actors and actresses
- In no other period of American theatre history has the stage boasted so many outstanding performers with so wide a following. Avid theatergoers collected cartes de visite (like trading cards, each with a photograph of an actor or actress) and postcard portraits. Mass circulation magazines and newspapers were full of interviews and human interest essays about actors along with line drawings early in the modernist era and, later, photographs. There was also a huge market for books about major actors and actresses, like those by Amy Leslie, Lewis C. Strang, Wingate and McKay, Margaret, and many others (see bibliography).Memoirs of stage careers were best sellers, as were biographies of actors and actresses. The Polish-born Helena Modjeska, for example, wrote her autobiography and was the subject of two biographies during her lifetime (as well as three later biographies). Like Modjeska, a number of foreign-born actors spent the greater part of their careers on the American stage. These include the Italian-born Tommaso Salvini and his son Alexander Salvini, the French actress Hortense Rhéa, Russian actress Alla Nazimova, and Czech actress Fanny Janauschek. Other European stars made a number of American tours: nine by Sarah Bernhardt, four by Eleonora Duse, eight by Henry Irving, and several by Ellen Terry. Quite a few performers born in Britain enjoyed dual careers on both the British and American stages; Dion Boucicault, Charles Coghlan, Rose Coghlan, Leslie Howard, Robert Loraine, Robert Mantell, Fanny Davenport, Mrs. Patrick Campbell, Agnes Robertson, and Lydia Thompson are a few examples of these.So many remarkable talents emerged to meet the demands of the entertainment-hungry American road that it is difficult to signal a few of them as "the best." For sheer brilliance of artistry in legitimate theatre, the greatest names of the modernist era would certainly include Edwin Booth, Joseph Jefferson III, Helena Modjeska, Mary Anderson, Julia Marlowe, E. H. Sothern, Minnie Maddern Fiske, Otis Skinner, Maude Adams, and Pauline Lord. Among the leading lights who combined acting and musical talents, one must mention Lotta Crabtree, De Wolf Hopper, Eddie Foy, George M. Cohan, Elsie Janis, and Chauncey Olcott.Because women usually guided the choice of plays to see, many actors rose to stardom at least partly on the basis of their physical attractions, beginning with Henry Dixey in Adonis in 1884. Other particularly handsome actors included John Barrymore, Kyrle Bellew, William Gillette, Herbert Kelcey, and Henry Miller. William S. Hart was a wooden actor, but he had a strong masculine presence that suited stars like Julia Arthur, Helena Modjeska, and Hortense Rhéa, who hired him as their leading man. Actors who neither cut a fine figure nor boasted appealing vocal quality had to demonstrate exceptional ability to interpret lines and project characterizations, as did Lawrence Barrett, a cold fish with a whiny voice who nevertheless achieved stardom on sheer intelligence and technique. Other major serious actors include George Arliss, Richard Bennett, Richard Mansfield, John McCullough, Thomas W. Keene, James O'Neill, and Frederick Warde; for most of these, Shakespeare's plays were at the core of their repertoires.Actresses particularly noted for their beauty or charismatic bearing on stage include Mary Anderson, Viola Allen, Maxine Elliott, Marie Doro, Grace George, Virginia Harned, Mary Mannering, and Ada Rehan. Vitality and sweetness were also prized in actresses like Blanche Bates, Lillian Gish, Maggie Mitchell, and Laurette Taylor. The leading emotional actress was Clara Morris. Among actors' fidelity league those evincing more subtlety in their psychological acting were Margaret Anglin, Katharine Corcoran Herne, and Ethel Barrymore. Prominent among those who projected sexuality were Olga Nethersole, Mrs. Leslie Carter, and Mae West.Among the legions of character actors, those who rose to particular prominence and affection with audiences include William H. Crane, Mr. and Mrs. W. J. Florence, Mrs. G. H. Gilbert, Edward Harrigan, John T. Raymond, Sol Smith Russell, and Denman Thompson.See also child performers.
The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater. James Fisher.
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