Geraldine Farrar and Her Gerry Flappers

Opera soprano Geraldine Farrar (1882-1967) crossed over into pop culture so we thought we’d give her a little attention here. Farrar spent the beginning and end of her life in New England, but in between she saw the world. The daughter of pro baseball player Sidney Farrar, who played for the Philadelphia Quakers and the Philadelphia Athletics, she was born in the Boston suburb of Melrose, Massachusetts. She studied music seriously locally as a girl, and from thence went on to New York and on to Berlin and then went professional, performing in Germany and Monaco for several years. In 1907 she returned to New York to sing with the Metropolitan Opera, where she performed through 1922. Her devoted young fans who emulated her were known s “Gerry-Flappers”. It was during her early years with the Met that she had a secret affair with the conductor Arturo Toscanini. 

In 1907 Farrar became one of the first performers to be heard on radio when she lent her talents to a trial of an experimental Lee De Forest system. She recorded many Victor disks of her vocal performances over the years. But, most notably, for five years (1915-1920) she was a silent movie star. Her first picture gave her the title role in Cecil B. DeMille’s version of Carmen (1915), a part she had sung onstage. Her other early films, all with DeMille, were Temptation (1915), Maria Rosa (1916), Joan the Woman (1916), The Woman God Forgot (1917), and The Devil Stone (1917). In 1916, she married Lou Tellegen, her frequent co-star in many of her films through the end of her cinematic career. In 1918, she moved over to Sam Goldwyn’s studio, where most of her pictures were directed by Reginald Barker. These were The Turn of the Wheel (1918), The Hell Cat (1918), Shadows (1919), The Stronger Vow (1919), The Flame of the Desert (1919), and The Woman and the Puppet (1920). There were also The World and Its Woman (1919), directed by Frank Lloyd, and The Riddle: Woman (1920) directed by Edward Jose. 

In 1922, she Farrar retired from the opera, due to the damage to her voice from overuse. Oddly, she did not at that stage thrust herself back into her movie career, which, after all was silent. She seemed very much done with that part of her life. In 1923 she and Tellegen divorced. It was a very public and very acrimonious parting. The fact that Tellegen instantly married a woman named Nina Romano that same year, and that he married a total of four times, may give some indication of where the fault lay. At any rate, Farrar continued to sing publicly, just no longer in the nightly grind of opera performance. I have not yet found an indication that she sang in vaudeville, as many opera singers did. But she did take the concert stage, and this was probably more lucrative for a star as big as she.

In 1934, Tellegen committed suicide, upon learning which Farrar uttered the immortal words, “Why should that interest me?” In 1938 she wrote her memoir, entitled Such Sweet Compulsion. She spent the last years of her life in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

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