The Start of it All
F.M. Alexander had a rough start in life. He was born in the backwaters of Tasmania in 1869, one of six and a very sickly child. His father was a blacksmith and probably an alcoholic. Despite the problems, Frederick Matthias Alexander (known as FM) went on to invent what we now call the Alexander Technique.
As a young man FM did clerical jobs to earn a living, and dreamed of being a professional actor. But there was a problem: he kept losing his voice. Neither the doctors nor the voice coaches helped, so he started his own investigations. Having thought the problem through, he concluded that “it must be something I was doing … that was the cause of the trouble.”
So, he set out to find what that ’something’ was. He experimented and observed. Then he experimented some more. Finally he found answers, not only to his voice problems but to many of his other lingering health problems. So the Alexander Technique was born.
By 1894 FM had become a full-time teacher. He started with actors, working on breathing and voice production, and expanded from there. In 1904, aged 34, he left Australia and established a successful teaching practice in London.
During the 1920s FM became very fashionable. His lessons were expensive, over £100 per lesson by today’s figures. His introductory course was 30 lessons, five days a week for six weeks. Understandably, most of his clients came from the ranks of the rich and famous. During both world wars he taught in America, and became fashionable there too.
FM wrote four books on his technique:-
Constructive Conscious Control of the Individual (1923)
Use of the Self (1932)
The Universal Constant in Living (1941)
plus a number of pamphlets and lectures, also published. He secured his legacy with a series of courses, held from 1931 onwards, to train other Alexander Teachers. He died in 1955.
The Person and the Personality
Once settled in London FM married and adopted a daughter; but his wife became a recluse following a disfiguring accident. Following their separation FM moved his mistress into his house, under the guise of a very respectable housekeeper, and they lived together for many years. He stayed close to his Australian family, and brought various family members to live in England.
Some photos of FM exist, and a few snippets of home video. He appears to have been meticulous, and very old-fashioned, in his dress. He loved good food and drink, quoting passages of Shakespeare, and betting on horse racing. There is a story that he had a separate phone line installed in the office, purely for the placing of bets, at a time when private phones were not very common.