I have posted on the remarkable Carten siblings before (see https://elvirabarney.wordpress.com/2011/11/12/audrey-and-kenneth-carten/ and elsewhere).

Waveney and Audrey Carten

Here are a few extra snippets concerning them.

Audrey and Kenneth Carten, along with Tallulah Bankhead and Gwen Farrar, formed one element of the wilder and more mischievous wing of the Bright Young People ; Elizabeth Ponsonby  and her close friends another. Both groups overlapped at times and both were acquainted with Elvira and/or her associates.

I felt I hadn’t done justice to Kenneth Carten, seeing him as a minor actor, primarily linked to Noel Coward’s revues. The reason his acting career is fairly low-key was, I now realise, because he abandoned performing and became a Theatrical Agent. He achieved great success in this latter calling and had a long career. His clients included Laurence Olivier, Noel Coward and Googie Withers. He also “discovered” and represented the much loved Peter Sallis. In the 1940s, Carten was a London representative for the very powerful and influential  Myron Selznick corporation, which put him at the heart of British film and theatrical life.

Googie Withers 

(Before becoming one of the most popular film stars of the 40s, Withers had been a dancer at the Kit Kat and Murrays as well as appearing in Midnight Follies at the Mayfair Hotel)

It was from Selznick’s office, in early 1949,  that Kenneth Carten wrote to the ailing Hugh Wade. It is a fascinating letter, upbeat, full of references to stars of the day (Jessie Matthews, Patricia Roc, Stewart Grainger) and some waspish (but accurate) comments concerning the quality of certain  performances (Margaret Lockwood in the lamentable Cardboard Cavalier). He casts doubt on the likely success of Terence Rattigan’s new play Adventure Story, and was to be proved right. Kenneth is solicitous towards Hugh (“if there’s anything you want just ask” etc.) but the general tenor is one of friendly gossip between two showbiz “insiders”.

For many years Kenneth lived ,with his sister Audrey,at Paultons House, on the corner of King’s Road and Paultons Square. Paultons House was where Jean Rhys wrote the beautiful but, at the time, neglected, Good Morning, Midnight. Rhys had left No.22, to begin her long sojourn in  alcoholic obscurity by the time Kenneth moved into No.5 (and sometimes 6) .There was a third resident throughout the 1940s, the aristocratic socialite and actress,Lady Caroline Paget.  A beautiful and captivating free-spirit, who is often seen in photographs with Cecil Beaton, she was perhaps best depicted in a number of exquisite portraits by  a love-struck Rex Whistler (see Rex Whistler).

Unfortunately for Rex, she appears to have preferred Audrey, the two becoming “close friends and travelling companions” for a number of years. Caroline’s cousin, David Herbert, who (inevitably) knew all parties involved, has this to say,

“Caroline had made a number of new friends during her days in the theatre, the most important being Audrey Carton (sic), who many years before had written a play with Sir Gerald Maurier called The Dancers. It was in this play that Tallulah Bankhead made her first London appearance. As we all know, Tallulah went from strength to strength and became one of the foremost actresses of that period. Audrey faded into the background as a figure in the theatre, but owing to her beauty, intelligence and caustic wit remained a great personality in that particular world.

 

She was a bad influence on Caroline: they set up house together in Panelton (sic) Square. Caroline drifted away from her own world and, apart from the family, saw only a small group of friends, chiefly women. I suspect that Audrey was the real love of her life, though she had many affairs with men. Eventually she married my cousin, Michael Duff. This was an arrangement beneficial to them both.”

Audrey Carten c1929

Audrey, although never quite fulfilling her early promise as an actress, did find success throughout the 20s and 30s  as a playwright, working in partnership with her sister Waveney. However her later years were unhappy. After Caroline married, it appears that, the already rather eccentric Audrey became increasingly unstable and house-bound and was very dependent on Kenneth to take care of her.

“Late One Evening”  Audrey and Waveney Carten 1933

Waveney, known as “George” according to some sources, was married in 1922 to Ronald Trew, a singer. He earns his place in the marginalia of twentieth century history for two reasons. Firstly, it is alleged that he got Tallulah pregnant at a party held on the Thames in a boat belonging to “Jo” Carstairs (whose then girlfriend would have been Gwen Farrar). Secondly he is the man that the psychotic murderer Ronald True gave as an alibi/doppelganger/mortal enemy in one of the 1920s’ most notorious trials (see Ronald True ) . Waveney remarried in 1932. Her husband, Vladimir Provatoroff,  was an SOE operative in the Second World War. The couple lived firstly in Portland Place and later in Harley Street. They were still married at the time of his death in 1966.

Kenneth’s friendship with Tallulah remained undiminished over nearly forty years. He gives her residence as a forwarding address on his various travels to America in the 1950s. The two would have had some choice tales to share about the “party years”, of that I have no doubt.

 

 

 

Tallulah Bankhead

 

I’m sure that there is much more to be uncovered about this decidedly unconventional trio. There are copies of  “Happy Families” (1929) by Audrey and Waveney and their translation (for Noel Coward) of Deval’s “Mademoiselle” still knocking around, but not much else. The BFI has a copy of Birds of Prey (1930) a crime film directed by Basil Dean which starred Audrey (sometimes spelt Audry). Kenneth’s legacy is even more intangible but fans of “Wallace and Gromit” or “Last of the Summer Wine” may want to raise a glass to his memory.

Audrey Bicker Caarten (1900- 1977) d. Hastings

Waveney Bicker Caarten (1902-1990) d. Sandwich

Kenneth Bicker Caarten (1911-1980) d. Kensington

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