Posts Tagged ‘La Motogirl’

1903 – La Motogirl – Doris Chertney / Frederic Melville (American)


1903 – La Motogirl – Doris Chertney [Chertsey?] / Frederic Melville.



Image and text source: here.
Belle Epoque Violin Playing Robot, circa 1905

In the French newspaper Le Gaulois, #9558, there is a notice of the appearance, on December 15th, 1903?, at 8:30 PM at the Olympia Theater in Paris, of La Motogirl. Now, we don't know if she was actually a robot who played the violin and dreamed of becoming a real girl, or if she was a real girl who played the violin and had always dreamed of becoming a robot. But, she was certainly billed as a violin playing robot, and in this image, she really does look like one.


The Advertiser (Adelaide, SA), Tuesday 24 November 1903. Text source: here.

A remarkable story is told by Mr. Frederic Melville, the manager for that clever little American lady, Miss Doris Chertsey, alias the "Motogirl." After a long and most successful engagement at the Wintergarten, in Berlin, Miss Doris Chertney heard that her "business" was being done at an other music-hall by a girl from America calling herself "Motomadchen," and as this was a literal translation of the name Miss Chertsey had copyrighted, she took proceedings against the imitator (Mr. Melville being the nominal suing party), and duly appeared at court packed in a box like a doll in a toyshop. When the case was tried, the box, with the lid off the front, was propped up against the judges' bench, and the figure inside it treated as a thing, inanimate.  Presently the court was ordered to be cleared while the judges debated. "Of course the doll can remain," said one of the judges, turning to the usher. And so the Motogirl remained, hearing the decision in her favor some time before, it was publicly announced in court! (Miss Chertsey's mother was a German, and the Motogirl is well acquainted with the language). It was not until the matter had got into the papers that the judges knew that the doll in the box was stuffed with flesh and blood and bones, all in excellent working order, and Mr. Melville says that the success of the deception in the courts has done the "turn" no harm in the music halls. This is quite possible.


Image and text source: here.
La Motogirl
This curious postcard is of 'la motogirl'. She was brought to Australia by Harry Rickards, of the Tivoli Circuit in 1906. Her Manager, Fred Melville, accompanied her.

La Motogirl was taken from her cabinet on stage and left there to dance, sing, play the violin and perform other comedic feats. It was said that she was run by electricity, and sparks flew from her limbs as she performed.

The audience were allowed to look at La Motogirl and encouraged to decide, 'Is she real?"

A young American lady named Doris Chertsey may have also been part of the act.


Text source: New York Clipper, 18 April 1908

La Motogirl Has Trying Experience .
Frederic Melville sends the following letter: During a performance at Bennett's Theatre, Hamilton, Can ., on the afternoon of April 2, while I was carrying the Motogirl under my arm and preparing to run down the flight of stairs into the auditorium, the stairs suddenly went to pieces, precipitating both Doris Chertney (La Motogirl) and myself into the auditorium. "How the lady preserved her equanimity and usual marvelous facial control under the circumstances, was the talk of the audience. I fell undermost, saving the human doll the jar of the orchestra chairs, but I am nursing a badly sprained left thumb, two cuts on the jaw and cheekbone, a lacerated kneecap and a very painful bruise in the region of the heart, which I received from a hard blow from the back of the orchestra chairs. The climax and the act was in no way interfered with, notwithstanding unrehearsed effect, and the audience was loud in praise of the nerve of the doll."


MOTORGIRL Advert. Source: Variety, 1908.

by M. Dinorben Griffith.
from The Strand Magazine Vol 29 (1905), pages 450-5. Source: here.

LET everyone leave the court " was the order of one of the judges of the Kammergericht, or Supreme Court of Berlin.

"You need not remove the doll," said the usher to its owner; "I will prop it up against the rail of the desk here."

The court was cleared and the doors were locked, and facing the five judges, resplendent in their judicial robes-but wigless, and severe of face-stood the doll, the real plaintiff in the case. she was a dainty, lifesize, but petite figure, costumed in the latest Parisian fashion-a real "Bebe Jumeau," with bead-like eyes and absolutely impassive features. She gradually dying soft whirr of machinery within, or without, her provided an out-of-the-way accompaniment to an important legal controversy.

The doll in court was an American, and her right and title had been usurped by a cheap imitation, "Made in Germany." Naturally no self-respecting doll could permit this; hence the case, which had already passed through three courts, where the verdict was given against her. Finally, the onus of decision as to patent between the American and German was left to the High Court.

The doll, impassive as she looked, was not happy, for she had been conveyed in a basket on the top of a cab in pouring rain to the court. She was feeling damp and depressed, and, adding insult to injury, the porters had dumped her upside down and carried her up flights of stairs in the same condition. Her debut ore this occasion was marred, but her manager soothed her feelings, straightened out her rumpled finery, and wound her up. Even then her troubles were not at an end; for two mortal hours she had to listen to the legal controversy of five judges, but their ten astute eyes failed to detect a wink or blink in the bead-like eyes of the lovely waxen plaintiff. Even when the verdict was given in favour of her "home-made" rival and imitator, she was still the doll, with every feature calm and reposeful. What mattered it to her that five hundred pounds had been swallowed up by these actions? Rumour with its thousand tongues only added fresh lustre to her name and wonderful, skill-baffling performance.

In less than a week her triumph was complete, for all Berlin was ringing with the news-that these solemn judges had been hoodwinked by a slim, "cute" little American girl, whose marvellous impersonation of a doll had puzzled half the world. Moreover, she could boast of the fact that she, and she only, had the unique experience of having been closeted with her judges while they were in solemn conclave, hearing and understanding every word they said, for her mother was a native of Berlin, and she herself had been educated at a German college.

To go back to the beginning of things, Miss Doris Chertney, the girl-doll – for she was an ordinary infant and precocious child before she became a doll – was descended from well-to-do parents, smart society people living within a stone's throw of Central Park, New York.

From her earliest girlhood little Doris delighted in amusing and startling her child friends with her marvellous impersonation of mechanical toys. She had phenomenal facial control, and could assume at will the immobility or the peculiarity of movement of an automaton. So realistic were the impersonations that her companions often felt more awed than amused.

After the death of her parents she was adopted by their friends, Mr. and Mrs. Melville, and went to live with them at their home in Havana. While there she made her first appearance in public-an amusing incident which was the result of a wager.

A steam merry-go-round was one of the great amusements in Havana. It had an organ attached, the manipulator being a grotesque automaton nigger boy. It was necessary that he should have a new suit of clothes, which his tailor could not complete for two or three days; so young "Miggs" could not appear in public, and the merry-go-round without him was a failure. Miss Doris volunteered, for a wager, to fill his part at a moment's notice. She was coloured and clothed to resemble "Mr. Miggs", and fastened to the organ, wound up, and for the time being became a black boy. So mechanical and stiff – were her movements that only those "in the know" dreamed that she was not the original figure.

Her marvellous power of self-control and complete absorption of self became the talk of the place, and resulted in another wager- that she should tour the world as a doll, returning to America in three years time with six thousand pounds clear profit.

The idea was at once taken up by her adopted parents, but the scheme wanted careful thinking out on their part and hard work for the embryo doll. she studied her role for ten hours a day for nearly a year. "And now," she says, "I feel my dual personality rather puzzling, for I find it hard to remember when I cease being a girl and become a doll, and vice versa."

Her experiences had been varied, and sometimes alarming, before she made her debut in Europe, and when she toured through America. The make-up was realistic in the extreme; she was a dainty doll, and no one who saw or even closely scrutinized her believed she was anything else.

Known as "The Motogirl," she attracted immense audiences wherever she appeared. Encased in machinery, charged with two hundred and fifty volts of electricity, she is an alarming little lady to meddle with; her copper-soled shoes, and the yards of tubing which she carries about her person, would frighten even a scientist.

Her toilette before a fifteen minutes' performance occupies a little over two hours- as long as that of a debutante preparing to appear at her first Drawing Room. On the stage, her manager winds-or allows anyone else to wind-the clockwork arrangement in her back; and the girl-doll makes spasmodic doll-like movements across the stage, and is finally carried about among the audience, who are allowed to touch and lift her; and who, one and all, agree that it is a wonderfully-constructed automaton. Not even the "Thank you, good-night, ladies and gentlemen" (and pretty smile) with which she finishes her performance alters their opinion. They are firmly convinced it is a phonograph, or something like that, which speaks.

I determined to interview the Motogirl and to stand no nonsense, so I called at the hotel where she was staying in London, and sent up my card. It did not seem to have much effect, for I waited about half an hour, then was shown into a sitting-room, where a tall gentleman met me and asked my business.

"To see the girl-doll, interview and have her photographed for THE STRAND MAGAZINE," I said. " I want to see her whole performance. Is it true that you pack her in a basket?"

"Yes, quite true. I am her manager, and shall be only too happy to show you anything in my power. I am sorry to say, however, that we were obliged to leave the Motogirl's basket in Germany, as it was too cumbersome to carry about. But would this do for a photograph, do you think ? " getting up from a small laundry basket on which he had been sitting.

"Certainly not," I said, indignantly. "Why, you could not put a three-yearold child in that. I want facts, and not fiction, please."

"I think you will find this large enough for her," he replied, and, lifting the lid, out sprang the girl-doll, beaming and smiling, real flesh and blood, but boneless, I am sure. Still almost incredulous, I measured the basket and discovered that it was only twenty-three inches long, by thirteen inches broad and thirteen inches deep. As I looked from the pretty girl to the basket, it seemed impossible for her to have been in it all this time without being suffocated. Still, there she was, and I agreed with Shakespeare (who had, perhaps, known a Motogirl or two) that "there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamt of in our philosophy".

Every possible device has been tried to test the phenomenal immobility of the girl-doll, but she is still an enigma. Medical men have held seances over her, pins have been stuck into her, and handkerchiefs flicked in her face without disturbing her wonderful self control.

In New York a gentleman asked if he could put his finger into her eye to make sure it was a doll. " Certainly," said her manager. "But as each eye is very delicately made and cost me twenty – five dollars (five pounds), I shall require the deposit of that sum before you make the experiment." So the situation was saved, for the gentleman, either convinced or not willing to deposit that amount, went quietly back to his seat.

While dining at a restaurant in Boston with her adopted parents a party of six came up to their table and stared hard at Miss Doris. She looked up smilingly, and a gentleman of the party exclaimed: "Yes; I recognise that smile. You are a girl after all! It is the first time I have been foiled by any disguise. I have watched you four nights running, and been had !" He handed her his card, which bore the name of a well-known private detective.

On one occasion she might be described as an American "Sherlock Holmes." The detective before mentioned called at her hotel and asked her to assist him professionally. A large store in New York was being systematically and cleverly robbed? and no clue could be found to the burglars, nor how they gained their admittance, although the aid of several detectives had been sought. It was arranged that Miss Doris should be dressed as a fashion dummy, and spend a night amongst the other waxen figures at the store.

"It was very dull," she said, "and an hour seemed as long as a day; but presently I saw a faint glimmer of light, and the nightwatchman came hurriedly up, helped himself from the shelves, then hastened with his booty to some place I could not see, and returned again for some more. On his last journey he came against me with such force that I fell, and upset three other figures."

"Confound these dummies," he muttered, setting one on its feet with a bang.

The Motogirl lay low until he had disappeared, locking the doors after him; then she cautiously got up and with a pass-key let herself out and the police in waiting in, who captured the thief without trouble, with the stolen goods round him. Her reward for this nerve-trying ordeal was two hundred pounds.

"Well," said the detective, "you are wonderful. Join our profession and you will make a fortune." But the girl-doll prefers to win fame before the footlights.

In private life she is a shy little girl, pretty and refined, and when she can lice dragged into conversation can say things worth listening to. she is devoted to her adopted mother?

who designs all her frocks and frills, and Mr. Melville guards her as the apple of his eye.

"I never feel pain," she told me. "I hardly know what it means; and I never drink tea or coffee, so I have no nerves." An attempt to extract any information about the preparation which Mr. Melville uses to convert the girl into a doll was ignored; but as girl and doll she is nearly perfect, and plays both roles to the life.

Perhaps the most startling of her experiences occurred in the bull-ring at Monterey, Mexico, where, on a tiny platform about four inches high (the one on which she is photographed here), she stood waiting for the bull to be let out. A flourish of trumpets announced his liberation. Dazed at first by the sudden light and surging crowd, with lowered and quivering nostrils he came with a mad rush, bellowing in an ear-stunning fashion and wildly pawing the ground with his forefeet. Then he saw the little, smiling figure on a stand, and approached near enough for her to feel his hot breath on her face. The bull and girl made an enthralling study. The spectators held their breath, and so did the Motogirl, for the quiver of an eyelid spelt death. He stood still, but continued his blusterous solo; then, after what must have. seemed ages to that little waiting figure, he turned tail and ran to try and find some thing he could understand better than a girl-doll.

The matador attracted his attention while she escaped from the ring, to be greeted by tumultuous rounds of applause and cries of "Il Reina del Valor" (Queen of Valour), a title by which she is still known in Mexico.

"Of course," said her manager, "the bull had not then been teased or tormented, or-with all my belief in her power-I would not have dared to trust her in that ring. Mexico rang with her wonderful achievement, and well it might," he added, enthusiastically.

When the Motogirl first visited Spain her manager applied for permission for her to appear in the bull-ring at Madrid, but it was refused. On her next visit there they hope their application will meet with better success.

After a performance at Prague, Austria, when the doll was carried round for inspection by the audience, a man seized her by the jaw, and although she exerted all her strength he forced her mouth open; she had, however, the presence of mind to keep it open until her manager placed one hand on top of her head and the other under her chin, and closed it seemingly with great difficulty.

An amusing and unrehearsed turn happened one night at a crowded house, when Mr. Melville and his doll fell from the narrow platform on which they cross to the audience into the orchestra and floored the fluteplayer, frightening him out of his senses and flattening him almost beyond recognition. despite a fall of six feet the Motogirl never turned a hair, and was picked up with the same glassy, fixed stare and stiff limbs.

"You know," said the doll, "when I am wound up my joints are stiff and I stumble about considerably; at one part of my performance I sway forward over the footlights at what is said to be an impossible angle, and then become upright again; very frequently women in the audience scream when I do this, for they think I have lost my balance and am falling headlong into the orchestra. I once had my face soundly smacked by one of the audience to test me, and another time was dropped on my head by a sceptical American to see if I was breakable!"

"May we kiss the doll?" asked two young gentlemen in the audience on one occasion.

"Yes, if you do not mind an electric shock," said Mr. Melville. One of them thought better of his proposal, but the second meant business, and approached within two or three inches of the lips of the fair charmer; but, always on the alert, her manager jerked her off her feet and she fell forward suddenly, much to the amusement of the audience and the chagrin of the would-be wooer, who retired.

The Motogirl has appeared before the Emperor Francis Josef and the Austrian Court, and while in Paris was invited to the Automobile Club to meet and puzzle President Loubet; but the greatest test slate has ever undergone was when she travelled in a box from St. Petersburg to Paris.

It was for a wager with a well-known theatrical manager, and Mr. Melville obtained permission from the authorities to travel with her, on the plea that she was a very valuable mechanical toy, impossible to replace. The critical moment came on crossing the frontier, when the doll was taken out and wound up for the satisfaction of the Customs officers, who were completely taken in and gave a receipt for the doll as a mechanical toy in perfectly good faith, and thus enabled Miss Doris and her manager to pocket a considerable sum of money. This feat has also been performed by her in America. But with the suspicious Russian authorities to contend against it was a much more formidable affair, and would probably have been a pretty serious matter if she had been discovered.

The following letter I copied from the original received by the Motogirl's manager:-

  The Phototype Company,
  Bombay, December 19th, 1903.

  DEAR SIR,-we shall thank you very much by giving the full particulars of your motogirl. We wish to purchase one if you will he kind to sell like one you exhibit in London, Paris, etc. Kindly let me know the price and the accessories for same motogirl.
  It is altogether a novelty to our idea.
  Hoping to hear soon from you,

  Yours faithfully,

  The accessories required for the figure are many. The wooden-looking gloved hands with their wires and strange adjuncts, the metal corset and collar, the copper-soled slippers and the wires meandering over her baby socks, are all necessary for the conversion of the girl into the doll.

  Although she is only five feet high and about seven stone in weight, when her toilette is completed her weight would tax a Sandow.

  She thoroughly enjoys a joke even at her own expense, and her pretty gestures and merry laugh prove that her dual personality does not affect her girlish spirits. Meeting a young and winsome feminine counterpart of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in real life is a very pleasant, if novel, experience.

See the full list of Fake and Pseudo Automatons and Robots here.

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