Looking back

once worked with a woman named Jane Margaret Truesdell Palmer Canady Edgington. I knew her as Jane Canady, the society editor at the Des Moines Register. She wrote about the trips that others took all over the globe, but there is a more fascinating story about travel -- mixed up with the world of theater and movies -- that she did not write, as far as I know.

This is what I gathered from an afternoon with Jane and a little time on the Internet:

Jane's mother and aunt were Ethel and Alice Dovey, singing prodigies from Nebraska, known as the Nebriska Sisters.

Before 15, they had traveled twice to Europe on concert tours, trips that included entertaining Queen Victoria as part of her Diamond Jubilee in 1897 and time studying with the court tutor, Madame Cellini.

The girls were even the inspiration for a Willa Cather short story, "The Prodigies," which appeared in 1897. Cather disapproved of the "stage-mom" grandmother who took these girls on their European tours.

Early in the new century, Ethel and Alice appeared in musical comedies in New York and elsewhere in this country. Alice appeared on the London stage, but it was Ethel who earned a medal from an acting school in 1901 as its top student; the medal was signed by "Dr. F. Ziegfeld."

Ethel appeared in silent movies with husband Frederick Truesdell, and by 1915, daughter Jane's movie career was launched -- and ended. She was 4.

The films were shot by the Eclair company on sets in New Jersey.

From one film, she recalls the actor, Francis X. Bushman. That is because, at age 3, she kicked him in the shins so she wouldn't have to sit on his lap. He put her down.

Around 1916, her parents were divorced and her mother retired, suffering from TB. In 1919, Ethel married Des Moines businessman Willis Palmer, and after she died in 1921, Palmer adopted Jane and her sister.

That's how Jane, a talented coloratura soprano and watercolorist, wound up at Drake University in the Iowa capital. Music was her major initially. However, it was the Depression, so she switched to journalism, figuring she would need a better shot at making a living. One of her professors was George Gallup.

I had known Jane as a journalist and the mother of five, including a son who is a professional musician.

I sought a fuller story just as Jane's children, 15 grandchildren and some portion of her "nine and a half" great-grandchildren were planning a 90th birthday event. What good timing it was to visit this elegant woman just before she starts her 91st year on April 29.

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