“Harlequin was the star of 18th century pantomime”*

*see vam.ac.uk

Posted at Christiesmysteries.com on March 21, 2021 by Harley:

“Agatha Christie’s first short story to feature Hercule Poirot, published in Sketch in 1923, was The Affair at the Victory Ball.

This story was very obviously inspired by the death of Billie Carleton (whose given name was Florence Leonora Stewart), a young actress who died from a cocaine overdose after attending a Victory Ball at the Royal Albert Hall in 1918. Carleton was close friends with Reginald DeVeulle, a dressmaker who reportedly hosted opium parties at his house. DeVeulle, dressed as Harlequin, attended the Victory Ball in the company of his wife Pauline (costume unknown). While at the Ball, DeVeulle allegedly provided a supply of cocaine in a small silver or gold (reports vary) box to the actor Lionel Belcher to pass to Carleton.

After the festivities at the Ball, Belcher and two other actresses, Olive Richardson and Irene Castle, returned to Carleton’s apartment to continue their revelry. It is not known what exactly transpired, but Carleton retired to bed early in the morning, and the others returned to their respective homes. Later in the morning, Carleton’s maid noticed she had stopped snoring; the maid was unable to wake her, and she was pronounced dead a short time later.

Carleton’s death was ruled to be the result of cocaine overdose. The police and public focused on her decadent lifestyle, as she was known to attend opium parties and her reputation had cost her at least one role. Looking to blame a “foreign” influence on her behavior and death, Carleton’s friend and costumer Reggie de Veulle, who allegedly supplied her with cocaine, was ruled to be culpable for her death at the coroner’s inquisition but then acquitted on a formal charge of manslaughter; however, he was charged with supplying cocaine to Carleton. A husband-and-wife duo, Lo Ping Yu and Ada Lo Ping, also received several months of jail time for their roles in supplying opium to the dead actress, among others.

Christie was no doubt inspired by this sensational story from a Victory Ball in 1918.”

From: Noel Coward – a Biography (1995), by Philip Hoare:

“In newspaper reports lurid enough to rival those of the Pemberton Billing trial, Noel and his friends read the sordid sequence of events: Carleton had fallen in with bad friends, sniffing cocaine and heroin, and attending opium dens in the East End and in Dover Street…

The fast-speaking euphoria induced by the drug suited the frenzied Zeitgeist perfectly; although Coward’s machine-gun delivery needed no chemical stimulants, it might have taken its speed from this unnatural conversational pace. Narcotics had been over-produced for the First World War, and there was now a ready market for that surplus, easily exploited by pushers. It was a facet of cafe and theatrical society Coward could not have escaped, and it is certain that many of his close friends, if not Noel himself, dabbled in drugs…

…Prince George, later Duke of Kent (1902-42), was introduced to cocaine and morphine by one of his lovers, Kiki Whitney Preston, ‘the girl with the silver syringe’, one of the Happy Valley set. He was rescued by his brother David (the Prince of Wales) and Frieda Dudley Ward…

…For the younger generation, the 1920s was a period of neurosis…the search for new sensation – whether through dancing…alcohol…or drugs – induced a frenzied hedonism in *poor little rich girls and boys for whom ‘the craze for pleasure’ steadily grew…

Jeffrey Amherst recalled ‘cocaine on the table’ in clubs and at Tallulah Bankhead’s parties in Chelsea, at which one of her friends complained, ‘I’m sick and tired of Tallulah’s parties. Every morning they run out of cocaine, and it’s me who’s sent down to Limehouse to get some more!’.”

[(Songfacts.com): “The Penguin Dictionary Of Modern Quotations gives the impression that Coward coined *this phrase, but Mary Pickford starred in a film called The Poor Little Rich Girl in 1917. The Noël Coward song was written for the 1925 revue On With The Dance, and is the third song in the show. According to the Noël Coward Society, in 2009, it ranked among his ten most popular songs.”]

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