Margaret Severn: Danced in Masks

I had some difficulty finding a photo of modern dancer Margaret Severn (1901-1997) that I could actually use, for the perfectly comprehensible reason that she was the kind of performer who inspired photographers…which means that most of the pix (and there are TONS of them to be seen) are art photography, and thus likely subject to copyright. After consuming this post I urge you to do a little surfing and I predict that you will be well pleased at what you find.

Naturally, our entry point of interest in Severn was that she performed on the Keith-Orpheum vaudeville circuit, but as tends to be the way with the balletically trained, vaud was just one of the many outlets for her art. Originally from Birmingham, Alabama, she was the daughter of suffragette and psychoanalyst Elizabeth Severn, whom Freud stigmatized as an “Evil Genius”, hence the title of her biography. Margaret trained with Fokine and the Denishawn troupe, danced with the Metropolitan Opera in 1916 (at age 15), and soloed for Ruth St. Denis in 1917. Then came a particularly hot stretch, when she appeared on Broadway in the shows Linger Longer Letty (1919) with Charlotte Greenwood, and The Greenwich Village Follies of 1920, wherein she danced in special masks created by illustrator and designer W.T. Benda, who also designed similar masks for Eugene O’Neill’s experimental plays and the 1932 film The Mask of Fu Manchu. Severn also danced in the 1922 silent film The Good Provider, directed by Frank Borzage. A decade later she was choreographing works for the Ballet Russes. The last quarter century of her long life was spent in Vancouver.

I mentioned photos and now I will share a link. This 1940 Life magazine spread is amazing! I do not think you will regret perusing them. If you’re an artist of any sort I think you will find them inspiring. Also for those interested in learning more, the Library of Congress holds the Elizabeth and Margaret Severn Papers. And just Google her! You will find gobs of photos beyond the Life spread.

To learn more about vaudevillewhere Margaret Severn sometimes danced, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.