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Anne "Abie's Irish Rose" Nichols
Birth: Nov. 26, 1889
Wayne County
Georgia, USA
Death: Sep. 15, 1966
Englewood Cliffs
Bergen County
New Jersey, USA

Birth name: Julia Anna Nichols

Like a lovely rose
-Blossoming forth with vibrant life;
Quickly withering away
-Leaving behind haunting scent
And memory of fragile beauty.
-Robert Westberry

A FADED ROSE
A tribute to Anne Nichols (Birth name Julia Anna Nicholas),author of "Abie's Irish Rose"

Your haunting eyes peer into mine
-From photograph of old;
A turban wrapped around bobbed hair
-A spirit once so bold…
I long to hear your lively laugh
-Your soul, by chance, embrace;
An endless journey I've endured
-Grasping each ghostly trace…
An autograph I have to hold
-A necklace you once wore;
Mementos you have left behind
(But, you are here no more)…
Words that you wrote still pass my lips
- Though, only mine, I fear;
The "Rose" that gave you so much joy
Has faded year by year…
Spring will again renew the past
-Refresh the faded bloom;
Then, fame will rescue you once more
-From deep within the tomb.

-Robert Westberry

From "Abie's Irish Rose" Anne wrote the following:

FATHER WHALEN. Shure, we're all trying to get to the same place when we pass on. We're just going by different routes. We can't all go on the same train.
RABBI. And just because you are not riding on my train, why should I say your train won't get there?
— Anne Nichols (1891-1966), American playwright; from Abie's Irish Rose (play), 1922

Abie's Irish Rose became a fixture on Broadway in the 1920s, running for more than five years. That was bad news for Robert Benchley, who had to think up a new capsule review of the play each week for Life magazine.

Benchley tried every angle he could think of, but eventually he simply ran out of things to say. In despair he finally wrote, "See Hebrews 13:8."

That verse reads "Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever."

Abie's Irish Rose is mentioned in the Sondheim song "I'm Still Here."

'St. Swithin's day if thou dost rain
For forty days it will remain
St. Swithin's day if thou be fair
For forty days 'twill rain nae mair.'

Anne Nichols mentioned St. Swithin's day in a letter to her sister in 1945. St. Swithin's Day is July 15th and an old English custom states that if it rains on that day it will rain for 40 days thereafter and if the sun shines on that day it will shine for 40 days thereafter. I am not sure if Anne believed in superstitions, but upon her life the sun did shine... that is, for the most part. However, she also experienced many stormy days despite the fame and riches that enveloped her at a young age. Perhaps she penned her most-famous play on St. Swithin's Day...we will never know!

"Abie's Irish Rose" is a story of human beings separated by age-old barriers of tradition and belief. It is a typical American story, but it might happen anywhere that love makes strangers understand each other, forgetting prejudice and creed. Love is greater than any creed---for the essential part of all faiths is love itself." -Anne Nichols

Anne Nichols Is dead at 75; Author of Abie's Irish Rose Play panned by critics Ran 5 years here and became film and radio show.

Anne Nichols, author of Abie's Irish Rose died of a heart attack yesterday morning at the Cliff House Nursing Home in Englewood Cliffs, new Jersey. She was 75 years old. Miss Nichols had been in poor health most of the year. In March she left Harwich, Massachussetts, where she was living with friends, to enter the Actor's Fund Home in Englewood. Later that month, she entered the nursing home. Abie's Irish Rose which ran for 5 years on Broadway and more than 20 years on the road brought Miss Nichols between three million and 15 million. But the Depression and medical bills, according to a relative,"hit her pretty hard," and there was little of the fortune left.

Wrote about 20 Plays

"People think it's the only thing I ever did," Miss Nichols sometimes complained, half-humorously of Abie's Irish Rose. She would point out that her works included dozens of vaudeville sketches and some twenty plays with titles like "Just Married" and "Pre-Honeymoon" before and after Abie. But it was the sentimental comedy about a Jewish boy and an Irish girl forbidden to marry by their families that made her and kept her famous. It opened on May 23, 1922 at the Fulton Theatre on West 46th Street and closed October 22, 1927 at the Republic Theatre on West 42nd Street. It ran 2,327 performances. Not until a decade later did "Life With Father" top that figure. Its Broadway closing was not the end of "Abie." There were tw revivals here in 1937 and 1954, two film versions in 1928 and 1946, a radio show in 1942, and there were innumerable touring productions well into the 1940s. "It is more than a play," its author observed in 1936. "It has never stopped playing somewhere.

Legend's Exaggeration

At its opening the critics roasted "Abie." but somewhat more gently than legend later had it. The New York Time's critic, William B. Chase, for example, wrote that some scenes "sagged" but he noted that the audience had laughed uproariously and indicated that a long run was a possibilty. But it took weeks for the show to catch on. Miss Nichols had mortgaged her home to get the play produced; to keep it going, the actors took a pay cut and tickets were sold cut-rate. Suddenly, "Abie" was a hit. Milton Wallace, one of the actors, had cards printed giving "Abie's Irish Rose" as his permanent address. Everybody mad fun of the play and everybody went to see it. What made "Abie" run? Miss Nichols ascribed its success to its message- "the spirit of tolerance>" A critic reviewing the radio version in 1942 had a different theory- "It was soap opera before people knew what soap operas were>' Whatever its secret, "Abie's Irish Rose" shaped Miss Nichols's life thereafter. She had a hand in all the revivals--all the adaptations. "I had a compulsion to check up on all the various companies," she told an interviewer in 1962. "Invariably, I'd find that the minute my back was turned, the actors would start distorting the play by ad-libbing the lines for laughs. I had to travel back and forth across the country constantly to keep them in check. I hardly found time to write anymore." In 1929 Miss Nichols sued Universal Pictures for $3 million. She charged that its film "The Cohens and the Kellys" was stolen from "Abie's Irish Rose." She lost the case.

Old as "Romeo and Juliet"

The court ruled that the idea of young lovers thwarted by their families had been used so often- for example, in "Romeo and Juliet" that it was in the public domain. At her death, Miss Nichols was working on an autobiography, "Such is Fame." It traced her life from Dale's Mill, Georgia where she was born to Philadelphia where she ran away from home to join the chorus of a show called "The Shepherd King." For seven years she toured with and wrote material fo Fiske O'Hara. It was Mr. O'Hara she said who told her the story that became "Abie's Irish Rose." In 1915, Miss Nichols was married to Henry Duffy, an actor and producer. They were divorced in 1924. A son, Henry D. Nichols of Mission Hills, California and a sister, Mrs. HH Stinson of Whittier California survive. A funeral service will be held Monday at 9:30 AM in St. Malachy's Roman Catholic Church at 239 West 49th Street. Miss Nichols will be buried at the Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, New York. Location of grave is #514.
Anne appeared in a few lost silent films:
The Immortal Alamo (1910) as Anna Nichols
In The Hot Lands (1911) as Nell's mother
Return of Ta-Wa-Wa (1910) as Rose Leigh
A Woman In the Case (1910) Willis Johnson
A Postal Substitute (1910) Mrs. Benson
The Paleface Princess (1910) Captain Keen's sister
Anne's father, Henry "George Westberry" Nichols was born to Martha Ann Bennett Westberry after her husband's (William Charlton Westberry) death in the Civil War. He was given the name Henry Westberry. His name is found listed as a brother to Justina Tiny Westberry Harper in her obituary in the Jesup Sentinel Wayne County, Georgia on April 7, 1949:

...survived by two brothers: Lem Westberry, "George H. Nichols, Chicago..."

There is also another document regarding the Interest in the Estate of William Charlton Westberry:

Holmesville, Georgia

Martha Ann Westberry (Grantor) to Henry Bennett (trustee) Interest in Estate on June 7, 1869. In consideration of natural love and affection has and bears to her son Henry Westberry, $5 paid by Henry Bennett in trust for Henry Westberry until he is 20 years of age, all my part and interest in the estate of Charlton Westberry, deceased. Book F Page 563.

Henry was adopted by James and Fanny Nichols and given the name George Nichols (they already had a son named Henry).

G.W. (George Westberry) Nichols is found living in the household of James Bennett (Son of Henry and brother to Martha Bennett Westberry). Henry is listed a a "relative" in the census.

In the 1870 census of Appling County, Georgia, George Nichols is living with his adoptive parents. In the 1880 Appling County census, he is no longer in the household of his adoptive parents and is found in the household of James and Eliza Ann Bennett (James Bennett would be Martha Ann Bennett Westberry's brother) in Pierce County, Georgia.

Henry Westberry (aka George Nichols) would eventually marry a woman from Philadelphia named Julia Bates, and move to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He had a daughters named Evelyn (became an actress), Elsie (actress) and Anne Nichols(11/26/1889-9/15/1966) who would become famous with her play "Abie's Irish Rose."

There are family stories of Henry (George) visiting his relatives in Georgia after his daughter became famous.

There is a written story by Lessie Harper Conger's husband, Washington Conger that describe's George visiting his sister (Lessie's mother, Justina Tiny Westberry Harper) in Gardi, Georgia after his daughter (Anne Nichols) became famous after writing "Abie's Irish Rose." Tiny's obituary also lists him as her brother. However, it appears that he may only be a half brother since Charlton's wife, Martha Ann Bennett gave birth to him after Charlton's death in the Civil War.
On his youngest daughter, Elsie Nichol's, passport, it lists her father as George Nichol and living in Chicago (address unknown). It appears tha George Nichols was renting in Chicago. One gets the feeling he was estranged from his family. Anne Nichols, his famous daughter, never spoke about her past nor very much about her parents. In the 1910 census of Brooklyn Ward 31, Kings, New York, George is listed with his last name spelled "Nickels." His occupation is listed as an "Insurance Salesman." Living with him is his wife, Julia Ann (Bates) Nickles; daughters Evelyn and Elsie and John D. Bates(brother of Julia Ann Bates); John's wife, Elizabeth Bates and their son, Walter R. Bates. One then loses track of George Henry Westberry Nichols. He atleast lived until after 1949 because he is listed as a surviving brother in his sister's (Justina Westberry Harper) obituary.

According to Janet Haeger, who knew Anne: "She lived in New York City with my aunt, Adelaide Matthews. who was also a playwright. After my aunt died, she moved to Harwich, Mass on Parallel Street. that is where ahe lived with my aunt, Helen Drake and her husband. She lived there from 1958-1965. The house that she lived in was the home of my relatives from 1815-1972. Her personal profit from "Abie's Irish Rose" was $6,000,000. She had 4 or 5 homes. She said that, when her money disappeared, so did her friends. She was not bitter about the loss of the money. I think that she lived her last year at the Actors Fund Home in Englewood, New Jersey. Anne was very impressed with Lucille Ball. She had her in one of her plays. Lucille Ball was very impressed by her. There was an Anne Nichols Little Theatre which is now the Helen Hayes Theatre on West 44th Street NY NY. When she lived in Harwich, Mass (Cape Cod) she didn't want anybody to know she lived there. She wanted to live a quiet life. She was a great believer in tolerance. She gave a lot of money to the Screen Actor's Guild..... She talked a lot about her life in Georgia in relationship to events in her life there. She once told me that she was in a cousin's wedding and as she walked down the isle the skirt of her dress fell off. One of her cousins had made the dress. I got the impression that her father was very strict. She was brought up as a Baptist. She was married once and had a son. Her husband was a director in Hollywood. That marriage didn't last long. A gangster (Rothstein) gave her money to help produce "Abie's Irish Rose." She had a hard time getting any backers. She used her money to help get the play produced.
According to a letter from Elizabeth Boyd dated January 12, 2009:
George W. Nichols was the illegitimate son of James Hamilton Nicholas and Martha Ann Bennett Westberry.James Nicholas' wife, Frances Hopps"Fannie" became aware of the child and made Martha Bennett Westberry nurse the baby boy and then when George was weaned at one year of age she took the child and reared him with her own. James Nicholas, undoubtedly, knew that Mrs. Westberry lost her husband in the Civil War (James was in the same regiment with William Charlton Westberry, Martha's deceased husband). George Nichols was the father of Anne Nichols. The initial information came from a Wayne County, Georgia historian. This is the same conclusion that this writer came to after much research.
Anne Nichols was the great-granddaughter of Jonathan Nicholas born 1787 in Morris New Jersey and Susan Hardy born 1804 in Barnwell South Carolina. Jonathan was well educated and listed in the census as a hatter, merchant and farmer and was also a teacher wherever he lived. His first wife was Rachel Blackburn of Edgefield SC and his second wife was Susan Hardy.
Many thanks to Cliff Aliperti and his excellent site "Things-and-other stuff" for the only photo of Anne as an actress (The Immortal Alamo). Many thanks Cliff!
"Life's greatest handicap is being contented." -Anne Nichols (quote)

 
 
Family links: 
 Parents:
  George Hamilton Henry Westberry Nichols (1868 - ____)
  Julia Anne Bates Nichols (1869 - 1933)
 
 Spouse:
  Henry Duffy (1891 - 1961)
 
 Children:
  Henry Duffy Nichols (1918 - 1981)*
 
 Siblings:
  Anne Nichols (1889 - 1966)
  Evelyn Mae Nichols Stinson (1900 - 1979)*
  Elsie Mildred Nichols Clifford (1906 - 1962)*
 
*Calculated relationship
 
Burial:
Kensico Cemetery
Valhalla
Westchester County
New York, USA
 
Created by: Wiregrasswalker
Record added: Mar 14, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 25261822
Anne Abie's Irish Rose Nichols
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Anne Abie's Irish Rose Nichols
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Anne Abie's Irish Rose Nichols
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