Paddy Crean (1910-2003) , from a well-to-do Dublin family, had a long and distinguished career in cinema and on the stage as a fight-choreographer and stuntman. He specialised in sword-fights and had been a competitive fencer. He was most famously Errol Flynn’s double in various swashbuckling adventure films but his technical contribution to stage sword-fighting is his greatest achievement – his ideas and theories are still dominant. With Rex Rickman he ran the Sophy School of Fencing in London where many leading actors learned to look convincing holding a cutlass or a rapier.
His entry into all of this came about because he successfully auditioned for an acting part in Erik Charell’s Casanova at the London Coliseum. The play ran for most of 1932 and features in Elvira’s case because Denys Skeffington-Smyth was in it and Sylvia Coke and Anton Altmann had met Mrs.Barney and Michael Stephen at a “Casanova” party a few weeks before the cocktail soiree on the 30th May. My guess is that Paddy Crean was at both events.
From the Programme Casanova Coliseum 1932
With one of these beauties, Rosalie Corneille, he found himself mixing with the “fast-set”. In his autobiography he states
“Had I entered the profession somewhere else I would have missed a large slice of heady living and stage experience attributable to my engagement in Casanova; fabulous parties at Tallulah Bankhead’s Farm Street home: knowing beautiful Brenda Dean Paul who died tragically from drugs; Mrs.Barney, Mayfair hostess and central figure of a crime passionel )she shot and killed her lover but was acquitted); learning to drink vodka and sniff cocaine (neither of which appealed); pajama jaunts to Covent Garden with the Bright Young Things.”
It is a telling catalogue. Describing Elvira as a Mayfair hostess (nowhere else is she given that title) suggests that he knew her as such rather than simply as a fellow guest.Her “little gatherings” were seemingly rather better known than most sources suggest. Placing her in the middle of a list that reads Tallulah, Brenda and cocaine is equally significant. Crean is writing about a particularly “wild” phase of his life – Elvira is one of the key markers.
It is worth noting that Crean is quite unequivocal in his assertion that Elvira shot Michael and got away with it – was this popular consensus or inside information?
Rosalie Corneille, who must also now be added to our list of possibles, was apparently a Scottish actress who appeared in a number of West End productions in the 1930s. The most notorious was Cole Porter’s Nymph Errant (1933) which starred Gertrude Lawrence and featured the black American singer Elisabeth Welch.
This sophisticated and daring musical – essentially about a woman’s quest to lose her virginity – was considered too daring by many. It even had a nude scene which was cut on condition that the lyrics of each song were left alone. Porter said it was his favourite show.
Rosalie Corneille is, I presume, somewhere in this picture from the London production. This was of course post-trial but I bet Elvira was in the audience.