Rita Jolivet

Rita Jolivet

Rita Jolivet (born "Marguerite Lucile Jolivet" 1890 in Paris, died March 2, 1971 in Nice, France) was an English actress of French descent in theater and silent movies in the early twentieth century. She was known in private life as the Countess Marguerita de Cippico.


She was one of three children of Charles Eugene Jolivet (1840 - 1920) from Carmansville, New York, an owner of extensive vineyards in France and his French wife, Pauline Hélène Vaillant (1857 - 1957), a talented musician. After marrying in 1879, Pauline did not appear again on the concert stage. Jolivet had a sister, Inez Henriette, and a brother, Alfred Eugene. Jolivet's great-great grandmother was the only member of her family to avoid the guillotine during the French Revolution. Her grandmother Vaillant was among the "beauties" in the court of Napoleon III. She was also a singer. On November 14, 1908 Jolivet married Alfred Charles Stern, but the marriage failed soon.

ocial prominence

Jolivet was an intimate of the inner society circles in London, England. She was a close friend of the family of Lord Lowther, the English ambassador to Turkey. Her sister, Leigh, was a noted violinist, who performed as Inez Jolivet. She had been awarded decorations from King Edward VII and Czar Nicholas II.


She began her stage career as a youth. Jolivet made her London debut in "Much Ado About Nothing". Jolivet acted the part of "Juliet" for William Poel of London, who produced "Romeo and Juliet". Poel maintained a company of players which performed in university towns in England, giving performances of Shakespeare. Jolivet was a pupil of Mademoiselle Thenaud. Thenaud was a former leading actress of the Comedie Francaise and a personal palm reader to Queen Victoria. In 1910 Jolivet was the leading lady of George Alexander in his play, "The Eccentric Lord Comberdene".

Jolivet played the role of "Marsinah" in the first American stage production of "Kismet" in 1911. Produced by Harrison Grey Fiske, the principal role of "Hajj" the beggar, was portrayed by Otis Skinner. "Kismet" was staged at the Knickerbocker Theatre in March 1912.

She was in the cast of "A Thousand Years Ago" presented at the Shubert Theatre (Broadway) in January 1914. The play was based on the book "A Thousand and One Tales", written by a Persian monk in the thirteenth century. Jolivet played the "Princess Turandot", Princess of
China. A critic described her as "lovely and attractive". He commented: "She plays charmingly, though inclined to be overshrill in the more dramatic episodes."

RMS Lusitania survivor

She was a passenger on the RMS Lusitania on May 7, 1915, when it was torpedoed by a German U-boat and sank in the Atlantic Ocean. Jolivet was rescued after standing with Charles Frohman on the bridge (ship) when the liner went down. The theatrical producer uttered his final words to Jolivet: "Why fear death? It is the most beautiful adventure in life."

Jolivet's brother-in-law, George L. Vernon, was drowned on the RMS Lusitania. He was going to join Jolivet's sister, Inez Vernon, who was residing in Europe. Inez Vernon became depressed following her husband's death and committed suicide in Apartment 19 of the Sumner Apartments, 31 West 11th Street, New York City in late July. Vernon shot herself in the right temple with a pistol. She was found by an apartment superintendent after being dead for at least three days.

Jolivet was saved when she climbed on a chair and obtained a life preserver which was in her stateroom. She plunged into the Atlantic Ocean before being saved. Jolivet testified in Federal District Court during a hearing regarding a petition of the Cunard Steamship Company, which owned the RMS Lusitania. The company was seeking a limitation of liabilities for the deaths and damage which occurred from the tragedy.

On January 27, 1916 she married her first husband, the Italian nobleman Count Giuseppe de Cippico in Kew Gardens, Surrey. He had a son from a previous marriage. Cippico and Jolivet had no children together, and the marriage ended in divorce.

After the divorce, Lady Marguerite Allan (the wife of Sir H. Montagu Allan), another survivor of the Lusitania, introduced Rita to the immensely popular son of her husband's first cousin, James Bryce Allan (d.1961) who was then living at 'The Cliff', Wemyss Bay, Renfrewshire. Known as 'Jimmy', he was the son of Captain (James) Bryce Allan (b.1862) who moved from Montreal and settled at Ballikinrain Castle, Stirlingshire. Jimmy was the grandson of Andrew Allan (1822-1901) of Montreal, President of the Allan Steamship Line after the death of his brother, Sir Hugh Allan.

Jimmy and Rita's marriage took place at the Church of Scotland in Paris on 26th April, 1928, and was 'celebrated with much fanfare'. The reception was held at Ballikinrain Castle (his father's 4,000 acre estate which employed fifty servants), which Jimmy had recently inherited from his father. After the war the couple took up travelling again and sold Ballinjinrain moving to a smaller castle in Scotland where parties were regularly thrown with royalty, heads of state and many other famous people on their lengthy guest lists.

In November 1919 her younger brother Alfred had married 29-year-old American Beatrice Witherbee who was also a "Lusitania" survivor. She had lost her mother Mary and her 4-year-old son Alfred Scott Witherbee, Jr. in the sinking and refused to talk about it for the rest of her life.

Movie career

Jolivet preferred film work to theater in some respects because the silent drama allowed her "more scope for dramatic expression."

Her film career started in Italy with the Ambrosia Company. She made "Fata Morgana" (1914), "Zvani" (1915), "Onore di Morire, L"' (1915), "Mano di Fatma, La" (1915), and "Cuore ed arte" (1915). She returned to Italy to make "Teodora" (1919). She portrays the Empress Theodora in a famous romance by the French dramatist Victorien Sardou. Historians disagree about the character of the wife of the Emperor Justinian. The movie depicts both her beauty and charm accurately. The film was first shown in American theaters in 1922.

Jolivet came to America and was affiliated with Famous Players-Lasky. Her first Hollywood movie is "The Unafraid" from 1914. In 1917 Jolivet and Vincent Serrano made "One Law For Both". The drama, directed by Ivan Abramson, illustrates the "secret and stirring methods of revolutionaries."

Jolivet and her husband donated the proceeds from "Lest We Forget" (1918) to "the alleviation of suffering caused by World War I." She was an avid Liberty Bond booster. It was reported that she sold more of them throughout the United States than Douglas Fairbanks, Sr, Charlie Chaplin, and Mary Pickford combined. In a single week in May 1918 Jolivet disposed of more than $5,000,000 in Liberty Bonds in Baltimore, Maryland.

"Lest We Forget" was shown in Washington, D.C., with Jolivet addressing audiences prior to three of its screenings. She told them of her riveting personal experiences since the war began in August 1914. At the outset of the conflict she was in France. In the motion picture she plays "Rita Heriot", who is a soprano in Paris, France. Heriot is rescued from the RMS Lusitania sinking after playing an engagement at the Metropolitan Theatre in New York City.

Jolivet continued making movies in France and Italy through 1926. The filmography of her later screen work includes the titles "The Bride's Confession" (1921), "Roger la Honte" (1922), "Messalina" (1922), "Phi-Phi" (1926), and "Marchand de bonheur" (1926).


* "The Jolivet Family and the Lusitania" by Mike Poirier and Jim Kalafus, Voyage Magazine, Issue 48, Titanic International Society
*cite news| publisher=Indianapolis Star |title=Actress, On Lusitania When Torpedoed, Pays Visit Here |date=May 3, 1918 |page=9
*cite news| publisher=La Crosse Tribune |title=Theodora Enormous Spectacle, At Rivoli Today To Wednesday |date=May 28, 1922|page=17
*cite news| publisher=New York Times |title=Fiske Entertains Author of Kismet |date=November 11, 1911 |page=13
*cite news| publisher=New York Times |title=Play Producing On A Wholesale Scale |date=January 4, 1914 |page=XA6
*cite news| publisher=New York Times |title=Mackaye Play Is Rich In Romance |date=January 7, 1914 |page=11
*cite news| publisher=New York Times |title=Lusitania Widow Commits Suicide |date=July 23, 1915 |page=9
*cite news| publisher=New York Times |title=Rita Jolivet Tells How Frohman Died |date=April 18, 1918 |page=8
*cite news| publisher=Ogden Examiner |title=Lusitania Picture Here On Wednseday |date=April 7, 1918 |page=15
*cite news| publisher=Syracuse Herald |title=Stage |date=February 24, 1918 |page=3
*cite news| publisher=Washington Post |title=English Girl With Skinner |date=December 17, 1911 |page=106
*cite news| publisher=Washington Post |title=An International Star |date=May 26, 1918|page=47

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