and sympathetically dealt with the personal and professional problems of the actors in the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company casts. The editor of "The Era" wrote in her obituary, "She never took advantage of anybody; but I never heard of her letting anybody take advantage of her."

In 1886, Carte raised Helen's salary to £1,000 a year plus a 10% commission on the net profits of all business at his theatres. According to historian Jane Stedman, "When she demurred, he wrote, 'You know very well, and so do all those who know anything about my affairs, that I could not have done the business at all, at any rate on nothing like the same scale, without you'". Carte's first wife had died in 1885, and Helen married Richard on 12 April 1888 in the Savoy Chapel, with Sir Arthur Sullivan acting as Carte's best man. [Goodman, Andrew. "Gilbert and Sullivan's London" (1988; 2000) Faber & Faber ISBN 0571200168] The couple's London home included the first private elevator. James McNeill Whistler, a client of Carte's agency and friend of the Cartes, made an etching of Helen in 1887 or 1888, "Miss Lenoir," and later helped to decorate the Cartes' home. Although some sources refer to Mrs. Carte as "Helen D'Oyly Carte," this name is not correct, because D'Oyly is a given name, not a surname. Therefore, Mrs. Carte's married name was "Helen Carte."

Throughout the 1890s, Carte's health was declining, and Helen assumed more and more of the responsibilities for the opera company and other family businesses. In his 1922 memoir, Henry Lytton described Mrs. Carte as follows::"She was a born business woman with an outstanding gift for organisation. No financial statement was too intricate for her, and no contract too abstruse. Once, when I had to put one of her letters to me before my legal adviser... he declared firmly 'this letter must have been written by a solicitor.' He would not admit that any woman could draw up a document so cleverly guarded with qualifications. Mrs. Carte, besides her natural business talent, had fine artistic taste and was a sound judge, too, of the capabilities of those who came to the theatre in search of engagements". [ [http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/books/lytton_secrets/ch4.html Lytton, Henry. "Secrets of a Savoyard" (1922), chapter 4] ]

In 1894, Carte hired his son Rupert D'Oyly Carte as an assistant. Rupert's older brother, Lucas, a barrister, was not involved in the family businesses and died of tuberculosis in 1907. With no new Gilbert and Sullivan shows written after 1896, the Savoy Theatre put on a number of other shows for comparatively short runs, including several of Sullivan's less successful operas. Young Rupert assisted Helen and W. S. Gilbert with the first revival of "The Yeomen of the Guard" at the Savoy in May 1897. ["New York Post", 7 January 1948] In 1899, the theatre finally had a new success in Sullivan and Basil Hood's "The Rose of Persia".

After Carte's death

Richard died in 1901 leaving the theatre, opera company and hotel to Helen, who assumed full control of the family businesses. She leased the Savoy Theatre to William Greet in 1901. She oversaw his management of the D'Oyly Carte Opera Company's revival at the Savoy of "Iolanthe", and several new comic operas including "The Emerald Isle", "Merrie England" and "A Princess of Kensington" (with music by Edward German and libretto by Basil Hood), which ran for four months in early 1903 and then toured. When "A Princess" closed at the Savoy, Helen leased the theatre to other managements until December 8 1906. Meanwhile, Mrs. Carte married Stanley Carr Boulter, a barrister, in 1902, but she continued to use the name Carte for her business dealings.

Her stepson Rupert took over his late father's role as Chairman of the Savoy Hotel in 1903, which Helen continued to own. The years between 1901 and 1906 saw a decline in the fortunes of the opera company. The number of D'Oyly Carte repertory companies touring the provinces gradually declined until there was only one left, visiting often small centres of population. After the company visited South Africa in 1905, more than half a year elapsed with no professional productions of G&S in the British Isles. During this period, Helen and Rupert focused their attention on the hotel side of the family interests, which were very profitable.

In late 1906, Helen re-acquired the performing rights to the Gilbert and Sullivan operas from Gilbert (she already had Sullivan's) and staged a repertory season at the Savoy Theatre, reviving the opera company and leasing the Savoy to herself. Helen persuaded the recently knighted Gilbert, now 71, to stage direct the productions in repertory, and once again she had to exercise the greatest tact, as Gilbert sometimes had difficulty accepting that he was no longer an equal partner and was taking no financial risk. The season, and the following one, were tremendous successes, revitalizing the company. Contemporary accounts describe her taking three curtain calls with Gilbert on the opening night of the 1906 revival of "The Yeomen of the Guard". After the repertory seasons in 1906-1908, however, the company did not perform in London again until 1919, only touring throughout Britain during that time.

In March 1909, Charles H. Workman assumed management of the Savoy Theatre from the now frail Helen Carte Boulter. However, she continued to manage the rest of the family businesses with the assistance of Rupert. In 1911, the company hired J. M. Gordon, who had been a member of the company under Gilbert's direction, as stage manager. Petite and energetic, Mrs. Carte was also so generous that King George V granted to her the order of the League of Mercy in 1912.

After another illness lasting several months, Helen died of a cerebral haemorrhage complicated by acute bronchitis in 1913, a week before her 61st birthday. A private funeral was held at Golders Green crematorium. In her will, she left the Savoy Theatre, the opera company and the Savoy Hotel to Rupert, bequests of £5,000 to each of her two brothers and smaller bequests to a number of friends and colleagues. She left the considerable residuary estate to her husband. ["The Times", 6 May 1913, p.11, reporting on Probated Will of Helen Boulter]



*cite book|last=Cellier|first=François|coauthors=Cunningham Bridgeman|title=Gilbert and Sullivan and Their Operas|location=Boston|publisher=Little, Brown and Company | year=1914
*Jones, Brian. "Patrick W. Halton", "W. S. Gilbert Society Journal", vol. 1 (1993), pp. 208-20
*cite book|last=Joseph|first=Tony|year=1994|title=D'Oyly Carte Opera Company, 1875-1982: An Unofficial History|location=London|publisher=Bunthorne Books ISBN 0-950-79921-1
*Pearson, Hesketh. "Gilbert: his life and strife" (1957)
*Prestige, Colin. "Ourselves and the operas", "Gilbert and Sullivan Journal", vol. 8 (May 1963), p. 159
* Seeley, Paul. "Who Was Helen Lenoir?", "The Savoyard", September 1982 - Vol XXI No. 2
*"Daily Mail" obituary, 6 May 1913
*"Evening News" obituary, 6 May 1913
*"The Star" obituary, 6 May 1913
*"The Times" obituary, 6 May 1913
*"Westminster Gazette" obituary, 6 May 1913
*"The Era" obituary, 10 May 1913

External links

* [http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/html/carte.html Article on the Carte family]
* [http://math.boisestate.edu/gas/html/carte_diana.html Another article about the Carte dynasty]
* [http://lyricoperasandiego.com/Education/PeopleCarte.htm Information from the Lyric Opera of San Diego]
* [http://www.whistler.arts.gla.ac.uk/biog/Leno_H.htm Profile of Mrs. Carte]
* [http://hcs.harvard.edu/hrgsp/old/productions/pir86/pir86arg.htm Description of Mrs. Carte's production of the Paignton performance of "Pirates"]

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