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Mary Cannan to - 1941


My dear Peter, My attention has been drawn to a statement by Mr Mackail in his book "The Story of J.M.B." It will be found at the top of p. 186. The whole of this statement is a gross fabrication. My mother never kept seaside lodgings. So Barrie never stayed there, or was ill there, and the "pretty daughter" could never have helped to look after him. Moreover I never met J.M.B. until "Walker, London" was being cast. Mr Addison Bright, a mutual friend, was the means of bringing us together. After seeing me play in "Brighton" at the Criterion Theatre, J.M.B. arranged a meeting to ask me whether I would accept the part of Nanny. This was the beginning of our friendship, and entirely rules out Mr Mackail's sordid Hollywood romance, which is an absolute lie from beginning to end. My mother was always in a position to have a house of her own, and to give her children a good education, two of her sons being put into professions, and she always allowed me a small income until well after my marriage; also she was very much against my taking up a career, especially the stage. From my grandfather I inherited £1,000, which enabled me to gain experience on the stage by taking my own Company on tour. When I married J.M., I gave up a profession very dear to me, and in which I was making great headway. There is another statement entirely incorrect. The first time I went to Kirriemuir was when J.M. was dangerously ill. His sister Maggie, whom I had previously met, sent me an urgent telegram to come, and I started for Scotland the same night. I arrived at the house the next morning and was taken at once to his room where I found two trained nurses in attendance. He was only half conscious, but managed to smile feebly as he said, "So you've got to Thrums." When he was well enough, we were married by his uncle, Dr Ogilvy, and left for a London hotel at once. Again he was taken ill, and it was Lady Jeune, afterwards Lady St. Helier, in the great tenderness of her heart, for which we could never be sufficiently grateful, who carried us to her home in Harley Street, where we stayed for a week before going to Switzerland. These are the true facts of the case. I want now to know what you and Mr Mackail propose to do to put the matter right. I ask that a correction be put into the four leading London daily papers and that the offending text be deleted from the book. It is not for me to criticize this work. It is certainly not the J.M. that I knew for sixteen years. Mr Mackail has cloaked him so heavily with petty meannesses and snobbery that very little of the real man is seen. But he had a fine spirit and great dignity. His tragedy was that he knew that as a man he was a failure and that love in its fullest sense could never be felt by him or experienced, and it was this knowledge that led to his sentimental philanderings. One could almost hear him, like Peter Pan, crowing triumphantly, but his heart was sick all the time. There was so much tragedy in his life that Mr Mackail has ignored - tragedy not to be treated humourously or lightly. Mr Mackail has a passion for the word "little", and after a time it becomes boring. I would suggest that it should be placed on the title page and left there. I am, Yours Sincerely, Mary Cannan. [In commenting on this letter to F. G. Howe of Peter Davies Ltd., Denis Mackail pointed out that Mary Cannan had refused to cooperate with the writing of the biography in any way, on the grounds that "Barrie would not have wished any biography to be written at all." In the absence of Mary's first-hand information, he had been obliged to gather details of her background from other contemporaries, namely Irene Vanburgh, C. M. Lowne, Sir Seymour Hicks, and Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch. "I might add," wrote Mackail, "that all these witnesses disliked Mrs Cannan very much indeed." He concluded, "She isn't nearly as loyal to J.M.B. as she now pretends. She was bitter and appallingly outspoken at one time. And a number of people who knew her have told me that I have treated her, in the book, with great mercy and kindness. ... I should have thought that Mrs Cannan would have preferred me not to dwell on the physical side of Barrie's marriage, and anyhow, Lady Cynthia wouldn't let me mention it. ... As for my treatment of J.M.B., I just don't agree with her." Mr Howe visited Mary Cannan on several occasions, and, in the end, withdrew her demands for an apology. No correction was made to the biography in either British or American edition.]


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