Monday, September 23, 2013

Henry Fragson -- Shades of Marvin Gaye

Born Leon Phillipe Pott in London on July 2, 1869, Fragson spent most of his early life in Belgium learning the yeast trade from his salesman father, Victor.  Equally adept in speaking English and French, Fragson did not touch a piano until 1889.  Two years later, the 20 year old was wowing Parisian audiences with a cabaret act in which the elegantly attired singer-comedian accompanied himself on the piano.  A perennial favorite in the Folies Bergere, Fragson performed almost exclusively in France until 1905 when he appeared in a role specifically written for him in the pantomime Cinderella at London's Drury Lane Theatre.  In London, Fragson appeared in the musicals Castles in Spain (1906) performing his composition, "Hello!  Hello!  Who's Your Lady Friend," Sinbad the Sailor (1906-1907), and in The Babes in the Wood at the Drury Lane during the 1907-1908 season.

In 1913, Fragson, 45, was at the height of his career and earning $750.00 a week in various revues when his relationship with music hall actress Paulette Franck led to tension between the entertainer and his 83-year-old father, Victor Pott.  Quarrels between father and son became more frequent after the actress moved into the Paris home they had happily shared for many years in the Rue Lafayette.  Concerned by his father's violent threats against him and his lover, Fragson consulted a doctor who recommended that the elderly man be placed in a rest home.  The entertainer was evidently in the process of arranging to do so when the senile Pott learned of the plan.

On the evening of December 30, 1913, Fragson returned home after dining with friends to find the door locked.  He rang the bell for several moments before his father answered the door.  The singer complained of the delay, a bitter quarrel ensued, and Pott shot his son once in the back of the head as the entertainer stormed past him.  Fragson died without regaining consciousness.  Pott later told police:  "I more than once wanted to commit suicide.  That is the reason why I had the revolver.  Life had become a burden to me.  The woman whom my son imposed on me under my roof was the cause of frequent quarrels between us.  I often made representations to my son about this cohabitation, but he would never listen to me.  This evening, after the first angry word from my son addressed to me, I intended to kill myself before him.  I produced the revolver which I was holding in my pocket.  I do not know what happened.  Instead of putting a bullet through my head I fired in the direction of my son.  I cannot explain why I did so."

Public opinion against the filicide ran high.  Ten thousand mourners and gawkers brought traffic to a standstill as the funeral procession fought its way to Montmartre Cemetery.  Souvenir hunters ripped apart floral tributes to the dead entertainer and one bystander, mistakenly though to be Victor Pott, had to be protected by police.  Pott, medically diagnosed in the latter stages of senile dementia, died in prison on February 17, 1914 awaiting trial.

Recommended Reading:
Lamb, Andrew, and John Myerscough.  Fragson:  The Triumphs and the Tragedy.  Croydon:  Fullers Wood Press/Music Hall Masters, 2004.

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