Tree, Iris (1897-1968) by Solomon, Susan

Iris Tree 1897-1968 Iris Tree’s most distinguishing and enduring characteristic is the bob haircut she wore all of her life. She was a very minor writer at best but had an extraordinary gift with words, was clever with puns, and had an absurdist sense of humor. She was raised in the midst of arts and culture. Her father, (1852 1917), was a highly regarded actor who managed the Haymarket Theatre (1887-1895) and founded and managed Her Majesty’s Theatre (1896), where he was particularly committed to reviving Shakespeare productions. He organized and traveled with a Shakespeare company in the and acted in a film version of (1915, the Triangle Film Company). Iris’s mother, or (1863-1937), was a stage and film actress. Iris’s uncle was the artist (1872-1956). Her father, having only adopted the name “Tree” as an adult, had a German emigrant corn merchant for a father. Though Tree was not knighted until 1909, his professional success and his wife’s talent as hostess provided Iris and her two sisters, and , with access to the social and intellectual elite of the day. London Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree United States Macbeth Helen Maud Holt Lady Tree Max Beerbohm Viola Felicity Iris first met the future writer and publisher (1896-1965) at the girls’ school they attended during their teens. Both loved reading and writing poetry and encouraged this impulse in one another. In their late teens, when Iris was studying at the Slade School of Art, she and Nancy lived wildly and daringly. They often snuck out of their homes to go to bars and cafés without escorts, drinking, smoking cigarettes, and staying out all night. Nancy Cunard While at the Slade School, and formed friendships with artists and , became members of what they called the Corrupt Coterie with , , , and , , and , and were regulars at the avant-garde inspired café, the Eiffel Tower, on . Tree secretly rented a studio apartment on , where she and Nancy designed costumes, painted, and hosted late-night parties. During this period, she sat for many artists—, , , , , and . When ‘s lover would write (1922)—one among several popular novels he modeled on their relationship—he would base the character Lois Lamphrey on Iris. Iris Tree Nancy Cunard Wyndham Lewis Augustus John Alvaro “Chile” Guevara Robert Nichols Evan Morgan Osbert Sacheverell Sitwell Edward Wyndham Tennant Tommy Earp Percy Street Fitzroy Place Vanessa Bell Duncan Grant Dora Carrington Roger Fry Jacob Epstein Guevara Augustus John Nancy Cunard Michael Arlen Piracy While accompanying her father on a tour to the in 1915, Iris became friends with , saw her first poem published in ‘s column, and met her first husband, the painter and photographer . They married without her father’s permission in in December of 1916. During this period, she maintained correspondences with her friends in and contributed poems to the s’s Anthologies 1-4. , a collection of Iris’s poetry, was published in 1919 and reprinted in 1920. She is also said to have written poems and articles for , , , and (Isherwood 355-56). United States Charlie Chaplin Solita Solano Boston Herald-Traveler Edwin Curtis Moffat New York London Sitwell Wheels Poems Vogue Harper’s Bazaar Poetry Review The London Magazine Iris and her husband returned to and settled in London after their son was born in 1918. (1918-2002) would later become the screenwriter of productions and , among others. and Iris were in an open relationship in which both partners were free to explore relationships with other people. Iris spent much of her time in , and in 1925 she returned to the on tour—this time as an actor herself—in ‘s play . Her longtime friend also had a part in the production. She continued writing poetry, much of which appeared in in 1927. During this time, she met , an impoverished Austrian count pursuing an acting career in the . When the tour was over, Iris remained in the states. She had fallen in love, and in 1928 she returned to Europe to privately carry a pregnancy to term, giving birth to Ledebur’s son, “Boon” or , in in 1928. In 1932 she obtained a divorce from Moffat and in 1933 married Ledebur. During this time they frequently traveled, together and apart, between , , , and ; both children often stayed with Iris’s mother, . Ivan Ivan Moffat Hollywood Shane Giant Curtis Paris United States Max Reinhardt The Miracle Diana Manners The Traveller, and other poems Friedrich Ledebur United States Christian Dion Ledebur London California Austria England Ireland Lady Maud Tree In 1936, when the was established at , Iris enrolled as a playwright and Friedrich as an actor; and when the studio moved to in 1938, they moved with it. Together with , another student, Iris wrote the children’s musical play . Afterwards she returned, not with Ledebur but with Harkness, to where they formed the High Valley Theater. At least one of Tree’s plays, , was performed by this group. She also helped to organize the first Ojai Festival of Theater, in which she performed Lady Macbeth opposite . During this time she renewed her friendships with and (whom she had known since her youth in ), , and . She met and became interested in the ideas of and befriended the novelist , who would write about her in his diary (volume 1) and model after her the character of Charlotte in . Chekhov Theatre Studio Dartington Hall Ridgefield, Connecticut Alan Harkness Sing About It California Cock-a-doodle-doo Ford Rainey Aldous Maria Huxley London Charlie Chaplin Greta Garbo Krishnamurti Christopher Isherwood A Single Man By 1954 Iris had returned to , and she lived periodically in , , , and . , who by this time had become a successful film actor, obtained a divorce from her in 1955. Iris’s heart was broken; she had very little money and she spent most of what she had feeding her Belgian sheepdog Aguri, who was seen always at her side. She worked on a novel that was never completed, published poems in , and her play, , was performed at the New Lindsey Theatre in . Iris played herself, but in a humiliating role, in ’s . She bought herself a car with the money, which enabled her nomadic lifestyle but also allowed her to visit her friends and family more easily. Later many of her unpublished manuscripts, which included articles, poems, an unfinished novel, and a memoir, were lost when her car, which doubled as a file cabinet and wardrobe, was stolen. England Rome Spain Switzerland France Friedrich Ledebur Botteghe Oscure Strangers’ Wharf London Fellini La Dolce Vita Iris’s long poem was published in 1966 shortly before her death. She died at age 71 in . According to her biographer , her last words were: The Marsh Picnic London Daphne Fielding It’s here, it’s here . . . shining . . . love . . . love . . . love. Works Cited or Consulted Betjeman, John. in Cambridge: Rampant Lions Press, 1966. Introduction The Marsh Picnic. Fielding, Daphne. London: Eyre Methuen, 1974. The Rainbow Picnic: A Portrait of Iris Tree. Aug 22, 1925: 6. Proquest Historical Newspapers. Iris Tree to Make Debut in . The Miracle New York Times Isherwood, Christopher and Katherine Bucknell. HarperCollins, 2000. Lost Years: A Memoir, 1945-1951. Kachur, B. A. Oxford UP: 2004. Sir Herbert Beerhohm Tree. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

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