New Notes From Recently Uncovered Articles About
Actress Hedvig (or Hedwig) Von Ostermann
If you have read The Murder at Asbury Park you may remember the name Hedvig Von Ostermann. She was an actress at the "German Theater" (Irving Place Theater). Heidemmann claimed to have had an affair with her. E.E.S., the New York female detective, searches for her. At the German Theater she is told that Von Ostermann is now playing at the Schwartzen Adler (Black Eagle) "booze joint." There is no report of E.E.S. finding Von Ostermann, but later Scholl hunts her down at her home at #160 E. 92nd St. He speaks to her brother, who said she could not see Scholl because wasn't feeling well. Her brother further stated that the performances at the Schwartzen Adler were raided by the Parkhurst Society (a morals group).
I've always wondered about Von Ostermann. What more could we know about her? Recently, I had the opportunity to search some newspapers (just casually looking for her name) and came up with the following. Apparently she was a big deal in the German theater scene. I don't know if her fortunes declined by 1910-11 or what (the Schwartzen Adler doesn't seem like such a nice place). Anyway, here are the notices I found:
The New York Times, April 18, 1906.
Headline: NEW FARCE IN IRVING PLACE - Given For Hedwig Von Ostermann's Benefit and Pleases Well.
"A crowded House at the Irving Place Theater last night made a success of the benefit in honor of the popular actress of the company, Hedwig Von Ostermann. The three-act farce-comedy Seine Kammerjunger, known better in its French original Nelly Rozier, by Bilhaud and Hennequin, was played for the first time in America. "The piece, which deal with a laughable complication of jealous husbands and clever wives, of which letter Nelly is the bright particular star, was well received. A friendly audience had many tokens of good will for Fraulein Von Ostermann, who played the part of Nelly, and the rest of the cast, including Otto Ott bert, Max Hanseler, and Amanda Blum, came in for their share of applause. The piece continues through the week."
Here is another mention of the actress:
The Washington Post, October 17, 1909, on the theater page, in a section titled "What New Yorkers Are Seeing."
"At a Winter Garden on Eighty-sixth Street - the upper East Side - a German company has made an instantaneous hit in a Parisian 'vaudeville' in three acts entitled Alma, Wo Wohnst Du (Alma, What's Your Address?) to whom the principal comedian, Aldolf Philipp, has contributed a generous amount of popular music. One song in the piece, which bears the title of the farce, has become popular already, and Alma Wo Wohnst Du? is becoming current. It is this piece that Joseph Weber was advised to see one night recently, his visit resulting in negotiations by which he comes into possession of the English rights. This week he engaged kitty Gordon for the part of Alma, which is admirably played by Hedwig Von Ostermann in the German. Miss Gordon is now one of the principal figures in The Girl and the Wizard, with Sam Bernard at the Casino, but before this is printed her engagement by Weber will doubtless be announced. The American production will be made soon."
New Material Found
Drawing from the above and from even newer information, I have assembled the following notes, which I hope to include in the the newly revised print version of The Murder at Asbury Park:
Hedvig (or Hedwig) von Ostermann was part of the troupe of actors assembled by the great theatrical manager Heinrich Conried (1855-1909), who presided over the Irving Place Theater from 1893 (and was director of the Metropolitan Opera from 1903 to 1908). Von Ostermann's name appears, sometimes prominently, in reviews from the first decade of the century, mostly in association with the Irving Place Theater (sometimes called the "German Theater" in the detective reports). She is mentioned in the book The German Element in the United States: "Conried...secured many artists of the first rank for his troupe, as Hedwig Lange, Marie Richardt, Hedwig von Ostermann, Hermine Varma, Alexander Rattmann, Adolf Zimmerman, Gustave von Seyffertitz, and many others." (*) Her debut with the company, in a play titled Dolly, was well received: "The title part was played by Hedwig von Ostermann... She proved an exceedingly accomplished actress, conscientious and with considerable magnetism. That she succeeded in winning the Irving Place audience was demonstrated by the applause which was showered on her." (The New York Times, Oct. 23, 1901) As reflected in the detective retports, her position in the theatrical world could be said to have declined by 1911. Her new status may have been related to the fortunes of the Irving Place Theater: "With the Metropolitan Opera on his hands, Conried was obliged to neglect his German theatre company, and as a result it declined steadily until he gave it up in 1907. There followed a meteoric rise under the management of Maurice Baumfeld, and then varying fortunes under different heads, but the Irving Place Theatre never regained its important position of influence." (**) But perhaps financial circumstances also caused or contributed to her diminished situation. One notice, for her role as Thea in The Flower Boat, states that "Last night's performance was a benefit for Hedwig von Ostermann, and a full house [at the Irving Place Theater] testified to her popularity. Her Thea was a vivacious creature of much physical attractiveness and abundant volatility. Joe Hegyi, blond antithesis to Miss von Ostermann's dark beauty, was the good sister..." (New York Times, April 24, 1907) Another review, from a year earlier, also used the word benefit, but in its headline: "New Farce in Irving Place. Given for Hedwig von Osterann's Benefit." The notice continued: "A friendly audience had many tokens of good will for Fraulein von Ostermann, who played the part of Nelly..." (The New York Times, April 18, 1906) Originally, a benefit performance meant that all or part of a show's proceeds would go to a particular cast member, usually to supplement an inadequate income. The Irving Place Theater regularly gave benefits for its performers.
See following note for more on von Ostermann:
(Jan. 18) Investigator Charles Scholl would hunt down Hedwig Von Ostermann:
York, Jan. 22, 1911
To-day I visited the house at #160 E. 92nd St. where I made endeavors to interview Hedwig Von Ostermann. Her brother Otto Von Ostermann appeared and announced that his sister was sick in bed and refuses to see callers. Reminded that his sister performed at the Schwartzen Adler (Black Eagle) last night and seemingly was well, he answered that the Parkhurst Society have interfered with the performances and performers at the Schwartzen Adler very recently and that wrought up over this incident she is nervous and in no condition to meet strangers. I learned from Otto Von O. that his sister has one child, a girl who is now about 8 years old... The "Parkhurst Society" refers to Dr. Charles Parkhurst (1842-1933), minister of the Madison Square Presbyterian Church and founder of the Society for the Prevention of Crime. In the 1890s, as head of the Lexow Committee, Parkhurst blew the lid off Tammany Hall's involvement in widespread vice and police corruption. His campaign, based on evidence that he amassed, lead to the defeat of Tammany and to the election of a reform mayor, William Strong, in 1894. StrongÕs police commissioner was Theodore Roosevelt. In regard to the "Schwartzen Adler": Investigator E.E.S., back on December 12, inquired about von Ostermann at the Irving Place Theater, where a box office employee had told her that Ostermann was now working at the "Schwartzen Adler booze joint" and that "she's the whole thing there." The full name of this theater was the Wintergarten Zum Schwarzen Adler. It was located at East Eighty-sixth Street between Lexington and Third Avenues. Here a patron might enjoy "productions of musical plays while drinking German beer or Hungarian coffee." Von Ostermann preformed there for certain in 1910 and 1911. On January 14, 1911, she played in Hetty macht Alles (Hetty Does Everything) "a Parisian vaudeville [which] contained several sprightly musical numbers." A brief notice for this play states that "Hedwig von Ostermann, Willy Frey and Louise Bartel were heard to advantage." (The New York Times, January 15, 1911) Surely not matching the prestige of the Irving Place Theater, the Wintergarten Zum Schwarzen Adler was noted for the occasional risquˇ costume or provocative scene.
(*) Faust, Albert Bernhardt, The German Element in the United States: With Special Reference to Its Political, Moral, Social, and Educational Influence. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1909.
(**) The Cambridge history of English and American literature: An Encyclopedia in Eighteen Volumes, edited by A.W. Ward, A.R. Waller, W.P. Trent, J. Erskine, S.P. Sherman, and C. Van Doren. Volume XVIII. "Later National Literature," Part III. XXXI. "Non-English Writings," I.23. "The German Theatre; New York."