The lives of few entertainers have ever matched that of actress/dancer/vaudevillian Valdeo Lord Parker and her mother, Maude. Both performed under many aliases throughout their lives, which requires a lot of reading between the lines to understand who they were and what happened to them.
According to U.S. Census records, Valdeo was born in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1897. Her father was Lewis Parker, a real estate broker. Her mother, Maude, was the daughter of a controversial California Spiritualist named Maud Lord-Drake. Valdeo had one older sister named Mireio who grew up to become a sculptor.
Following their marriage in 1894, Lewis and Maude Parker became socialites in Beatrice where Maude spent lavishly on lawn parties and cultural events. Lewis started a real estate company and he and his wife soon got into trouble after they both were caught trying to liquidate Lewis’ late father’s estate holdings without informing other family members/beneficiaries of his actions. Lewis did this by filing bankruptcy and then transferring the titles of his father’s real estate holdings to Maude, who then sold them to third-party buyers. One of the third parties was her stepfather J.S. Drake. In 1903, after the Nebraska Supreme Court found both of them guilty of deliberately conspiring to defraud creditors, the Parkers moved to Brooklyn, New York, around 1905. While there, Lewis worked as an accountant for a manufacturing firm.
The family next moved to Chicago around 1909 and took up residence in an apartment at 448 St. James Place. Because Maude believed she was psychic and was very fond of her looks and youthful appearance, she assumed the name Countess Adrienne Lord de Coriche and began teaching “Psycho Physical Culture” (breathing, walking, speaking, poise, etc.) from her Chicago apartment. She also began to groom Valdeo, who looked like a younger version of herself, for a career in the theater arts.
In 1914, around the time World War I broke out in Europe, the 43-year-old Countess and 16-year-old Valdeo, who had already quit school, sailed second class from Boston to Great Britain on a trip that later became the root of many false stories. By this time, Maude had convinced her daughter to use the same royal title that she used. So they both traveled to Great Britain as Countess Adrienne Maude de Coriche and Miss Adrienne Lord de Coriche. Then in 1915, the Countess passed herself off as European royalty during a visit to Los Angeles. At a special high-brow event at the swanky Alexandria Hotel, Times reporter Alma Whitacker wrote:
An interesting foreign visitor in the person of Contessa Adrienne de Coriche was among the guests, and we all proved quite feminine enough to risk our necks in an endeavor not to miss a sight of her.
Valdeo’s father, Lewis Parker must have hated his wife and daughter’s phony aristocratic lifestyle because he reportedly deserted the family in 1915.
Shortly after Lewis moved back to Nebraska, the Chicago Tribune proudly announced that blonde-haired Valdeo de Coriche (her new theatrical name) was Chicago’s “Most Beautiful Girl” and that she was about to make her stage debut as “Beauty” in the Garrick Theatre’s production of Experience, a modern morality play designed to appease conservative Christians playgoers. According to the Tribune, Valdeo had beaten out 300 other contestants for the coveted role. Later reports claimed that the number was 200.
The Tribune article, likely orchestrated by Maude to drum up business for her school, claimed that Valdeo came from Castilian and Southern ancestry and that Valdeo‘s grandfather on her mother’s side of the family, “Count Eugene de Coriche, came to Virginia sixty years ago and married an American girl.” The Tribune also reported that the Countess was not Valdeo’s mother, but Valdeo’s older sister, who wrote scenarios and plays. Maude’s Countess explained that she bore her royal title “because the title to Spanish land grants belonging to the family in California was passed on to descendants of the line under the title of ‘count’ and ‘countess.’”
She then went on to say:
Valdeo’s relatives opposed her going on to the stage, but she is going to be a success, and Mireio and I are quite enthusiastic over her. She is just 18 but she longs for a career, and the stage will satisfy her artistic yearning.
Although Experience was a hit, local critics never singled out Valdeo’s performance, even though her mother had arranged for her daughter’s face to be splashed across newspaper pages across the United States. It’s not clear what happened to Valdeo after the show closed in late January, except that she later vacationed in Hot Springs, Arkansas, with a male talent agent. In the meantime, the Countess had affiliated herself with a local French language school. This later influenced how both of them would later market themselves.
In June 1917, the Tribune reported that during the Parkers’ divorce proceedings, Circuit Court Judge Thomson allowed Maude to legally keep her Countess’s name because it had been her title prior to her marriage to Lewis. U.S. Census records suggest, however, that Maude never went by the Countess Adrienne de Coriche when she was younger. She went by Maude Alberta Lord.
The following month, Maude’s Countess launched a bizarre publicity campaign, claiming that she was now being stalked by a mysterious Italian “wooer” who sent “various strange and weird cards and communications” to her Chicago address and made phone calls to say “Amo.” She identified her antagonist as Count Guiglielmo de Rocca, who had once “made frantic love to her” during her 1914 visit to Italy. She said that de Rocca was smitten by her beauty, and subsequently devastated when she turned down his marriage proposal by telling him “that she preferred a Chicago apartment to a palace in Venice.” The Countess then explained that de Rocca never got over his heartache, so years later, he hired secret agents to travel to Chicago to give her “bothersome days and sleepless nights.”
It seems likely, however, that Maude concocted the phony Count de Rocca story to hide more serious problems. Rumors were spreading around town that she was operating a religious cult from her private school. Whether true or not, the “foreign agents” could have been Chicago police detectives, process servers, or creditors trying to catch her. If one reads between the lines, the Countess, Valdeo, and Mireio fled Chicago soon after the article was published…and they left in dramatic fashion:
Realizing that Count Guiglielmo’s detectives were close on her heels, [the Countess] packed her trunks, summoned her secretary and left by a rear fire escape. Having been misled by the countess’ servants, the Italian agents lost several days in Chicago and then left for Salt Lake City, Utah, where they heard the countess had gone.
It seems as though Valdeo and her mother occasionally took turns being Countess Adrienne de Coriche, who was now said to be a former dance student of Anna Pavlova and a one-time model for the French sculptor Auguste Rodin, who was said to have called her a “Vision of Curving Loveliness.”
In early November 1917, a person identified as Private Peter Victor Hugo Martin, Company E, Michigan infantry, announced that he planned to marry the Countess following his unexpected honorable discharge from military service at Camp MacArthur in Waco, Texas. Martin claimed that he had met her in 1914 “at Soissons while traveling as private secretary to Felix Kahn, New York banker,” and that she was in “the Red Cross Services.” After enumerating the details of a long romance that led to her giving him a ring once worn by Stonewall Jackson’s mother, Martin claimed that the Countess would soon arrive in Waco to exchange vows.
The fake wedding announcement was undoubtedly written by Maude, who provided new details about the Countess‘ fictional past. For example, she now claimed that the Countess‘ former husband, “the first cousin of Count Boni De Castelene,” had died in 1912, and that following his death, she “went to nurse the French wounded” in Belgium, resulting in her winning “the admiration of thousands of soldiers…for the countless sacrifices she made.”
Soon after she published the announcement, Maude revised her press release, removing most of the Countess‘ biographical information. She also changed the Private’s name from Peter Victor Hugo Martin to Victor A. Martin. She next followed up her fake announcement with a rebuttal, claiming that she had first met Private Martin in Detroit during a World War I charity event and that she was not romantically interested in him. She also said that she was now living in Los Angeles “under an assumed name, which she declined to give.” She then retold the story about her being stalked by the “immensely wealthy Italian nobleman,” Guigliemo de Rocca, and how he had hired detectives in Chicago to kidnap her. Because his detectives were still there, she claimed that she dare not return to Chicago. But she could work in motion pictures in Los Angeles. She ended her article by announcing that she had just starred in a Hollywood war picture, the proceeds of which would go to a war-related charity.
After the bogus wedding announcement was published all over the U.S., a Hot Springs, Arkansas, newspaper claimed that the Countess had recently stayed there along with her mother. This suggests that Valdeo might have been posing as the Countess…or that Maude’s Countess had traveled there with her own mother, Maude Lord-Drake.
In 1919, the Countess worked as an “Egyptian beggar dancer” for Vaud-a-Vil Movies, which featured five variety acts shot on film. This, too, may have been Valdeo. Later that year, the real Valdeo, now working as Valdeo Lord (her mother’s maiden name) appeared in a Shubert musical comedy called Good Morning, Judge in New York City.
While on tour with Good Morning, Judge, Valdeo Lord (probably with the help of Maude) began to rebrand herself as the exotic Mademoiselle Valdeo. After her play with the Shuberts closed in late 1919, she boasted that she was a world-famous danseuse formerly with the Chicago Grand Opera Company, run by world-famous opera star, Mary Garden. She even claimed that she was Garden’s favorite classically trained dancer. As part of her new image makeover, Valdeo performed a solo dance number, “The Spirit of the Orient,” in a few small vaudeville houses. She also said that she had danced with the Ziegfeld Follies and the Shuberts, had worked for Paramount and the Goldwyn Studios, and had danced with Anna Pavlova. While it is not clear that Valdeo ever appeared in a major Hollywood film, a 1920 newspaper claimed that she was, in fact, hired to dance in The Man Who Killed starring Mae Murray (which may have been the working title for Murray’s film Idols of Clay.) However, it is unclear if Valdeo worked on that film, since she never mentioned Mae Murray in her publicity.
Around 1920, Maude’s Countess de Coriche opened an acting school in downtown Los Angeles. She appeared in the Washington Herald newspaper, touting herself as “a French countess, aesthetic dancer, psycho-physical culturist, writer and traveler” offering “lessons in health, grace, beauty and efficiency to social damsels.”
In the article, Maude’s Countess announced that her two main objectives were “[1.] to reconstruct the human race along original lines of loveliness and [2.] to live not more than 150 years.” She also boasted that Los Angelenos viewed her as a “’fugitive from love,’ because susceptible males experience ze grande passion after three seconds in her company, and therefore pursue her around the continent.”
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In 1921, the Countess moved to San Francisco to be closer to her mother, who was in ill-health. While there, she hobnobbed with socialites in nearby Santa Cruz, hoping to attain clients and find work for Valdeo. But it also appears as though Maude and Valdeo fought each other over publicity. When the San Francisco Chronicle posted a “Nymphs and Bacchante” rotogravure section in its October 9, 1921, issue, the photo collage contained one rotogravure of Valdeo and three of her Countess “sister,” with one caption boasting that her portrait now hung in an English salon. Another clue indicating that the two were not getting along was the inclusion of Valdeo‘s copyright notice on all of the Countess‘ photos in the photo spread. Because the Chronicle clearly favored the Countess over Valdeo, Maude was likely the one behind the publicity. However, she may have credited Valdeo as the photographer to appease her daughter’s temperament.
A month after the Chronicle ran its collage, a Lincoln, Nebraska, newspaper reported that Valdeo Parker had returned to her birthplace for a short visit with her estranged father, Lewis. Nothing more can be gleaned from this family gathering, except to guess that Valdeo might have done it to anger her mother…or to seek forgiveness and advice from her father…or both.
Valdeo next returned to the West Coast to work in movie theater prologues in the San Francisco area. Over time, her background story changed to say that she had performed in Pavlova’s Russian Ballet and that she had danced in an opera starring Mary Garden in Paris (which was impossible, given that Valdeo was performing in Good Morning, Judge at that time). Apparently, her mother, the Countess, still maintained that she was Valdeo‘s older sister. She also managed Valdeo‘s career by finding philanthropic charities for her to perform. When Valdeo was hired to perform at a special charity event in Northern California to raise money for the “repatriotism of Polish orphans in Siberia,” she became Polish to get the job.
Throughout the early 1920s, the Countess touted herself as lecturer, teacher, and longevity guru with mystical powers. She claimed that everyone should reach their prime years at age 100 and that “the first fifty years are the hardest – insofar that it takes that period of time ‘to learn how to live.'”
To bolster her credentials, she claimed that she had graduated from both Columbia University and the University of Nebraska. She also said that she served on the faculty of the Academy of Fine Arts in Chicago, the New York School of Expression, and was a dean of the “psycho-physiological department of the University of Health and Education in Los Angeles.” She also claimed that she owned a studio in Rome located at 45 Via del Quirinale.
In 1923, the Countess announced that she was suing a San Francisco cable car company for $25,000 after one of its streetcars had injured her in an automobile accident. The following year, Maude’s mother, Maude Lord-Drake, was severely burned in a house fire at her Boulder Creek, California, home. Lord-Drake was taken to Santa Cruz so that the Countess could care for her. Lord-Drake died several weeks later from her burns and her remains were interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California.
In 1924 and 1925, Mademoiselle Valdeo toured the country with world explorer/movie producer Burr Nickle, who was promoting his silent short travelogue Wonders of the Wilds in movie houses. She also briefly lived in Fort Collins, Montana.
By now, Valdeo’s spotty career was already in decline. Hoping to keep her name in the newspapers, she began billing herself as Valdeo de Coriche, a renowned Spanish dancer. In 1926, she sailed alone to Cherbourg, France, possibly to find work. In 1927, after she had returned to the United States, she briefly partnered with a dancer named Verando for a live movie prologue musical number titled “Aztecland.” But the arrival of talking motion pictures was quickly killing vaudeville.
Hard times were also catching up with the Countess Adrienne de Coriche. In 1929, undercover San Francisco police officers arrested a former movie extra named Antonio J. Janoakokis for operating a “fake motion picture school” under the alias “A. Emil Jannings” at 1212 Market Street. The Countess was apparently helping the fraudulent “talkie talent tester” rip off star-struck San Franciscans by persuading them to spend $50 on a 50-unit course in the movie acting school. Some students were even asked to “invest” in upcoming movie productions.
The Countess was likely the mastermind behind the fraudulent school. After all, Janoakokis knew nothing about the movie business, and yet he tried to pass himself off as the nephew of German film star Emil Jannings. Décor at the school included orange velvet drapes, exotic posters, and baby blue floor coverings, which suggests that the school’s interior decorator had a flair for both the exotic and the dramatic.
Following the closure of the fake movie school, Valdeo and the Countess all but disappeared from the newspapers. Then in May of 1930, seven months after Lewis Parker had passed away in Nebraska, the Omaha World-Herald published the following tribute:
In Loving Memory
Of our father, LEWIS C. PARKER,
Who departed Oct. 16, 1929.
Sad and sudden was the call –
He had a smile and kindly word for all
It was bitter grief – a shock severe
To part with one so dear.
HIS DAUGHTERS, Mireio and Valdeo,
San Francisco and Los Angeles
While the tribute made no mention of the Countess Adrienne de Coriche, she was apparently still around, although she was no longer calling herself a countess. In 1932, she relocated from San Francisco to Los Angeles, and in 1937, she and Valdeo lived together at 1931 N. Grammercy Place. That same year, it appears as though Maude had submitted a Social Security application for Adrienne de Coriche, claiming that she was born in 1897 (the same year Valdeo was born). The application seems to have been rejected.
In 1939, Valdeo left Los Angeles to appear in a dance act called Valdeo and Yvelle in Ohio. The dance engagement was short-lived. By 1940, she was living with her mother in a house at 1961 Carmen Avenue and working as a saleslady at a women’s clothing store.
As one might expect, Adrienne de Coriche did not live to be 150 years old, nor did she reach her 100-year-old prime. She passed away in 1947 at the age of 76. Her obituary claimed that her remains were interred at Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California (in a family crypt possibly purchased by her late mother, who is also interred there). Maude‘s obituary glorified her life by saying that she had authored hundreds of poems and had worked as a drama and voice coach for 15 years in San Francisco and 15 years in Los Angeles. The obituary also stated that she had inherited her Countess title from Spanish grandees and that she had been a part of the Elite Club of Los Angeles and the Hollywood Stage and Screen Club. Most importantly, perhaps, the obituary finally acknowledged that she was the mother of Valdeo Lord and Mrs. Mieio Lord Cezon…not their big sister.
Following her mother’s death, Valdeo moved to a cheaper building near downtown Los Angeles. Although she and her mother had registered years ago as Democrats, Valdeo immediately registered as a Republican. She also dropped the name de Coriche for good.
Valdeo Lord, who never married nor had children, outlived her older sister, Mireio, who had died and was interred at Forest Lawn Glendale in 1966.
On March 1, 1984, at the age of 86, Valdeo passed away and was reunited with her family at Forest Lawn. Her Social Security index card states that her final name was Valdeo Lord Parker. There was no obituary.