By: Michael Poirier and Jim Kalafus
Author’s note: (Putting together a puzzle can be frustrating, yet when one puts the final piece in one feels a sense of accomplishment. This story is like a puzzle. Most of the pieces are in place and perhaps someday the final piece will be added. The thrill of the hunt is exciting as is the sense of accomplishment when one puts everything together; especially if you have helped someone along the way. The following is the product of many people’s efforts and hard work. )
We received an email one day from Mary Jolivet. She had seen the authors name connected to Rita and the Lusitania and said that she was her grand niece. She told us that she wanted to put him in touch with her father Lawrence. He was Rita’s only nephew and Mary said that Rita had been “very fond” of him. Reading over her email, she gave us some background info on her dad. “He’s 83,” she said. We then recalled that Beatrice Witherbee had re-married an Alfred Jolivet and had given birth to a son Lawrence in 1920. We sent her a quick reply asking if his mother was by chance named Beatrice and if she also survived the Lusitania. She soon responded in the affirmative that “Trixie”, as she affectionately referred to her, was her grandmother. We had once speculated that perhaps Beatrice married a relative of Rita’s. Mary said she only knew scant details about her grandmother’s past. She described it as being “murky.” We revealed what we had on the two ladies and she said her father would be thrilled as he didn’t know too much about their involvement in the disaster. We were soon in touch by phone and found him to be very friendly and kind. Due to his friendship and his generosity, the story is nearly complete.
The date was May 1, 1915. Two women, whose lives would forever be intertwined, were getting ready to sail on the Lusitania. The tragedy, in which 1,198 people lost their lives, would bring Rita Jolivet and Beatrice Witherbee together.
Marguerite Lucile Jolivet, better known as actress Rita Jolivet, had been vacillating between which ship she should take. She was booked on the liner, New York and her name was on the printed list of passengers published in the New York Times. Her baggage was packed; Stage props, evening gowns, jewelry, and her trousseau worth 2,000 British pounds were ready to be brought to the pier. Yet, in the back of Rita’s mind, she thought the Lusitania would be a more suitable choice. The ship was one of the fastest liners crossing the Atlantic. “I wanted to see my brother before he went off to the front,” she declared. Her younger sibling Alfred was preparing to leave with his regiment, the Somersetshire Light Infantry. The New York was a much slower vessel and she was, “afraid of not seeing my brother.” Her other purpose, she claimed, was to journey to Turin to fulfill her contract with a leading Italian film company. She had just made her film debut in, Fate Morgana and The Unafraid. The presence on board of acquaintances such as Charles Frohman and Alfred Vanderbilt was further inducement for Rita to change her booking. Her friend and fellow thespian Ellen Terry tried to prevail upon her to keep her current booking. The New York, on which she was also sailing, was a neutral ship and would guarantee a safe crossing. The decision came to Rita early in the morning on the 1st. She made arrangements to switch her passage to the Lusitania.
Beatrice Witherbee had much to do when she arrived in New York on April 24th. Her husband Alfred Witherbee, head of Mexican Petroleum Solid Fuel Company, wanted to move his family to London permanently. This included his mother-in-law Mary “May ” Brown and his son Alfred junior. Beatrice had less than a week to finish packing up their belongings and to take care of any final business. Among her possessions were a gold mesh bag, diamond cluster ring, diamond and sapphire ring, solitaire pearl ring, furs, a silver fox, dresses from Maison Paul and Amy Lanker, table linens and silver. She had taken the Lusitania home and was friendly with Charles Hill and his family while aboard. Hill had been accompanying his wife Anita and their children back to the U.S. and was traveling back on the same ship to continue his overseas business. He would act as an informal escort for the trio. The night before the ship sailed, Beatrice and her family were staying at the Hotel Biltmore. Her brother-in-law, Sidney Witherbee, pleaded with her to take another ship. She declined to do so as she felt her chances of getting over safely were better on the Lusitania. The following morning, Sidney saw the announcement by the Germany Embassy and went down to the dock to try to persuade Beatrice not to sail, but she again refused.
The Cunard pier was alive with the excitement of sailing day when Rita arrived; shortly before 10 o’clock as she recollected. She had made it just in time, though she was less than happy when she was shown to her cabin, D-15. “It was a very bad room, because it was last moment, and I had to take an inside room. ” It could have been worse. The previous August, at the onset of the war, Rita had been in Naples. Thousands were fleeing, ships were overbooked, and she was only able to secure an ‘improved steerage’ cabin aboard the Verona. The ship docked, but the actress was detained by the Immigration Inspector as she only had 5 francs. Since she was not an American, she could not land unless she had sufficient funds or friends to greet her. Rita informed him that she had paid $143 for her passage. Her brother-in-law George Butler, whose professional name was George Vernon, was located and boarded the Verona to vouch for her.
The Witherbee family was led to their cabin D-52, an inside cabin. It was located across from the main staircase and the elevators, which offered easy access to the boat deck. Settling in, Beatrice may have had all sorts of well wishes from her husband; May 1st marked their fifth wedding anniversary. Staterooms on sailing day were usually filled with bon voyage telegrams, candy, flowers, and champagne. She had been a prominent society girl from Larchmont when she eloped with Witherbee. She was twenty and he was forty-nine. Alfred’s daughter, Mildred, was less than two years younger than his bride. Their honeymoon lasted till December of 1910, when they arrived in New York on the Caronia. She gave birth to a son, Alfred Scott Witherbee, on June 27, 1911.
Passengers milled about the decks waiting for the ship to sail. The delay lasted till about 1 o’clock, Rita recalled. It gave people a chance to explore the ship and see who was aboard. She marveled at the coincidence that George Vernon was on the Lusitania. “To my great surprise I found my brother-in-law was going back too. I met him on the boat. He had also decided to hurry back to his wife.” According to the newspapers of the time, Inez was ‘seriously ill’ with a severe throat infection. His other reason, which she may not have been aware of, was that he was negotiating a contract to sell Grand Duke Michael of Russia, brother to the Tsar, Westinghouse rifles. His wife Inez Jolivet was acquainted with the Russian Royal family as she had been decorated by the Tsar of Russia and King Edward during her career as a concert violinist. She also performed at the Metropolitan Opera House when not touring. Vernon himself was a tenor soloist, though he originally started out in a career in banking. He had to rush back to New York in order to catch the Lusitania. The day before, he had taken the train to the family homestead on Charlotte Street in Worcester, Massachusetts to help celebrate his nephew John’s ninth birthday. While he was there, he amused his family and friends by performing magic tricks. Rita may not have said much about her stateroom accommodations to George as he was situated in E-62, which was smaller than her own cabin.
Beatrice made arrangements with the dining room steward to have her son seated next to her at the dining room table and not in the nursery. One wonders how she got the steward to agree. Fellow passenger George Kessler saw young Alfred in the main dining room and noted that “This, of course, is not generally permitted,” but understandable since he was ” a charming little boy “. She was known by her family to get her way. Once, while blotting out her birthdate on her passport, in order to conceal her true age she was questioned by customs. “Oh pooh, everybody does it,” was her reply! Perhaps she used a similar strategy in regards to the seating situation. Charles Hill fulfilled his role as escort and sat with the family every day during meal time.
The two ladies may have met due to the fact that the actress brought her camera on the trip. Rita described the children on board as being, “very beautiful” and that she took many pictures of them. They were also about the same age and their cabins were fairly close. There was also the mutual on board acquaintance of Wallace Phillips. The Jolivet family is not quite sure how their friendship aboard the ship came about; what is known is that Rita was having a good time. She commented that the voyage as an “enjoyable one.” Certainly she relished being in the company of Charles Frohman, Alfred Vanderbilt, Captain Alick Scott, and her brother-in-law. The topics of conversation revolved around everything from theatre to rumors about being torpedoed. She remarked, “During the voyage I was one of a party constantly associated, including Alfred Vanderbilt and Charles Frohman. We often discussed the chances of a submarine attacking us and all laughed at the idea, believing that with the Lusitania’s speed no submarine could even threaten us.” Rita’s table was situated close to the entrance on the portside so who ever entered the dining room caught a glimpse of her.
George Kessler met Beatrice one afternoon, early in the voyage. He stated, “I had been asked by mutual friends to make myself known to her. When I did, Mrs. Witherbee was entirely wrapped up in her little boy, devoting herself in amusing him.” Not everyone appreciated lively children. Theodate Pope described being next to a “noisy family”. Her cabin was D-54, adjacent to the Witherbees’, however, the Crompton family were in the cabins directly behind hers. No doubt, the Crompton children were the offending family. Miss Pope eventually asked the purser to switch her cabin to “A” deck. The Witherbees’ steward Robert Niemann ( later changed to Barnes ) remembered the group. “Her name was Mrs. A.S. Witherbee, and Master A.S. Witherbee aged about 4 years. I think the old lady who was with Mrs. Witherbee and the boy, was Mrs. Witherbee’s mother, as she was very attached to the boy “.
Beatrice and Alfred Scott Witherbee, Jr.
Rita and her friends attended the Seaman’s Charity Concert in the First Class Lounge on the evening of May 6th, which was chaired by Mr. William Broderick-Cloete. She recalled the camaraderie of the last evening, “On Thursday night, I sat next to Mr. Vanderbilt and Mr. Frohman and all were in high spirits.” The May 7th edition of the ‘ Cunard Daily Bulletin ‘ recapped the previous night’s events. “Mr. W. Broderick-Cloete, who occupied the Chair, made a stirring appeal on behalf of the Charities, with the result that the handsome sum of 106 pounds 10s and 5d was contributed. The sale of programmes realized 16 pounds 14s and 2d.” The actress may have helped with selling programs. “I remember that Rita Jolivet, the actress, and I had been taking up a collection for the musicians, ” Rose Ellen Murray said years later. She could have mistaken someone else for Jolivet. Josephine Brandell, an actress and operatic singer, was known to have collected money on behalf of the musicians. Rita eventually went down to her cabin but found she could not rest. She later said, “I had not slept well.” Perhaps it was the euphoria of the voyage coming to a close or maybe, like Josephine Brandell, she was nervous due to the fact they were entering the danger zone. Needless to say, she rested most of the next morning and only got up in time for lunch. She observed that the Lusitania was not going very fast. “I noticed that she had slowed down; she seemed to me to be slowed down. ” The actress finished her lunch and walked, “along the corridor…to my cabin.” Shortly after the disaster, she said the reason she had gone to her stateroom was for a book to read.
Steward Robert Niemann attended to Beatrice and family on that final day, noting, “The ladies and the boy had gone to their cabin or on deck.” Charles Hill left shortly there after. “I had an appointment with Miss Hale, the ship’s stenographer for 2:00 p.m. to dictate some letters. “Moments later, at approximately 2:10 P.M., the Lusitania was torpedoed.
“I was down in my cabin at the time…As soon as I arrived in my cabin the shock came, ” Rita remembered. “I was thrown about a great deal.” She told of all the glasses and everything of a fragile nature going to pieces.” Well, the Germans have got us this time, ” cried the actress. She thought, at first, it was “a loose mine”. Looking out her cabin door, she saw a woman in the corridor putting on her lifebelt. Not needing any further prompting, “I climbed on to my bunk and got hold of the lifebelt; from the top of the wardrobe.”
Lifebelt in hand, Rita exited her cabin and made for the boat-deck. “With great difficulty, I walked through the corridor and walked up the four flights of stairs to deck ‘A’. I had trouble on account of the list; people were coming and going; it was very noticeable. “Finding Beatrice and her family was Charles Hill’s chief concern. ” I made my way through the alleyway and went to cabin 52 on ‘D’ deck, in the hope of assisting Mrs.Witherbee, her mother Mrs. Brown, and her boy Alfred. I found the cabin empty and as the water was already coming in, I chased up the steps back to ‘B’ deck. ”
George Vernon, Charles Frohman, Alick Scott, and Alfred Vanderbilt stood together on ‘A’ deck waiting for the actress to join them. She spied them in the throng of people gathering in the companionway. “I found my brother-in-law, Mr. Charles Frohman, and a Mr. Scott. I believe there was another gentleman behind, that they said was Mr. Vanderbilt.” Looking closer, she found it was Vanderbilt. George Vernon noticed she was only carrying one lifebelt. “Did you bring any others, ” he queried. ” No, ” she replied, ” Because I couldn’t reach the other. ” She realized then that there must have been more, but ” I didn’t know that there were other lifebelts in my room; there were, but I didn’t know at the time. ”
Seeing that the party needed lifejackets, Alick Scott went down to ‘B’ deck, where his cabin was located, to get them. ” He got up four lifebelts, and gave one to my brother-in-law and one to Mr. Frohman and one he kept for himself, ” Rita recounted. ” And while he was helping Mr. Frohman on with his, and my brother-in-law was helping me with mine, someone stole his lifebelt. ” Scott journeyed back downstairs for more, but ended up giving his to an old woman. His friends were impressed with his selflessness. ” We offered him ours, and he said, no, he could swim better than any of us. ” She recalled that his words were to the effect of, ” Why worry? We all have to die sometime. ”
Rita continued to stand, ” near the elevator; near the lift. ” Curious as to what was going on outside, ” I looked out on the deck and I saw a lifeboat being lowered, but the guard slipped; it was not lowered evenly, and the women and children were thrown out. ” Frohman cautioned them all to, ” Stay where you are. This is going to be a close call. We shall have more chances here than by rushing for the boats. ” Having witnessed the upending of the lowering lifeboat, she was inclined to agree. ” We stood talking about the Germans and the rumor which had gained currency to the effect that a man, obviously of German origin, had been arrested for tampering with the wireless, so I am not sure about its truth, but there were good grounds for believing it. ” Perhaps one of them had had spoken to Charles Hill who had related the following story. ” On Tuesday night before the wreck, the Staff-Captain, Anderson, told me that three suspicious characters had slipped past the cordon of secret service men at New York and they had afterward found them and confined them below. ”
Making his way from the portside to starboard, Wallace Phillips encountered the group. ” I saw Alfred Vanderbilt, Mr. Frohman, Guy Vernon, and Miss Rita Jolivet, A. Scott, and three or four others whom I did not know standing close together and spoke to them, stating that there was no chance whatever of getting off on that side of the boat and that they had better cross to the other side and do it quickly. All of the party however decided that they would stay where they were for a few minutes. ”
Frohman must have sensed that end was near. ” You know I have never feared death, ” he stated. ” To my mind, death is the most beautiful adventure which life can offer. The test for us at all time is too meet it as such. ” He then turned to them and said, ” We had better get out. ” Rita remembered the details of those final moments. ” My brother-in-law took hold of my hand, and I grasped the hand of Mr. Frohman who, as you know, was lame. Mr. Scott took hold of his other hand and Mr. Vanderbilt joined the row too… We went out on to the promenade deck and saw the ship was sinking right away, and ( we ) waited till the last moment. ”
Jolivet listened as Frohman spoke again. ” Why fear death? It is one of the most beautiful things that life holds for anyone. ” The Lusitania began its plunge to the bottom of the ocean. ” He had hardly spoken when with a tremendous roar, a great wave swept along ‘A’ deck… and the water swept me away from my brother-in-law and from Mr. Frohman, swept me with such great force that my buttoned shoes were swept off my feet. I was struck under water. I sank down twice. ” While she struggled under the sea, the last of the Lusitania disappeared.
What happened to Beatrice, Alfred, and May during the sinking is a mystery to her family. Any time they asked her about the Lusitania, she would say, ” Aww, you don’t want to hear about that. ” Lawrence Jolivet said that his grandmother Pauline Jolivet once told him that she thought that his mother had held onto Alfred in the water. Many mothers went into the sea with their children; Sarah Fish and her daughters Eileen and Marion; Elizabeth and Edith Brammer; Martha and Winifred Barker; Gertrude Adams and her daughter Joan. Some of the children would be pulled into lifeboats. Others would succumb to the effects of the cold water. Annie Baxter would tell a story about a young boy who clung to her neck in the water. He repeatedly asked her to save him and cried out, ” My father’s a millionaire. ”
There is some evidence that Beatrice and her family were in a boat that overturned. Reviewing the accounts of mothers who lost sons, Margaret Mackworth could only have been speaking about one of only a few women in the following story which took place aboard the rescue ship, Bluebell. ” The Captain of the Lusitania was amongst those rescued on our little boat, but I never heard him speak. The other exception was a woman who sat silent in the outer cabin. Presently she began to speak. Quietly, gently, in a low, rather monotonous voice, she described how she had lost her child. She had, so far as I can recollect, had been made to place him on a raft which owing to some mismanagement, had capsized. She considered that his death had been un-necessary; that it had been due to the lack of organisation and discipline on board, and gently and dispassionately, she said so to the Captain of the Lusitania.
The grave of Alfred Scott Witherbee, Jr.
A flurry of thoughts went through Rita’s mind as she rose to the surface. She told reporters that she intended to court, ” a speedy death ” and that she didn’t want to prolong the agony of swimming about. She soon found a lifeboat close by. ” There was an upturned boat on which I put my hand and clung to. We remained out there clinging on to it; we were sinking; and then came from under it a collapsible boat. ” Patrick McGinley, brother of Rose Ellen Murray, maintained that he helped Jolivet and Lady Allan aboard the craft. ” We remained out there clinging to the boat for three hours and a half. ” Eventually, her boat was rescued by the Katrina which was actually the Westborough in disguise. She asserted that they didn’t get to Queenstown till about, ” one o’clock in the morning. ”
Rita was taken to the Admiral’s house where she found a number of acquaintances. ” I took Mrs. Pearl, the wife of Major Pearl, and a Mrs. Thompson… and I went down to Queen’s Hotel, because Lady Allan was ill and there was nobody to take care of the people there. So I took care of Lady Allan. ” The newspapers recorded that the actress “massaged” the ladies to restore them. She didn’t suffer any consequences of being in the water so long, but ” had a slight abrasion and scratches on her face. ” She asked fellow passengers if they had seen George Vernon. Dr. James Houghton was reported to have said that he and Vernon were in the same boat when the latter became delirious and jumped overboard. ” I saw a man named Vernon go crazy and drown himself. ” Similar statements were given to her and the version she accepted was that he came across friends on a crowded raft. They wanted him to come aboard and he was to have said, ” No, I might overload it and bring you all down. ” Vernon supposedly frustrated by their efforts to bring him on to the raft, said as he was going down, ” Oh, don’t bother, I’m perfectly happy. ” Harold Boulton related years later that he met Rita at the hotel after they were rescued. He recalled seeing a curious item she had saved. ” She showed me the revolver. ” It was his understanding that a year after the disaster, ” the lifebelt and the pearl studded revolver were hung up in the entrance to the theatre, ” where she was performing.
Charles Hill met up with his steward Robert Niemann and the two began looking for Beatrice and her family. ” On Saturday morning Mr. Hill and I set out to try and find the two ladies and the boy. We found Mrs. Witherbee at the Queen’s Hotel. She asked us if we would try and find the boy and the old lady as she had not seen them. We searched the town everywhere… but we never saw the boy or the old lady.” Alfred Witherbee received word of the disaster and immediately traveled to Ireland, with an attaché from the American Embassy. The boy was recovered later on, body number 243, and buried in a private grave on June 16th. His stone states, ” Foully murdered by Germany. ” There was a rumor that May Brown had been identified, but nothing further came of it. The Consulate report noted that as of the 15th of May, Beatrice was in London with her husband at the Savoy Hotel. Friends grieved over her loss. ” Imagine the tragedy of this devoted lady. She had been saved and her darling boy and mother have been drowned, ” lamented George Kessler.
Rita did not remain long in Ireland and was soon on her way to her parent’s home;Medmenham, 3 Ennerdale Road, Kew Gardens, Surrey. She readily gave interviews to the press. The headline for her local paper read, ” Kew Actress’s Miraculous Escape. ” Recounting the disaster, she said that she ” felt deeply the loss of so many beautiful children ” and that she had lost everything except her furs and her maid which she had left behind in New York. She sent a telegram to the Butler family that read, ‘George died a hero.’
Two women were now at the crossroads. One was ready to move ahead with a flourishing career and her upcoming marriage. The other contemplated life without her child. Their lives were about to converge in a big way.
The role of Josie Richards in Broadway Jones was to be Rita’s next role. She began playing in theatres less than a month after the ship went down. Her sister Inez was distraught. A friend, Mr. Govin, recalled that the widow had often said she, ” had nothing more to live for. ” George Vernon’s body was recovered and buried in a private grave in Queenstown on May 17th. The property found on his person was forwarded to Inez on June 2nd. The Butler family received a cable from her. ‘ George died and God’s will be done. Am crushed and heartbroken. Hope to sail as soon as possible for America. Love. Inez Jolivet Vernon. ‘ She set sail on the St. Paul with several Lusitania survivors and two Titanic survivors; arriving in New York on June 13, 1915. She died a month later. ( See accompanying article for further details ) Rita traveled to Turin, Italy to fulfill her movie obligations and made a number of films that included; Zvani; L’ Onore di Morire; Monna Vanna; La Mano di Fatma; and Cuore ed arte. One of her directors was Cecil B. De Mille. She and her fiancé Count Giuseppe de Cippico set a date for their marriage. He accompanied her to New York on the Nieuw Amsterdam and arrived on September 30, 1915 and then returned to Italy shortly there after. She began preparing for her new role as Boriska Boltay in Mrs. Boltay’s Daughters. Count de Cippico came back on November 4th to spend the holidays with Rita.
Rita and Count Giuseppe de Cippico
Two days after Christmas, Alfred Witherbee filed claims on behalf of his wife and himself. She declared personal injuries resulting from the sinking. Documents also showed she inherited her mother’s estate. He said that his wife had taken with her $2,060 in cash belonging to him and some personal effects of his valued at $1,500. He also claimed the disaster brought about the ” loss of society and consortium of wife ” for which he wanted to be compensated $10,000. Evidently, she had refused his affections and he felt that the marriage was breaking down. They journeyed to Monte Carlo, despite their strained relationship, where he deserted her on April 15, 1916. He left Monte Carlo, and booked passage on the Lafayette in Bordeaux; arriving in the New York on May 22, 1916. Her new home was an institution!
A quiet marriage ceremony was planned for the Count and his new bride. They were wed by private license on January 27, 1916 at the home of her parents in Kew Gardens. Only a few friends and relatives were present for the occasion. This was a less formal than her first wedding to Alfred Charles Stern; the ceremony, which marked their short lived union, had taken place at St. Dionis’ Church, S.W. on November 14th, 1908. The de Cippicos decided to spend their honeymoon on Broadway and again took the Nieuw Amsterdam from Antigua to New York. She supposedly announced to the papers that would give up the stage for domestic life. She changed her first name to Margherita and also shaved several years off her age. Her promise to give up her career was short-lived. The two returned to Europe for a quick visit before she was due to start filming in the U.S. Rita apparently took pity on her friend Beatrice, retrieved her from the institution and invited her to stay. She convalesced at the Jolivet family home for many months. Lawrence Jolivet believes this was when Rita introduced his mother to his father, Alfred Eugene Jolivet, who was on leave from the army due to ill health caused by war wounds in 1917. The romance was not well-received by Rita who now referred to her former friend as, “that horrible Witherbee woman!” Pauline Jolivet did not like this situation and, as Lawrence remembers, she organized a ” Peace Luncheon “. The two eventually reconciled and got along ” perfectly well ” afterwards.
Rita made two films about the Lusitania. The first, Her Redemption, (1916) is little remembered, but the second, Lest We Forget is perhaps her best known film role. ( See accompanying article ) The movie did cause some dissension in the family because her father, Charles Eugene, gave $20,000 towards the project. Other forays into the movies included; The Honor to Die; Love’s Sacrifice; and An International Marriage. She was very conscientious of her audience. Rita went on tour when Lest We Forget came out and gave talks about her experience on the Lusitania wherever the movie was playing. The actress also related how she witnessed the first invasion of Belgium and Northern France. She made an appearance in Indianapolis on the third anniversary of the wreck. The local paper reported that the previous week she had appeared in Baltimore to help raise bonds. They announced, ” Miss Jolivet has sold more Liberty Bonds than Douglas Fairbanks, Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford. In Baltimore alone, she sold over five million dollars worth of bonds. ” Rita testified in court at the Limit of Liability hearings. She maintained that the portholes were open on the day of the disaster and that the ship was going slower than usual. She and her husband lived at 18 East 60th Street at the time of her testimony.
An international marriage
Rita’s 5th Avenue residence
Meanwhile, Beatrice set out to serve her husband with divorce papers. She made a trip to New York on the Baltic in 1917. Lusitania survivor Archibald Donald was also aboard. She and Alfred Jolivet had fallen in love and she wanted to end her marriage. It took almost two years, but she was finally able to bring him to court where she procured a divorce decree in Philadelphia on July 28, 1919. The war had ended and Alfred Jolivet joined her. They took up residence at 76 W. 85th St in New York City. Their wedding took place at City Hall on November 25, 1919. He described himself as a ‘ farm agent ‘ who was born in London, England and that he was 26 years old. She also claimed to have been born in London and that she was only 27 when in reality she was 29. The following year they traveled to France where his father Charles had a villa and she gave birth to a son, Lawrence Charles La Touche Jolivet. Alfred was troubled with fits of sleeplessness. It was attributed to a wound in his foot received while a Lieutenant in the army. His son believes it was actually shell shock. His doctor advised him that hard work would be the best cure, so he took the La Lorraine with the intention of settling in on a farm in Canada. Manual labor proved to be effective in his recovery and he eventually returned to his family who were living in London.
Her status as a Countess meant alot to Rita. Her nephew said that she had a calling card with a five point crown. He explained that on a scale of one to seven, seven points was the highest in terms of royalty. She became the stepmother to Giuseppe’s son Romano. Whether it was being photographed watching the races in Paris or making another movie, Rita frequently appeared in the news. Some of her more notable films were; Theodora, the Slave Princess; The Bride’s Confession; and Messalina. Yet, all was not well with Giuseppe, or ” Beppi ” as her family called him, and Rita’s marriage. They often took trips, but not together. The two eventually separated. She maintained a place in Monte Carlo where friends came to call on her. Amy Pearl and her daughter Audrey, survivors of the Lusitania, were among the visitors. Anthony Cunningham interviewed Audrey ( now Mrs. Hugh Lawson-Johnston ) for his book on shipwreck survivors. She fondly recalled the actress, ” My mother and I often went to visit a survivor called Rita Jolivet who was an actress. Believe it or not she made two films about the disaster. She lived in Monte Carlo at the time and was retired by then. She was utterly charming. ”
Alfred Witherbee passed away on June 19, 1922. Another chapter in Beatrice’s life was closed. She had been his third wife. His first wife was an orphan named Marie Antoinette
” Nettie ” Dunlap. Nettie had broken up the marriage of Lee Borden, a much older man, who in turn ” adopted ” her. She met Witherbee in Washington, D.C. and they were soon married. ” The invitation read, ” Mr. H. Lee Borden announces the marriage of his daughter, Marie Antoinette Dunlap, to A. Scott Witherbee.” Soon after their wedding, he discovered Nettie registered at a hotel with another married man. Alfred married again, but his second wife Mabel divorced him. His daughter Mildred Witherbee Gray, as Administratix of his estate, continued the case against Germany. She was eventually awarded $3,560 for his lost possessions. Beatrice on the other hand decided to withdraw her claim. She wrote to her private counsel, ” It is my deepest wish that the tragic death of my little son is not turned into profit or made a matter of money consideration. ” Lawrence once came across a picture of Alfred junior and asked his mother who the boy in the photo was. ” He was your half brother, ” she said. ” What happened to him, ” he inquired. ” Well, he drowned, ” she replied. That was the end of the conversation.
Following her divorce from the Count, Rita became engaged to James Bryce-Allan. He lived at the ” The Cliff “, Wemyss Bay, Renfrewshire, Scotland and was a cousin of Sir Montagu Allan, who owned the Allan Steamship Line. Again, we see that Rita kept in touch with another Lusitania survivor. Lady Marguerite Allan was the wife of Sir Montagu and most likely introduced her to ” Jimmy. ” Count de Cippico did not wait long to remarry. He met Mrs. Helen Hinman Leary, former wife of Mr. James Leary, and the two were wed in January 1927. The Jolivet family learned of Giuseppe’s death in 1941. Supposedly, he had been on vacation near the Alps and was riding his bicycle when he was hit by a car. Rita decided to end her film career around the time of her divorce. One of her final films was Le Marchand de bonheur which was produced in 1926.
Trixie Jolivet in San Remo
Beatrice’s health declined around 1924. She spent much time in bed due to an arthritic condition. Doctors said it was similar to infantile paralysis. She was sent to Switzerland for rest and fresh air. This complete, she traveled to Acqui, Italy for herbal and water treatments. One disquieting after effect was that her hair turned gray. Her son said she actually looked quite beautiful with gray hair. She returned to London in good health. Lawrence remarked that his mother was quite tall for a woman back then; she was 5’8. Though, she spoke with an English accent, she had American habits. He recalled that she ate corn on the cob, which was hard to find in England. Corn was referred to as maize and used for feeding cattle. She also ate her hard boiled eggs differently; she broke the shell and ate it in a small bowl versus chipping off the top. Beatrice also had copies of the New Yorker sent to her home in England.
Studio portrait of Rita circa 1920
Keeping her age a secret was important to Rita. Traveling on the Paris with her mother in 1924, they claimed to be 28 and 56 respectively. They were actually closer to 38 and 68. She told Jimmy and others that she was much younger than she was. Rita’s practice of introducing him as ” her much older brother ” was a constant irritation to Alfred. Lawrence said that his father found her to be ” too theatrical and overly dramatic”, but he never gave away her secret. Beatrice was always present when she introduced her ” elder ” brother. The two were about the same age, but anytime Rita referred to Alfred as being much older, the implication was that Beatrice was much older as well.
The marriage of James Bryce-Allan and Rita Jolivet was celebrated with much fanfare. Alfred Jolivet brought his family to Paris for the occasion. His son was to be the pageboy during the ceremony. Lawrence said that his outfit made him resemble ” Little Lord Fauntleroy. ” He got into a bit of trouble on the morning of the wedding. He somehow got into an elevator after dressing. Much to his parents chagrin, his clothing was splattered with grease from the machinery of the elevator. The ceremony took place on April 26, 1928 at the Church of Scotland in Paris. Unfortunately, the father of the bride had passed away a few years before the wedding. According to Lawrence Jolivet, there was a large reception in Scotland. He said that by tradition, the Lord of the manor was taken to his countryseat in a cart towed by his employees.
Grouse hunting with the Jolivet family
The principal residence of the Bryce-Allans was a castle called ” Ballikinrain “. It sat on 4,000 acres and employed 25 inside servants and 25 outside servants. When the help were not gardening, they worked on the ” grouse moor ” to prepare for grouse shooting. The Jolivets and the Bryce-Allans looked forward to September 12th, the start of the season which they referred to as ” The Glorious Twelfth “. The women came along, not to hunt, but for picnics. Rita went all out during the Christmas season. Alfred Jolivet and family traveled from Euston station to Scotland aboard a train called the, ” Flying Scotsman. ” Rita’s favorite pastime was organizing the Christmas pageant in Glasgow. Begrudgingly, the family would pile into two large Rolls Royces to see the plays. The cars were very large, like carriages, and the constant swaying caused Lawrence to be carsick. One of Rita’s productions was that of Peter Pan. Perhaps a nod to her friend Charles Frohman. All this was new to Jimmy, as he preferred to live simply. Rita also insisted on having apartments in Monte Carlo, a flat in Paris and a yacht named Scotia . The yacht was in the shape of a destroyer, about 4,000 tons and had a crew of 27. They used the Scotia to travel to Monte Carlo.
Rita and Jimmy Bryce-Allan aboard the Scotia
People began living less extravagantly in the 1930s, after the stock market crash. Jimmy and Rita sold their castle and moved to New York. He took the position of director of Coates; a cotton spinning company. Their new address was Central Park West. Alfred found the taxes in England to be getting very high and made the decision to move to Canada. So in 1938, he and Beatrice journeyed to British Columbia. They bought a home, which they staffed with a maid, a cook, and a chauffeur. Pauline Jolivet continued to alternate between her homes in England and France. Her grandson remembers her as intellectual and artistic. She ran a salon in Paris where authors, artists, and composers came for tea. Lawrence worked for an aircraft plant during the war and was sent to the east coast to look for parts. He let his aunt and uncle know he would be in the area and they invited him stay with them while he was in New York. He said they had a wonderful week together and that they took him to his first ice hockey game. The war ended and the Bryce-Allans’ took up traveling again. Ships or automobiles were not her only modes of travel, Lawrence recalled a picture showed her riding atop a camel. They bought another castle in Scotland, but it was smaller than ” Ballikinrain “. There were parties thrown with royalty, heads of state, and other famous people on the lengthy lists of guests.
Lawrence Jolivet joined in his parents in Canada and rose to prominence as a businessman and as the President of the British Columbia Federation. He also held a ranking position in the National Party. His grandmother, Pauline Jolivet lived to be 100 years old. Alfred Jolivet passed away on July 1, 1958. Lawrence married a woman named Patricia and they had two children, Mary and Timothy. Patricia was surprised to learn that her husband knew nothing of his mother’s past. She thought perhaps that after a few drinks she might be more agreeable to talk about her life. She did speak a little about the past. She was born in London and her full name was Beatrice Wilhemena Theodora La Touche, though her family and friends called her Trixie. Supposedly, she had two uncles William and Theodore, which is where her two middle names came from. Her father was James La Touche and she said that he was a Professor in Dublin. She was under the impression he was somehow involved in the uprising in Ireland. Her mother’s maiden name has been listed as Cummings.The family is also in possession of a painting by May Brown where she signed it as May Cummings. Her mother and her ” guardian, ” Mr. Brown, lived in New York; alternating between their home in Larchmont and the Jockey Club on East 19th Street. She recalled that there were two figures of jockeys as newel posts. Her school years were spent at the Convent of the Sacred Heart. It was on Hudson, she said. Mildred Witherbee said that by the time her father met Beatrice, the man she referred to as her ” guardian ” had been long dead. Alfred Witherbee must have been entranced with her. She remembered that he had a full scale portrait done of her. What became of Beatrice’s portrait after the divorce, is not known. They lived in Larchmont, during the early days of their marriage, on Prospect Avenue and were members of the Larchmont Yacht Club. Coincidentally, Titanic survivors Harry Anderson and Frederick Hoyt were also members. Riding in a cab one day, she accidentally left her sable coat behind. Did she try to find it, they asked? ” Aww, Witherbee would have bought me another one, ” she replied. He could definitely afford it. Beatrice asserted that her ex-husband was in direct competition with Charles Schwab. The couple used to travel frequently. The Lusitania had been a favorite of theirs and both often sailed on her. One time, she mentioned that she was on a ship going in one direction and Witherbee’s ship passed hers going in the other. She met Guglielmo Marconi on a ship and the two became good friends. She and her then-husband were frequent guests at the Marconi estate. He was, in fact, on the Lusitania with her when she sailed to New York in April 1915. Marconi gave a brief interview after the disaster to the New York Times where he lamented the loss of Beatrice’s mother. The Witherbees’ address at the time of the sinking was 222 W 72nd St in New York City. She and her husband also maintained suites at the Savoy and the Waldorf Astoria. And what about the Lusitania? ” Aww, you don’t want to hear about that, ” she declared and that was the end of that subject.
Trixie’s childhood residence, the Jockey Club
Was the Lusitania far from Beatrice’s mind? Someone who visited her after the disaster wrote, ” The combination of losing her only son and mother, together with the personal shock suffered by Mrs. Witherbee not only incapacitated her, but, to be perfectly frank, has created such a situation in Mrs. Witherbee’s mind that it has been practically impossible to get her to bring her mind to the Lusitania affair. ” As much as she tried to push the incident out of her mind, there were always reminders. Her sister-in-law was a survivor. She also had two close friends, Wallace and Ann Phillips who used to visit. Wallace Phillips being a fellow survivor of the shipwreck. Was Lawrence aware that her friend was aboard the Lusitania’s last voyage? He had no idea. All he knew was that he owned a fire-extinguisher company called Pyrene. Rita on the other hand, did talk about the disaster. She even wrote a letter, in later years, to her friend, playwright, Morehouse Ward describing the events. She spent most of her time in France where she kept busy as a theatre critic. Her reviews appeared in the Herald Tribune among other papers. James Bryce-Allan met an untimely end in 1961. He was pouring gas into a running car that backfired; he caught fire and died. Rita also died after a bizarre accident. She was entertaining a friend and claimed she could still do the jig. While dancing about she fell and was rushed to the hospital. Ever conscious about her age, she told her doctors, ” I’m only 77 years old. ” Marguerite Lucile Jolivet Stern de Cippico Bryce-Allan passed away in Nice, France on March 2, 1971, her age closer to 81. Her nephew said that her friend Bobby Chapelle carried out all the arrangements and her ashes were strewn. She did not retain much regarding her past though she was proud of her bond selling days and kept a large scrapbook of her wartime achievements.
An article in the Washington Post traces the Jolivet family back to the French Revolution. Rita’s great-great grandmother was supposedly the only one in her family not sent to the guillotine. Her grandmother Vaillant was described as one of the beauties in the court of Napolean the III and was said to be an ” exquisite singer. ” Pauline Helene Vaillant, herself was a concert musician. No doubt, her parents Amadee and Caroline fostered her talents. She decided to give up her career when she married Charles Eugene Jolivet. He was a widower, aged 39 who owned ‘extensive’ vineyards in France and she was a ” maiden ” age listed as 22. Their ceremony took place on September 11, 1879 at the Church of the Transfiguration in New York City. Charles was described as being from Carmansville, New York. It does not exist on any current map, but Lawrence heard that his grandfather had some connection to Schenectady. Their first child was Inez Henriette, followed by Marguerite Lucile and finally Alfred Eugene. The papers said that Inez was born in New York, while Rita was born in France ( though some sources indicate New York ). Alfred listed his birthplace as London.
Rita was taught French and English simultaneously and at a young age appeared in concert, reciting in both languages. Her mother sent her to London to study under Mrs. Kate Crowe ( also known as Kate Bateman ). Other mentors were Madame Thenard and Therese Kolb of the Comedie Francaise. She was trained in the art of pantomime and learned to dance at the Opera Comique. Rita’s first stage appearance was as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing; This was produced by William Poel of the Elizabethan Stage Society in 1903. Another early role was that of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. She was constantly on tour with the group giving performances at University towns in England. She was also cast in Much Ado About Nothing and Two Gentleman of Verona. Rita began appearing in leading roles at the Haymarket Theatre; as Marie in Lady Flirt; as Lucy in Beauty and the Barge; as Catharine in Jasper Bright; as Angele in The Cabinet Minister.
There came a period when Rita did not take any major roles between 1906-1908.
She traveled to Paris to perform with Gallipeaux, a distinguished comedian. She may have had to finish her schooling as well. Finally, she returned to the stage at about the time of her first wedding anniversary in 1909. Rita starred in Eccentric Lord Comberdene as Grand Duchess Ina Drovinski. Harrison Grey Fiske was in the audience one night while trying to coordinate the American production of Kismet. He engaged her for the role of Marsinah, daughter of Hajj the Beggar. The papers wrote that the part, ” demands abilities not only in the line of romantic and emotional acting, but in dancing and singing as well. ” The play opened at the Knickerbocker Theatre in 1911 and as another paper said, ” immediately scored an overwhelming success. ” She stayed in the role for two years before branching out. Her first part after Kismet was Gertrude in Where Ignorance is Bliss Rita then starred as Chinese Princess Turandot in A Thousand Years Ago at the Shubert Theatre. The Lancaster Daily Eagle referred to her as, ” The dramatic favorite of two Continents. ” Her final stage performance before sailing on the Lusitania was as Julia in What it Means to a Woman. She received rave reviews for her acting abilities. ” She scored a hit of the first magnitude and was hailed by all the metropolitan critics as one of the truly great artists and truly unique personalities of the present day. ”
Rita as Princess Turandot
Beatrice continued to live quietly in Canada with her cat Snoopy. Her granddaughter Mary mentioned that one of her hobbies was cutting out little stories about animals and Snoopy comics, as she was fond of them. ” She was the most vibrant, cheery person, ” Mary said of her grandmother, who died on December 16, 1977.
( Authors note: This article is the result of hard on the part of many people. First, we would like to dedicate this article to friends Lawrence and Mary Jolivet who graciously helped in any way possible. Janet Butler Haugaard, George Vernon’s grand niece, who shared her hard work on the Butler family history; Paul Latimer who tracked down Rita and Beatrice’s dates of death and provided other important information relating to the family; Jean Richards Timmermeister who also did research on our behalf; The staff at the Surrey Library; Josh Graml at the Newport Mariners Museum who gave permission to use Robert Niemann’s account, Lusitania Collection MS45; National Archives; Anthony Cunningham; Peter Kelly; Shelley Dziedzic; Hildo Theil, http://www.elginhistory.com/dgb/ch19.htm , Robert. R. Roberts; Roslyn Bernstein; Brittany Bailey, Frank and Charlotte DuBreuil; and Cheryl Grayko. )