Evadne Price tells the truth (to an extent)

A life-story that I’ve been interested in for a long while is that of Evadne Price, who as ‘Helen Zenna Smith’ wrote Not So Quiet…, one of the most striking pretend-memoirs of the war.

By now it is accepted that she is the Eva Price who was born in Australia in 1888, married a man called Henry Dabelstein and worked there as an actress before the First World War. The ODNB, which earlier accepted her own account that she was born at sea in 1896, has now altered its entry to match the evidence.

Throughout her career Evadne Price was a resourceful and imaginative liar, and I don’t blame her. As a young woman, especially when she moved to England, she had her way to make, with nothing but her talents to rely on. So she made up a story, with birth at sea explaining the lack of proper documentation for her early life; late in life she would claim strongly that she she had never been to Australia till she retired there with her husband in 1975.

Until now, the evidence for her Australian birth has been circumstantial. The 1921 census, however, shows her (perhaps for the last time?) telling the truth about her place of birth. In June of that year she was a visitor of the Lamington family, and she is listed thus:

Click on the image for a clearer view. The whole census form will be at the end of this post.

Her place of birth is clearly stated as New South Wales Australia. Mind you, she is still taking liberties with her age, listing herself as 26 rather than the more accurate 33.

One slight problem. Evadne Grace Lynn Price is listed here as single; whereas EGL Price had in fact married Henry Fletcher in 1920. Was her marriage a secret from the Lamingtons? Fletcher would not die until 1924.

She gives her employer as Sir Alfred Butt, the theatrical impressario (manager of the Palace Theatre, London). In 1917 Lloyd George had appointed him the Director of Food Rationing, and with William Beveridge he intruoduced compulsory rationing. He was knighted in 1918 for his service to the Misinistry of Food, and for his work for war charities.

Butt had extensive theatrical interests, and I don’t know which of his companies Price belonged to, but in 1920 she had scored a success in The Bird of Paradise at the Lyric.

7 Comments

  1. Gwyn Gillard
    Posted January 27, 2022 at 10:51 am | Permalink

    The census was taken on 24 April 1921 and Price’s marriage to Charles Alexander Fletcher was on 1 July 1921. However there is no record of her being divorced from her first husband Henry Dabelstein, aka Robert Harry Preston who was living in America.

    • Posted January 28, 2022 at 7:44 am | Permalink

      Although the date of 24 April is printed on the schedule the census was in fact postponed until 19 June due to industrial unrest (principally the miners’ strike)

  2. Gwyn Gillard
    Posted January 27, 2022 at 11:23 am | Permalink

    Please disregard my previous comment – Price married Fletcher in 1920, not 1921.(An extended heat wave here has fried my brain.) Yes, it looks like it may have been a secret marriage.

  3. Posted January 27, 2022 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    A great character of fiction indeed!

    • rawdoncrawley
      Posted January 27, 2022 at 9:45 pm | Permalink

      Was Evadne Price related to Frank Harris perhaps?
      She shares his attribute that – according to Max Beerbohm – he told the truth “Now and then, only when his imagination failed him.”

      • Gwyn Gillard
        Posted January 27, 2022 at 10:27 pm | Permalink

        Price had a strong ulterior motive for disguising her family origin and keeping her second marriage secret – so that she would not be discovered committing bigamy.


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