A Relative of Mine was in Cole Porter’s First Broadway Show (and Much, Much More)

I made an exciting discovery the other day; I stumbled upon a Jazz Age Broadway Chorus Girl to whom I am distantly related. Her name was Helen Herendeen. I have tantalizing fragments, and am hoping someone out there can fill in missing pieces, and correct me where I have gone astray.

Helen seems to have started as a society dancer, and to have had some serious training. The first professional mention I could find was at a Patriotic Ball at the recently opened Biltmore Hotel Ballroom in 1915. The event was to raise money for an airplane for the coastal defense of New York; World War One was on in Europe, although the U.S. wouldn’t join for two more years. (But the Lusitania had been sunk, making war seem imminent.) At the event, Helen performed interpretive dances under the auspices of “The Women of 1915”, including a number called “The Spirit of Patriotism”. A notice in the New York Times says she is all of 16 years old at the time; meaning she was born around 1899.

There followed a series of Broadway shows: See America First (1916) , which was Cole Porter’s first Broadway show, featuring  Clifton Webb and Felix Adler; Ned Wayburn’s Demi-Tasse Revue (1919-1920); The Midnight Rounders of 1921; The Last Waltz (1921); The Passing Show of 1922 and 1923; Topics of 1923; Annie Dear (1924-1925); Louie the 14th (1925), No Foolin’ (1926); and the touring version of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1926. She was photographed with Arthur Murray in 1923, with a caption calling her “one of the best ballroom dancers in New York.”

Then, after 1926, she vanishes. Whether she married, died, changed her name, joined a convent, I don’t know, although I hope to learn. But I have some other clues about her life.

She seems to be from Geneva, New York and to have an equally interesting family. Her father William L. Herendeen worked at the family firm, the Herendeen Manufacturing Company, which made Furman boilers, i.e., furnaces. A line can be traced back from Edward Herendeen, the company’s founder, to Nathan Herendeen, one of the 12 founders of nearby Farmington, NY in 1790, and then back to the common ancestor of all Herendeens and Herindeens, Benjamin Harrington (1618-1694) of Providence. There are about ten different spellings of the family name. My mother was a Herindeen, and is also traceable back to Benjamin.

Helen’s mother was Ada Chase, an anti-war activist, feminist and birth control advocate. She seems to have remarried someone with the last name of Dudley prior to 1919. I know this because, in the 1919 wedding notice for Helen’s sister Chase Herendeen, her name is given as Ada Chase Dudley.

Chase Herendeen in “The Soul of the Cypress”

The younger Chase, also a dancer, was every bit as interesting as Helen. Both sisters appeared in an enormous pageant in Rochester in 1916 marking the 300th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death. In 1919, Chase married film-maker Dudley Murphy, the son of Boston painters Hermann Dudley Murphy and Caroline Hutchinson Bowles. (I am also related to Hermann Dudley Murphy; his mother was a Ladd, and my 6th cousin, 3x removed).  In 1921, Chase danced in the Broadway show The Last Waltz with Helen, and she also danced (as a dryad) in a 7 minute art film made by her husband called The Soul of the Cypress, spelling her name as Chase Harringdine. Murphy later went on to make mainstream Hollywood films like The Emperor Jones (1933), the first cinematic adaptation of any Eugene O’Neill play. But Murphy’s first movies were short art films starring dancers. Unfortunately, not long after this, Murphy had an affair with one of his other performers, Katharine Hawley, a dancer from both the Duncan and Denishawn Schools, and Chase’s good friend. After Chase, Murphy would have three other wives.

The third sister, Anne Herendeen, was a writer. After working for a Minneapolis newspaper, she moved to New York City in 1914 and became a Greenwich Village bohemian. Like her mother, she was an activist. She belonged to a radical feminist speakers group called “Heterodoxy”, as well as the New York Women’s Peace Party. She wrote for a short lived magazine called Every Week for all three years of its existence (1915-1918); and a popular periodical called Everybody’s Magazine for about a year. She also co-edited a peace publication called Four Lights, and a magazine called Judy. In 1915 she married a journalist and theatre critic named Hiram Kelly Moderwell (who later changed his name to Motherwell). In 1919 the pair moved to Europe and Anne became a foreign correspondent for the Chicago Daily News. They returned to the States in 1927, and were divorced in 1936. Anne was living at least until the 1960s.

One thing I find very interesting is that World War One is a central event in this story, and the family is all over the map with respect to it. Ada and Anne are actively anti-war; Helen danced patriotic dances to raise money for it. And the Geneva Historical Society has these intriguing diary entries by Francis “Frank” Herendeen, who was, I’m assuming, a brother or cousin or other relative of William’s. In 1910 the family had cashed out the family business, selling it to the U.S. Radiator Corporation. Flush with loot from the buy-out, Frank took his family on an extended vacation in Germany, just as war was breaking out. Herendeen’s revealing diaries show that not only was he not in a rush to get home, but while the U.S. was still neutral, his sentiments were PRO-GERMAN. Most unbecoming. You can read it here.

Interestingly, Frank Herendeen was also a theatre lover, and he took notes on performers he saw at the Smith Opera House in Geneva in 1915, including Ellen Terry and the opera singer Alma Gluck!

At any rate, like I say, I’m flying blind, assembling a puzzle as best I can. If anyone knows better how these pieces should go together, or has additional information, please give a holler!

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