About Peggy Stebbins Nelson
Peggy Stebbins Nelson was born in August, 1912. Although I am her eldest child, I cannot remember the exact date. I think it was August 8th. That I cannot recall the precise date is very telling: my mother was a mysterious woman, unstoried, without apparent history. For the four of us, it was as though she had always been there, or just lately arrived, a very old soul who needed no time-line to augment her presence.
I know my mother through my memories and through her poetry. Beyond that, she seemed to have no ancestry, except her letters from Uncle George Southern, who died in the Civil War. I cannot even be sure how Uncle George was related to my mother, although I believe that he is probably her great grandfather. The one thing I can say for certain is that there is a packet of letters in our possession that was written by a relative who fought in the Civil War. She never mentioned him, although she did use "Southern" as stage name, in addition to "Stebbins." But I am getting ahead of myself.
So here is what I do know:
My mother was born in Hell's Kitchen in 1912. Her father was a carpenter/stage-hand who loved vaudeville. Her mother was a housewife, the oldest of four, who had done more child-rearing than she cared to recall. So my mother was an only child with solitary memories.
At some point during my mother's childhood the family moved to Greenwich Village. Where, I have no idea. I know my mother spent pleasant summers at her grandfather's farm, somewhere in the Catskill's. There are pictures that attest to that.
When she was sixteen, my mother was persuaded by her father to cash in on her remarkable beauty. She left high school and became a show girl. She was an Earl Carroll show-girl and was also in the Ziegfeld production of "Show Boat." We have lots of pictures of those days too.
My mother became engaged to be married during these years. One day she called her fiance at his office. The secretary said, "He is not in the office today; his wife is ill." With that my mother quit the show girl business, sold her diamond ring and fur coats, finished high school, and went on to get a degree in English at Columbia University. She also refused to ever speak to her so-called fiance again. (I know this story thanks to Roberta Hall, my mother's best friend from show-girl days.)
Just after her graduation from Columbia, my mother met my father in the library at Columbia. He was finishing his Master's degree in English Literature and had been recently drafted into the army. He saw my mother in the library and asked the librarian about her. She went out on a date with him because she felt sorry for him, but the rest is easy history 'cause here we are.
Mommy was a housewife for the remainder of her life. Her poetry and her love for her family sustained her. One of her happiest days was when she became a grandmother in 1970. Shortly after that she became terminally ill with cancer and died in July, 1972.
Here is a picture of our mother in Show Boat. She is at the far right.
- My sister Dana became curious about this photo of Mommy this year. She contacted her friend, Jane Klain, who works for the Museum of Television and Radio. Jane, in turn, contacted Miles Kreuger, president of the Institute of the American Musical, Inc., in Los Angeles. Miles Kreuger is the author of a book entitled Show Boat.
- Here's what Miles Kreuger had to say about the photo in a letter to Jane Klain, dated March 13, 2000:
- One glance at this scene from "Show Boat" reveals that we are in the Trocadero nightclub for the New Year's Eve performance where Magnolia sings "After the Ball." The setting is clearly the original Joseph Urban design, as you could determine by a look at the original set design drawing in my Show Boat book on page 46.
- One glance at the dresses worn by the three tarts who are seated with Cap'n Andy reveals tht they are in the style of the early 1930's. This eliminates at once the possibility that we are looking at the original 1927 production or its subsequent road tour.
- It is obviously therefore the 1932 revival, the last show produced by Ziegfeld. As Cap'n Andy is not Charles Winninger, we know instantly that this if from the post-Broadway tour, when Winninger was replaced first by William Kent and finally by Sam Hearn. . . .
- About 30 seconds were required to retrieve a program for the Capitol Theatre (dated 2-24-33). By this time, the show had been reduced to a truncated tab show that accompanied movies at movie palaces around the east. You will see that among the three tarts listed is Peggy Stebbins as Lottie. Problem solved.
- Miles Kreuger was also kind enough to include a copy of the program from the Major Bowes (Managing Director) Capitol Theatre, Broadway at 51st Street. The program indicates that Helen Morgan played Julie. It reads, "Helen Morgan in Ziegfeld 'Show Boat' with Jules Bledsoe."