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Second City of The Empire: 1830s to 1914


Marie Loftus

By Paul Maloney

Marie Loftus Marie Loftus (1857-1940) was one of the great female stars of the British music hall. She was born in Glasgow of Irish parents, reputedly in Stockwell Street, close to the site of the Scotia Music Hall, where she danced as a young girl. She first appeared at Brown’s Royal Music hall in Dunlop Street in 1874, and in London at the Oxford in 1877. As "The Sarah Bernhardt of the Music Halls", she rose to become a leading national star, touring abroad to the USA and South Africa and by the late 1890s commanding £100 a week, a huge sum for the time.

Britannia Music Hall In Glasgow her local background made her enormously popular. While appearing at the Britannia, Trongate, in 1894 she left an order with a local bootmaker for 150 pairs of strong boots to be distributed by the priest among the poorest children of the parish. A famously buxom pantomime principal boy, she appeared at the Theatre Royal Glasgow as Robinson Crusoe in 1889 and 1900, and as Sindbad the Sailor in 1895. Her material ranged from Irish songs like "Kilkenny Kate" (she was sometimes billed as "The Hibernian Hebe") to coquettish numbers like "Sister Mary wants to Know" ("Should he offer her his chestnut mare / To canter in the Row / Is it etiquette to take it? / Sister Mary Wants to Know!"). Such risqué material sometimes attracted criticism: The Quiz, a Glasgow magazine of the 1890s, wrote of her songs: "A man in the pit last night thought some of them were 'no verra proper'" But she was probably best known for heartrendingly sentimental ballads with titles like "One Touch of Nature Makes the Whole World Kin".

A full-figured, handsome woman, after the Victorian ideal, she was an iconic figure for young men of the 1880s and 1890s. The author J J Bell recalled "Glasgow never had a greater favourite... In the spotlight, singing 'That is Love', she looked - to me, at eighteen - beautiful." Her daughter Cissie Loftus (1876-1943), also born in Glasgow, was a gifted mimic and actress on Broadway and the West End of London.

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