I've had this card in my collection for several years having bought it at an estate sale. Until today I never bothered to really look at it. What I've found is rather interesting.

Click on either image to see it larger.

The card was sent on June 18, 1907 to Miss Belle Gordy in Santa Rosa, California from her friend Edith. That's not the interesting part.

Nor is the publisher, Carter & Gut, all that interesting.

Note the caption on the front:
May Irwin and Company
So who is May Irwin and why should we be worried that Mrs. Black is back?

May Irwin (June 27, 1862 – October 22, 1938), was a Canadian actress, singer and star of vaudeville.
Born at Whitby, Ontario 1862 as Georgina May Campbell, her father Robert E. Campbell of Whitby, Ontario died when she was 13 years old and her stage-minded mother, Jane Draper in need of money, encouraged May and her younger sister Flora to perform. Creating a singing act, billed as the `Irwin Sisters` debuted at the Adelphi Theatre, in nearby Buffalo, New York in December 1874. By the fall of 1877, their career had progressed, and they were booked to appear at New York's Metropolitan Theater then at the Tony Pastor Theatre, a popular New York City music hall.

The Irwin sisters proved popular enough to earn regular spots for the ensuing six years after which a 21-year-old May Irwin set out on her own. She joined Augustin Daly's stock company from 1883 to 1887, where she made her first appearance on the theatrical stage. This comedienne was known for her improvisation skills. An immediate success she went on to make her London stage debut at Toole's Theatre in August 1884. In 1886 her husband of eight years, Frederick W. Keller, died unexpectedly. Her sister Flora married Senator Grady.

By the early 1890s, May Irwin had married a second time and developed her career into that of a leading vaudeville performer with an act known at the time as "Coon Shouting" in which she performed African American influenced songs. In the 1895 Broadway show The Widow Jones, she introduced "The Bully Song" which became her signature number. The performance also featured a lingering kiss which was seen by Thomas Edison who hired Irwin and her co-star John C. Rice to repeat the scene on film. In 1896, Edison's Kinetoscope production, The Kiss, became the first screen kiss in cinematic history.

Among her own pieces have been : " The Widow Jones," " The Swell Miss Fitzswell," "Courted into Court," "Kate Kip-Buyer," "Sister Mary," etc.

In addition to her performing and singing, May Irwin also wrote the lyrics to several songs, including "Hot Tamale Alley," with music written by George M. Cohan. In 1907 she married her manager, Kurt Eisfeldt, the same year she began making records for Berliner/Victor. Several of these recordings survive and give a notion of the actress's appeal.

May Irwin's buxom figure was much in vogue at the time and combined with her charming personality, for more than thirty years she was one of America's most beloved performers. In 1914, she made her second silent film appearance, this time in the feature-length adaptation of George V. Hobart's play, Mrs. Black is Back, produced by Adolph Zukor's Famous Players Film Company and filmed for the most part at her own sprawling home in New York. Still pictures, showing May, survive from this movie.

A highly paid performer, Irwin was a shrewd investor and became a very wealthy woman. She spent a great deal of time at a summer home on secluded Club Island a small island off of Grindstone Island of the Thousand Islands and at her winter home on Merritt Island, Florida before retiring to a farm near Clayton, New York, where a street would eventually be named in her honor.

Personal life
May Irwin was married twice. First Frederick W. Keller, of St. Louis from 1878 until his death in 1886. From 1907 to the end of her life she was married to Kurt Eisenfeldt. The couple lived at West 44th Street, New York.

May Irwin had two sons by her first marriage, Walter Keller (born ca. 1879) and Harry Keller (b. 1882).

May Irwin died in New York City on October 22, 1938, aged 76. (SOURCE: Wikipedia)
So what was Mrs. Black is Back about?
Based on a play by George V. Hobart, the story concerns a peppery middle-aged widow who claims to be only 29 years old. Despite the fact that she is obviously well along in years, Mrs. Black (Irwin) is able to convince a marriageable professor (Charles Lane) that she is indeed as young as she claims. But what is the prof to make of the fact that Mrs. Black has a grown son named Jack (Elmer Booth), who is himself well past the age of consent? Featured in the cast as Mrs. Mason was (Clara Blandick), best known for her work as Auntie Em in 1939's The Wizard of Oz. —Hal Erickson, Rovi (SOURCE: NY Times)
Hankering to hear May sing? Just click below to here her sing "Don't Argify". Want to hear the other songs? Click on the source below the list. WARNING: Some of the songs are offensive.

(SOURCE: Archive.org)

How about the famous May Irwin kiss?

All these years this card has been stuck in an album and I never once paid any attention to what it was. Only because I have a headache and grew weary of the work I need to do did I decide to see where this old piece of ephemera would take me.

I might still have the headache, but at least I'm not feeling so weary. In fact after listening to those tunes I'm absolutely serene.


  1. I love these kinds of posts. Thanx!

  2. Booksteve, you're welcome.

  3. THIS post is primarily the reason I follow you - daily. Wonderful story. Every image has a story, doesn't it?

  4. You know me and how excited I get when something leads to something. More often than not it's a dead end. I love when a whole world opens up from a scrap of paper.

  5. Gosh what a story! I haven't listened to the 'offensive' songs although I AM tempted! Might come back and tune in when I have more time.

  6. Recommended Reading - and Listening - and Viewing! This post certainly has a lot going for it - thanks!