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Story: Beatty, May

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Beatty, May


Singer, actress

This biography, written by Peter Downes, was first published in the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography in 1993.

May Beatty was one of several New Zealand performers who rose to prominence with the famed Pollard Opera Company during the 1890s. She was born in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 4 June 1880, the daughter of Emma Furby and her husband, George Beatty, a hotel-keeper and theatre manager.

After revelling in the mystique of the Theatre Royal, adjoining the Palace Hotel in Gloucester Street, both of which were run by her father, May Beatty began her professional career in Christchurch at the age of 11. In August 1891 she and her 13-year-old sister Maud were engaged by Tom Pollard to tour New Zealand and Australia with his juvenile comic opera company. At the same time they were to be educated and trained in all aspects of stage work.

For a year May sang and danced in the chorus of Pollard's Liliputian Opera Company, but in August 1892 she was promoted to the small role of Fiametta in The gondoliers during a tour of Western Australia. This gradually led to increasingly larger parts until by 1894 she was attracting the favourable attention of newspaper reviewers, and audiences were demanding encores of her songs.

Blonde, petite and winsome, May was 'delightfully high-spirited'. She was not especially well behaved during her earlier years and her outrageous sense of fun frequently brought her into conflict with her elders. A large part of her small wages as a child performer was spent on fines imposed on her for unruly behaviour. As she gained experience and professional discipline, her natural ebullience was channelled into her stage work.

May Beatty finally came into her own with the development of musical comedy in the late 1890s. Her style of performing was ideally suited to the new breed of vivacious stage heroines, and she rapidly achieved star status and tremendous acclaim with leading roles in such musicals as La poupée, The belle of New York, The geisha and Florodora.

Early in 1902 she left the Pollard company to become the principal attraction with various Australian musical comedy companies touring Australia and New Zealand. In 1906 she travelled to England with Edward James Lowe, known professionally as the comedian Edward Lauri. He was her co-star in many of these shows, and on 8 December 1908 they were married in London. In Britain and Ireland they appeared together with considerable success in pantomimes, musicals, and in short musical mélanges which Lauri wrote for them to perform in the music halls and variety theatres. During this time their only child, a daughter, was born. Edward Lauri died in Lambeth, London, on 9 January 1919.

In London May Beatty went on to play in a revival of The shop girl at the Gaiety Theatre from 1920 to 1921, in Sybil at Daly's Theatre from 1921 to 1922, and then in late 1922 she returned to Australia and New Zealand to play in The O'Brien girl. In 1928 and 1929 she toured these countries again with The girl friend and Hit the deck, amazing theatre-goers with her vitality and energy.

In 1930 she settled in Hollywood, California. Although never attaining stardom, she appeared in a number of films. She died at Azusa, on the outskirts of Los Angeles, on 1 April 1945.

How to cite this page:

Peter Downes. 'Beatty, May', Dictionary of New Zealand Biography, first published in 1993. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, https://teara.govt.nz/en/biographies/2b13/beatty-may (accessed 5 December 2023)