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Heroines of the Modern Stage

Heroines of the Modern Stage
Title: Heroines of the Modern Stage
Release Date: 2018-07-31
Type book: Text
Copyright Status: Public domain in the USA.
Date added: 27 March 2019
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Heroines of Modern Progress
Heroines of Modern Religion
Heroines of the Modern Stage

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New York


All rights reserved

Copyright, 1915, by

Set up and electrotyped. Published November, 1915



The following pages give some account ofthose actresses who stand out today as the mostinteresting to an English-speaking reader. TheContinental actresses included are those whogained international reputations and belongedto the English and American stage almost asmuch as to their own.

All actresses have been modern, in a sense,for the acting of female rôles by women is distinctlya latter-day touch in that ancient institution,the theatre.1 Thus a book on modernactresses might range from Elizabeth Barry toMrs. Fiske. But while many volumes alreadyexist that serve well to keep alive the names ofthe dead-and-gone heroines,2 biographies ofactresses whom we of today have seen, are, ingeneral, insufficient or inaccessible. That istrue even of such notable women as Sarah Bernhardt,Ada Rehan and Mrs. Fiske; while accountsin English of such Continental actressesvias Duse and Réjane are altogether lacking.The author hopes that in these chapters he hasdone something toward making better knownthe careers of those actresses and of others whopresent themselves either in vivid recollectionor in the light of present day achievement.The concluding chapter deals briefly with a numberof American actresses of the present, who,although not rising in all cases to the eminenceor popularity attained by those to whom separatechapters are given, yet have made somedistinct contribution to our stage.

The author’s thanks are due to Mr. EdwinF. Edgett for the loan of material; to Mr. JohnBouvé Clapp and to Mr. Robert Gould Shawfor the use of the originals from which someof the illustrations were made; and, for assistanceof many kinds, to the editor of theseries.

Boston, Massachusetts,
October, 1915.

F. I.



Preface   v
I Sarah Bernhardt 3
II Helena Modjeska 52
III Ellen Terry 93
IV Gabrielle Réjane 126
V Eleonora Duse 171
VI Ada Rehan 203
VII Mary Anderson 230
VIII Mrs. Fiske 265
IX Julia Marlowe 299
X Maude Adams 324
XI Some American Actresses of Today 347
  Appendix 368
  Bibliography 377
  Index 381



Sarah Bernhardt Frontispiece
Helena Modjeska 52
Ellen Terry 92
Gabrielle Réjane 126
Eleonora Duse 170
Ada Rehan 202
Mary Anderson 230
Mrs. Fiske 264
Julia Marlowe 298
Maude Adams 324




“Sarah-Bernhardt, Officier d’Académie,artiste dramatique, directrice duthéâtre Sarah-Bernhardt, professeur auConservatoire;” so run the rapid phrases of theFrench “Who’s Who.” And, it might haveadded: “personality extraordinary, and womanof mystery.”

“The impetuous feminine hand that wieldsscepter, thyrsus, dagger, fan, sword, bauble,banner, sculptor’s chisel and horsewhip—it isoverwhelming.” Thus the poet Rostand epitomized“the divine Sarah.” Her career, he said,gives one the vertigo—it is one of the marvelsof the nineteenth century. And he might haveadded, of the twentieth, for Bernhardt, who beganher stage career at the time of our CivilWar, was only recently, at an amazing age, tobe seen on the stage of London and Paris.There are many who think, with William Winter,3that she has been merely “an accomplished4executant, an experienced, expert imitator,within somewhat narrow limits, of the operationsof human passion and human suffering.”The fact remains, the woman has been a geniusof work and achievement, “the Lady ofEnergy,” who has fairly earned the title ofgreat actress. It is difficult to think of anywoman the light of whose fame has carried tothe ends of the earth in quite the same way.To be sure it has not always been from the lampof pure genius. There have been self-advertising,scandal, extravagant eccentricity, to swellthe general effect, but back of all this has beenthe worker.4

5She was born in Paris, at 265 Rue St. Honoré,October 23, 1844.5 Her blood is a minglingof French and Dutch-Jewish. Her realname is Rosine Bernard, and she was theeleventh of fourteen children. Of her father6hardly anything can be learned. Sarah herselfsays that when she was still a mere baby hehad gone to China, but why he went there shehad no idea. Her mother was, by birth, aDutch Jewess, by sympathy a Frenchwoman, byhabit a cosmopolitan; “a wandering beauty ofIsrael,” forever traveling. As much becausethere was no home, therefore, as becausethe French have a custom of banishing infantsfrom the household, Sarah spent herchildhood in the care of a foster-mother, first inthe Breton country, near Quimperlé (whereshe fell in the fireplace and was badly burned),then at Neuilly, near Paris. Her mother cameseldom to see her, though there seems to havebeen affection, at least on the child’s side. Itwas a lonely childhood—made worse by thehigh-strung, sensitive nature that was Sarah’sfrom the beginning.6

When Sarah was seven she was sent away toboarding school at Auteuil, where she says shespent two comparatively happy years. Hermysterious father then sent orders that she wasto be transferred to a convent. “The idea that7I was to be ordered about without any regardto my own wishes or inclinations put me intoan indescribable rage. I rolled about on theground, uttering the most heartrending cries.I yelled out all kinds of reproaches, blamingmamma, my aunts, and Mme. Fressard for notfinding some way to keep me with her. Thestruggle lasted two hours, and while I was beingdressed I escaped twice into the garden and attemptedto climb the trees and throw myselfinto the pond, in which there was more mudthan water. Finally, when I was completelyexhausted and subdued, I was taken off sobbingin my aunt’s carriage.”7

At the Augustinian convent at Grandchamp,Versailles, she was baptized and confirmed aChristian. She became extravagantly piousand conceived a passionate adoration of theVirgin. Nevertheless, she was fractious andwas more than once expelled.8

8When she left the convent Sarah was acapricious, sensitive, religious girl, who mustindeed have constituted a problem for hermother. Sarah, strangely enough, was herselfstrongly inclined to be a nun. But her mother,who was a woman of the world and of means,had other plans and provided as “finishing governess”for Sarah a Mlle. de Brabander. Oneday, when she was fifteen, her fate was decidedfor her. At a family council her own ambitionto be a nun was voted down and the decisionwas: “Send her to the Conservatoire.”Sarah had never even heard of the famousschool for actors of the government theatres.That same evening she was taken to the theatrefor the first time—the Théâtre Français. Brittanicusand Amphitrion moved her profoundly,and she left the theatre weeping, as much forthe sudden shattering of her cherished plan asfrom the effects of the plays.

Thus she began her studies at the Conservatoire(1860) with no love for the career chosenfor her.9 She was no beauty;—she was decidedly9thin, had kinky hair, and a pale face. Butshe worked hard. Her extraordinary nervousenergy and her intelligence had their effect andwhen she left the Conservatoire she had wontwo second prizes.10 The discernment of someof the judges11 saw in her something of the artistshe was to be, and she immediately had acall to the company of the Comédie Française.With the signing of her contract came her resolve,that if the stage were to be her workingplace, she would throw herself into her taskwith all her soul. “Quand-même,”—in spite ofall,—was already her motto,—she would, in theface of any obstacle, win a place for herself.12

Though with wonderful success she has beenbusily pursuing that object from that day to10this, the beginnings of her career were notpromising. Her début (1862) in Racine’sIphigénie created no particular comment. Sheremembers, however, that on that occasion,when she lifted her long and extraordinarilythin arms, for the sacrifice, the audiencelaughed.13 Other parts fell to her, but she didnot long remain at the House of Molière. Asother managers were later to learn, Sarah caredlittle for agreements and contracts.

The occasion of her first desertion of theComédie was trivial enough. Here at the greatnational theatre she expected to remain always,but one day her sister trod on the gown of Mme.Nathalie, another actress of the company, “old,spiteful and surly,” who in petty anger shovedthe girl aside. Sarah promptly responded byboxing the ears of her elder colleague. Neitherwould apologize, and the quickly achieved resultwas that the younger actress retired.

She remained away from the Comédie Françaisefor ten years, and it was during this timethat she laid the foundation of her fame. Briefengagements at the Gymnase14 and the Porte11St. Martin were followed by an opportunity tojoin the company at the Odéon. MM. Chillyand Duquesnel were the managers. The latterwas young, kind to Sarah, and discerning ofher talents. As for Chilly, he was less enthusiastic:“M. Duquesnel is responsible for you.I should not upon any account have engagedyou.”

“And if you had been alone, monsieur,” sheanswered, “I should not have signed, so we arequits.”

Mlle. Bernhardt’s career—once she hadlaunched herself upon it—divides naturallyinto three periods: the six years (1866–1872) atthe

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