The mystery of Cosme McMoon (McMunn) and Edwin McArthur: the lost composer(s) of Florence Foster Jenkins

Last night I watched The Illusionist, a perfectly predictable and satisfying movie. The premise: the talented Edward Norton is an illusionist in love with gorgeous Jessica Biel (why wouldn’t he be?), but he must make her “disappear” in order to be with her (of course he does). He does this by faking her death and then making it seem as though he himself fades out of existence. But the true end of the movie for me is the scene in which Paul Giamatti, the detective, puts it all together in an extended epiphanatic moment. The whole mystery unravels, piece by piece, before Giamatti’s eyes as an uncontrollable grin spreads across his face and his body is filled with glee and pride at having solved an intensely complicated puzzle. He doesn’t even really care Norton got away with it.

I want that grin.

Florence Foster Jenkins, my newest project, is a mysterious bird, and it is fair to say that I have become somewhat consumed by uncovering what truth I can about her. This past weekend was spent trying to persuade a collector of Lady Jenkins memorabilia to lend us his collection for our next publication. He in no uncertain terms does not want to be associated with Stephen Temperley’s play because of its fictitious depiction of the diva. Which is a shame. How do we combat historical fiction if those who possess the truth don’t choose to share? I have long felt historical fiction is dangerous; is it not concerning that I know as much about Julius Caesar as Shakespeare taught me? Maybe this is why I do dramaturgy: to make sure that the audience enjoys the fiction but are equipped with the facts. Temperley explained to me that he called his play Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkins because he has no intention of deceiving anyone. He has created a fiction. A lovely, moving fiction.

In part, this is because it would have been very difficult, if not impossible, to create an accurate picture. Many of the facts have slipped into the muck of Florence Foster Jenkins’s murky history. No family remains, and there is very little information out there, especially about her private life. The majority of what is out there is suspicious, weak, or admittedly speculative. Some of the facts even contradict one another. The best source, as far as I can, is a short biography written for Opera News magazine by Brooks Peters after he heard about Jenkins on NPR. As was the case when Jenkin’s was alive, her fame seems to be passed primarily by word of mouth.

The most perplexing mystery to me is that of her accompanist, Cosme McMoon. About half of the sources I have found argue that Cosme McMoon is a pseudonym taken up by Edwin McArthur to protect his reputation. Remember: Florence Foster Jenkins was famous for how bad she was. It would make sense that a young accompanist trying to get his start in New York City would not necessarily want his name to be associated with hers. But the other half argue that Cosme McMoon was a real person, born either in Texas or Mexico as Cosme McMunn, and this I have come to believe for many reasons. Donald Collup in his documentary Florence Foster Jenkins: A World of Her Own suggests Edwin and Cosme were two different people because there’s a photograph out there of them together, but he does not provide the image or, really, any support. It seems as though reviewer James Reel watched Collup’s film; he writes, “A persistent rumor holds that Cosme was the stage name of Edwin McArthur, the longtime accompanist of noted Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad, but there’s some photographic evidence against this…More likely is the other legend about Cosme McMoon: The frustrated pianist/songwriter wound up running a gay escort service.” I have done no digging into the validity of this escort service. I am saving it for Christmas.

KIRSTEN FLAGSTAD MED SIN AKKOMPAGNATØR EDWIN MCARTHUR. TURNÉ I USA HØSTEN 1935. MCARTHUR ER MANNEN BAK PSEUDONYMET COSME MCMOON SOM VAR AKKOMPAGNATØR FOR FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS.

Caption: KIRSTEN FLAGSTAD MED SIN AKKOMPAGNATØR EDWIN MCARTHUR” TURNÉ I USA HØSTEN 1935. MCARTHUR ER MANNEN BAK PSEUDONYMET COSME MCMOON SOM VAR AKKOMPAGNATØR FOR FLORENCE FOSTER JENKINS.

Brooks explains that McArthur was an accompanist of Jenkins for six years, but was fired “for guffawing during one of her numbers.” Only then did Jenkins begin collaborating with Cosme.

But the nail in the coffin for me: the obituaries. New York Times: August 25, 1980–McMoon, Cosme–born Mapimi, Mexico, concert pianist in NYC aged 79 years. Survived by a brother, a nephew, two nieces. A small notice on B7. New York Times: February 25, 1987-– Edwin McArthur, Conductor and Accompanist, Dies at 79, by Tim Page. Born in Denver. Survived by his wife of 57 years, Blanche McArthur. Different people, right?

So what, then, do I do with “Interview with Cosme McMoon”, the ONLY interview with Cosme I have been able to find, which aired on WCLV radio in Cleveland on May 26, 1991 and claims in its closing: “You may be interested in knowing that Cosmé McMoon was in reality Edwin McArthur, the famous accompanist.” My intern has called the station. They assure her that this is accurate. They sent her some sources supporting the claim. But since we have already determined that this is decidedly NOT accurate, then what can we say about the interview itself? I am reminded of Stephen Glass: “At 25, Stephen Glass was the most sought-after young reporter in the nation’s capital, producing knockout articles for magazines ranging from The New Republic to Rolling Stone. Trouble was, he made things up—sources, quotes, whole stories—in a breathtaking web of deception that emerged as the most sustained fraud in modern journalism” (Vanity Fair). I really want the interview to be real, I really do. But what if it’s not…

I find myself inventing new strategies to uncover the truth, contacting McMunn’s nephew for clarification and writing desperate emails to the Ritz Carlton to see if they might send a photogaph of the ballroom where Florence used to sing. Carnegie Hall has already agreed to send the playbill for her final, and most famous, performance, but we are still missing those really wonderful photographs of FFJ. They exist. The next mystery to solve is how to get at them for free.

UPDATE: Cosme’s grand-nephew confirms that Cosme McMoon and Edwin McArthur are not the same person! He also says the above-mentioned interview is legit.

UPDATE #2: I am so thrilled by the traffic this particular post is getting. I created a study guide for American Conservatory Theater’s production of Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of Florence Foster Jenkin in January 2009, and we have quite a few copies left. If you would like to buy a copy—OR if your theater is producing Souvenir and would like to buy a bundle of copies at a reduced price to sell as souvenirs—contact me at drubin@act-sf.org.

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66 thoughts on “The mystery of Cosme McMoon (McMunn) and Edwin McArthur: the lost composer(s) of Florence Foster Jenkins

  1. Fact: Edwin McArthur and Cosme McMoon were two different people. This is not a suggestion. If one reads the credits at the end of my documentary, onw would see the gratitutde to Mark McMunn, the grand nephew of Cosme McMoon

    Decades after Jenkins death, McArthur was interviewed. The reporter mentioned the name of Florence Foster Jenkins. McAarthur said not one word, we assume because he did not want to be associated with Jenkins at all.

    Fact: McMoon was born in Mexico.

    Fact: I know of no photograph depicting both McArthur and McMoon. McArthur was fired by Jenkins before she hired McMoon. I doubt they ever posed for a photograph together.

    Fact: McMoon did not “run” a gay escort service. He worked part time as a clerk at a bath hours located above of bodybuilder gym. This was verified by two former piano students of McMoon

    Donald Collup

  2. Yes about the separate persons. Yes about McMoon’s birth. And I thought your documentary made reference to a photograph of the two accompanists together, but it has been a while since I watched it.

    https://darkknightdramaturgy.wordpress.com/2008/12/24/cosme-mcmoon-is-not-edwin-mcarthur-the-final-word/

    You should also check out the piece that Mark wrote after you and I spoke last (and, obviously, after you made your documentary): http://wiki.answers.com/Q/What_happened_to_cosme_mcmoon_after_florence_foster_jenkins_died

    1. In the Meryl Streep film, she writes cosme into her will… We are wondering what she left to him. Does anyone have any idea?

  3. So who was interviewed in 1991? According to Wikipedia, McArthur died in 1987. McMoon according to the above died in 1980. In my opinion, everyone is entering into the spirit of fun about Jenkins. Every article contradicts the other. It’s all myth. Does anyone believe the taxicab story?

    My guess is she was a very intelligent woman who wanted to do comedy. And like every good comedian, she knew that she would be at her funniest if people believed she loved her own voice and thought herself great. Initially she simply tweaked the noses of high society and then her fame spread. My guess is that she really could sing quite well and that she carefully rehearsed the humor that she put into her singing. But of course, with this kind of deception, there must be a lot of myth making–which seems to continue to this day. I love every bit of it.

    1. Great question, Eric. The recording IS of McMoon according to his family, who recognized his voice. It obviously must have been recorded before his death but, for whatever reason, wasn’t aired until 1991 (or it was aired before then, and again in 1991 and the 1991 airing is what we have the transcript of). I personally will make no speculations on FFJ’s intentions, but I think the play SOUVENIR makes a truly lovely argument about an individual’s perception of reality. I hope she did hear beautiful music in her head when she sang.

    2. Sometimes it’s fun to speculate, but if we are seeking truth then we must stick to the known facts. There is not a whole lot available about the life of Ms. Jenkins but the facts that are available make it clear that she was simply an honestly deluded soul, and nothing more. She wanted to sing, her parents said she had no talent, then daddy dies and she inherits the money ultimately using it to pursue the singing career she was denied. There is nothing in the known history about her wanting to be a comedian or an actress. To say otherwise is to make up a story out of thin air and this is how rumors start. So, we must be careful when speculating about any person or any topic. It’s always best to rely on truth and facts and leave speculation out of things because 100 people could come up with 100 different speculative conclusions and each be convinced in their own mind that they are correct. Anyhow, people find Ms. Jenkins so fascinating because of her self delusion. We see things like it in our day on shows like American Idol – people who have giant egos but terrible voices. They are rejected by the panel of experts and then accuse them of bias, jealousy or ignorance. This is exactly what Ms. Jenkins did to her critics, she said they were merely jealous of her.

  4. I am a literary intern at a theatre in Chicago that is producing “Souvenir” next season. Having read your blog posts on the play (and on internships…very interesting)I was wondering if there is any way we could obtain a copy of the program from Florence Foster Jenkins’ performance at Carnegie Hall. It would be greatly appreciated if you could respond to this query. Feel free to email me.

    1. Calli: My basic answer is, yes. I have them on the server at work and will try to remember to send them tomorrow (I’m reading scripts from home today! Clearly.). What’s your email address? I will want to check and see what Carnegie Hall said when they sent them to us and I will notify them that I am forwarding them your way just to ensure I don’t step on anyone’s toes. If you are reprinting them as we did, you should CERTAINLY contact Carnegie Hall yourself and start that conversation (I will be sure to include my contact’s information when I email you). But if it is just for research purposes, I think they’ll be fine with me forwarding it to you! I remember them being very nice and accommodating. Happy to help!

  5. The play “Souvenir” has now had its first performance in Denmark, too, at the provincial theatre of Vendsyssel Teater – close to the birth place of Gutzon Burgloms parents, byt he way. And yes, the “German” text is Norwegian…

  6. Hello All,
    The interview with my Grand Uncle Cosme was produced before his death in 1980, but I do not know when it was produced. It is surely Cosme who is speaking in the interview, but for the life of me I cannot imagine what would have possessed the interviewer to say that Cosme and Edwin McArthur were the same person. So the 1990 interview was NOT current, but rather a re-broadcast of the earlier produced interview.

    It has been very frustrating for me to see this untruth about Cosme and Edwin McArthur being perpetuated because of that interview. It makes me wonder just how many untruths are out there in history that are perpetuated generation to generation.

    I must give all credit to Donald Collup for taking the time to find me and interviewing me several times to make sure he understood all of the facts.

    I also want to say that Cosme had a very interesting life outside of his association with FFJ. There were many chapters in Cosme’s life of which his association with FFJ was one.

    If you should have any questions about Cosme please post your questions here, and i will check back and try to answer them.

    Many Thanks,
    Mark McMunn
    Grand Nephew of Cosme McMoon

    1. Did you ever meet him? What was he like as a person? Listening to him play on the Jenkins records he seems to have been supremely talented and able to adjust and compensate for her off-key renditions. In some instances I think she’d sound much worse had it not been for the occasions when it seemed he “saved” her. I remember reading something somewhere once that he used to make faces at her during performances to add to the humor. Is this true, or just a rumor?

  7. I recently saw the play Souvenir which caused my cousin and I to research information on FFJ. I’m curious as to what happened to Cosme after FFJ passed? The play implies that he wrote music that noone was interested in during her lifetime. Also, does anyone know how she actually died?

    While the play was quite funny, it was also touchingly done. We should all have the courage to pursue our passions whether we are “great” or not.

  8. Having seen both Souvenir and Glorious both are wonderful affectionate pieces about Florence and Cosme. Though I would say glorious is a much better play and is more eccentris in it’s humour.

  9. I am currently doing research on Florence and discovered a treasure trove at the New York City Library. for 36 years she had a close friendship with a Shakespearean actor named St. Clair Bayfield (there is a character of him on Glorious). After his death in 1967 his wife Kay had all of Florence’s ephemera compiled in a scrapbook and donated to the library – it includes programs, pictures, reviews, and her address book for all those lucky enough to be invited to her private concerts. Also in the library – all of Bayfield’s daily journals from 1911 through 1967 – very enlightening. I have spent about 40 hours reading through all this material and have some theories of my own brewing. Am delighted to find this blog and eager to continue conversations with those interested in FFJ. Thanks.

    1. You might use your discovery to write a book about her. With so much material that has been previously unknown there are many who would love to know her story. It’s amazing what you can find at the New York Public Library. I’ve done research there myself about 15 years ago.

  10. As a singer, I have to say, it is FAR more difficult to intentionally sing badly, to the extent that Madam FFJ did, than to sing that way because you really can’t tell how you sound. My father thinks he’s a wonderful singer. Let’s just say he’d make a great counterpart for someone like FFJ. Whatever he ended up doing with his life after Madam’s death, Cosme McMoon was a true musical genius, slowing and accelerating tempo and altering key in mid note to try to match his tones to the ones being screeched beside his piano. It’s really a loss to current culture he did not gain more fame for himself.

  11. Cosme McMoon was my piano teacher in the late 1930’s and early 1940’s. I have a program of a recital FFJ gave at the Ritz Carlton, Thursday, November 4th, 1943, with McMoon as pianist and Andrea Del Veccio as flutist, and The Pascarella Chamber Music Society, which Cosme gave me at the time. The recital was at 8:30 o’clock, and tickets cost $2.50. Cosme was an excellent teacher, very patient, and a fine pianist in his own right. He mentioned once or twice that he was distantly related to Edwin McDowell, the American composer, Perhaps this is where some connection with McArthur might have come from. Cosme believed she had no talent, but he applauded her ambition, and was pleased to assist her in any way he could. I don’t believe he ever made fun of her to gain laughs. I would be pleased to answer whatever questions anyone might have about Cosme, but I am not sure I can relate much of his personal life. I was one of his pupils that appeared in a group recital at Carnegie Hall Studios in the 40’s, I don’t remember the date. I was one of his more accomplished students, so I appeared near the end of the program. As I recall, the final performer was a youngster named Alan Jay Lerner, but I may be wrong. David Livingston

    1. Mr. Livingstone,
      I have a copy of one of My Uncle’s student recitals. On this list is a Miss Dorothy Livingstone. Miss Livingstone played a Chopin waltz. Are you a relative of Ms. Livingstone? The date of the recital is April 19th 1942 at the Carnegie Chamber Music Hall. I hope you get this message.

    2. Mr. Livingstone,
      I just looked more closely at the recital program, and you are also listed! You performed the Rachmaninoff prelude in C# minor. If you played the C# minor then you are truly one of his more accomplished students. I would like to send you a copy of the program via email if you would like to have it. Please let me know.

  12. I saw “Souvenir” during its second season in NYC. As I recall, Cosme McMoon had been interviewed once on the “Tonight Show”, but I do not recall seeing that. Thanks for the information about her birthday (today!). Her 78 rpm records were transferred to LP and are now avaiable on CD. Unfortunately there was no album made of “Souvenir”. I thought it was wonderful.

  13. Can someone please get a hold of Mr. Livingstone. I have a copy a recital that Cosme left us that has Mr. Livinstone listed as a performer back in the 1940’s.

    Mark McMunn
    Grand Nephew of Cosme McMoon

  14. It is now 10/17/13, a year after Mr. McMunn’s 3rd request re David J. Livingston. Just saw the marvelous performance of “Souvenir” at Live Theatre Workshop here in Tucson, AZ; the fascinating McMoon & Jenkins are played by the gifted Michael Martinez & Carlisle Ellis. That’s what prompted me to learn a bit more, and so wound up here ~ a lovely living source! It’s cool being able to listen in on the present’s connection with the past as shared by those involved, and connections (duets?) between people who may not have met (yet?). I very much hope that Mr. McMunn can again connect with his great-uncle’s accomplished former student, Mr. Livingston!! (I had a phone call out of the blue last week from a dear friend 2,000 miles away whom I lost touch with after 1997 ~ so I guess, never give up!) Thank you, Dark Knight Dramaturg.

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  16. Yes, Jenkins was deluded, but medical circumstances fueled this delusion. There are two reasons as to why the Jenkins phenomenon happened at all, both of which are mentioned in my documentary:

    1) A year or so after Jenkins’ marriage, around 1888, to Dr. Frank Thornton Jenkins, she contracted syphilis from him. This in and of itself would very gradually wreak havoc on her central nervous system, the brain, auditory nerves, etc.

    2) The treatment for syphilis during Jenkins’ lifetime was primarily mercury, administered as an inunction (inhaling the vapor) or as a salve. After ca. 1910, arsenic was used as a treatment or used in combination with mercury. As we know now, mercury and arsenic are highly poisonous and, short of exhuming her body, we can safely assume this treatment affected her in the same way the disease did.

    In the early 1970s, Jenkins’ diagnosis of syphilis was revealed by Kathleen Bayfield, Jenkins’ husband’s second wife, in an interview with Bruce Hungerford. She read the chapter of her biography that tells the entire story of Jenkins’ life. It’s the holy grail as a source for information. This diagnosis would also explain the fact that she was absolutely bald, the disease and its treatment destroying her hair down to its follicles.

    One may say that Ms. Bayfield made this all up to destroy Jenkins’ name because she was bitter about Jenkins’ relationship with St. Clair. But yet, Ms. Bayfield is complimentary about her and states that Jenkins never said an unkind word about anyone, that St. Clair and Jenkins loved each other and that they never quarreled. In other words, she respected her husband’s memory by not slandering Jenkins.

    Donald Collup
    Producer, “Florence Foster Jenkins: A World Of Her Own”

    1. What a lovely summary of the situation faced by thousands of people before antibiotics became available to treat syphilis. I rather strongly suspect Madame Jenkins would still have been outgoing, vibrant, and, yes, tone deaf, had she not been ill. But she might not have reached quite the summit she achieved with her “Glorious” enthusiasm for music. I think I will just be satisfied that, despite the cruel joke life played on her, she managed to rise above, and well beyond, the usual role of victim.

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  18. As a child, my mother worked for a New York radio station, WOV. It was run by Italo-Americans. The Italian language was spoken, and the station featured opera performances and Italian popular music. My mother had an acetate disc in her collection, evidently a transfer of a lengthy interview with Cosme McMoon, where he spoke at length about Florence Foster Jenkins and her career. Mr. McMoon’s account was lively and amusing. He was extremely articulate. The disc dated from the mid 1950s, but the interview might well have been earlier. In any case, it is clear that the interview was made after Madame Jenkins’s death, because the pianist would never have risked offending the singer by recounting the anecdotes he related. Unfortunately, this disc was lost in the shuffle of my various changes of address. However, I listened to it several times and I played it for friends – to the extent that I remember it practically word for word. This may well be the same interview that was broadcast forty years later. If you can furnish a transcript of it, I will be able to confirm whether or not it is the same interview as the one I heard way back in 1955.

  19. Would any FFJ aficianado out there happen to know the lyrics for Cosme’s VALSE CARESSANTE which he wrote for and performed with FFJ? I have attempted many times to decipher them from her recording, but without result.
    Many thanks.

    1. Hello Gerard, i am Mark McMunn Cosme McMoons grand nephew. Unfortunately Cosme did not leave behind anything about this particular piece of music. After he passe away we went up to New York to remove his belongings from his apartment and later when we went thru his personal notes we did not find anything about the musical pieces he wrote for FFJ. I am glad though that you have an interest in knowing these lyrics because i would like to know them as well.

      Best WIshes
      Mark McMunn

      1. Carl,
        If you like you could email me at my personal email which is mamc5x@aol.com

        If you want to call me that is fine too. You can reach me at 210-733-8877 mon-fri, but the best time to call is between 3pm and 5pm CST. I am in Texas

  20. Does anyone have an idea on who the publisher is for McMoon’s ‘Valse Caressante’? Or of McMoon’s work in general? As McMoon didn’t die until 1980 causing his work to still be in copyright.

    Any help will be greatly appreciated.

    Many thanks.

  21. I heard an interview with FFJ’s accompanist (whose name I’d forgotten but not the interview, which greatly impressed me) on NY radio, probably WQXR, sometime in the 60s before I left the US in June 1971. John-Paul’s missing acetate disc?

  22. I met Edwin McArthur through a mutual friend in the summer of 1985. He told me emphatically that he NEVER went under the name Cosme McMoon, and that he was FFJ’s accompanist before Cosme was.
    When I returned home from New York, he sent me a chapter he was writing for a new book which was never published. In it, he described his history with Jenkins.
    I still have the chapter! Randy Sills (rsillsmu@aol.com )

  23. Very interesting posts.
    I have just watched the Donald Collup documentary, it was fabulous, thanks so much for making that, it really put everything into context. Glad all you guys got together. Recommended for anyone here who has not watched.

  24. I knew Cosme back in the70s when he hung out at Mid City Gym, and the Continental Baths. He was a very nice man.

  25. well we are all aware of the new film coming out in August. I was Edwin McArthurs partner in our New York studio at the Ansonia Hotel for about ten years where he died in my arms he really died with his boots on in the middle of a song. Randy i believe is the one who is closest to the truth about McArthurs association with Mme Jenkins. We had several conversations about his relationship with the diva where i asked him point blank about it. We were like father and son and i could ask him anything; In fact the last disc he ever recorded was with me called Sound Ideas He was still playing verywell at the age of 74 when we recorded it at Nola Studios in NYC. He always knew all the gossip and had a nearly photographic memory of things for example he could tell you who was at a party in 1925 what they were wearing and what they ate and drank. He was a wonderful storyteller and loved the telling!! When he passed his wife Peggy gave me almost all his opera and art song scores which i treasure to this day and use in my teaching. I studied voice with his good friend Bernard Taylor and i was also a Professor at NYU and President of the New York Singing Teachers Association from 1984 ti 1987 and am now living in Toms River NJ.

  26. I studied violin with Noah Klauss from 1951 through 1963. At the time Edwin McArthur was conductor of the Harrisburg Symphony, and Mr. Klauss was Assistant Concertmaster and Associate Conductor. During the last few years of my study, I also had lessons in harmony and theory, and did some proofreading of orchestra parts for a score that Mr. Klauss was preparing for publication. These involved my traveling to his home on Sunday afternoons once or twice a month. During one of those occasions, he played for me several 78 rpm recordings of Florence Foster Jenkins and told me that the accompanist on the recordings was McArthur using the pseudonym Cosme McMoon. Mr. Klauss was an excellent teacher of the stern Germanic variety, not in any way a jokester. I must conclude that he told me this in all seriousness and believed it himself. I relate the story now to indicate that the myth that McArthur and McMoon were the same person dates back at least to the late ’50s and had some currency with McArthur’s associates of the time. I have found the information on this blog to be of great interest. Thank you.

  27. I just today watched the movie on FFJ very touching. I would like to know if FFJ actually left Cosme an inheritance and what that was. As the excentric dullusional I was wondering what it may have been if anything.

  28. This is way off the stream of this blog, but I was a music major at Susquehanna University in Selinsgrove, PA in the 1970’s. This is where I first learned about Madame Jenkins. One of our piano and theory teachers, who was extremely legit, although also humorous, swore that Mr. McMunn lived out his final days in Harrisburg, PA. (Susquehanna is about an hour north.) I know he wasn’t joking when he said it, but obviously it wasn’t true. However, thanks to the comments above I think I understand why he might have thought that — given the confusion between Mr. McMunn and Mr. McArthur, and Mr. McArthur’s position with the Harrisburg Symphony. (That might be part of what our teacher said – that he conducted the HSO.)

    I saw the movie today and thought it was great. The music was beautifully performed, and the acting, especially by Meryl Streep, was wonderful. I thought Ms. Streep did a phenomenal job of playing FFJ sincerely, without making fun of or belittling her, yet making the movie itself fun. Really, it’s a love story, beautifully done and very touching. And kudos to Ms Streep for her singing of the part. That’s not easy to do.

    Well, enough chatter. It’s great to meet up with some aficionados who have such a genuine interest n a woman who loved music so much — the other love story in the movie.

    1. You must mean either Fred Billman or Galen Deibler, and yes, neither one of them would have joked about something like that. (I went to SU ’63 through ’67, English Major, Music Minor.) In the ’60s several of the SU professors played in the Harrisburg Symphony. Russell Hatz, who would have retired before you got there, and Noah Klauss knew each other quite well. Apparently the misconception that McArthur and McMoon were the same person was more or less “common knowledge” among Central PA musicians of the time. Goodness, I had no reason to question it until I saw “Glorious” at the Fulton Opera House some years ago! I’m so glad that the truth is finally out there.

      Another bit of information which might interest those on this blog was posted by researchers at the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, PA, several days ago. Florence Foster was a student at the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies in 1881-82. A program from a Musical Entertainment presented on December 20, 1881, lists her along with six other students in a Vocal Duet titled “Two Merry Alpine Maids.” There is no indication on the program of how a duet was performed by seven people. The names are listed in two columns of three each, with Florence Foster’s name centered below them, so it is also possible that there were three voices each on a part and she was the accompanist. The school ledger for the year indicates that while she was a student, she spent over $100 on sheet music and lessons.

      I have a meeting over at the Archives next week and plan to ask if there is any chance that there is a diary somewhere that would record comments about her performance. What a find it would be to turn up an evaluation of her singing ability prior to her illness!

      And I saw the film two days ago and absolutely loved it. Meryl Streep is a genius.

  29. Saw the movie this afternoon. Loved it! Laughed and cried. Meryl Street was wonderful, Hug Grant was amazing and clearly adored FFJ, but also love his girlfriend. But, at least in the movie, Florence was his true devotion. In the movie she was quite eccentric, but I had read that she loved potato salad and that, in real life, she did have a bathtub full of potato salad. In researching about her, I read that the syllphis may have caused hearing damage and that she didn’t know that she was so off key. That, according to her, she sang beautifully. I think that the real FFJ must have been quite a woman to get herself to Carneige Hall, and the movie about her life, was quite delightful. But, there were very serious moments as well or at least, undertones of conflict. Such as with St. Clair caught between the two women and then Cosme and his fear of his career being ruined, a career that had not really even gotten off the ground, by playing for her at Carneige Hall. Yet, for him, it was the dream of a lifetime and it couldn’t believe that he was there. I enjoyed the movie very much which has prompted me to do much reading about all three of the of the main characters. A fascinating and historical story, as she was a real person!

  30. I’ve been interested in FFJ’s life and legacy for some time, but only after watching the recent movie and digging a bit deeper have I discovered the equally as interesting story of McMunn/McMoon. If anyone can point me in the direction of any resources for (acurate) information on either of them that are still currently available (this comment thread has gotten a bit stale), I would really appreciate it!

  31. I enjoyed the movie with Ms. Steep yesterday and find myself with FFJ. I have a quick question. Did she indeed leave Mr. McMoon an inheritance in her will? If so, does anyone know how much? Thank you so much!

    1. Sorry, I wrote my question before finishing the documentary. The answer to my question was there, of course. Thank you !!!

      1. Thoroughly enjoyed this extensive blog after seeing The Jenkins/McMoon film last evening. I was totally charmed by the portrayal of McMoon as the character who went through quite a metamorphosis, rendering him the protagonist from a literary standpoint. I am obviously still enthralled by the film, having spent the day shopping on e-Bay, .edu sites, and this engaging blog. Thanks to all for sharing, especially Grand-Nephew McMunn. As a former singer, I have always treasured accompanists. McMoon was extraordinary. I hope his life was rewarding to him, as he lived long as well. Thanks to all again, rjs

  32. My wife and I saw the movie this afternoon. I have to tell you, I was prepared to laugh, but was really somewhat taken aback by the poignancy of the movie, as it reduced me several times to tears. It is beautifully done. The “sleeper” in the whole thing is Simon Helberg as Cosme McMoon. I hope this gives him the opportunity to show his “chops” as an actor for the future, because the delicacy and range of expression throughout as he is horrified by the notes, the hopefulness that something will work out, the touching friendliness for a woman who was an object of some (!) derision and who elicited from him an amazing degree of loyalty, is masterful. Hugh Grant has this wonderful, loving gravitas – two words not often found together, and he just smiles through it all, even as he realizes that things are not as Lady Florence would have had them. And can anything more be added to the superlatives for Meryl Streep? This is a lovely, rounded (as was Lady Florence’s figure) performance, funny, poignant, defiant, “glorious.” It was a “glorious” afternoon, and my thanks for those who brought this story back to life.

  33. I made a previous post to this site, and just thought about something that may help people wanting to know a little more about Florence Foster Jenkins. Edwin McArthur, who was a friend of mine, left his papers to a college or university in Boston. The regrettably late Robert Tuggle of the Metropolitan Opera Company told me that he went to the said college when he was working on a biography of Kirsten Flagstad. As I stated in an earlier post, Mr. McArthur had given me a manuscript he had written about Madame Jenkins in which he described playing for her in some out of town engagements. He disclosed how much she paid him etc…
    Unfortunately, after so many decades and two moves, I do not know where the manuscript is. It was called, “Florence Foster Jenkins : She Really Lived.” Another possible lead may be to try and get in touch with the musician who he rented a studio with in The Ansonia Hotel. That man, whose name is Thomas Rexdale, (I think) posted an earlier post (above), and I believe he mentioned that he was living in New Jersey. He may know which college Mr. McArthur left his papers to….

    On a sidenote, I would like to say that I saw the movie a week ago, and enjoyed it tremendously. Meryl Streep was superb, and Hugh Grant was wonderful. Simon Helberg was so impressive in the role; his expressions were priceless. He said that he practically had to re-learn the piano for the role. Well, as a former professional pianist, I have nothing but praise for his pianistic accomplishment! He is an equally talented actor and musician. Bravo!

    Anyway, I hope my little ideas may help someone find more information.

    If anyone does find some really interesting things, like whether or not Tallulah Bankhead was REALLY the actress who had to be escorted out of Carnegie Hall the night that Madame Jenkins braved singing there, or ANY other interesting things, I would love to know! I can be reached at rsillsmu@aol.com or 818 841-4581. I have no answering machine for a few weeks, so please be patient!

    Thank you…..

  34. Hi,
    I am looking for the transcript of McMoons radio interview, the link you shared seem to not work anymore. Is there a different one?
    And is there any way to get hold of Donald Collups documentary?
    Thank you!

    1. Hello Malin, I visited that link earlier and just happen to have it saved. Here it is, reprinted in full:

      INTERVIEW WITH COSME MCMOON (KALW, 5/26/91) (Weekend Radio, WCLV, 26501
      Emery Industrial Parkway, Cleveland OH 44128):

      I presume you have lots of questions, and they’re going to be
      answered in the following interview with Miss Jenkins’ accompanist for many
      years, Cosm? McMoon:

      Q. Like many artists of unusual ability, Florence Foster Jenkins has
      been understood by the world and even by her most devoted followers in a
      partial, limited sort of way. What is needed for a full appreciation of
      numbers such as we hear today is not only background of a sort but a clear
      explanation of her personality by someone both familiar and sympathetic with
      its unusual development. It is for this reason that we are fortunate in
      being able to interview Mr. Cosm? McMoon, who coached Mme Jenkins and
      accompanied her on these records. Toward getting as complete a picture as
      possible, Mr. McMoon, would you be willing to tell our listeners something
      about Mme J’s history prior to her belated concert career?

      A. I think I could. Mme Jenkins was born in Wilkes-Barre PA around
      1868, of very wealthy parents, but very early she demonstrated this desire
      to sing, and her parents objected to the excruciating quality of her voice,
      and in her early teens she ran away from home and went to Philadelphia to
      try to make her way. There she suffered great hardships and privations
      until her father, hearing of it, came down to town and took her back home.
      She was restored to her social and wealthy position, but with the proviso
      that she wouldn’t sing anymore. Therefore, during the whole lifetime of her
      father, she did not sing but she had this terrific repression. Finally,
      when he died, he left her very well provided for and her mother was a little
      more lenient than her father had been, so she was allowed to take singing
      lessons again, but not to sing in public. And her mother died in 1928, and
      at that time she was left this additional fortune and completely free to
      pursue her own way, so that is when she decided to make her concert career.
      At that time she must have been about sixty years old.

      Q. Did anyone encourage her in this idea of taking up a singing
      career seriously? Who were the people that were instrumental in this?

      A. Well, she had sung at small affairs in her big musical club,
      which was called The Birdy Club. They had a ball yearly, and in the last
      few years she had created an intermission in the ball during which she sang
      an aria, and so great was the enthusiasm and the mirth that people clamored
      for more. She was encouraged to sing more and more, both by professionals
      and laymen. There were a great many singers from the Metropolitan in this
      club – I think Enrico Caruso was one of the founders – and all these
      people, to kid her along, told her that she was the most wonderful singer
      that ever lived, and encouraged her that way.

      Q. Through which of these activities, Mr. McMoon, did you first come
      to know Mme J?

      A. I met Mme Jenkins socially about a year before her mother’s
      death, and I saw her socially every once in a while, and, knowing that I was
      a concert pianist, she asked me, when she decided upon her first concert, if
      I would coach her program and supervise the numbers, which I did.

      Q. Before we go on to any further description of Mme J’s career, I
      think it would be appropriate if you could tell us, right now, some of the
      most memorable numbers that she performed, describing perhaps the costumes
      she was known for and her stage presence in general.

      A. Well, I might say that every number was memorable, the way she
      performed it, because it was not only a performance of this sort that we
      hear on the records, but she added histrionics to every number, generally
      acting the action, if it were an aria, or other appropriate action if it
      were a descriptive song, or else she would go into different dances during
      these numbers, which were extremely hilarious. I might say that I think her
      most unusual number was a fast Spanish song by the name of Clavelitos.
      During this, she insisted on having introductory music, to which she danced
      a Spanish step in the style of a fandango. She came out dressed in a high
      comb and mantilla, with a gorgeous Spanish shawl and carrying a basket of
      carnations. During the actual singing of the number, she would pause
      altogether and toss these flowers out into the audience, with shouts of
      ?Ol?! And this created such a pandemonium at the end that she was forced to
      repeat it always. Then of course she had thrown the flowers out, so she
      asked the audience if they would return them so she could toss them out
      again, and many brought them up to the stage, others threw them up. When
      the basket was refilled, she started again, only this time they accompanied
      the whole thing with hand-clapping and each toss of a flower, for instance
      at Carnegie Hall, was accompanied by a great salvo of “?Ol?!” from the whole
      house of several thousand people. There were many other unusual numbers,
      each one in its own costume and action.

      Q. In what way was the audience able to contain itself, or to
      maintain some semblance of approval during all this, Mr. McMoon?

      A. Why, there wasn’t any question of semblance of approval, because
      they approved of it wholeheartedly, but the audience nearly always tried not
      to hurt her feelings by outright laughing, so they developed a convention
      that whenever she came to a particularly excruciating discord or something
      like that, where they had to laugh, they burst into these salvos of applause
      and whistles and the noise was so great that they could laugh at liberty.
      Q. Perhaps what’s even more important, how did Mme Jenkins herself
      rationalize these performances? How was she able to interpret this audience
      reaction as encouragement?

      A. She had gotten a conception that is because, at that time, Frank
      Sinatra had started to sing, and the teenagers used to faint during his
      notes and scream, so she thought she was producing the same kind of an
      effect, and when these salvos of applause came, she took them as great marks
      of approval of some tremendous vocal tour de force, and she loved that. She
      would pause altogether and bow, many times, and then resume the song.

      Q. At this time, she was led to draw comparisons, wasn’t she,
      between herself and other serious divas of the opera stage.

      A. Oh, yes! Naturally she must have made comparisons, but I do
      think that she could not hear her own work in the proper pitch, and that’s
      one of the characteristics of her singing. Now, I know sometimes she had At
      Homes, with different guests, and she would put two records on the Victrola
      to have a voting upon which was the better. She would put The Bell Song by
      herself and by Galli-Curci, and then she would hand little ballots out and
      you were supposed to vote which one was the best. Of course they all voted
      for her, and one woman once voted for Galli-Curci so Mme said, “How could
      you mistake that! My tones are much fuller than that!” So she really
      didn’t hear the atrocious pitches in these things. She used to sit
      delightedly and listen for hours to her recordings.”

      Q. I know a lot in the public’s mind has been made of the appearance
      of the great final appearance she made at Carnegie Hall. Would you be
      willing to recount some of the unique characteristics or some of the
      especially interesting things that happened during that performance?

      A. Yes, her performance in Carnegie Hall was the most remarkable
      thing that has happened there, I think. I was supposed to play for her that
      night, and when I approached the hall I could hardly get near it, because
      the crowd stretched all the way to the Little Carnegie and around Seventh
      Avenue, and you hardly mill through them. You had to prove your identity to
      get in, and inside the house held a record audience. It seemed that the
      people were hanging on the rafters, besides taking up every inch of
      available standing room. When she came out to sing an old English group,
      she came out in a sort of shepherdess’s gown with a shepherd’s crook,
      holding it, and the ruckus was so great that it lasted five minutes before
      there was enough quiet for her to begin. Then the concert went on with the
      most noisy and abandoned applause that I have – I have never seen such a
      scene, either a bullfight or at the Yale Bowl after a winning touchdown.
      When she sang Clavelitos, one famous actress had to be carried out of her
      box because she became hysterical.

      Q. During the years since Mme J’s death, there have been many
      attempts, have there not, to imitate her, on the part of other singers less
      – less qualified, or less completely sincere, as she was, about that type of
      vocal art?

      A. Oh, yes. Such a golden shower as the audiences which she was
      able to attract are certainly a temptation to anyone, and many have tried
      since to give studiedly discordant recitals at Town Hall and different
      places, or trying to make the music funny that way, but they have no success
      at all, and they just make a dismal evening, and the reason is that they’re
      not sincere in their efforts, as Mme Jenkins was. She is inimitable, and
      many have tried also to imitate her, but without success.

      [Announcer:] You may be interested in knowing that Cosm? McMoon was in
      reality Edwin McArthur, the famous accompanist.

      [The elders among us may recognize that name from the numerous recordings he
      made as the favorite accompanist of . . . wait for it . . . the one and only
      Kirsten Flagstad, the greatest dramatic soprano of her time, and the
      greatest Wagnerian soprano I ever heard; she did everything in her
      considerable power to get the Met to engage him as its Wagnerian chief, but
      he lost out to Erich Leinsdorf, to Mme Flagstad’s considerable vexation.
      She did, however, euchre RCA Victor into letting him conduct when she and
      her favored partner Lauritz Melchior recorded great chunks of °—Tristan und
      Isolde°— with the San Francisco Opera Orchestra. I’d heard before that
      McArthur had played for Mme Jenkins at the beginning of his career, but had
      never taken it seriously. I can only assume that at the time he, as any
      musician can understand, simply needed the scratch. The discovery of Cosm?
      McMoon’s true identity set me on fire to get into contact with him, and ask
      him some probing psychological questions about her rare disorder.
      Unfortunately, I learned from Grove’s Dictionary of Music and Musicians that
      Edwin McArthur had already died, at the age of 79, on February 2, 1987. I
      still marvel at the sublime serenity of his facial muscles the only time I
      heard him and Mme Jenkins together. At that time I had the feeling that
      nothing short of an atomic explosion would have ruffled his extraordinary
      aplomb.]

      Paul Moor

      Wilhelmsaue 132
      D-10715 Berlin
      Telefon (4930) 8639-5784
      Telefax (4930) 8639-5785

      1. The biopic with Meryl Streep produced a round of articles about FFJ. In the preceding comments, the online blog History vs Hollywood is quoted re its truth or fiction narrative. After reading the transcript of the Cosme McMoon radio interview above and seeing the “Announcer’s” incorrect assertion that McMoon and MacArthur were one and the same person, I thought a reprise of one of the Q&As from HvsH is needed:

        History vs Hollywood

        http://www.historyvshollywood.com/reelfaces/florence-foster-jenkins/

        Q. Did Florence perform with other accompanists besides Cosmé McMoon?

        A. Yes. In 1928, Florence began performing with pianist Edwin McArthur, who became her accompanist for the next six years. The Florence Foster Jenkins true story confirms that McArthur was permanently replaced by Cosmé McMoon after he offended Florence when he mocked her in front of her audience. Some of her other less notable accompanists included Almero Albanesi, Carl Pascarella, Willa Semple and Malton Boyce. Composers, including Charles Haubiel, Richard Hageman and Charles Gilbert Spross, also collaborated with Jenkins.

  35. Does anyone know if sheet music exists for any of McMoon’s compositions? I’d love to know or see what the music is, it’s a bit hard to pick out with Jenkins’ singing.

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