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Nebraska State Journal


February 11, 1894
page 13

Plays and Players

The most obnoxious person at the theatre, after the woman with the crying baby, is the man who wants his neighbors to understand that he appreciates the play. He watches, with an eagle eye, the face of the actor, and as soon as he sees upon it that tense expression that precedes an "effort" his hands part and he is ready to do his duty. His responses come as promptly as the "amens" of the moaners in prayer meeting. If he should miss an opportunity he would feel disgraced forever. He goes to applaud and to enjoy the mental stimulus of finding ingenious openings for applause. He may fail to appreciate pathos, but he never fails to see a joke. He may forget to cry, but he never forgets to laugh, in fact, to atone for his other defect, he will laugh while other people cry. At a really pathetic play a while ago one such a man sat in the front row of the Lansing balcony and laughed till he choked. He was a big happy negro, and he got more fun, more real fun, out of that tragedy than most people would have got out of six comedies. Besides, he had the happiness of being original. He could have got a copyright on all the fun that he found in that play, and he knew it and it made him happy to know it. There was just such another man at "The Ironmaster" the other night. When Claire turned away from Philippe's kiss he fairly gurglep with delight and when she fell wounded it seemed as if he would die of apoplexy. He was so used to seeing funny things in the stage world that it was quite impossible for him to take any thing that happened there seriously. It would be interesting to know such people. Would it be possible for such a man to carry this happy spirit into his daily life? Then, if he lost a hundred dollars or so he would smile; if his house burned down he would grin and if his only son died he would simply roar with laughter. A few people of this sort would soon turn the whole world optimistic.

But then, it is to be wished that they would not sit in front of those that prefer to weep. They ought to be given seats together, crowded into a corner — a sort of amen corner — a place of strange and incongruous outbursts. There is no doubt that they would eventually come to amuse an intelligent audience — like a Lincoln audience — very much indeed.

          

How could Mr. Kendal be expected to put any very great force into such an amiably priggish part as that of Philippe Derblay? In the novel we do not realize the real inaneness of the man. But we do when we see him fairly before the footlights. He is injured, it is true, but that makes him all the more intolerable. Prigs are always injured and always in the right. That is just the reason that we cannot endure them. Would a real Claire have ever become devoted to such a Philippe as stalked the stage the other night? Women do many queer things, but this would be too queer, even for a woman. He is a just man and a hard man, like those good old Puritan forefathers we talk of, those men who got along through life entirely without pity, and to some extent without sin. His love is very big till he holds his honor in front of his eyes, and that quite hides it. We are pretty pessimistic nowadays, but still we like better, at heart, the other type of hero — not the man who upholds his wife for the sake of his honor, but the lover who upholds his honor for the sake of his wife. We want, too, a man whose inner fires are hot enough to break his shell and to show real white flame. For this reason we did not feel so very sorry for Philippe Derblay and we did feel sorry for the woman who had been so foolish and so unfortunate as to injure such a man. But perhaps ironmasters get some of their favorite metal into their backbone and are not to blame for being a little stiff. Perhaps — but then the novelist need not write about them and the playwright need not adapt them and great actors need not impersonate them.

Mr. Kendal is unfortunate in having to take so often the part of husband. Of course circumstances and Mrs. Kendal make it the proper role for him, but in modern drama the husband plays a very small part and needs nothing but a backbone, a beard and a moderately forgiving nature.

          

Mrs. Kendal omits one thing that no modern emotional actress should omit, especially in a play that offers so good an opportunity for it as "The Ironmaster." She does not say "How he loves me!" as it is now the proper thing to do when a too confiding stage husband leaves the room. It seems to be the latest thing in dramatic properties. Madeline Merli used it, and so did Clara Morris , and so did the slender aquiline young woman who played the fair deceiver in "Fabio Romani." And now Mrs. Kendal has left it out entirely. But perhaps this is only because Philippe is not affectionate enough to give her much excuse for putting it in.

          

The Gerry Society have been at it again. This time they have stopped Essie Graham , the street waif in "Under the City Lamps," from acting. The girl is thirteen years old and is fond of acting and in good health, and the manager of "City Lamps" fails to see any reason or reasonableness in the society's action. It is a pity that the kindhearted Gerry folks do not extend their noble efforts and forbid authors to write and musicians to play before they are fifteen years old. If the society had its way there would be no actors at all in a generation or two. The greatest part of an actress' education must be completed before she is fifteen. The society claim that it is cruel for a child to be put to the strain of acting every night when she ought to be at home and in bed. Of course it is cruel, most art is cruel, and very few artists have time to sleep much in this world, though we trust they rest very peacefully in the next. It is very kind of the world to try to lighten the burden of genius, but it can't be done. Genius means relentless labor and passionate excitement from the hour one is born until the hour one dies. It means that a man must live the passions and sorrows of a hundred lives. Great actresses cannot be brought up upon what Kipling calls the "sheltered life-system." They must have abundant knowledge of good and evil even if they become not at all as gods. Perhaps that word "gods" only means creators anyway and in that case the devil was certainly correct. We are assured that everything has its place, and perhaps there is a place even for the Gerry Society. If, instead of trying to have the emotional actresses of the future brought up in boarding schools and taught needlework and embroidery, they would set themselves to work to remove all actresses who are too old to act, the world would be much more grateful to them. Poor little Essie Graham was not troubling anyone, but we have anguished over Maggie Mitchell for the last decade, and still no home for aged women has offered a helping hand. It would be a much wiser plan to remove all actresses over fifty than all under fifteen.

          

The Amusement Globe of January 31 contains a very interesting letter from W. E. Sinn , in which he tells what he knows about Cora Tanner's reasons for divorcing him. He claims that the non-support business was merely a blind, and that even after Mrs. Sinn left his home he was willing to furnish her with means, but that she steadily refused to be supported. He says that his married life with Miss Tanner was complete in its happiness and that when she was good she was very, very good. He says that with all her faults he loves her still, and that should she at any time tire of her profession — or become too fleshy for it — his means and influence are hers. Miss Tanner, with her proverbial haste in matters matrimonial immediately after her divorce from Mr. Sinn united her fortunes with that of Dr. Farieu , but for once she was too prompt and Mr. Sinn brought suit against her and proved the marriage illegal. Mr. Sinn seems to feel very much cut up over his wife's desertion, and says it is not pleasant to be simply "got tired of." But Mr. Sinn has no great complaint to make; surely to have engrossed the affections of the impressionable Cora for three whole years is enough to satisfy any man's vanity.

          

Charles H. Hoyt , the playwright, will marry Miss Caroline Miskel on March 1. The wedding will take place in New York city at the home of the bride's mother. Miss Miskel is one of the handsomest women on the stage and has this season been playing Ruth in Hoyt's "Temperance Town." When we remember the awful stories that were afloat about Mr. Hoyt being crazed with grief when pretty Flora Walsh died just about a year ago, we cannot help but smile. We really were very sorry for him then and it makes us feel sold to find that our sympathy was not needed as much as we thought. The public at large thought a great deal of the original Bossy Brander and would like to demand for her a constancy of something over twelve months. Other women may play the role as well to Mr. Hoyt, but the admirers of "A Texas Steer" have seen no other woman who could play Bossy. The public may be fickle, but they are not so fickle as Mr. Hoyt. Stage hearts do not break easily.

          

Robert Downing has retired from the stage until Easter.

Minnie French has retired from the stage owing to bad health.

Lillian Russell's latest fad is giving away her autographs as souvenirs to the ladies in the audience.

The Colgans have separated again just as their new play, "Lady Barter," was at the zenith of its success.

Davenport is having a good deal of trouble in keeping her weight light enough to rightly represent the wily Egyptian. She diets herself and takes daily exercises of a gymnastic nature.

Lillian Russell's new annual husband, Signor Perugini , is of course her leading man. Lillian's managers are beginning to object to her marrying her leading men, as it makes it almost impossible for them to keep a good tenor for more than one season.

Mrs. John Drew's revival of the "Jealous Wife" is meeting with great success. Mrs. Drew's dramatic tastes are decidedly classic and her love of early English comedy is well known. Mrs. Drew is perfect in her portrayal of the furiously jealous Mrs. Oakly , and Agnes Proctor as Lady Freelove is charming.

"About Town," a dialect play, is the latest thing in farce comedy. Russell's comedians have been playing with great success with Miss Glover as the leading lady. There seems to be little new or startling in the play except that the first scene opens in a barber shop, which is certainly realism with a vengeance.

"Carmen," with Calve as Carmen, is still running in New York with astonishing success. It is said that Calve never plays the part twice alike. De Reszke plays Jose with intense feeling, and after each performance his physical exhaustion is so great that it is feared he cannot stand the strain much longer.

At the eleventh hour New York has awakened to the fact that Madame Melba is a great prima donna, so great indeed that there is none greater. She is a great singer rather than a great actress, and cannot equal Calve in her dramatic power. Nevertheless the wonderful lines of Gounod's "Juliet" were never sung better than she sings them. De Koven has said it.

The Bostonians in "The Maid of Plymouth" have not made the hit that was expected. The critics claim that, though the libretto is the best of any American opera, the plot is loose and the whole performance lacks interest. The chorus is not doing its usual good work and the role of Masconoma, the Indian girl, does not give Jessie Bartlett Davis a chance to do her best. There seems to be a peculiar fatality about the story of Miles Standish . He doesn't seem to work up well in prose or verse. Probably Mr. Longfellow killed him thoroughly some years ago, along with English hexameter.

Mr. Willard's Hamlet has fallen rather flat. A good many kindly suggestions are offered by his critics, but the principal trouble seems to be that Mr. Willard's Hamlet is not Hamlet at all. He plays the famous role without ranting or raving, but his quietness of manner, while it is impressive, is passive and unproductive. He makes a quiet, gentlemanly, practical, sensible Hamlet, and of course that spoils everything. Give Hamlet one grain of common sense and you have no play at all. Everything depends upon his being beautifully but unreasonably stupid. To put it more seriously, Mr. Willard tries to interpret Hamlet's actions as influenced by the world outside, whereas Hamlet was a wholly subjective character and everything came from within.

The poorest and most hopeless play that has come before the public for a long time is fittingly entitled "Poor Girls." The plot is impossible and disgusting, dramatic ar tis entirely lacking, and the impression left by the piece is in every way unpleasant. The worst of it is that some very good actors have been deluded into playing it, and the company includes some of Frohman's strong men. The plot, what there is of it, is about this. The "Poor Girls" are the daughters of a lazy, dissolute man who ill-treats them shamefully. Deborah has no principle and takes to the gilded shame for the money there is in it, while Ada stays at home like a dutiful daughter to labor for her leisure-loving parent. She has two lovers, a cousin and the son of her employer. Naturally she loves the latter. These men are the heroes of the drama and queer ones they are, for one is represented as a craven and unmanly boor and the other as a very likeable and gentlemanly villain. About this time Deborah turns up and exposes Ada's lover as her own seducer. The cousin at this juncture for no visible cause shoots at the favored suitor, but aims badly as one would expect such a fellow to do and shoots Deborah. Deborah, lying at death's door, persuades Ada to renounce the man she loves and marry the gallant cousin, and the chicken-hearted Ada readily promises and so the curtain descends upon the dazed audience.

Dev's Gallery.


Notes

Go back Lansing Theatre: The Lansing Theater, on the southwest corner of 13th and P Streets, was built in 1891, displacing the Funke Opera House as the largest and finest theater in Lincoln. The owners were J.F. Lansing (b. 1842), a Lincoln real estate man, and his brother-in-law Henry Oliver (b. 1857); Edward A. Church was the manager. According to the program of the opening week (November 23-28, 1891) the auditorium consisted of the orchestra and parquet seating on the main level, with dress circle at the rear and sides; three tiers of five boxes each and six loges were at the sides. Above were the balcony and the gallery. With standing room, about 2500 people could be present.

The building also housed offices, including that of Cather's friend and fellow reviewer, Dr. Julius H. Tyndale. It was renamed the Oliver Theater in 1898.

The Oliver Theater, Lincoln, Nebraska. The theater was originally named The Lansing Theater.

Go back The Ironmaster: The play by was based on the popular French novel, Le maitre de forges by Georges Ohnet (1848-1918); it was translated as The Ironmaster; or Love and Pride by Georgianna Osborne and published in London in 1884. The four-act English play was by Arthur Pinero; it opened in 1884 at London's St. James Theatre, of which the Kendals were actor-managers. Film versions were made of the play in the 1930s.

Go back Claire de Beapre: Claire de Beaupré is the heroine of Ohnet's The Ironmaster.

Go back Philippe Derblay: Phillipe Derblay is the hero of Ohnet's The Ironmaster.

Go back amen corner: Originally a place in a church meeting-house where supporters of the preacher sat, saying "amen" to his important points.

Go back Kendals: Madge (née Margaret Robertson) Kendal (1849-1935) was born in an established English theatrical family (her brother Tom Robertson was a well known playwright), and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1929. Her husband, William Hunter Kendal (1843-1917) was less celebrated than his wife; as a shrewd actor manager, he produced plays to showcase his wife.

Go back Kendals: Madge (née Margaret Robertson) Kendal (1849-1935) was born in an established English theatrical family (her brother Tom Robertson was a well known playwright), and was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1929. Her husband, William Hunter Kendal (1843-1917) was less celebrated than his wife; as a shrewd actor manager, he produced plays to showcase his wife.

Go back Madeline Merli: Madeline Merli, billed as "the Italian star actress," but also said to be the daughter of aprominent New Yorker, toured in Canada and the US in the 1890s with Orson Clifford. Her mostoften-presented play was The Story of a Kiss, based on a story by Zola; she later appeared in a comedy, Mexico (1896). She is listed as co-author of two plays, The African King and The Mormon Wife, which were produced in New York in 1900 and 1901.

Images: New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Go back Clara Morris: Born Clara Morrison, Morris (1848-1925) made her New York debut in 1870 and was a great success playing passionate, suffering heroines in roles in such plays as Jezebel, Camille (1874), Miss Multon, a version of East Lynne (1876), Jane Eyre (1877), and The New Magdalen (1882). She formed her own company about 1878 and toured the country. She was never famous for her beauty, and her voice was flawed, but the emotional power of her acting overcame these defects. Morris retired in the 1890s as the new kinds of realistic plays of Ibsen and Shaw and Pinero made the older dramas seem old-fashioned and histrionic. In retirement she wrote articles and columns on acting, as well as volumes of reminiscences that show her acting was not so instinctive and unpracticed as Cather supposed.

Image available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Image available at the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections.

Clara Morris Clara Morris Clara Morris Clara Morris Clara Morris

Go back did the slender aquiline young woman who played the fair deceiver in: Possibly actress Olive West, who played the deceiving wife to Benedict Aidan's Fabio Romani in the play of that name, on tour in 1896.

Go back "Fabio Romani": The play, Fabio Romani; or, The Vendetta (1891?), by actor-manager Benedict Aidan, was based on a novel by Marie Corelli (1855-1924), called The Vendetta or, The Story of One Forgotten (1886). According to Corelli's preface, it is based on a true story taking place during a cholera epidemic in Naples in 1884. The hero, Fabio Romani, supposedly dies in the epidemic; instead he comes back to take vengeance on his wife, Nina, and his best friend, whom he believes have betrayed him.

Go back The Gerry Society: The Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children was founded by lawyer and philanthropist Elbridge T. Gerry (1837-1937); it was popularly known as Gerry's Society or the Gerry Society. It sought to prevent the mistreatment of children, but it was bitterly resented by theatrical people when it tried to set minimum ages (usually fourteen or sixteen) at which children could perform onstage; child acts and juvenile companies performing burlesques of well-known plays were very popular.

Go back Essie Graham: This child actress was photographed c. 1890 by Charles Eisenmann, but nothing else has been found about her.

Go back "Under the City Lamps": Neither the New York Times drama index nor Odell's Annals of the New York Stage list a play of this name; both note a play, Under the Gas Light.

Go back The greatest part of an actress' education must be completed before she is fifteen: In a 1921 interview in The Bookman, Cather said, "I think that most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen" (Bohlke 20).

Go back Rudyard Kipling: Rudyard Kipling (1865-1936) was born in Bombay, India; he was educated in England, first in a foster home (an experience rendered in "Baa Baa, Black Sheep" [1888]) and then at boarding school (Stalky & Co. [1899]). He returned to India in 1882, working as a journalist for seven years and exploring Indian and Anglo-Indian life in poems and stories. His verses were collected in Departmental Ditties (1886) and his stories in Plain Tales from the Hills (1888) and other collections published before his return to England in 1889, where he found himself famous for his vigor and the freshness of his style and material. Kipling married an American, Caroline Balestier, in 1892 and they came to America to live until 1896. His best work was published in the 1890s and shortly thereafter: The Light That Failed (1890), Barrack-Room Ballads (1892), the Jungle Books (1894 and 1895), Captains Courageous (1897), and Kim (1901).

Go back The sheltered life-system: Rudyard Kipling's story, "Thrown Away" (1888) begins: To rear a boy under what parents call the 'sheltered life system' is, if the boy must go into the world and fend for himself, not wise. Unless he be one in a thousand he has certainly to pass through many unnecessary troubles; and may, possibly, come to extreme grief simply from ignorance of the proper proportions of things.

Go back Maggie Mitchell: Margaret (Maggie) Mitchell (1832-1918) went on stage when she was 12, and because of her small size, played a variety of child and boy roles (notably Oliver Twist) for many years thereafter. Her greatest success was as Fanchon, the Cricket, in the play of that name (1861), and it was a role she played for the rest of her career. She acquired the rights to the piece, which was became one of the standard plays of the late nineteenth century, making her a small fortune. She was also successful in other standard emotional plays such as The Lady of Lyons, Ingomar, The Pearl of Savoy, and Jane Eyre. According to the Encyclopedia Britannica, she retired in 1892.Image available at the University of Washington Libraries Digital Collections. Maggie Mitchell Maggie Mitchell Maggie Mitchell

Go back The Amusement Globe: No record of a newspaper called the Amusement Globe has been found. Cather may be referring to the amusement section of the second New York Globe newspaper, or, perhaps less likely, of the Boston Globe.

Go back W. E. Sinn: Theatrical manager William E. Sinn (1834-1899) was born in Washington, D.C. With his brother-in-law, a comedian and manager, he managed theaters in the District of Columbia, Baltimore, and Philadelphia before moving to New York in 1875, where he managed the Park Theatre in Brooklyn for many years; for some years the theater had its own stock company.

Sinn married Annie E. Bonn about 1854; he divorced her to marry actress Cora Tanner in 1888. He had a son, Walter L. Sinn (1859-1896), who was also a manager. Sinn's honorary title of colonel was bestowed on him by the Confederate Army for his aid in recruiting men.

Go back Cora Tanner: Cora Tanner appeared on the New York stage between 1880 and 1902; she first appeared on the New York stage as a member of McKee Rankin's company in The Danites. She had made a hit in Alone in London, and her big production c. 1891-1892 was with her own company in Will She Divorce Him? She no longer appeared in New York after 1902. Cora Tanner made her professional debut at the age of fourteen in the McVicker stock company in Chicago; she first appeared on the New York stage in 1880 as a member of McKee Rankin's company in The Danites. In 1884 she played Princess Ida in Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta of that name, in John Stetson's company. She was a member of one of Col. William E. Sinn's companies when she married him in 1885; early in 1893 Sinn sought to have the marriage annulled on the grounds that she was already married, but the court ruled their marriage was valid. By the late 1880s she was a star, with plays such as Alone in London and Fascination identified with her. Later in the 1890s she toured in The Sporting Duchess. Her last performances in New York were in a drama, The Last Appeal, in April 1902.Images: Marketworks NYPL Digital Gallery

Go back With all her faults he loves her still: "With All Her Faults I Love Her Still" was a popular song by Monroe Rosenfeld, written in 1888. Rosenfeld took credit for the music, but the tune was actually written earlier by Theodore Metz. The song was sung on the vaudeville stage by popular tenor Richard J. José, who recorded it c. 1903-06 for Victor records. The title became a catch-phrase.

Go back Dr. Farieu: No record of Cora Tanner's marriage to a Dr. Farieu has been found. Dr. C. Fred Farland—his name was sometimes spelled Farlin— of Rochester, New York, married Cora Tanner in Michigan in 1878. She divorced him in Illinois to marry William R. Sinn in 1885; the validity of this divorce was questioned in early 1893 when she sought to divorce Sinn. Although the circumstances are similar to what Cather describes—a too-hasty marriage after a divorce—it is unclear why she would bring it up as current news in a February 1894 column.

Go back Charles Hoyt: Charles Hoyt (1860-1900) was born in New Hampshire, moved west to a cattle ranch in Colorado, became a newspaperman, then wrote his first play and had it produced in 1883; he became one of the most successful producer-playwrights by the late 1880s, perfecting the style of Broadway musical in which a farcical, light-hearted plot gives opportunities for songs and specialty features.

Go back Miss Caroline Miskel: Canadian-born Caroline Miskel (c.1873-1898) was considered one of the beauties of the New York stage. She starred in Hoyt's A Temperance Town (1890-93) and his anti-suffragist play, A Contented Woman (1895). She married Charles M. Hoyt on March 1, 1894, and died four years later, after giving birth to a son who lived only an hour.

Go back Ruth: Ruth, the heroine of Charles H. Hoyt's A Temperance Town (1893), was played by Caroline Miskel.

Go back Temperance Town: Charles H. Hoyt's A Temperance Town opened in New York in his Madison Square Theatre on September 18, 1893, after touring for three years while waiting for Hoyt's A Trip to Chinatown to finish its run there. The farce satirized local prohibition-a temperance town is "dry," allowing no liquor to be sold legally. An anti-liquor minister turns his daughter out in the snow, where she is rescued by the town drunk. The New York Times reviewer thought the play owed too much to T.S. Arthur's famous play, Ten Nights in a Bar Room.

Go back Flora Walsh: Actress Flora Walsh (c.1870-1893) was the first wife of Charles H. Hoyt. She began her theatrical career in San Francisco at an early age, playing juvenile roles with Maude Adams. She joined the road company of Hoyt's A Tin Soldier in 1884, and had a bit part in the New York production, where she met Hoyt, who quickly proposed. Her mother, Alice Walsh, made the two wait for two years until Flora was sixteen. Hoyt wrote the roles of the Lunch Counter Waitress in A Hole in the Ground and Bossy Brander in A Texas Steer especially for Walsh. She died of pneumonia January 22, 1893.

Go back Bossy Brander: Bossy Brander is the cowgirl heroine of Charles H. Hoyt's A Texas Steer (1890). The part was written for Flora Walsh, Hoyt's wife.

Go back constancy of something over twelve months: Probably an allusion to the Count of Monte Cristo. In Cather's letter to the Omaha World-Herald on the passing of the old opera houses, she recalled the thrill "When old Frank Lindon . . . stood in the drawing room of Mme. Danglars' and revealed his identity to Mme. de Morcef, his faithless Mercedes, . . . permitted his lip to curl, and said softly and bitterly, 'A fidelity of six months!'" (Bohlke 187).

Go back "A Texas Steer": In Charles H. Hoyt's A Texas Steer (1890), the heroine, Bossy Brander, connives with her mother to get her father elected to Congress, because they both want to move there. Once there, he proves to be a folksy power.

Go back Robert Downing: Robert Downing (1857-1944) appeared in minor roles Mary Anderson's company in New York by 1880; by 1882 he was playing leading roles with her, such as Claude in Lady of Lyons. When Anderson left for London, Downing played with Joseph Jefferson's company between 1883 and 1888. Odell first notes his appearance in New York as Spartacus in The Gladiator in 1886 (Annals of the New York Stage, XIII: 230), and return engagements thereafter, saying that Downing was "trying to be a Forrest" (XIII: 459). He was best known for his physique as displayed in the lead role of such plays as The Gladiator. Downing's basic repertoire in the early 1890s consisted of The Gladiator, Virginius, Ingomar, Damon and Pythias, Julius Caesar, and Richard the Lion-Hearted.

Image available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Go back Minnie French: Minnie French (1863-1899) had a song and dance vaudeville act with her twin sister Helen; they were billed as "the French twins." She made a hit on the New York stage, playing the role of "The Innocent Kid" in Charles Hoyt's A Parlor Match with Charles Evans (whom she married) and William Hoey (whom her sister married) in 1886. The play was revived with her in 1896.

Go back Lillian Russell: Lillian Russell, born Helen Louise Leonard (1861-1922) in Clinton, IA, was educated in Chicago, and then in New York, where her mother took her to study in hopes of an opera career. Her first appearance on the New York stage was in the chorus of a production of Pinafore in 1879; Tony Pastor, owner of one of the best variety theaters in New York, gave her the new name, Lillian Russell, and billed her as "The English Ballad Singer." Her blonde beauty, lovely singing voice, and fashionable figure quickly made her a star, one of the highest paid in America. She starred at the Casino Theatre from 1888 to 1891, when she headed her own company at the Garden Theatre. In 1899 she joined the Weber and Fields company, staying with them until 1904. Her voice had suffered over the years, so she toured in comedy from 1906-1908.

Russell was famous for the number of her husbands and for her long liason with "Diamond Jim" Brady. Her first husband was the Pinafore company's orchestra leader, Harry Graham. Her second husband, composer Edward Solomon, was arrested for bigamy in 1886, after two years of marriage. She married her third husband, John Chatterton, known as Giovanni Perugini, in 1894; they were divorced in 1898. Russell retired from the stage after marrying her fourth husband, Alexander Moore, owner of the Pittsburgh Leader. She wrote columns and articles on love and beauty for women, and advocated woman suffrage.

Lillian Russell epitomized the stage beauty of the 1890s. A movie was made of her life in 1940, starring Alice Faye, with Henry Fonda as her fourth husband. Her character also appears in various other movies about the theatrical life of the time.

Image available at New York Public Library Digital Gallery.

Lillian Russell

Go back The Colgans: Rose Coghlan (1853-1932) and her brother Charles (1842-1899).

Go back "Lady Barter": Rose Coghlan starred as the fascinating adventuress in Lady Barter (1891), a play by her brother Charles Coghlan, who played the role of the "clear-headed man of the world," a type at which he excelled, according to the New York Times reviewer (13 March 1892).

Go back "Lady Barter": Rose Coghlan starred as the fascinating adventuress in Lady Barter (1891), a play by her brother Charles Coghlan, who played the role of the "clear-headed man of the world," a type at which he excelled, according to the New York Times reviewer (13 March 1892).

Go back Fanny Davenport: Fanny Davenport (1850-98) was born into an American theatrical family; she took her first speaking part at the age of six. She performed with Augustin Daly's company from 1869 to 1876, when she formed her own company to tour with her hit Pique. She bought the American rights to a number of Sardou's plays and had great success with many roles first performed by Sarah Bernhardt. Illness forced her retirement in March 1898 and she died in September of that year. Fanny Davenport Fanny Davenport Fanny Davenport as Fedora

Go back wily Egyptian: Cleopatra; Fanny Davenport starred in Victorien Sardou's Cleopatra in 1890 and it became part of her repertory. The New York Times said her performance was marred by her "too majestic proportions."

Go back Signor Perugini: American tenor John Haley Augustin Chatterton (1855-1914) was born in Michigan. He changed his name and persona to that of Don Giovanni Perugini in the 1880s, after having studied in Europe. After singing opposite Adelina Patti at the Metropolitan Opera, he went to Europe, where he sang with success. He became Lillian Russell's leading man in the comic opera, Princess Nicotine (1893). Russell married him on January 21, 1894; they separated after six months, divorcing in 1898.

Go back Mrs. Drew: Louisa Lane (1820-1897) was born into an English acting family that dated back to the mid-eighteenth century, and made her stage debut at an early age as a child actress. At the age of nineteen she became one of the highest-paid actresses in America at twenty dollars a week. She became particularly famous as Lady Teazle and Mrs. Malaprop. Her third husband was John Drew, senior (1827-1862), an Irish-born actor. In 1861 she became manager of the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia, the first woman manager of a major theater. Her son John Drew, jr., became one of the stars of both the Daly and Frohman acting companies. Her daughter Georgie Drew, whom Otis Skinner called "the most accomplished comedienne of her time," married Maurice Barrymore; their children were John, Ethel, and Lionel Barrymore. Image available at the New York Public Library Digital Gallery.University of Washington Libraries Digital Libraries. Mrs. Drew, as Mrs. Malaprop Georgia Drew Barrymore Lionel Barrymore John Barrymore

Go back the "Jealous Wife": The Jealous Wife, a comedy by George Colman the elder, English dramatist and theater manager, was first produced in 1761. The plot derives, in part, from the story of Lady Bellaston in Henry Fielding's Tom Jones (1749). Mrs. John Drew revived the play in New York on January 22, 1894.

Go back Furiously jealous Mrs. Oakly: Mrs. John Drew's rendition of the role of Mrs. Oakley in The Jealous Wife (1761) was considered one of the best done in America. She brought the play to New York in January 1894, co-starring Sidney Drew as Mr. Oakley.

Go back Agnes Proctor: Agnes Proctor (1855-1920) performed on the New York stage between 1877 and 1897. She played with Mrs. Drew's company in New York in The Jealous Wife in 1894 and with Cora Tanner in The Sporting Duchess in April 1895.

Go back Lady Freelove: Lady Freelove is a character in George Colman's The Jealous Wife (1761). Her name is meant to give some indication of her character or opinions.

Go back About Town: About Town, a "musical farcical comedy," was based on a German play, adapted by Harry Fulton. In it, the daughter of an immigrant barber rises to become an opera singer, introducing her father to high society. Russell's Comedians opened in New York in a production of the play February 26, 1894. The New York Times reviewer said it was "dismal as a play," but worth seeing as a variety show (27 February 1894).

Go back Russell's comedians: Russell's Comedians contained many "specialty artists" as well as actors. Members of the company in late 1893 and early 1894 included Ada Dare, Mathilde Cottrelly, Amelia Glover, Dan Daly, William Mack, and Willis P. Sweatnam, as well as various chorus girls.

Go back Miss Glover: Amelia Glover (1871-1910), a member of the Russell's Comedians troupe, was a dancer who made a hit with specialty numbers in The City Directory (1890) and its revivals. She also performed in A Society Fad (1892) and in About Town (1894).

Go back "Carmen": The opera by George Bizet (1838-1875) was first produced in Paris in 1875; the libretto, by Henri Meilhac and Ludovic Halévy, was based on a novella by Prosper Mérimée. The opera was unsuccessful at first, but gradually gained popularity. The plot concerns the fiery Spanish gypsy cigarette girl, Carmen, who fascinates the young soldier, Don José, though he is engaged to a young country girl. When Carmen wounds one of her fellow-workers, he helps her escape from the law, and is imprisoned himself. Carmen and the gypsies help him escape to the mountains, but Carmen begins to tire of him and turn to the toreador Escamillo. When she finally rejects Don José, he kills her.

Go back Emma Calve: Singer Emma Calvé, born Rosa Emma Calvet (1858-1942), was born in France and brought up in Spain. She studied under influential voice teacher Mathilde Marchesi, and made her debut in Brussels in 1882. She sang in Paris before making her London debut in 1892, where she sang Carmen; she became the greatest Carmen of her time. Calvé was also famous in the role of Santuzza in Pietro Mascagni's Cavalleria rusticana (1890). She retired in 1925 to teach. Her autobiography is I Have Sung Under Every Sky (1937).

Go back De Reszke: Jean de Reszke (1850-1925) was born in Poland; he studied in Warsaw and Paris as a baritone, then retrained as a tenor in the late 1870s. He became celebrated when he created the role of John the Baptist in Jules Massenet's Hérodiade in 1884, and became the leading tenor of the Paris Opera. His American debut was in Chicago in 1891, then he went to the Metropolitan Opera in New York, singing with them until his retirement in 1901.

Go back Jose: In Georges Bizet's opera, Carmen (1875), Don José is the young soldier who is bewitched by Carmen; he helps her escape the police after she stabs a fellow cigarette worker, and is imprisoned himself. Carmen helps him escape and he flees with her to the mountains. When Carmen rejects him for the toreador Escamillo, he kills her.

Go back Madame Melba: Nellie Melba (1861-1931) was born Helen Porter Mitchell in Melbourne, Australia. Though she was trained as a pianist and organist, she did not begin to study singing until she attended Presbyterian Ladies' College in Melbourne, where tenor Pietro Cecchi encouraged her to make singing her profession. She married Charles Armstrong in 1882; they were divorced in 1900. In 1886 she went to London and became a student of famed vocal teacher Mathilde Marchesi. She made her operatic debut in 1887 and from 1888 to her retirement in 1926 she was affiliated with London's Covent Garden Opera house. She quickly became an international star, making many world tours, and singing occasionally with the Metropolitan Opera in New York from 1893 until 1910. Foods such as peach Melba and Melba toast were named for her. She was made a Dame of the British Empire in 1918.

Go back Gounod: Charles Gounod (1818-1893) was born in Paris and studied at the Paris Conservatoire and in Rome. He composed sacred music and studied for the priesthood, but in 1847 decided to devote himself to writing for the operatic stage. He began working on Faust in 1852; its production in 1859 influenced the development of French opera. In 1870 Gounod went to London for five years, and devoted himself to writing oratorio.

Go back Gounod's "Juliet": Romeo et Juliette (1867) by Charles Gounod (1818-1893), based closely on Shakespeare's play, had a libretto by Barbier and Carré.

Go back De Koven: Reginald de Koven (1859-1920) was born in the USA, but educated in England, then went to Europe to study music before returning to the US in 1882 to go into business in Chicago. His successful real estate and commercial ventures enabled him to return to his first love, music. He is best known as the composer of romantic operettas, most notably Robin Hood (1890), which contains his most popular song, "Oh Promise Me," which quickly became a favorite at weddings.

Go back The Bostonians: The Bostonian Opera Company, noted for the quality of their singers, was active from 1879 to 1904; though based in Boston, it toured annually.

Go back "The Maid of Plymouth": The Maid of Plymouth, based on the story of Miles Standish and John Alden and Priscilla Mullins, opened in New York on January 5, 1894, and ran for 28 performances. Thomas Pearsall Thorne wrote the music; playwright Clay M. Greene wrote the libretto.

Go back Masconoma, the Indian girl: Masconoma is a native American character in The Maid of Plymouth (1894), originally played by Jesse Bartlett Davis. A fictional character, her name appears to be based on that of Masconomo, a sagamore, or chief, of the Agawam Indians in seventeenth-century Massachusetts.

Go back Jessie Bartlett Davis: Jessie Fremont Bartlett (1860-1905) married manager William J. Davis in 1880 and was best known under her married name. She was born in Illinois; her father, a farmer, was musical and recognized her talent early. She went to Chicago to study music, singing in a church choir to support herself. Her stage debut was as Buttercup in a Chicago production of Pinafore. In the 1880s she toured with the William T. Carleton Opera Company in the west, with Theodore Thomas's National Opera Company, and the Boston Ideal Opera Company. A contralto, she sang supporting roles with Adelina Patti in New York in grand opera, but she was best known for light opera. About 1889 she became the leading contralto with the Bostonian Opera Company, with whom she sang until the late 1890s. She became famous singing "Oh, Promise Me" in De Kovens' Robin Hood (1891); she recorded the song for Victor Records in 1898.

Cather met Davis in Pittsburgh in 1896; though she admired Davis's infectious spirits, she aroused Davis' ire by referring to her age and weight (Pittsburgh Leader, 5 January 1897; Lincoln Courier, 4 December 1897).

Go back Miles Standish: Miles Standish (c. 1584-1656) was born in England; a professional soldier, he was serving in the Netherlands when the Pilgrims hired him to take charge of their defense when they reached New England. He sailed with them on the Mayflower and is reputed to be the second man to step out onto Plymouth Rock. His wife, Rose, accompanied him, but did not survive the first winter. Standish served the Plymouth and Weymouth colonies not only as a military commander but as treasurer and as a representative in England. He was one of the founders of the town of Duxbury, where he died.

The courtship in Longfellow's poem, "The Courtship of Miles Standish" (1858) is not known to have any basis in fact, though the poet did depict many of his deeds and his blunt, hot-headed nature.

Go back Mr. Longfellow: Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807-1882) was born in Portland, Maine. A precocious child, he graduated from Bowdoin College (where Nathaniel Hawthorne was a classmate) at the age of nineteen, and was offered the professorship of modern languages. He traveled in Europe to prepare, becoming influenced by German romanticism and by Germanic and Nordic cultures. He became professor of modern languages at Harvard in 1834, and published his first volume of poetry, Voices of the Night in 1839; the success of Evangeline (1847) led him to resign from Harvard in 1854 to devote himself to his writing. Hiawatha (1855) and The Courtship of Miles Standish (1858; the John Alden and Priscilla Mullins of the poem were two of Longfellow's ancestors) helped establish the use of American themes in American literature. Longfellow's poems were immensely popular in the U.S. and England.

Go back English hexameter: A verse line with six feet, or stressed syllables; pentameter (five stressed syllables) is used more often in English verse. Gabriel Harvey (1545-1630) claimed to have invented English hexameter verse, considering it especially appropriate for heroic poetry, since it approximates Greek and Latin hexameter. However, it is not often attempted in English.

Go back Mr. Willard: Actor E. S. (Edward Smith) Willard (1853-1915) was born in England and began acting in 1869, playing in provincial theaters. Soon after his London debut in 1875, however, he returned to the provinces in the leading roles he was unable to obtain in London. In 1881 he returned to London, joining Wilson Barrett's company; he made a hit in a supporting role in The Silver King, and was successful in Shakespearean and modern roles. He remained in London when Barrett's company went to the U. S. in 1886. His role of Cyrus Benkam in The Middleman (1889), by Henry Arthur Jones, made him a star. He brought the play to America in 1890, with Maxine Elliott making her debut as his daughter, and remained until 1894. He returned to America periodically until his retirement in 1906. E. S. Willard

Go back "Poor Girls": According to the New York Times reviewer, this play was adapted from a German version of a story by Guy de Maupassant. The plot dealt with the two daughters of a workingman: "the attempt to deal with the labor problem was simply ludicrous." One of the daughters turns to prostitution; the review mentions her spectacular costumes. The reviewer adds, "There are four acts and forty thrills. Probability is altogether lacking in every one of them" (23 January 1894). Joseph Holland starred along with Odette Tyler.

Go back Mr. Charles Frohman: Charles Frohman (1860-1915) became the most important theatrical manager of his time; he was one of the founders of the Theatrical Syndicate which for a time controlled U.S. theaters. His first big success was with Bronson Howard's Shenandaoh in 1889. He developed the star system when he engaged John Drew in 1892 for his Empire Stock Company, and later managed many other of the top stars; he encouraged many playwrights such as Clyde Fitch and David Belasco. Frohman died in the sinking of the Lusitania in 1915. Charles Frohman

Go back Deborah: Deborah, one of the daughters of a poor workingman in Poor Girls, turns to prostitution. She is shot accidentally by one of her sister's suitors.

Go back Ada: Ada is the virtuous daughter of a poor workingman in Poor Girls.

Go back Dev's Gallery: Probably a typo for "Deus Gallerie" (gallery god), a name signed to theatrical notes in some of Cather's other columns.


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