Was Florence Foster Jenkins In On The Joke?

Aug 15, 2016

The world is laughing at Florence Foster Jenkins once again in the new film of the same title. Meryl Streep plays the 1940s society matron who thought she was good enough to sing at Carnegie Hall, but was so sorely mistaken. The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns, however, has stumbled onto the theory that Jenkins was laughing last.

David Patrick Stearns: Legends live on because they're open to interpretation. Could the rich, cultivated Florence Foster Jenkins—with the spectacularly missed notes and the eccentric angel wings —possibly have been that deluded? No, says Bill Schuman, of the Academy of Vocal Arts faculty. He's one of the top vocal coaches in the country. And about those angel wings... 

Bill Schuman: Do you really think that she would think it was  proper etiquette to wear wings? I mean, think about it.

DPS: It's true, says Schuman, that singers can't often hear themselves objectively. But there are limits. 

BS: You can't fail at the level of Florence and not have any conception that it's a fail. I mean, you just can't.

DPS: He speaks from authority. His teacher, Louise Pickford, knew and was sponsored by Jenkins. He heard about Jenkins from first-hand observations.  

BS: I consider her an entertainer. She loved it. She loved to go out and put this show on and watch. She got her all her joy out of watching them react to her.

DPS: The real-life Cosme McMoon, the pianist who accompanied her at her big Carnegie Hall concert, somewhat corroborates that viewpoint in an archival interview.

Cosme McMoon: She came out dressed in a high comb and mantilla with a gorgeous Spanish shawl and carrying a basket of carnations. During the number she'd toss these flowers out into the audience with shouts of "ole.
  This created such a pandemonium at the end that she was forced to repeat it. Then, of course, she had thrown the flowers out, so she asked the audience if they would  return them so she could toss them out again.

DPS: Kind of like Dame Edna, who preferred gladiolas? The difference is that we knew Dame Edna was putting us on. But Florence Foster Jenkins went to the grave in 1944—and will keep us guessing eternally.