top of page

Born at Slater, Mo: Rumor has it that soprano Felice Lyne hit Oscar Hammerstein with an opera score

Felice Lyne and Oscar Hammerstein, The Sheboygan Press illustration, Wisconsin, Nov. 18, 1912.


There was a rumor circulating about London in the fall of 1912, that Felice Lyne – a prima donna whose amazing rise to fame had startled the musical world and whose singing took London by storm – had actually hit Oscar Hammerstein over the head with the score from an opera.

It was generally accepted as truth that Hammerstein had discovered Felice Lyne’s talent, and that it was his persuasion that lured the Missouri-born Lyne with his light opera company in London. The songbird had performed previously in the United States with little fanfare, but under Hammerstein’s tutelage, European audiences swooned over the young and pretty soprano’s rare voice.

A hint at the root cause of the trouble between Lyne and Hammerstein was leaked to the press on Christmas Eve, 1911, when the Washington Press quoted Oscar Hammerstein as saying that Felice Lyne “is rapidly adopting the traditional prima donna traits, and that his only way to avoid trouble is to keep out of his own opera house in London.”

Despite the differences between Hammerstein and Lyne, the London critics adored the singer, calling her a “Pearl beyond price.” Slender, weighing only 98 pounds in 1912, she carried with her a girlish demeanor, popular attributes with her fans.

Nearly a year following Hammerstein’s remarks to the press, the rift between the singer and Hammerstein had grown into a full-blown war. Following comments made to the press regarding Hammerstein, in which she called him a “dead duck” and other unsavory names, he filed a libel suit against Lyne for $100,000.

The Allentown Democrat in Pennsylvania quoted Lyne as saying: “The suit is perfectly ridiculous. Mr. Hammerstein is just seeking another opportunity to exploit himself through me. The action doesn’t worry me a bit.”

And her next statement would serve as a self-fulfilling prophecy: “All I’m thinking about is making lots of money and retiring at the age of 42.”

She died Sept. 1, 1935 in Allentown, Pa., at the age of 43. Death was attributed to multiple sclerosis.

Family ties to Hannibal

Felice Lyne’s grandfather, veteran editor Hezekiah Purdom, learned the printing trade at the Courier in Hannibal, Mo., during the 1850s, at the time Mark Twain was an apprentice there. In 1859, Purdom was a printer for the Messenger newspaper and boarded with W.R. League, newspaper owner. Purdom later went to St. Louis where he was a “cub” reporter on the Republic during the Civil War.

In 1865 he established the Times in Macon, and was recorder of Macon County in 1879-80. He at various times edited the Pike County Post at Bowling Green. In 1875 Col. Purdom took charge of the Napa, Calif., Examiner. He returned to Missouri and established the Slater Index.

He was married to Theodosia E. Hudson of Pike County, Mo., in 1864, and they were parents to three daughters, Frances A. (Frankie) Purdom Lyne, 1865-1941; Dr. Zudie Purdom, 1874-1933; and Dr. Hezzie Carter Purdom, 1879-1941.

Felice was Hezekiah and Theodosia’s only grandchild. Felice died childless.

Family of Osteopaths

Theodosia E. Hudson (known to her family and friends as Muzzie) Purdom was a close friend of Dr. Andrew Taylor Still, the discoverer and founder of osteopathy. Dr. Still encouraged Mrs. Purdom to take up the study of osteopathy at his college at Kirksville, Mo., while her family was living in nearby Macon. She became one of the early graduates in the new science of healing.

The family moved to Kansas City circa 1893, where Dr. Purdom practiced medicine for a generation. Her daughter, Dr. Hezzie Carter Purdom Moore, associated with her mother in practice for several years and later daughter Dr. Zudie Purdom joined her mother’s practice, ultimately taking over when her mother retired. Zudie never married.

Hezzie’s husband, Fred E. Moore, was also an Osteopath, and the two moved to Portland, Ore., where they practiced together for a number of years. They divorced in 1927. He moved to California, and Hezzie remained in Portland.

Frances A. (Frankie) Purdom Lyne’s husband, Sandford, was an Osteopath. The family lived in Kirksville while he attended school, and their daughter, Felice, attended public school there. The family ultimately settled in Allentown, Pa., where Dr. Lyne conducted his practice while Frankie traveled with their daughter, spending much time in London and Paris.

Slater, Mo.

The people of tiny Slater, Mo. (located northeast of Marshall, Mo., in Saline, Co. ) were very proud of the Felice Lyne, who was born in their midst. The Macon Republican published a story about the young woman’s early days in its Jan. 6, 1912 edition:

“The singing school teacher over in Paris who said Felice owes her success to hard work and to the untiring efforts of her mother, is right. Her mother was Miss Frankie Purdom, a good looking, bright girl and hustler, who not only kept society here going but could set type for her father, who ran the Index.”

The singing school teacher over in Paris who said Felice owes her success to hard work and to the untiring efforts of her mother, is right. Her mother was Miss Frankie Purdom, a good looking, bright girl and hustler, who not only kept society here going, but could set type for her father, who ran the Index.

Kirksville performance

Felice Lyne presented a homecoming concert at Kirksville on Dec. 6, 1912. Proceeds were to be used by the Sojourners Club of Kirksville to build a library next to the Elks Club. The concert was staged at the Normal School auditorium.

Names of a few of those who attended the concert were listed in various home-town newspapers:

Hon. John T. and Mrs. Barker, Mr. and Mrs. John Baity, Mr. and Mrs. Charles A. Wardell and Mr. and Mrs. W.T. Robinson, LaPlata, Mo.

Misses May Scovern, Jennie Barclay and Dora Holman, Mrs. Dan R. Hughes, Mrs. Harry M. Rubey, and Mrs. Wm. M. Van Cleve, Macon, and sister, Mrs. Norman B. Comfort of St. Louis.

 Recent Posts 
bottom of page