Interviews

Mary Sue Welsh Discusses Her New Book One in a Hundred: Edna Phillips and the Philadelphia Orchestra

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Phillips wasn't entirely a novice when it came to performing with an orchestra. She had been a member of the orchestra at The Roxy Theatre, a premier movie palace in New York City known for its theatrical and lavish performances.

Welsh says that during Phillips' time at The Roxy she was second harpist, and the orchestra did four shows a day, seven days a week. Phillips was chased by many of the men, says Welsh, and while their come-ons and the lifestyle surrounding the theatre actually frightened her, they helped prepare her for how to act once she joined the Philadelphia Orchestra.

"When she came to Philadelphia, she was kind of prepared and she stayed aloof," says Welsh. "She didn't want to mix up with the men; she wanted them to know she was serious about her work. And, heavens, she really was, because she had to work so hard to live up to this high, wonderful orchestra."

Her aloofness didn't allow her to escape the advances of Stokowski, however. Welsh says that Stokowski was known as quite the playboy and ended up having three wives, including Gloria Vanderbilt, plus an affair with Greta Garbo.

"She was very savvy, and when he made advances at her, she got out of it and without getting fired, which is a difficult thing," says Welsh. "She had this wonderful teacher [Salzedo], and he warned her not to get mixed up with any of them, but he was really meaning Stokowski. He warned her not to get involved with him or she'd be thrown away like an old shoe."

Welsh says that through outwitting Stokowski's advances she actually gained his respect, and eventually she gained the respect and even friendships of her fellow players.

Phillips' achievements in her career and her work ethic can still provide great lessons for women today, says Welsh.

"It was hard work, and she worked very hard," says Welsh. "She just made sure that she was going to be the best at what she did, and she was very courageous. And, quite frankly, she was savvy not to get involved with anybody. Because she had to have their respect to move forward, otherwise she really wouldn't have had such a good career."

Phillips didn't believe there was any reason she shouldn't be allowed to perform with the orchestra, regardless of its history of not allowing women, says Welsh. She felt that if she could play well enough, she should be able to perform with the orchestra.

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Darryle Royal
Contact: Darryle Royal