Mabel May

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(b. Wandsworth, London, 21/04/1893 – d. Johannesburg, 09/11/1957). Actress. During the silent days, Mabel May featured in more locally produced films than any other actress, a fact that may have had something to do with her being the mistress of I.W. Schlesinger, who owned African Film Productions. She was said to have been a woman of great warmth and charm and he went to some lengths to make her a star. Between 1917 and 1920 she featured five times on the cover of Stage and Cinema / South African Pictorial, which was published by the Schlesinger empire. In August 1919, the magazine reported that “Miss Mable May, South Africa’s leading motion picture actress, has been unanimously chosen by the Sporting and Theatrical Section to represent that section in the Johannesburg Queens’ Carnival Competition for the Governor-General’s Fund”. With Schlesinger behind her, the paper went all out to promote her candidacy, with the likes of Edward Vincent, Dick Cruikshanks, C.V. Becker and Harry Siegenberg involved in organising concerts on her behalf. Not surprisingly, she won “hands down”.

She was born Mabel Florence Ayling and was the second of three daughters of Frederick and Florence Ayling. Her father was a waiter at an inn. Though they had been together for about five years, she only married Schlesinger after her retirement from the film industry. The marriage took place in London on 8 December 1921 and their only son, John Schlesinger, was born in 1923. He took over the business after his father’s death in 1949. In April 1918 it was announced that Mabel’s younger sister (Hilda) Victoria, who had been appearing in Aladdin at Drury Lane, would be joining African Film Productions, but it is not known whether this happened. (Victoria’s photograph also appeared on a cover of S.A. Pictorial). When, after her husband’s death, Mabel travelled to London, the ship’s manifest merely described her as “housewife”.

Films: An Artist’s Inspiration (Lorimer Johnston/1916), The Illicit Liquor Seller (Lorimer Johnston), The Water Cure (B.F. Clinton), The Gun-Runner (Lorimer Johnston/1916), Gloria (Lorimer Johnston/1916), A Border Scourge (Ralph Kimpton & Joseph Albrecht/1917), And Then--- (Dick Cruikshanks & Joseph Albrecht/1917), The Major’s Dilemma (Dick Cruikshanks/1917), The Piccanin’s Christmas (Dick Cruikshanks/1917), The Symbol of Sacrifice (Dick Cruikshanks/1918), The Voice of the Waters (Joseph Albrecht/1918), The Stolen Favourite (Joseph Albrecht/1919), Allan Quatermain (H. Lisle Lucoque/1919), With Edged Tools (Dick Cruikshanks & Joseph Albrecht), Isban (Joseph Albrecht/1920), The Madcap of the Veld (Dick Cruikshanks/1920). (FO)


Stage & Cinema, 7 April 1917

S.A. Pictorial, 9 February 1918

S.A. Pictorial, 11 January 1919

S.A. Pictorial, 28 June 1919

S.A. Pictorial, 16 August 1919

S.A. Pictorial, 4 December 1920

Gutsche, Thelma - The history and social significance of motion pictures in South Africa 1895-1940

Le Roux, André I. & Fourie, Lilla – Filmverlede: geskiedenis van die Suid-Afrikaanse speelfilm

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