Sunday, February 13, 2011

Lea Remonde - Old Pal, Fat Friend

Lea Remonde had a sense of humor, as her writing on this photo nearly a hundred years ago would indicate: "Lovingly your old pal Lea" and "Who is your fat friend? Why--Lea Remonde." But other than somebody's "old pal" or "fat friend," who was she?

I come across old photos from time to time and wonder how they found their way into stacks of paper in antique shops or scattered across cyberspace on dealer Web sites. Each one has a story to tell about life lived and all the drama that comprises the human condition, but so many photos stashed in one box or space just seem to add to the anonymity of the faces peering back at you.

Many tug at you and make you wonder how they got orphaned. Surely, the photo mattered to a friend or loved one, somewhere, sometime. But several generations later, who's left to remember or even care?

This photo was taken in Chicago in 1911, if the inscription date on the back is in the same year the photo was taken. Lea had a copy (or copies) with her in Indianapolis and presented one to a friend, inscribed on the front and back.

Almost a century later, the photo given a friend in Indianapolis sat in an antique store in Cat Spring, Texas, where I found it. The mounted photo caught my eye, as I rummaged through a stack of vintage paper ephemera.

I was attracted to some aspect of Lea's personality thanks to the inscriptions, without which Lea's photo would have languished there or elsewhere indefinitely, I suspect. Maybe someone like the blogger of Tattered and Lost: Vernacular Photography would have rescued her from certain exile to the dump. I bought it for next to nothing, hoping to discover something interesting about Old Pal Lea and the life represented in this neglected image that had done some traveling. And so her old photo traveled to yet another Texas county.

The only references I could find for Lea Remonde were about her acting appearances in various plays in theaters from Illinois to New York. The time frame is also consistent with the date of this photo.

Lea appears to have been an actor in an Evanston, Illinois theater's stock company, but traveled as far away as New York State for small theater productions of long forgotten plays. The only other reference I can find of her whereabouts is on the back of the photo. She was in Indianapolis at the time she inscribed this photo. As the photo I have is not personalized in the inscription, perhaps she had a stack of signed photos to give to adoring fans. I know of at least one fan--a writer for the Lakeshore News in a 1912 column about the Evanston Theater doings:
As one sees Lea Remonde from week to week, they grow to realize that in her the company has an actress of ability. Her "Lize Heath" is one of the strong pictures, this week.
The play the reporter writes of is Salomy Jane, by Bret Harte. The performance reviewed was before a packed house, a record attendance for a Monday evening for the Evanston theater.

Lea even had aspirations to write and did manage to write at least one play. In a catalog of copyright entries from the Library of Congress, Lea Remonde of Chicago has the following entry for March 30, 1910:
Mrs. Dolan's dream; or, The washerwoman's dream, comedy sketch or play in one act, by L. Remonde. Typewritten. 11 pages. Fol.
Whether it made it to the stage, I don't know.

Old forgotten photos make me wonder where my own photos will wind up generations from now. When there is no one around who remembers me, will my paper matter travel to the dump or wind up in some resale shop (I would hope for an antique shop!) and would anyone stop to ponder my life? I'd get a kick out of knowing someone did, just as I think Lea would now that someone has done it for her.

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