<The Times, April 29, 1975>
<MISS PHYLLIS DARE>
<A musical comedienne>
Miss Phyllis Dare, the actress, who died on Sunday at the age of 84,
was for years a leading lady of musical comedy, as was her elder
sister Miss Zena Dare; but, unlike her sister, she did not make a
second, successful career for herself in straight comedy in later
life. It seems as if she remained in the world of musical romance, and
when such work no longer came to her, she in effect retired. Her
sister died in March.
Born on August 15, 1890, the daughter of Arthur Dones, a clerk in the
Divorce Court, Phyllis was three and a half years younger than Zena,
but they first appeared together, under the stage name Dare, in a
pantomime in 1899, after which their next professional association was
Seymour Hicks engaged Phyllis for a child's role in his _Bluebell in
Fairyland_ and entrusted her in 1905 with the heroine's role in _The
Catch of the Season_ in sucession to Zena and to his wife Ellaline
Terriss, for whom he had originally written it.
Phyllis Dare also succeeded the American star Edna May in _The Belle
of Mayfair_, and soon afterwards had her first experience of singing a
number by Paul A. Rubens, an Old Wykehamist, a former member of the
Oxford University Dramatic Society and a prolific composer, for whom
she was to work in three more of his musical plays.
It was not, however, in a Rubens show but in _The Arcadians_ that she
had her first long run. Her next pieces, _The Girl in the Train_,
_Peggy_, and Rubens's _The Sunshine Girl_, were all staged by George
Edwardes, the father of musical comedy, the last two at the Gaity
Theatre; but according to its chronicler Macqueen-Pope, Phyllis Dare
was not the perfect leading lady for that theatre. She with her grace
and repose was like a pearl, whereas what the Gaity needed, and had
previously had in Gertie Millar, was a glittering diamond.
Certainly it was not there but at the Adelphi that she played her next
two leading roles, which proved to be the last of a series, for George
Edwardes. After the outbreak of war in 1914, while Edwardes was still
interned in Germany, she took service under Frank Curzon in a revival
of Rubens's _Miss Hook of Holland_. _Tina_, produced shortly after
Edwardes's death in 1915, in which Godfrey Tearle played opposite to
her when not on duty as a cadet at Wellington Barracks, also had music
by Rubens. The latter had become engaged to her, but his health
deteriorated, and in November, 1916, the engagement was broken off by
Rubens died some months later at the age of 40, and she was not seen
again on the stage, apart from a brief appearance in review, until the
summer of 1919 at the opening of the Winter Garden, in company with
what The Times called a bevy of demobilized comedians. According to
the same critic, her acting and dancing in _Kissing Time_ had improved
to the point where they were now equal to her singing.
She brought all three aspects of her talent into play in Frederick
Lonsdale's _The Lady of the Rose_ and _The Street Singer_ -the former
was an adaptation by him -in the early 1920s. Her leading man in both
was Harry Welchman, and Lonsdale intimated to Daly's audience that
something more serious and dramatic than usual was contemplated in the
first, by dispensing with an opening chorus and raising the curtain on
a stage on which Phyllis Dare was pensively alone.
She was less well served in the musical plays that followed, for the
fat parts in _Lido Lady_ were those of the comedians Jack Hulbert and
Cicely Courtneidge, while Edgar Wallace hardly supplied a fat part for
anyone in _The Yellow Mask_; so that it was obvious by the end of the
1920s that if at nearly 40 she was to remain at the top of her
profession, she must look to the straight stage for her main
Marie Tempest and Gladys Cooper had successively made the change-over;
Lily Elsie looked like doing so, though she did not persevere; Zena
Dare, having left the stage on her marriage and returned fifteen years
later, was in the midst of attempting it.
The wife's role in the first London revival of Lonsdale's straight
play _Aren't We All?- seemed to promise a good fresh start for Phyllis
Dare, but there was an interval of seven years during which she was
seen again on the musical stage in London and on tour, before her next
straight role a comedy thriller by Walter Hackett, to which her
contribution was less important than that of the comedienne, Marion
Lorne, the author's wife.
Authors and managers had difficulty in _seeing_ her in comedy roles.
She hadn't the gaity, the quietly mocking spirit of Zena, which Ivor
Novello had now exploited to the advantage of them both. Phyllis still
lived up to Macqueen-Pope's word for her in her musical comedy days.
She was still a pearl, and now that she was older, there was a certain
gravity and aloofness about her.
She spent a lot of time on touring the years preceding the Second
World War, and during it, in Dodie Smith's _Call it a Day_, with her
sister again in a revival of Bovello's _Full House_ -Zena in Lilian
Braithwaite's old part, Phyllis in Isabel Jean's - and in Rose
The postwar years brought her supporting roles in three more comedies,
the only worthy one that of the heroine's bitter adversary in a
revival of Maugham's _Lady Frederick_, dressed in the fashions of the
1880s. But in 1949 Ivor Novello had ready _King's Raphsody_, in which
there was not only a role for Zena Dare, but, for the first time in a
musical of his, for Phyllis too.
One was to be the mother, the other the faithful mistress of a
Ruritarian royalty to be played by Novello himself, and to the
mistress he gave a song that had been no more than a half-success in a
previous Novello musical, staged during the late war. Described in
these columns as a mock-revolutionary ditty, as now sung at the Palace
it was voted the best number in the new, sumptuous Novellian romance.
Phyllis Dare, wrote Macqueen-Pope, could have taken as many encores as
Nearly eighteen months later Novello died while the play was still
running, and at the end of seven more months, in October, 1951, it
closed. Thereafter Zena Dare continued her career, but Phyllis did
not. She spent the years of her retirement mostly in Brighton. She was