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Born Paulina Clarissa Molony in Richmond ( a suburb of Melbourne ) Australia on 23 March 1878, died Battle Creek, Michigan, USA, 24 July 1964. Of Chinese-Australian background, she had some early training in Australia that has not yet been identified. She appeared as an exotic and audacious dancer on stage in California in May 1891 and quickly gained great fame and notoriety. Thereafter she performed in New York and other US cities, also in France, Germany, Russia and Britain. She married three times, then retired to Battle Creek in 1947 to be near her daughter.
She made at least 9 and possibly more films in Germany and France before WWI.
1878 in Melbourne, Australia
The celebrated dancer Saharet was born Paulina Clarissa Molony, on 23 March 1878, to Benjamin Robert Molony, an illiterate Irish tailor and Elizabeth (nee Foon), a 19-year-old of part Chinese ancestry from Ballarat. She was delivered at home in Rowena Parade, in the heart of the working class Melbourne suburb of Richmond. A sister, Martha Lily, was born in 1879 and another, Julia Millicent, in 1881. (see Note 1 below)
Above: Saharet doubled on a postcard c 1898. There were numerous postcards made of her during her lifetime, many still circulate amongst enthusiasts. Author’s collection.
Paulina Clarissa (or Clarice as she sometimes preferred) made her way from the humblest of backgrounds in Richmond, to fame and fortune in Europe and the US in the early twentieth century. As Saharet, she was painted by leading European artists of the day and appeared on countless postcards; a clever and audacious dancer, and a vibrant young woman. Yet much of her life remains an enduring mystery and the few contemporary accounts of her life tend only to amplify errors made by others, such as the oft- repeated but incorrect claim she died in Melbourne in 1942. But when she lived at her home in the Michigan town of Battle Creek in the early 1960s, she left behind the key to her story. She had told friends her parents’ names; Benjamin “Malony” (note the variation of surname Molony) and Eveline “nee De Vere” which was at least, partly true (her mother spent her lifetime changing her name). Her 1964 obituary in the Battle Creek Enquirer, the local newspaper, noted the day of her Australian birth, but sadly, nothing was said of her illustrious career as one the world’s leading dancers before the Great War, when she was the toast of Europe’s theater society.
Rowena Parade in 2018, looking West towards central Melbourne. The shop on the left was, coincidentally, built in the same year as Saharet’s birth – 1878. Author’s collection.
Left: In November 1881, Saharet’s mother gave birth to another daughter – Julia Mallicino (Millicent), at 168 Nicholson St, Fitzroy – almost certainly a boarding house. Author’s Collection.
Right: On the birth certificate of Julia Mallicino (see Note 4 below), Saharet’s mother listed her residence at what was then a relatively new building at 4 McCormac Place Melbourne, a neighbourhood now entirely demolished, off Little Lonsdale St. The author believes it was one of these terraces, probably built by Thomas McCormack, in the right middle distance. This photo was taken in about 1950, before the demolition, by a Public Works photographer. Click on the image to go to the State Library of Victoria record. [Note- confusingly, the street was more generally known as McGrath Place in the C19th. And there is an unrelated McGrath Lane still in Melbourne] Note – this photo is in copyright.
As an adult, Saharet was an attractive looking woman with a powerful stage presence. Standing about medium height -168 cms tall (five foot five inches), with grey eyes and a mass of dark brown hair, she was a highly skilled and flexible dancer.
“What Saharet can’t do with her legs is not worth the average mortal’s worth while trying to learn” wrote one journalist. Another journalist described her as “really an expert gymnast and contortionist. What she does is to give a wild whirling dance, in the course of which she introduces somersault splits, fabulous high kicking, cart wheels and other difficult feats … It is a marvellous exhibition of gymnastic skill, but, at the same time, the dancer is mirthful and beautiful, and the dance a delight to the eye.”
Unfortunately, a critical part of Clarice’s early story in Australia currently remains unknown. Who taught her to dance and particularly, what were the circumstances surrounding the obvious change in fortune that occurred between her birth in Melbourne in 1878 and her appearance as a dancer in the United States in 1891. We do not know how she paid her way from Melbourne to California or exactly when this occurred. Her parents had been so poor they could not afford a memorial for her sister Martha Lily when she died in early 1881, after suffering “convulsions”, probably the result of typhoid fever, then so prevalent in Melbourne.
A later British account claimed she studied under US actress Minnie Palmer, who was in Melbourne in 1886-1887. Still another account claimed she worked for three years for well-known theatrical entrepreneur Harry Rickards. The most plausible accounts suggested she appeared on stage in Melbourne, performing in the corps de ballet at the Theater Royal, under the direction of English choreographer Marie Reddall (who worked in Australia with her husband, Actor – Director E. W. Royce between 1886 and 1892). There could be truth in all these claims.
This writer believes much of the mystery surrounding Saharet relates to her Ballarat Chinese ancestry, something she and her mother wanted to disassociate themselves from as quickly as they could. In the late nineteenth century, the British colonies in Australia created laws that were driven by deeply held views about concepts of race. Most would find such archaic views offensive and irrelevant today, but discriminatory laws were amongst the first passed by Australia’s national parliament after federation in 1901. (See Note 4 below for more on her mother and her Ballarat Chinese-Australian connection)
Left: Saharet appears in print in The San Francisco Examiner, California, March 4, 1894
Centre: Saharet, also known as Clarice Campbell, described as a “wonderfully lithe and graceful” high kicker in the Los Angeles Times, California, April 5, 1894.
Right: This November 13 1896 report in the Garnett Journal (Kansas) appears to be amongst the most accurate accounts of her early life. Via Newspapers.com Thanks to Martin Goebel
1891 in San Francisco
Researcher Martin Goebel has found that as Clarice Campbell, she joined the “Liliputians” (not the Pollard’s Australian Lilliputians), a company performing at San Francisco’s Baldwin Theater in May 1891, indicating her likely arrival in the US earlier that year, almost certainly with her mother (see Note 4 below).
Over time, newspaper reports of dubious reliability appeared, recounting her early efforts to establish herself. She was only 13 and perhaps she really did appear as a dime museum fortune teller and then a mermaid, as the Detroit Free Press was to recount. However, it is well documented that by early 1894 she was using the stage name Saharet and in April she had joined M.B. Leavitt’s “Spider and Fly” vaudeville company – touring US cities. Through 1895 she was most closely associated with another popular touring vaudeville show – “The Night Owls”.
Left: Saharet’s “fabulous high kicking” can be seen here in this postcard by Reutlinger of Paris. From the Author’s collection. Right: Saharet and Ike Rose, with daughter Carrie. From an unidentified German paper.c 1902. Rather than squandering her fortune as Rose was to claim, Saharet appears to have spent it caring for her daughter and her niece. Author’s collection.
1896 – Marriage in New York
In May 1896 18-year-old Saharet married New York entrepreneur Isaac Rosenstamm (later known as Ike Rose), while she was also three months pregnant to him. Over time, it was Rose who managed her career and passed around stories about her identity – that she was born in Melbourne – or perhaps it was Ballarat, the daughter of a well-known pastoralist (rancher). This constant narration about her all appears to be part of a concerted effort to advance her career and later, to create interest in Rose’s other professional activities, even after the couple separated. Rose appears to have written much of the commentary that was attributed to her and this, combined with the freewheeling use of different surnames by Saharet’s mother, only added to the confusion. Rose himself was creative with his own history, acknowledging his birth in Hanover, Germany in 1865 in his first US passport application, but in later documents not only anglicising his name, but also claiming to have been born in New York.
Not surprisingly, not everyone believed that the beautiful young dancer who could throw her leg over her head, do the splits, and wink cheekily to her audiences was an Australian, just because she said she was. At least some Australian journalists were suspicious, particularly as there appeared to be no family or friends back home to claim her. When renowned German singer Otto Reutter happily posed with one arm around her and the other around a bottle of Champagne in 1908, the sense of “foreignness” about her was only reinforced. Saharet had little to say herself, yet the story persisted everywhere that she was Australian – and when a British journalist writing for the London Daily Mail newspaper managed to meet her in 1898, he was left with no doubt she was an Australian, born in Melbourne.
Others, including Anglo-German Count Harry Graf Kessler, who met her in about 1900, believed this too. Surviving samples of her handwriting display the confident hand of a well-educated, native English-speaker.
Above: Saharet’s well formed signature. Author’s collection.
Below: Saharet appears doubled on this postcard – a not uncommon device of the time. c1905. Author’s collection.
Her stage turn, often part of a varied program, appears to have lasted for less than 15 minutes, and yet she seemed to speak to audiences of a coming era of freedom and joyfulness. Like Isadora Duncan, Saharet’s style can be seen as a fore-runner in the development of the modern dance movement. This was characterised by the rejection of traditional forms of classical ballet and the embracing of new concepts in dance – to express human emotions and realism.
The Austrian writer Hermynia Zur Mühlen saw Saharet perform whilst still a child. In her 1929 autobiography, she recalled “I have never again seen such natural grace and charm, the expression simultaneously, of a little wild animal and a beautifully refined woman.” German writer Eugen Wolf also seems to have been entranced. In 1899 he wrote “… I saw her dancing four times, on all four evenings I was in Berlin…A curious creature, the only one of its kind, this gazelle, this Kangaroo, this Australian Saharet with the big round eyes …”
The German artist Emil Nolde also recalled watching her dance, like some “primeval being.” Rose fed the story that she had been given a fortune in diamonds by European admirers, and was earning another fortune by performing. It was probably true. He also encouraged her to sit for numerous accomplished and emerging French and German artists, including Maurice Biais in about 1902, by Franz Von Stuck in 1906 and by Leo Rauth in 1911. Saharet’s relationship with Rose had drifted by 1907 and the couple separated, although Rose remained her manager for another five years and his influence on her career continued to be significant.
In fact, Saharet’s great notoriety was gained in Europe, not the US. She first appeared in theaters in the UK in 1897 and in France and Germany after 1898 where she was to become phenomenally popular. Rose also arranged for the couple to travel to Russia at least several times in the early twentieth century, where she developed a significant following. After much European travel and numerous trips to and from Europe and the US and England, she finally left Germany in late 1914, possibly as late as the outbreak of war in August. This seems to have marked the end of her European presence. Her adventures in German silent film, a career direction cut short by the war, were typical of the forays well-known stage performers made into film in the first few decades of the twentieth century. At the time no one could guess the power narrative film would come to have a few decades later. Saharet made at least nine films in Germany between 1907 and 1913. (See Note 2 Below). On their release in Australia, she was generally acknowledged as an Australian.
Above: Postcard highlighting Saharet’s spectacular hair. Undated, Author’s collection.
One very early film of Saharet has miraculously survived – a hand tinted rarity made in France by pioneering director Alice Guy-Blaché in 1905. In it, Saharet dances the Bolero for just a few minutes. The film would have been shown as part of a mixed vaudeville review show, one that consisted of live acts interspersed with short films.
Watch it here
When Rose visited Australia in early 1913, promoting his other acts, Saharet’s birthplace had become Ballarat. In an oft-repeated interview about her life, Rose claimed that she had left Australia as a youngster, after some work in theater in Melbourne. He had discovered her performing in New York in “The Night Owls”, earning a mere £7 per week. Through his influence he quickly got her £30 per week and from September 1897, an engagement in New York with Edward Rice’s “French Maid,” which played at the Herald Square Theater.
Rose told reporters that Saharet received £750 for acting in her first German film, “In a Golden Cage,” and £1,000 for her second. But Rose had apparently advised against appearing on the screen as he felt the new medium did not suit her as a dancer. Rose claimed that her 1913 salary “was now £300 to £400 a week.” By this time he had also arranged for her to receive a percentage of the takings for her live performances.
Saharet on a “shell-case” theatre token for the Alhambra Theatre c 1900, next to a British farthing coin. The Music Hall and Theatre Review, Friday 6 July 1900, confirms Saharet was performing at the Alhambra Theatre, London. Author’s collection.
1913 – Further Marriages
By the time Rose was saying this in Australia, the couple were professionally and personally separated. Citing desertion and his infidelity, Saharet began proceedings against Rose in October 1912, and the divorce was finalised in 1913. Soon after, she married German-born US millionaire Fritz von Frantzius. Von Frantzius had long been an ardent admirer of hers, but their marriage was a disaster, as she abandoned him after only a few days for a new partner on stage and off – Jose Florido. She performed with Florido in the US and Britain for several years and clearly intended to marry him, but never did. Variety magazine’s 1914 review of their new act was positive and outlined exactly what her program looked like;
“Saharet has lost none of her charm, nor indeed her stage looks…Her dancing partner, Senor J. Florido, is a lithe, slender, virile Spanish youth… Saharet alone does her first number, programed as a minuette. It consists of pirouettes and posing of the old- style ballet school. It is a trifle disappointing… Florido follows with a solo dance, The Sabaje, which is strident and of toreador inception. It consists of some twists and a series of rapid stamping and taps, all on the heels. Third is a Spanish castanet dance by both, with Carmen and Toreador entrance, well done but on old style lines. Nothing sensational until the fourth and final number, Tango Argentine. Saharet and Florido’s is the genuine South American, sensuous thing… It is a violent, living, palpitant affair that earns for them the applause it richly deserves.”
But by 1916, reviews of her New York performances in “Sesame of Love” were less enthusiastic. Perhaps, in the midst of war, the public appetite for performance was already changing.
In 1917 Saharet married again, to a third German-born New Yorker and her latest theatrical agent – Maxim P (Phideus) Lowe. Soon after, she retired from the stage for good.
Her Daughter – Carrie M Rose
Ike and Saharet’s only child, Caroline Madelon Rose was born in New York in November 1896. Known to all as Carrie, she accompanied her parents throughout their first European tours. In time, young Carrie experienced a life as tumultuous as her mother’s. In 1906, she was placed in a convent school in Belgium and later, another convent in Essex, England. Carrie then had a go at following her mother onto the stage and performed in England under the unbelievably mundane stage name of Dorothy Siddons. She closely resembled her mother in appearance and her choice of dancing and acting as a career seems understandable, although she only met with mixed success.
In the early 1920s, Carrie rebooted her acting career, this time as Madeline (also Madelon) La Varre. With this exotic name she appeared with greater success, in fleshy roles on Broadway and in two films. In 1927, Carrie changed course again, leaving the stage and entering a Carmelite Convent in the USA. She finally found her calling in 1944, when she joined the US Naval Reserve, becoming one of the first women to achieve the rank of Lieutenant Commander during World War Two. An amazing transformation.
In 1947, Carrie was appointed to a senior position managing the occupational therapy clinic at Fort Custer Veteran’s Hospital at Battle Creek, Michigan, a position she held until 1950. Saharet moved to Battle Creek to be near her daughter, and for a time lived with her at Brown’s Trailer (caravan) Park.
A Saharet Family Album
From left: Third husband Maxim P. Lowe c.1920, Daughter Caroline “Carrie” Rose c.1920, Half brother Archibald McKenzie c.1920, Saharet’s niece Clarice Roberts. c 1920.
All passport photos shown above are via Ancestry, from the US National Archives
Death in 1964
Saharet, now calling herself Clarice Saharet Lowe, was 85 years old in 1964. When alert neighbours near 41 Ivanhoe Street, Battle Creek, realised they hadn’t seen her for some time, the local Police were called to break into her house. They found her body in the bath. It was 24th of July and she died alone and probably by her own hand, because sadly, daughter Carrie had also taken her own life after a catastrophic car accident, 14 years before. Her half-brother Archibald McKenzie was by then her closest living relative.
Above; Saharet’s modest home at 41 Ivanhoe Street, Battle Creek (now demolished). Photo courtesy of Willard Library, Battle Creek, Michigan, USA.
What sense can we make of this Australian girl who really could dance so spectacularly she developed an international reputation in just a few years? Somewhere, hopefully, someone still has the photos and scrap books that she must have kept, detailing her extraordinary life, one that must have been rich in experiences.