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The acting technique of Minnie Maddern Fiske

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A Thesis
Presented to
the Faculty of the School of Speech
The University of Southern California
In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirextents for the Degree
Master of Arts
Josephine Crawford
June 1940
UMI Number: EP66004
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T h i s thesis, w r i t t e n by
u n d e r the d i r e c t i o n o f h.^.T.. F a c u l t y C o m m it t e e ,
a n d a p p r o v e d by a l l its m e m b e r s , has been
presented to a n d accepted by the C o u n c i l on
G r a d u a t e S t u d y a n d Research in p a r t i a l f u l f i l l ­
m ent o f the re q u ire m e n ts f o r the degree o f
D ean
D ate.
F aculty C om m ittee
"Those who are enamoured of practice without
science are like a pilot who gets into a ship
without rudder or compass and never has any
certainty where he is going* Practice should
always he hased upon a sound knowledge of theory.
Leo Tolstoy
STATEMENT OF THE P R O B L E M ..............
Importance of the s t u d y ............
Review of the literature . . . . . . .
Organization of remainder of the thesis
"A STAR IS BORN" , . .
Heritage • • • • ' •
. . . . . . . .
First appearance • • ........... •
Minnie Maddern, a young star . . . . .
First performance of Ihsen . . . . . .
III. .A STAR FLICKERS AND F I G H T S ............
Marriage and retirement
Mrs. Fiske, a new personality
• • • •
Contribution of realism to the
new theater
• • • • • • • • • • • •
Fight for American
playwrights • • . •
Stand against the Syndicate
•• • • •
Training of an actor • • .
Voice • • • • • • •
Imagination . . . . . . . . . . . . .
• • • • • • . . • • • • •
Audience control
• • • • • • • • . »
A STAR *S C O U R S E ............
Mrs. Pi sice’s acting technique • • • •
Historical significance . . . . . . .
Personal life
. .
Views on the stage
• • • • • • • • •
"less of the d*Urhervilles" • • • • •
•'Little Italy*'............
"Becky Sharp" . • • • • • • • • . • •
"Miranda of the Balcony"
• • • • • •
"Mary of Magdala" • • » • • • • • • .
"Hedda Gahler"
. . . . . . . . . . .
"Leah Kleschna" . . . • • • • • • • •
"The New York Idea" • • • • • • • * »
"Rosmersholm" . . . . . . * ♦ • • • •
"Salvation Nell"
"Pillars of Society"
Acting continues "but is sublimated
to personal desires •• • • • • • • •
Last plays and criticisms . . . . . . .
THe curtain f a l l s .............
• • • •
. . . . . . . .
• . • ....
There always have been differences of opinion
existing as to just what constitutes technique in
anting• Proponents of various systems advance con­
trasting theories until the student of the theater
often becomes confused.
In acting, one is obliged
to interpret the written symbols of another*s'high aesthetic experience.
He must act as the communicator—
the emissary of a dramatist to his audience.
message entrusted to him he must re-create in his own
body and during the process of re-creating, he adds to
it something of his own personality.
There is an in­
dividual technique, then, for each artist, a technique
determined by his own personality.
Inborn genius is that rare, unknown quality
which cannot be imitated by the student, yet it should
be studied as a pattern of technical proficiency, for
with true genius goes a supreme mastery of the science
of.acting, a precision of performance so satisfying
that it beckons irresistably to the student who would
perfect his acting technique.
The adventurous, colorful career of Minnie Maddern
Fiske, who for forty years, dominated the theater as
America’s First Actress, should provide a fitting text
for the study of technique in acting*
far too little has been written concerning her life and
her career, which traces a continuous search for truth.
Only one hook has “been devoted solely to this mystery
woman of the theater--Alexander Woollcott’s, Mrs. Fiske
Her Views on the Stage.
A few hooks; At the Hew Theater
and Others hy W. P. Eaton, Forty-Odd Years in the Literary
Shop hy J. L. Ford, The Stage in America 1897-1900 hy
Horman Hapgood, and Heroines of the Modern Stage hy
Forrest Izard have chapters dedicated to her, hut for
the most part the source material for this study was
gleaned from periodicals.
The information here will attempt to follow the
life of Minnie Maddern Fiske, depicting hoth her short­
comings and her virtues as expressed hy contemporary
critics and personal friends.
The thinly scattered hut
rich reviews and reminiscences reveal her as prohahly
the most delightfully interesting and brilliant actress
of the American stage.
Mrs. Fiske1s acting was the
natural out-pouring of a dynamic soul, fitted to a
scientific pattern of excellency.
Intelligent, sym­
pathetic, tireless study was given to her roles, and
enthusiasm for her technique grew with each passing
Mrs. Fiske was a lonely woman.
Few people be­
came acquainted with her and only three or four knew her
intimately, for she devoted her time, her energy, her
heart to the theater.
Her life belonged to the theater
from the early months of her babyhood, when she was carried
onto the stage, to her last performance when the final
curtain was rung down.
During her later years on the stage
Mrs. Fiske retired from the strenuous roles of Ibsen and
his contemporaries.
Her life had been devoted
to presenting, before the public, a-production with per­
fection in every detail.
How, although her strength was
slowly ebbing away Mrs. Fiske continued on in the theater
surrendering only to the unpremediated call of Death.
The theatrical dramatic training and progress
of Mrs. Fiske will he related according to the follow­
ing periods:
her appearance as a child star; her girl­
hood stardom as a second Dotta Crabtree; her reapparance
on the stage as Mrs. Fiske; and her self-imposed retire­
ment from the stage, the period when she entertained with
light comedies.
In the following pages, the widely scattered
material concerning that mysterious human dynamo,
that was'Mrs. Fiske, has been compiled and arranged
together for the first time in the hope that the in-'
formation may prove stimulating and valuable in the
study of the theory and technique of acting.
Heredity and environment share equal, honors in
the development of the personality of any individual.
If this stereotyped form is true with any lay individual
then it must also he even truer in the case of the
Certainely this is true in the case of Mrs.
Her parents, Tom Pavey and Lizzie Maddern, were
hoth of the theater.
They were wshow folks,** actors
of the primitive and adventurous days of the American
It was in the year 1863, in answer to a call
for entertainment, that a theatrical group, led hy
Tom Pavey, ran the blockade, dodged the snipers who
were lingering on the shore, and arrived safely in
Hew Orleans to open at the old St. Charles Theater*
This was a wild hazardous journey for this adventure
loving troupe of players to make for the men in blue.
After the Civil War closed the majority of the
cast returned to the'north, hut the Pavey*s lingered
on in Hew Orleans.
It was here, on Pecember 19, 1865,
that a new star appeared on the Maddern horizon;, * Marie
Augusta Pavey.
At the age of four months Marie, or as we know
her, little Minnie Maddern, made her dehut on the
stage as a property baby.
Alexander Woollcott be­
lieved Minnie Maddern casually strayed onto the stage
to the accompaniment of theatrical squalls:
Sleeping in the dressing room when the folks
were playing, being carried on squalling when a
baby was needed, becoming a walking lady as soon
as she could walk, and getting a part for herself
as soon as she could talk.1
Mrs. Fiske herself described Minnie Maddern1s
first appearance on the stage and the manner of its
One night the nurse had left the baby
unguarded and upon awakening she crawled from her bed
and began to dress.
As her colored mammy did not
return to stop her progress, she went out of the room
and down the street looking for the theater and her
I forgot to cry, I forgot to be frightened,
and I saw some fascinating things before a goodnatured fellow picked me up, discovered my identi­
ty and took me safely to the theater. I recall
distinctly being held by my new friend and
identified at the box office, then being passed
over to a boy who took me around to a narrow,
dark door and carried me into a lunchery place
and put me into a chair where I looked out into
what seemed a bright, sunshiney world with queer
trees and fairies. Just then I spied my mother.
1 Alexander Woollcott, Mrs. Fiske Her Views
on the Stage (Mew York: The Century Company, l^TTfT
p7 ~S58.
She was just coming out of a water lily--for it was
the transformation scene of a spectacle* I slipped
right out of that chair, and, before anyone saw
what I was going to do, I ran right to her and began
explaining my nurse’s treachery* I am told that I
was received with applause, and that my first ap­
pearance- even though it was impromptu, was a
This performance was such a success that the curtain
was rung down immediately*
Minnie’s first experience playing any consider­
able part was as the Duke of York in MBichard III,” at
the age of four*
For the succeeding eight years she
played a great variety of roles.
These included:
Duke of York in "Richard III"
Willie Lee in "Hunted Down"
Prince Arthur in "King John"
The crowned child in "Maebeth"
Damon’s son in "Damon and Pythias"
Little Fritz in "Fritz, our German Cousin".
Paul in "The Octoroon"
Franko in "Guy Mannering"
Sybil in "A Sheep in Wolf’s Clothing"
Mary Morgan in "Ten Mights in a Barroom"
The child in "Across the Continent"
2 Forrest Izard, Heroines of the Modern Stage
(Mew York: Sturgis & Walton Company, 19l5), p. 208*
The hoy in "Bosom Friends"
Alfred in "Divorce"
Lucy Fairweather in "The Streets of ¥ew York"
The gamin and Feachblossom in "Under the Gaslight
Marjorie in "The Rough Diamond"
The child in "The Little Rehel"
Adrienne in "Monsieur Alphonse"
Georgie in "Frou-Frou"
Hendrich and Meenie in "Rip Van Winkle"
Eva in "Uncle Tom*s Cabin"
Dollie in "Chicago Before the Fire"
Ralph Rackstraw in "Pinafore"
Clip in "A Messenger from Jarvis Section"
The Sun God in "The Ice Witch"
Francois in "Richelieu"
Louise in "The Two Orphans"
The Widow Melnotte in ?The Lady of Lyons"3
Surely this was no mean repertoire for a twelve year
old child*
There are many amusing stories told of Minnie1
experiences with the distinguished actors with whom
she appeared*
One story tells about her performance
3 Woollcott, op* cit*, pp*
as the crowned child in "Macbeth** with Barry Sullivan*
Her part was to come out of the witches caldron and say
her lines:
•Be lion-metted, proud and take no care
Who chafes, who frets or where conspirers arel*
Instead of using the word "conspirers" she said
"perspirers" with the result that Mr. Sullivan could
not suppress his laughter and the curtain had to he
rung down.
Other stories tell of her qualities as a
trouper, and she remembers being handled very roughly
in one of Lucille Westerns plays*
She wanted to
cry out, but stoutly declared it did not hurt.
the scene was over Miss Western would call to one of
her cast, "I say, Pike, this girl*.8 got grit in her*"^
The critics gave her childhood career high
praise for even as a small child Minnie Maddern could
control her voice and change her tone at a momentis
When she played with Agnes Booth in "King
John" the story goes that Miss Booth would stand in
4 Alexander Woollcott, "The Story of Mrs. Piske,
Collier*8, 76:5-6, Hovember 7, 1925.
5 Anna Leach, "The Stage," The Munsey, 22:594597, January, 1900.
in the wings and listen to Minnie’s, ’’Grief charged
voice to get the key and tone for her own scenes of
anguish to follow.”6
Lawrence Hutton said, “Her
knowledge of stage business, her general carriage
and the careful delivery of her lines throughout the
play were remarkable for a child of her years.”7
The Hew York World spoke of her thus, ’’This
Miss Minnie Maddern is made a prodigy by the absence
of anything prodigious about her performances, and
her acting is entirely unexceptionable.”8
The Hew
remarked, ”She is the first infant actress
we remember whose efforts do not relish of the
familiar mechanism of word and manner.”^
While her critics and her co-actors had great
faith in her, this was not true of her stage managers
who invariably distrusted her.
In later years we
find that Mrs. Fiske invariable distrusted all stage
Her childhood was far from that of a typical
Even in its games Minnie reflected her
6 Woollcott, og. cit., pp.
7 L o c . ext.
8 £££•
^ Loc. cit.
theatrical atmosphere, and her favorite game was
playing stage manager in an tyrannical fashion,
Fiske writes of her own childhood:
I wish I could give you some glimpses into
the life of the child brought up from babyhood
in the theater. It is picturesque and in a way
pathetic. Just think of the little child who
from infancy up to twelve years of age has known
nothing but the life of behind the scenes! Then
the increasing going from place to place— it is
a strange life for a child,10
On May 15, 1882, at the magnificent age of
seventeen, Miss Minnie Maddern starred at Abbey1s
Park Theater, and was hailed as another Lotta
Her first starring vehicle was "Fogg’s
Ferry by Charles Callahan, in which she played Chip,
the heroine.
Her opening night was a triumphant
success, with her dressing room packed with flowers
and the front of the house packed with people.
Hew York Sun of May 16, 1882, recorded the performance
of the young star with:
A new Lotta, young, slender, sprightly, quite
pretty, arch of manner, ra§h in the manner of her
stockings, as Lotta always was, and possessed of
un-deniable red hair,,,,She had not been on the
stage a minute before she had jumped on the edge
of a table and established, with the audience,
relations of the most agreeable intimacy. Her
self possession is complete. She has a native
10 Minnie Maddern Fiske, "Mrs, Fiske on the
Fthics of Drama," The Arena, 35:183, February, 1905*
Following "Foggfs Ferry1* Minnie Maddern played
in "Caprice" by Howard P* Taylor*
The critics were
unfavorable in their reactions to "Caprice," but the
audiences were captivated by the scene in which
Minnie Maddern sat in the firelight and sang "In the
For the next eight years, 1882-1890, Minnie
Maddern toured the country playing one night stands*
This was the period of extravagant titles and melo­
dramatic plays*
Juanita in "Juanita," by Charles Callahan.
Chip in "Fogg#s Ferry," by Charles Callahan.
The leading role in "The Puritan Maid," by
Ver Planch and Pevereux.
The leading role in
"The Storm Child."
The leading role in
"The Child Wife."
The leading rolein "The Professional Beauty?
by Ver Planck and Pevereux.
The leading role in "Lady Jemima."
Mila in "Mila, Queen of the Hatchez."
Mercy Baxter in "Caprice," by Howard P. Taylor.
Alice Glendinning in "In Spite of All,"
adapted by Steel Mackaye from Sardou’s "Andrea."
Mrs. Coney in "Featherbrain."14
^4 Ibid., p.
During these years the critics, throughout the
country, vied with each other in extravagant praises
of Miss Maddern^ work.
”The Hew Orleans papers
embarrassed her inexpressibly hy coming out with the
announcement that she was just a shade better than
B e r n h a r d t . ”^
While handbills, which pub­
licized her as an actress, reads
Step by step, gaining victory after victory,
she has steadily advanced until now, at the age
of eighteen, she can look back through the dim
vista of the past and point with the pride of a
self-made artist to a history recording series
of the most unprecedented successes in the
annals of the stage and the phenomenal develop­
ment of almost magical process from a child
actress to an acknowledged star. And yet,
though she has gained the goal, she pauses not
within its portals. Onward, into the unknown
future, she fearlessly continues her way,
gathering garlands from the immortal trees of
fame and weaving them, as plucked beneath the
argus eyes of a critical public into a wreath
of glory to crown herself on ambitions heights.
It was in Minneapolis that Miss Maddern first
appeared in the work of Henrik Ibsen, a playwright
then unknown in America.
The play was ”A Dollfs
House,” and the first performance was given in a
Minneapolis boarding house before a troupe of actors.
The players gathered around Miss Maddern at the end
3-5 Alexander Woollcott, MThe Story of Mrs.
Fiske,” Collier^, 76:9, November 14, 1909.
3-5 Doc. cit
of the performance to assure her that she should not
attempt the play, and if she did that it would not he
well received in San Prancisco, where they were hooked
to appear.
Because of this discouraging advice from
her fellow players Ibsen1s flA Boll’s House” was
relegated to the bottom of Miss Maddern’s trunk where
it was to remain for four years.
In 1890, Minnie Maddern married Harrison Grey
Eiske, editor of the Hew York Dramatic Mirror, and
thereafter was to he known as Mrs* Eiske*
Pour years
of retirement followed her marriage during which period
she devoted her time to the study of Ibsen1s plays.
It was her belief that Ibsen had not been ap­
preciatively studied either by producers or by actors,
and she felt that his plays, if they were truly por­
trayed, would be welcomed by the public.
Mrs. Eiske
expressed the thought that an Ibsen plays
Is but one phase of the whole story--the finale,
the denouement,... .The principal characters were
living their lives many years before the writing of
the play. Stage drama may be worked out from child­
This statement reveals the emphasis Ibsen placed upon
the development of his characters from their actual
birth to their birth upon the stage.
In Mrs. Eiske Ibsen found an ardent disciple.
To her, his plays had:
Warmth, gaiety, and infinite humanity....There
are such limitless depths to be explored. Many a
^ Alexander Woollcott, Mrs. Eiske.*. (New York:
The Century Company, 1917), p. 54.
play is like a painted backdrop, something to be
looked at from the front. An Ibsen play is like a
black forest, something you can enter, something you
can walk about in. There you can lose yourself;
you can lose yourself. And once inside, you find
such wonderful glades, such beautiful sunlit places.
And what makes each one so fascinating to study is
that Ibsen, for the most part, gives us only the
last hours. By the keys he provides you can unlock
the past. He gives us the last hours; we must re­
create all that have gone before.2
Because Ibsen gave only the last hours in the character’s
lives Mrs. Fiske believed he was the:
Most interesting and powerful figure in dramatic
writing....and that rightly projected in the
theater, Ibsen always has paid and always will.
The fine thing sensibly and rightly projected in the
theater always does pay.5
However, she believed the author and the player must be
in accord, and that the cause for the unpopularity of
Ibsen was due to, "The fact that the producer had not
studied the play long enough, and Ibsen must be studied
long and faithfully•
Mrs. Piske confirmed the fact that it was necessary
for a player to have at least a years preparation behind
him before attempting an Ibsen role, and stated:
To play an important new role in one play by
Ibsen or any of the great moderns would take an
actor all of a year. I could not possibly do two
in a season and do either of them well. And so it
P • &1•
5 Jbi d * ,
P. 47.
^ Tbid.,
p. 53.
is with most of the players I know.^
Two years of intensive study and preparation were
given hy Mrs. Fiske to the study of the character of
Hedda in tfHedda Gabler,” while Rebecca in ’’Rosmersholm”
occupied three.
Because Mrs. Fiske knew the theater
and the public, her challenge to producers was:
The greater the play, the more carefully must
it be directed and acted, and for every production
in the theater there is a psychologically right
moment. Move wisely in these things and the public
will not fail.^
During the years of Mrs. Fiske’s retirement the
study of Ibsen was a constant joy to her.
As her acting
career went on an Ibsen play was always to be found in
her repertoire.
However, her favorite play was, ”As You
Like It,” by William Shakespeare.
And, as she stated:
The philosophy of the banished duke is a
delight. Into this play Shakespeare has put so
many exquisite things? it moves in so spiritual
an atmosphere.7
In 1894, Mrs. Minnie Maddern Fiske emerged from
her retirement to play in a charity performance of
Ibsen’s ”A Doll’s House” in the Empire Theater in Hew
In her performance she gave her audience a Hora
5 Xhid., p.
6 Ihid., p.
7 Kenyon West, ”The Personality and Art of Mrs.
Fiske,” The Arena, 39:33-44, January, 1908.
which has perhaps never “
been equalled hy any other
That her characterization ?/as accepted hy the
public was shown hy Mr. West’s criticisms flA living,
breathing portrait, rendered with a masterly force and
conviction. ”8
During the next decade, 1900-1910, Mrs. Fiske
was battling for modernism in the theater and for free­
dom of its organization.
The first step in promoting
realism on the stage wan accomplished when-Ibsen was
brought to the public’s notice.
Before the turn of the
century realism' had made distinct gains in its effort
to control the American stage.
Mrs. Fiske was tireless
in her leadership of this new movement.
Mr. Izard said
of her activities in the movement;
By the unalterable fixity of her high aims, the
dignity and strength of what she has tried to do,
she has earned the gratitude of'all those who look
forward to an influential, high-minded American
Mrs. Fiske was also interested in the possibil­
ities latent in the dramatized novel.
In 1896, she
commissioned two American writers, Lorrimer Stoddard
and Langdon Mitchell, to make acting adaptations of
^ lb id., p.
9 Forrest Izard, Heroines of the Modern Stage
(Hew York; Sturgis & WalTon Company ,“"1916)', p. 269.
the novels, "Tess of the d’Urbervilles" hy Hard# and
"Becky Sharp" hy Thackeray.
Her encouragement of
American writers and American plays brought fresh
impetus to her Hew York stock company which was to
achieve the reputation of being the finest American
company to appear in Hew York.
It was Mrs. Fiske who gave Edward.Sheldon his
start as a dramatist by acting in his play "Salvation
It was she who made possible heavy royalties
for Harry James Smith by appearing in "Mrs. Bumpstead
Leigh.11 Women dramatists, as well as men, profited by
Mrs. Piske*s interests in the American playwright, and
no woman more than Marion de Forrest whose "Erstwhile
Susan" served as a starring vehicle for Mrs. Piske.
The Sheldon’s, Smith’s, and de Forrest’s could
not provide her with "lines" comparable to those of
Ibsen, Hardy, or Thackeray.
Because Mrs. Fiske was
interested in furthering the cause of the American
dramatist she worked, "As a means to the end to attain
a theater of artists. " H
When Minnie Maddern Fiske first played on the
stage the theater was an independent organization, but
11 Walter Prichard Eaton, "The Theater Mrs. Fiske
Knew," Theater Arts Monthly, 16:371, May, 1932.
in 1896, Charles Frohman, the head of the Theatrical
Syndicate, was controlling the large theaters in all
The Syndicate resulted in destroying the individu­
ality of the local theaters and lowered the standards
of the plays* The theater of Mrs. Fiske was no more
and in its place was a cheap imitation*12
Bitter opposition arose to this control, for the
actors were given no freedom in their choice of repertoire
or in their use of theaters.
The artists leading the
opposition were: Francis Wilson, James A. Herne, George
Tyler, Nat Goodwin, Richard Mansfield with David Belasco,
and Mrs. Fiske.
This group stood against any digression
of standards in the theater.
The Syndicate soon controlled both the theaters
and the stars that opposed them.
The artists did not wish
to join the Syndicate, because they felt they could not
afford the financial risk.
Soon Mrs. Fiske, Belasco, and
Tyler were the only independents.
Mr. Belasco, by owning
two theaters in New York and one in Washington, was able
to remain independent.
During this time Sarah Bernhardt,
while under the management of George Tyler, toured the
country playing in old theaters and circus tents*
But in
time 'Mr. Belasco and Mr. Tyler had to submit to the dic­
tates of the Syndicate.
12 Loc. cit.
Mrs. Fiske then stood alone; she
"believed the Trust was:
' A scheme pure and simple whereby half a dozen
shrewd speculators of middlemen combined for the
purpose of••••making the theaters and most of the
persons engaged in theatrical enterprises tributary
and contributory to their greed.
Mrs. Fiske upheld the artistic freedom of the theater;
never compromising nor catering to poor taste; hence sh&,
."Has. dignified her .profession, glorified her art, and
worthied her sex."
Contrary to expectations Mrs. Fiske*s productions
did not suffer during her controversy with the Syndicate*
....Mrs. Fiske made her very best productions,
and demonstrated that the independent artist who is
not forced to produce for the greatest common denominator achieves the most admirable results.
Throughout the life of the Syndicate Mrs. Fiske*
while on tour* had played in shabby theaters and summer
However, her tours were successful and in the
San Francisco Bulletin of August, 1915, her exceptionable
tour was described by the press as, "The most remarkable,
owing to the peculiar circumstance, ever accorded to a
13 "Mrs. Fiske*s Struggle with the Theatrical
Trust," Current Literature* 39:193, August, 1905.
"Contemporary Celebrities," Current Literature,
33:405, October, 1902.
-*•5 Eaton, op. cit., p.
to a player or a company on the coast*1,16
Mrs. Fiske won respect and success for her
courage in opposing the Syndicate*
Many critics
showered her with unjust criticisms, and oftentimes
ignored her work; hut, "In late years she conquered the
good-will and admiration of every critic of any standing
and scholarship*1,17
The San Francisco Bulletin issued
this statements
Although press and public agreed and still agree
that Mrs* Fiske is the greatest American actress of
her time, theater after theater has closed its doors
against her. Discomforts’and hardships have been
her portion, hut she has fought for the freedom of
art and her courage has never failed her. To-day
she is battling on, confident that the people will
soon see the light•••.Hot until the trust is able to
keep Mrs. Fiske from touring the country by buying
up whole towns will she cease, for she is determined
to go on even if she has to play in a tent. Already
a tent has been offered her, and rather than submit
to the Syndicate she will play in it. Such is the
pluck of an American woman. The country should be
proud of her; not only that, but the people should
take up her fight, and force it to a successful
In the eyes of many, Mrs. Fiske lost this fight with the
Syndicate suffering untold humiliation; however, since
"Mrs. Fiske*s Struggle with the Theatrical
Trust," Current Literature, 39:193-194, August, 1905.
17 Kenyon West, "The Personality and Art of Mrs.
Fiske," The Arena. 39:33, January, 1908.
18 "Mrs. Fiske*s Struggle with the Theatrical
Trust," Current Literature, 39:193-194, August, 1905.
that time, her ideals for the theater have continually
Much of Mrs* Fiske*s success, during her opposition
to the Syndicate, was due to the help of her husband,
Harrison Grey Fiske, who assisted her in the capacity of
Together, they opened the Manhattan Theater
in Hew York on September 24, 1901.
Here she anticipated
the play of the future which would have no stars to up­
set its perfectly balanced company.
Each player was
given the opportunity to make his part contribute to
the total effect of the play.
Since her first consider­
ation in production was unity, she disregarded her own
stardom to satisfy that ideal.
Her power." of obtaining
a well-rounded company has been expressed by Mr. Ford:
There is one actress in this country possessed
of an artistic conscience of such a high order that
she always regards a performance as a whole and not
as a vehicle for self-exploitation. So far from:seeking
to minimize the work of her associates she encourages
them to do their best, the result being that her
audiences leave the theater, in which they have been
so well entertained, declaring that she is a great
actress. The result of this blending of intelligence
with the best form of dramatic art, is that her
career, as a star, which began in 1882, leaves her,
not gasping her last breath in a house of refuge for
senile art, the vaudeville stage, but with popularity
as yet undimmed and herself possibly the most dis­
tinguished actress in this country. Consider the
number of stars that have come and gone since Mrs.
.Fiske made her first appearance.19.
19 James L. Ford, Forty-Odd Years in the Literary
Shop (New York: E. P. Button & Company, 1921) ,
Mrs* Piske*s theatrical organization became the
country's outstanding training school for actors.
players were able to secure excellent instruction and
had the opportunity of playing with such stars as George
Arliss, Tyroma*- Power, Fill B. Mack, and John Mason.
The vivid acting of Mrs. Piske was an inspiration to
all who knew her.
Her genius was shown at rehearsals;
she acted every part in the drama yet encouraged any
expression of orginality as shown by the actor.
in the company led to the perfect note in her productions;
this she always attained.
That her work met with success
was evident by this statement from one of her critics,
"Even those that do not consider her a great actress-cannot fail to find her productions of much interest and
unusual merit— mu'st admit the power of the whole effect."2®
Her art, which extended to. group techniques as
well as to individual instruction, is exemplified by the
manner in which she handled the famous ball-room scene
in "Becky Sharp," and the attack of the fanatic Jews
upon "Mary of Magdala."
Mrs. Piske was one of the most competent stage
directors of her time, mainly, because of her personal
20 Falter Prichard Eaton, "Mrs. Piske and her
Influence on the American Stage," The Century, 81:866,
April, 1911.
direction of all rehearsals:
When one recollects the practically flawless
stage management of a Piske production, her merit
as an imaginative producer 'becomes apparent. Like
her acting, her stage management is quiet, effective,
tensely alive.21
With her technique of stage management one recalls.the
statement of Madame H^jane in 1911, ^As a producer of
plays Mrs. Piske has no superior in Europe,**22
*Porrest Izard, Heroines of the Modern Stage
(Hew York: Sturgis & WaltorTYJompany, 1^15) , p, 2^1.
22 Eaton, op. cit., p.
....There is a complete technique of acting*
Great acting, of course, is a thing of the spirit; in
its "best estate a conveyance of certain abstract
spiritual qualities, with the person of the actor as
It is with this medium our science deals,
with its slow, patient perfection as an instrument.
The eternal and immeasurable accident of the theater
which you call genitis, that is a matter of the soul.
But with every genius I have ever seen— Janauschek,
Duse, Irving, Terry— there was always the last word
in technical proficiency.
The inborn, mysterious
something in these players can only inspire.
cannot be imitated.
Ho school can make a Duse.
7*ith such genius as hers has always gone a supreme
mastery of the science of acting, a precision of
performance so satisfying that it continually renews
our hope and belief that acting can be taught.
....The scientific actor is an even worker.
Any one may achieve on some rare occasion an outburst
of genuine feeling, a gesture of imperishable beauty,
a ringing accent of truth; but your scientific actor
knows how he did it.
He can repeat it again and again
and again....And just as Paderewski may play with a
different fire on different nights, hut always strikes
the same keys, so the skilled actor can use himself
as a finely keyed instrument and thereon strike what
notes he will.
With due allowance for the varying
mood and interest, the hundredth performance is as
good as the first; or, for ohvious reasons, far
Genius is the great unknown quantity.
nique supplies a constant for the problem.
.♦..Consider your voice; first last, and
always your voice.
of acting.
It is the beginning and the end
Train that till it responds to your
thought and purpose with absolute precision.
at once, this very evening, to some master of the
voice, and, if need be, spend a whole year with him
studying the art of speech.
Learn it now, and
practice it all your days in the theater.
....With his voice perfectly trained, he can
then go as far as his imagination.
After all, an
actor is exactly as big as his imagination.
Most of
us would put the imagination first in the actor1s
equipment....If I put the voice first he will remember
it longer.
The all-important thing, then, is the
The voice, then, and the imagination,♦..1
set my imagination to the task of recreating the life
of Hedda Gabler.
In my imagination I live the scenes
of her girlhood with her father*
I staged in my
own ghost theater her first meeting with Ml e r t
Lov~borg--Lovborg whom Hedda loved, as so many women
love, not with her heart, hut with her nerves.
staged their first meeting and all other meetings
that packed his mind and hers with imperishable
memories all the rest of their days.
I staged them
as we sat in funny little German chapels or sailed
down the Bhine.
I spent the summer with Hedda Gabler,
and when it came time to sail for home I knew her as
well as I knew myself.
There was nothing about her
I did not know, nothing she could do that I could not
guess, no genuine play about her— Ibsen’s or another’s
--that would not play itself without invention.
lived Hedda Gabler.
....And so, if Hedda, and better still, if
both Hedda and Lovborg, have been studied in this way,
the moment in the second act when these two come face
to face after all their years of separation is for
each player a tremendous moment.
To Hedda the very
sight of Lovborg standing there on the threshold of
of her drawing-room “brings a flood of old memories
crowding close.
It must not show on the surface.
That is not Ibsen’s way.
There are others— alien
spirits— present, and Hedda is the personification
of fastidious self-control.
everything for that.
She has sacrificed
Ho, it may not show on the
surface, "but if the actress has lived through Hedda* s
past, and so realized her present, that moment is
Her “blood quickens, her voice deepens,
her eyes shine.
A curious magnetic something passes
“between her and Lovborg. And the playgoer, though
he has “but dimly guessed all that Hedda and Lovborg
have meant to each other, is touched by that current.
3Por him, too, the moment is electrical.
....And be reflective.
Think....An appalling
proportion of the young players who pass our way
cannot have spent one really reflective hour since
the stage-door first closed behind them.
they haven’t.
I am sure
It would have left some tra.ce.
the whole world may be the range of the actor’s
....Be reflective then, stay away from the
theater as much as you can.
Stay out of the the­
atrical world, out of its petty interests, its
imbreeding tendencies, its stifling atmosphere, its
corroding influence.
Once become ♦theatricalized1
and you are lost, you are lost.
....Dwell in this artificial world, and you
will know only the externals of acting.
Never once
will you have a renewal of inspiration....Go into
the streets, into the slums, into the fashionable
Go into the day courts and the night
Become acquainted with sorrow, with many
kinds of sorrow.
Learn of the wonderful heroism of
the poor, of the incredible generosity of the very
poor— a generosity of which the rich and the wellto-do have, for the most part, not the faintest
Go into the modest homes, into the out-
of-the-way corners, into the open country.
Go where
you can find something fresh to bring back to the
It is as valuable as youth unspoiled, as
much better than the other thing as a lovely com­
plexion is better than anything the rouge-pot can
There should be, there must be a window open
somewhere, a current of new air ever blowing through
the theater....It is the irony of things that the
theater should be the most dangerous place for the
But, then, after all, the world is the worst
possible place, the most corrupting place, for the
human soul.
And just as there is no escape from the
world, which follows us into the very heart of the
desert, so the actor cannot escape the theater.
the actor who is a dreamer need not.
only strive to remain uncontaminated.
All of us can
In the world
we must he unworldly; in the theater the actor must
he untheatrical.
Stay hy yourself.
When a part comes to you,
establish your own ideal for it, and striving, for
that, let no man horn of woman, let nothing under
the heavens, come betv/een it and you.
Pay no
attention to the other actors unless they he real
Unless it is a hitter matter of bread and
butter, pay no attention, or as little attention
as possible, to the director, unless he is a real
The chances are that he is wrong.
overwhelming chances are that he is 1theatricalized,f
doing more harm than good.
I)o not let yourself he
disturbed hy his funny little ideas.
Bo not he
corrupted, then, hy the director.
....A director should search out the mental
state, the spiritual fact, of a scene.
Once that is
found, the scene will almost take care of itself.
This is really the director’s first task, the study
of the play in its spiritual significance.
It is
this interpretation he must supply to his company, and
there is no earthly reason why he himself should have
to "be an actor to "be able to do it.
Let him go away
into the mountains, then, with the manuscript in his
valise, and let him stay there until he understands
its people as if he had known them all the days of
their lives, until their salient characteristics and
their relation one to another are fixed in his mind
like the expressions of a dear friend’s face, until
all the meaning of the play is crystal clear to him. It is this meaning that he established at the first
reading when he assembles the company before him for
the first time.
For the director interprets the play.
...»As a matter of fact, I have always relied
so largely on the help and advice of Mr. Fiske that I
cannot work alone.
I am colossally ignorant about
the mechanics of production.
Once I was left alone
during a tour of the South to rehearse the company in
’The Pillars of SocietyI’
The tangle which I finally
achieved in the matter of ’business,’ positions, exits,
and entrances, and the like was quite too wonderful.
used to survey it from the orchestra-stalls, marveling
at the ingenuity of the snarl, and wondering how Mr.
Pishe could possibly unravel it in the few days given
to him in Hew York.
Of course he did succeed in re­
lieving the congestion and setting all straight, but
I remember that after the first rehearsal he was in a
cold perspiration.
••••In the theater the vanity that poisons and
kills is the vanity of the actor, the egregious vanity
of the ’my-part* actor.
The directors first business
is to guard the interest, to preserve the integrity,
of the play.
The actor who does not work in this same
spirit should be banished.
the theater at all.
He never should have entered
His attitude is wrong.
Prom the
beginning he must have approached it in quite the wrong
spirit— -the spirit that takes, not the spirit that
He should be shown the stage-door for good and
all without more ado.
There are really no terms in
which one can discuss this bane of the theater.
simply should not be.
Fight and day, from the first
rehearsal to the hundredth performance, the director
should dedicate himself to the utter obliteration of
the ’my-part’ actor.
The ’my-part* actor is the low creature who thinks
of every scene in every play in terms of his own role.
He sacrificies everything to his own precious opportun­
ities* ,What makes it so hard to suppress him is the
fact that he is forever "being encouraged.
Instead of
"being shot and fatally wounded hy some discerning, hut
irritable, playgoer, as likely as not he will he rap­
turously applauded for his sins.
The papers next day
may report that his was the onoy performance that
’stood out *’
Stood out, indeed, as if that were necess­
arily a compliment I
I remember that the most con-
spicious and warmly applauded performance in ’Sumurun’
was an outrageously protruding figure that robbed of
its po?/er and proper values the more shy and reticent
beauties of the other players.
It ’stood out* like a
gaudy lithograph included by mistake in a portfolio of
It is so easy for the unthinking to mistake for
distinction the ’my-part* actor’s protruding from the
Hot at the first glance do we appreciate the
lovely reticence of Venice.
.•..We need not be supercilious.
We may be
merely impressed by its pastel neutrality.
I do not
know what we expect; the brave colors of the Grand
Canon", possibly*
So it is that we do not always apprec­
iate at first the modest beauty of pastel playing.
lesser actor who tries hard to protrude from the en­
semble is guilty of a misdemeanor; hut, then, his sin
is as nothing compared with the felonious self-assertion
of the so-called star who not only basks in the center
of the stage at any and all times, but.sees to it that
no one else in the company shall amount to anything.
Thus are plays first twisted out of shape and then
cast on the rubbish-heap.
I remember once attending
receptively the performance of one of our most popular
actresses in one of her most popular plays.
I was
simply appalled by the quality of her company, compared
with which she ’stood out* with a vengenance.
I saw a passage of exquisite light comedy intrusted to an
actor that the manager of a fifth-rate stock-company
would have blushed to have in his employ.
At the end
of the scene I rose from my seat, made for the open air,
and never returned.
The great people of the theater have indulged in
no such degradations.
Duse’s leading man, Ando, was as
good as she was or nearly as good.
best she could find in all Italy.
At least he was the
The companies that
come to us with Irving and Terry are artists all.
••••When we gave ’Leah Kleschna,’ my role was
the fifth in importance.
Do you know, the only dramatic
criticism that ever enraged me was an account of ’Mary
of Magdala’ that spoke zestfully of Mr. Tyrome^ Power
as ’carrying away the honors of- the play,’ quite as
though it had not.been known all along that Mr. Power
would carry away the honors of the play, quite as if
we had not realized perfectly that the role of Judas
was the role of roles, quite as though that was not the
very reason why Mr* Power was invited to play it.
was too obtuse, too exasperating, yet a common enough
point of view in the theater, Heaven knows.
It is the
point of view of the actor who tries to thrust his own
r$le forward, and he should he hissed from the stage.
The successful actress who seeks to have in her company
any hut the very best players to be had should be
calmly and firmly \viped out.
Prom morning till night,
from June to September, the director must war against
the actor’s vanity.
••..And above all, above all, the actor must
ignore the audience’s very existence.
Above all, ignore
the audience....An actor who is guided by the caprices
*of those across the footlights is soon in chaos.
great artist, a great pianist, say, must command the
audience; no actor can afford to let the audience
command him.
He must be able to give as true a performance
before three frigid persons as before a house packed
to the brim with good-will.
This is his business.
••••After all, a piece of acting is not only a
thing of science, but a work of art, something to be
perfected by the actor according to the ideal that is
within him.
The critic who is within every artist
should be his only acknowledged audience.
Besides, the audience often tells you wrong.
tremble for you if you are confirmed in your weakness
hy popular success.
done your best.
Beware of that.
Perhaps you have
The audience may forgive you, the
reviewers may forgive you.
Both may be too lenient,
too indulgent, or they may not know what your best
really is.
Often that is the case.
forgive yourself.
You must not.
But you cannot
It seems to me that
Modjeska once told me there was nothing easier in the
theater than to get applause.
ware of an ovation.
Remember that, and be­
If you have had a great night, if
they have laughed and applauded and called you again
and again before the curtain, accept their warming
kindness gratefully, but on your way home that night,
as you value your artistic soul, bow your head, looking
into your heart, and ask yourself, ’Bid I really play
well tonight?’
Or, better still, ’What was so very wrong
with my performance to-night?1
....’This persistent phrase, “You must forget
the audience’s very existence,” lingered in the air
and brought trooping in a host of old memories— old
memories of Mrs. Fiske confiding her emotions to the
back-drop when it was apparently no part of her in­
tention that those out front should catch the exact
content of her speech, memories of many a critic’s
comment on her diction and many a
player’s fretful
complaint that sometimes he "couldn’t hear a word
she said."
I could not resist singing a bit of F. P.
A ’s "bit of deathless rhyme."
"Time was, when first that voice I heard,
Despite my close and tense endeavor,
When many an important word
Was lost and gone forever;
Though, unlike others at the play,
I never whispered, ’What’d she say?’
"Some words she runstogetherso;
Some others are distinctly stated;
Some cometoofast and s o m e t o o s l o w
And some are syncopated.
And yet no voice— I am sincere—
Exists that I prefer to hear."
And did she defend herself?
Hot she.
Quite the re­
verse. ’ ,
My friend, that was no part of a misguided
theory of acting; it was simply slovenliness.
For years
I had no appreciation whatever of the importance of
careful speech.
Only of recent years, after some
preliminary lessons given to me hy Victor Maurel,
have I learned to use my voice.
Three hours of voice
practice every day of the season— that, properly, is
the actor’s chore.
one hour
He must have such practice at least
•••.RestraintI•••.Is it anything more than nor­
mality in acting, the warning from the critic that dwells
in the inner consciousness of every artist?
X& not it
merely good taste controlling the tumult of emotion?
....The actress who used to shake the very
theater with her sohs was a humuliating, degrading
Such acting, the hysterical emotionalism of
a day gone hy, was ignohle, essentially ignohle.
head is hloody, hut unbowed* — there is the ideal.
quivering hand, the eyes moist, hut the upper lip stiff,
the hrave smile— that is it.
The hrave smile in the
face of adversity has more of the stuff of tragedy than
all the outward emotionalism ever ranted, more moving
to the reflective mind, touching far more readily the
human heart than all the stage tears ever shed.
....Hoes the actor feel the grief he tries to
It is different with different players.
should say he feels an intense sympathy.... in addition
to that sympathy, the more poignant his expression, the
more cheering is the approval from the critic within
He may he sobbing his heart out, hut, such is the
dual nature of the actor, at the same time he hears the
inner voice sayings ’Well done to-nightI
Well done!’
And he is glad.
And the intense suffering he may feel in the
earlier performances becomes a matter of memory*
remembers the means, and relying on that memory, need
not himself feel so keenly.
The greater the artist, the
less keenly need he feel,
••••The actor must go on the stage with love in
his heart— always.
He must love his fellows back of the
He must love even the ’my-part* actor, though
he die in the attempt.
He must love the people who in
his subconsciousness he knows are ’out there*’
He must
love them all, the dull, tired business man, the wearied
critic, the fashionably dressed men and women who some­
times (not often) talk too loud, and thereby betray a
lack of breeding and intelligence.
splendid souls ’out there,’
There are always
But most of all he will
love the boys and girls, the men and women, who sit in
the cheapest seats, in the very last row of the top
They have given more than they can afford
to come.
In the most self-effacing spirit of fellowship
they are listening to catch every word, watching to miss
no slightest gesture or expression.
To save his life
the actor cannot help feeling these nearest and dearest.
He cannot help wishing to do his best for them.
He can­
not help loving them best of all*
.*••There is no good dramatic school.••.The young
actors are pitched into the sea, poor children, and told
to sink or swim.
Many of them swim amazingly well....I
myself have half a mind to start a dramatic school.
Seriously, I may some day.
It is an old dream of mine,
for while I have never particularly admired my own acting,
I have always been successful in teaching others to act.
1 Alexander Woollcott, Mrs. Piske..♦ (Hew York:
The Century Company, 1917), pp. 62-144*
It was Mrs* Fiske’s realistic characterization, •
naturalness, and feeling which made her one of the
leading actresses of the day.
Thoda Cocroft strongly
declared that Mrs. Fiske re-created her characters for
every performance and that she:
Fever repeated lines like an automaton. Fever
imitated herself....I have watched Mrs. Fiske in
the same r6le more than two hundred times, and on
the two-hundredth occasion she has "built a more
vibrant creation than on her very first performance.
Challenging this statement some of her critics
expressed the opinion that she became static after her
first presentation, and that she was a mere mechanist,
lacking deep, emotional feelings in her role.
belonged to this class of adverse critics
and declared that Mrs. Fiske did not know how to create
a character, and after the first performance she copied
the originjp.ll even to the exact details.
This criticism
was a direct opposite of what Mrs. Fiske believed and
what she strived to attain.
1 Thoda Cocroft, "Three Famous Theater Women and
Their Sacrifices for Art," Saturday Evening Post, 197:18
April 11, 1925.
^ Lewis C. Strang, Famous Actresses of the Pay
(Boston: L. C. Page & Company, 19021,' pp. 110-114.
Mr. Strang continued "by saying that he was
completely disillusioned when he saw her for. the second
time in the same role.
In the first performance he
gave her credit for spontaneity and naturalness, hut
for the second time, he believed she was only an
elaborate piece of mechanism and not an actress,
drawing similiar conclusions to those presented
hy Lewis Strang, the eminent critic, John Ranken Towse3
was of the opinion that Mrs, Fiske was fitted for light
comedies only and that she was completely out of her
class when she tried to create a r8le such as "Hedda
Her aggressive and
inquisitive manner, and
her snappy replies seemed to belong to such roles as
She was full of promises in these
parts, but her ambition for serious, dramatic rSles
led her astray because she did not have the necessary
histiionic or artistic qualifications.
She was entirely out of her element when she
played in social melodrama in 1887, according to Mr.
J. R. Towse.
And in 1896, when she appeared in
"Cesarine,M he recognized her advancement in stage
knowledge, but he also believed her early habits were
3 John Ranken Towse, Sixty Years of the Theater
(Hew York & Londons Funk & Wagnalls Company, I9l6} ,
pp. 423-431.
‘becoming bad mannerisms,
Deceitfullness, callousness,
and vindictiveness were, in Mr. Towsefs opinion, easily
within Mrs. Fiskefs reach.
However, he considered-the
plausibility of a character, the fascination, the
passion, entirely beyond her grasp.
He said she had
to rely upon impersonation— poor impersonation? that she
failed to reveal evidence to the contrary.
He expressed
his disapproval for he believed Mrs. Fiske was always
Mrs. Fiske, because her personality seeped into every
The majority of Mrs. Fiske*s critics, however,
were of the opinion that her success as an actress was
due to the thought and feeling she gave to her roles,
combined with her stage technique and intelligence.
They felt she had mastered her art by painstaking,
conscious effort.
Mr. Elliott Henderson^ confirmed the belief of
many by stating that, in his opinion, Mrs. Fiske had
more intelligence and more presence of mind than any
actress on the stage.
He further stated that by her
intellectual power she was able to portray realistic
characterizations, playing them with a self-restraint
and a quiet force that became the envy of all.and the
4 . E l l i o t t Henderson, "Mrs. Fiske and her Hew
Theater,1* Harper*s Weekly, 45*1061, October 19, 1901.
acme of acting.
Some thought she had great emotional power, and
"because of that, she was the most intelligent actress on
the stage.5
Mr. William Winter, dean of the American
critics, made this statement:
Mrs. Fiske is one of the most intellectual women
upon our stage, and her dignity of mind, strength of
character, and inflexible stability of worthy purpose
made her an object of unusual interest, and have
gained for her the respect and admiration of all
persons who wish for the prosperity of a respectable,
useful and influential stage.5
Richard Dana Skinner said:
In remaining herself she was also able to absorb
the essentials of the part so completely that the
resultant character presented to the audience was a
complete and satisfactory whole.7
The key to Mrs. Fiske*s acting is similar.* to
the dramatists Conception of naturalistic drama.
Forrest Izard declared that:
There is no staginess, none of the aggressive
grace of the actress playing a part; she is rather
the woman living it. There is obviously none of the
routine technique which actors frequently learn in
schools. Her style may be the outgrowth of an
earlier technique of a period when no doubt she was
"stagey” and conventional. In the latter period she
"The Players," Everybody*s, 20:418, March, 1909,
6 Kenyon West, "The Personality and Art of Mrs.
Fiske," The Arena, 39:33, January, 1908.
7 Richard Dana Skinner, "The Play," The Commonweal,
15:496, March, 1932.
has refined, out of this earlier experience and
her own insight, a method remarkable for its
suggestion, its repression, its freedom from fa­
miliar device.8
Mr. Iz.ard° further stated that her gesture, facial play,
intonation, pause, and her power of imparting the
details of impersonation are worked out with a definite
precision and a, naturalness which makes her acting
•stand out so effectively.
He concluded with the state­
ment that it was an impossibility to please everyone’s
tastes and that?
What some find to be her repressive force is in
the eyes of others stilted awkardness. The qualities
which to most are her most salient characteristics
are to some her intolerable mannerisms. Her speech,
at times, is disconcertingly rapid. Her ennunciation
has seldom been called indistinct, her so-called
awkardness and mannerisms full of significance, and
her cerebral acting and personality the means of true
int erpretat ion*-1-0
As has been suggested previously, Mrs. Fiske was
considered by a group of critics as a mere technician
and not a great artist.
But her army of admirers be­
lieved that, by the constant study and cultivation of
her art, she succeeded in interpreting the emotions of
the character with no loss of intellectual intensity.
® Forrest Iza.rd, Heroines of the Modern Stage
(Hew York: Sturgis & Walton dompany , 1915) , p. "2“7"S".'
0 hoc, cit.
10 Ibid., p.
They felt she was able to conceal her art and thus,
the technique was forgotten and only the picture remained.
A great artist must have versatility and variety
to give individuality to the character.
Mrs. Fiske
has proved these points conclusively by her wide range
of roles and "by her realistic character portrayals.
She appeared a quiet, suppressed actress, hut she had
a mysterious, hypnotic intensity which reached the audi­
ence when it was brought forth.
Perhaps, without this
gigantic tempermental force with which she charged all
of her characterizations, her acting would have appeared
superficial and crude, even unintelligible.^
She had thoughts of a visionary future, and once
she was certain of the right course, her convictions
were unalterable.
At times she was considered a little
vague, and her blunders made her shrewd; but, on the
other hand, she was luminous- and shy.
Was it this
strange formula that made the audience feel her strange
charm and personality^
Her critics felt the conviction
and pathos of each characterization; and, if, at times,
Elliott Henderson, "Mrs. Fiske and her Hew
Theater," Harper*s Weekly, 45:1061, October 19, 1901.
12 Stark Young, "Mrs. Fiske," The Hew Republic, 70:71,
March 2, 1932.
there were technical flaws to "be found, they were put
aside, for the mystic power of Mrs. Fiske*8 realistic
portrayals stayed uppermost in their minds.^
Probably the true greatness of Mrs. Fiske’s
acting lay in the fact that she aimed for and obtained
the necessary essentials of a characterization,
critic expressed the opinion that one, ”Can compare
others with her, for she has many imitators, but the
peak of the mountain, where she stands, is not peopled
by many.
Greatness is
always solitary.”14
Mrs. Fiske had many admirers and many fault­
finders, but as Walter Prichard Eaton said, ”Ardent
admirers and cordial enemies are a sign of a vital
Her main criticisms were laughed at by her
Many lovers of the theater complained she
did not truly impersonate a character.
Mr. J. H. Towse
said that Mrs..Fiske had portrayed many different roles,
but that, ”In none of them did she exhibit any perceptible
development of dramatic power or versatility.”1^
In fact,
13 IiQC. cit.
14 Kenyon West, ”The Personality and Art of Mrs#
Fiske,” The Arena, 39:33, January, 1908.
15 Walter Prichard Eaton, ”Mrs. Fiske and her
Influence on the American Stage,” The Century, 81:869,
April, 1911#
16 Towse, op. cit., p.
Mr. Towse spoke of Mrs. Fiske as an ambitions woman,oftentimes floundering in her theatrical progress;
moreover, he did not consider her an actress of unusual
Critics scoffed at her unpleasant voice, her
ungainly carriage, and her intellectual acting, but
those that complained of her lack of emotional appeal .
missed one of the finest points in her acting career.
True, Mrs. Fiske did have her limitations and her
mannerisms, and perhaps she was too self-conscious to
permit her emotions to hold sufficient sway, "But it is
a graceless thing to criticize the very slight defects
which arise from the quality of her imagination and
from the distinctive methods of her acting.
Variations of opinion such as these cannot help
but remind one that genius is rarely understood.
Students of the stage who look to Mrs. Fiske as the
dominant character of the American stage will agree with
Richard Dana Skinner, who stated that oftentimes:
Mrs. Fiske seemed to have been transported to
another age and another place. In that respect some
call her a technician. But, she is the exception
to this view of artistry. When the vitality or
force of the actor is so great that he or she can,
as Mrs. Fiske did, absorb the character rather than
Henderson, op. cit., p.
"be absorbed by it, we have something which passes
beyond mere artifice. It is this peculiar fire and
intensity which made us feel that we were seeing
Mrs. Fiske in all periods of history and under
stress of all varities of circumstances. It remains
the artistry of superabundant vitality and emotion
expressing itself through the medium of superb
technique. In the timing of her lines and gestures,
in the radiant vigor of her attack, and in the rich­
ness of her devotion to the task in hand, Mrs. Fiske
was not only a trouper, but also a great artist. She
was also a great person....To some she was a mere
technician, to others she was the summation of all
the finest qualities of the actor.-*-8
In a pool of public opinion taken by the Good
Housekeeping Magazine^ in 1932, the twelve most famous
women of America were selected.
From out the ranks
the favored one of the theater was chosen....Minnie
Maddern Fiske.
Mrs. Fiske took her place among the
twelve with such immortals of American history-as Jane
Addams and Helen Keller.
Truly, Mrs. Fiske was a woman of note, not only
behind the footlights but in the social and political
circles as well.
Her fame spread abroad, and "Many
authoritative appraisers of dramatic art regarded Mrs.
Fiske as the greatest actress who is now appearing on
18 Richard Dana Skinner, "The Flay," The Commonweal,
15 8496, March 1932.
^ "Have you Hamed Your Great Woman? ,M Good
Housekeeping, 91:83, December, 1930.
any stage,1,20
The leader of the American stage!
Mrs. Fiske
was fitted to portray that role because of her notable
Work distinguished for brilliancy, for finish,
for intellectual power, subtle perception of
character, and a wide range of interpretations,
sounding as it does the depths of tragedy, and
sparkling with the most delicate, vivacious comedy-- work distinguished for strength and depth of original
thinking, for sincerity and earnestness of feeling
and appeal; above all,manifesting in every phase
that imaginative fire and glow, that subtle, illusive
quality which can be described by no other word but
Because of her magnificent stage management and
her spiritual and mental qualities, some critics said
it was an impossibility to even form a comparison be- .
tween Mrs. Fiske and any stage contemporary.
Hichard Mansfield1s death there has been no one to equal
Mrs. Fiske, and she has held the reigns of the American
theater in her hands.
The cause of the theater was upheld by Mrs. Fiske
at every rough turn with hope and inspiration.
fought the Syndicate; she opened her famous stage
20 «jjrama an€j Art,” Current Opinion,” 76:809,
June, 1924,
Kenyon West, HThe Personality and Art of Mrs.
Fiske,M The Arena, 39:185, January, 1908.
company; she brought the American dramatist to the
public’s notice; she paved the path for a new theater—
a theater attuned to the spirit of naturalistic-realistic drama.
In her own words Mrs. Fiske expressed the feeling
that an actress could never be great, until "She had
fought, had been conquered, and had conquered. "22
phrase expresses the life of a great stage leader, one
who will a.lways take first place among the American
stars of the theater.
Mrs. Fiske "Summoned up, and
quite gloriously, the essence of an acting tradition
that was in serious danger of being lost."23
22 Alexander Woollcott, Mrs. Fiske... (Hew Yorks
The Century Company, 1917), p.
25 Hichard Dana Skinner, "The Play," The Commonweal,
15:496, March, 1932.
Minnie Maddern Eiske was as contradictory in
her appearance, life, and personality as she was in
her style of acting.
She had a petite figure, and
although her auburn hair, violet eyes, and graceless
carriage did not give her the distinction of being
called beautiful, her every .movement expressed sig­
nificance, poise, and compelling personal power*
was shy, unobtrusive, and of a humorous temperament.
She talked little, and expressed her opinions rarely.
Since Mrs. Eiske considered good health a
primary requisite for an actress, she allowed neither
her physical or mental balance to become upset.
seldom read the newspapers, and completely ignored the
criticisms or praises she received.
Through this
habit she conserved her emotional energy and kept
destructive materials out of her conscious mind; thus
maintaining her emotional poise always at the same
level. Her youthful appearance was thus attributed to
her desire to let nothing interfere with her stage
She followed with precision her habitual custom
of studying her lines in the morning, having dinner,
attending a rehearsal at the theater in the afternoon,
resting afterwards, dressing for her performance, and
walking to the hotel for the night.
Her routine was
work, rest, and exercise in familiar repetition.
Unlike most actresses Mrs. Fiske enjoyed traveling
in order to play one night stands.
She loved to go
hack to the shahhy theaters she had known as a child,
and she wanted all America to have the opportunity of
seeing a stage production.
Her stage dressing table and her walls were
covered with notes clamped with large pins.
As the
affairs were taken care of, the papers were torn down
and new ones slipped into their places.'1. She v/as
always prompt in her engagements, never forgetting an
Because she considered her career first and her­
self last, Mrs. Fiske was denied the pleasures due-te a
woman--any woman.
Her success in the theater extended
over half a century, hut upon the altars of her art she
heaped sacrifices.
The foremost actress of the American
1 Thoda Cocroft, "Three Famous Theater Women
and Their Sacrifice for Art," Saturday Evening Post,
197*18, April 11, 1925.
stage was a lonely woman.^
Shopping for clothes is a woman’s delight, hut
it was not for Mrs. Fiske to enjoy.
She could not afford
the energy involved, so she settled the problem by
always wearing the same type of ensemble.
She wore a
long, blue coat and in cold weather added a blue sr/eater
To her hat# she attached one white face
veil and from one to three blue veils.
When her Y/ardrobe
needed replenishing duplicates were ordered.
Her stage
gowns were provided by a costumer, and only the designs
and materials were submitted for approval*3
Mrs. Fiske was democratic with all, yet a definite
barrier existed between herself and' her acquaintances.
She had no home life; the theater or the hotel, in what­
ever town she was in, served as compensation.
She owned
a beautiful home in the Adirondacks, but was only able to
be there for a week or so throughout the year.
Mrs. Fiske
appeared very lonely while there, for her time was
occupied in resting to meet the strenuous hours of
2 Thoda Cocroft, “Three Famous Theater Women
and Their Sacrifice for Art,” Saturday Evening Post,
197:18, April 11, 1925.
3 hoc. cit.
rehearsals that followed her return to town.
Her so-
called vacation routine was much the same as on tour.
rose early in the morning to take a walk and study her
lines; she had no lunch and rested during the afternoon.
At dinner she "became the perfect hostess when she met
her guests; then she retired early in order to study or
write "before sleeping.^
Mrs. Fiske had a love for neglected homes with
gardens, and she owned a secret house in Connecticut
where only three knew her retreat.
When opportunity
permitted she renewed her strength here.
It was Mrs. Fiske1s belief that the rble of mother­
hood was the greatest one which any woman could under­
Perhaps I,m just a little "bit hipped on the
subject, "but I really, truly believe that the most
worthwhile thing in all the world a woman can do—
the happiest thing a woman can do— is to mother
a family of children.5
While in Danville, Pennsylvania, she found a three
months-bld baby in a hotel closet with adhesive tape
across his mouth; she immediately adopted him, naming
him Danville Fiske.
Mrs. Fiske soon found, however,
^ hoc, cit.
5 Alice Booth, wAmerica,s Twelve Greatest Women-Minnie Maddern Fiske,11 Good Housekeeping, 93:34,
.November, 1931.
that she had no time for motherhood because she could
see the baby only once or twice in a week.
Her short
experience in motherhood closed, and she placed the
child in a nurse’s care.
Mrs. Fiske had little forma,! education, but by
mastering the technique of her art,, she ’’Broadened her
thinking, enlarged her capacities for feeling, and deep­
ened her powers of sympathy."^
Mr. Stark Young, however,
was of the opinion that Mrs. Fiske had to pay the price
for her irregular education,
lewis Strang said her
method and her art were the result of her childhood
stage experience; he believed both were her own a,nd were
based upon:
A unique personality, and nurtured by years of
practical application in a range of impersonations
far more comprehensive than that covered by any
player of her age on the American stage. Ho one
taught Mrs. Fiske her method and her art, and she
can teach them to no one. In her case they are
right, but for a more youthful enthusiast she is the
worst possible model*?
On the other hand, one finds that she had in­
fluenced many artists, and since she ranked as the
6 Kenyon West, "The Personality'and Art of Mrs.
Fiske," The Arena 39:33, January, 1908,
? Lewis C. Strang, Famous Actresses of the Bay
(Boston: L. C. Page & Company,”1902) , p. 1XH*
leader of her profession there must have been some
secret power worth emulating.®
Her education may have been irregular, but its
irregularity did not prevent Smith College from award­
ing her the honarary degree, Master of Arts.
In present­
ing the degree President Ueilson said of her:
She is the first living American actress, who by
her sensitiveness, insight, and technical shill
retains for our stage the interest of intelligent
citizens at home and respect for our theater
The University of Wisconsin also awarded her the
honarary degree of Doctor of Letters.
At the time the
award was made, Pr.- Glenn Prank, president of the
University, said, "The crowd has turned to her as a
trusted teacher, for hers is the art that has kept the
theater vital and prophetic.
Harvard, the school that did not believe in' pre­
senting female artists to their students, brought Mrs.
Fiske as a guent speaker to the Harvard Ethical Society.
Here she made one of her rare public appearances, speaking
8 Walter Prichard Eaton, HMrs. Fiske and,her
Influence on the American Stage,11 The Century, 81:866,
April, 1911.
9 Alice Booth, ♦♦America’s Twelve Greatest Women—
Minnie Maddern Fiske,” Good Housekeeping, 93:34,
Hovember, 1931.
18 Loc. cit.
against the degradation of the stage.
The first part
of the address was devoted to art.
Ruskin proves what any philosophy must admit,
that life without art is brutal. Art has a function
beyond that of affording pleasure for the moment.
It should be an inspiration; and it should be potent--in­
directly, of course, and by degrees— in mitigation of
the terrors whose contemplation may induce a question
as to its utility. True art in any form inspires
esthetic feeling, and the psychologist will tell you
that esthetic feeling, like any other feeling, may
be a spring to actiong.
••..Verestchagin, the great Russian painter, whose
work was so ls,rgely devoted to picturing war’s in­
humanity and terrors, and who lost his life in the
midst of a .carnage that his brush would have revealed
to assist in the reformation of humanity, did not
live in vain. Tolstoi, the great man and the great
artist, devoted his pen and life to a like end. The
pen of Zola, like that of other artists whose purpose
it has been to picture; miseries that they might be
cured, has wrought and is still working reform in
life. The great dramatists of the modern school have
aims higher than for the moment’s amusement. They are
striking at the root of evils that mankind, if it
progresses, must see decay.
....An institution that has grown from human im­
pulse must be related closely to every ethical idea.
• We know that for almost three thousand years the play,
in one form or another, has been a factor in educat­
ing and delighting the world. Ever since man has been
able to give voice to his impulses in song or to limn
on flat surfaces his ideas or to make images of his
conceptions— ever since melody, drawing, or painting,
sculpture and living language have been known— drama,
embodying them all, has been an inspiration to the
world. What could have taken the place of the theater
if it never had existed?
....One great play, like the leaven of Holy Writ,
may serve to save the theater for any season that may
appear to be given over to the world, the flesh, and
the devil. And thus the theater survives, because
always it may be found to project something on the side
of ethics.
••••As to the masterpieces, we, of course, must
eliminate Shakespeare's from any comparative
analysis; and outside of Shakespeare the good old
plays and the good new plays are so different in
almost all things that we necessarily would have
to enter upon a long series of dissertations to
differentiate them clearly* Respectively, perhaps,
they represent the romanticism, the sentimentality
and the artificiality, withal, of the older time,
as against the practicality, the greater seriousness
in all literary treatment of the better class with
reference to the ethics of life and the liberalism
of thought to-day. One thing we may be sure of,
however, that artificial and elementary as the lower
forms of the plays of the older time were, they were
greatly superior to the lower forms of plays of to­
day, if titles and billboards may be taken as an
index. Good acting of to-day is so different from
the good acting of the days that are gone that a
comparison of the acting of then and now is as diffi­
cult as a comparison of the plays.
....We have improved in the acting of plays that
revel in modern life. We are beginning to be true,
and in being true we are beginning to find a world
of beauty hidden heretofore, a glorious new world
opened to us by the new dramas of Ibsen and his
followers and disciples.
....Have not many of our fiercest inward battles
been fought quietly in our solitary room at night?
Have not the most dramatic moments of our lives been
lived out in silence and secrecy? There may have
been no cries, no outburst, no noise, but the great
moments have been lived just the same.
••••We know that the great Norwegian has revolution
ized the dramatic literature of every country. I
do not know whether you are familiar with Maeterlinck
opinion of Ibsen. Very likely you are. Maeterlinck
says: 'The highest point of human consciousness is
reached by the dramas of Bjornsen, Hauptmann, and,
above all else, Ibsen. Here we touch the limit of
the resources of modern dramaturgy.'
....It is curiously interesting to study the
differences between two such modern authors as Ibsen
and Victorian Sardou— Sardou, the high priest of
tricks, theatricalising and artificiality. In a
Sardou play, climaxes chiefly composed of sound aid
fury, meaning little or nothing of moment, are led
up to with purely mechanical skill. The theatrical
objective is the sole object— and the sole value—
of a Sardou drama. The Sardou drama makes no demand
upon the intelligence of the actor, beyond the purely
superficial excitement of the moment. It induces
no thought or reflection whatever in the spectator—
unless the spectator, after witnessing it, becomes
ashamed that he has been so played upon without
reason. There is no mental stimulus whatever for
the actor in studying the partd of dramas like those
of Sardou. How different with the dramas of Ibsen and
the best of his disciples I To the student, the best
of Ibsen do not appear upon the surface as all they
are. To properly conceive a performance of one of the
parts of Ibsen, the actor must study the part from
the childhood of the character up to the time when it
is revealed, upon the stage. One need merely learn
the lines of the objective playwright and, with some
talent and temperament, and a fair measure of tech­
nique, succeed, but the actor who thinks he can master
an Ibsen rSle in this manner soon discovers his
error. In nearly all the Ibsen plays you will observe
that the drama reveals merely the final castrophe.
For example, take the plays ’Rosmersholm, ’ or ’John
Gabriel Borkman,’ or ’Eedda Gabler.’ In these plays
we see the final moments in the lives of the principal
The actors must of necessity have
studied all that has, in the past life of these
characters, led up to the final scene. In this way
the new psychological drama has been a wonderful stim­
....Ibsen and his worthy dramatic followers have
made thinkers and students of those actors, who in
the merely objective days had little exercise of the
brain. The old fashioned ’emotional* or society
play seems, indeed, a very weak combination of milk
and water to the actor who has seriously begun the
study of the Ibsen drama.
11 ’’Mrs. Fiske on the Ethics of the Drama,” The
Arena, 35:183-185, January, 1905.
her remarks before the Harvard Ethical Society
indicate a, lack of education?
She may not have learned
the three H fs in school, as a child, hut, as an artist,
she added a fourth R— realism— for the greater school
for all children, the theater.
First performances are considered a delight by
audiences, but, to Minnie Maddern Fiske, first nights
brought her a period of depression
and excitement the,t
stilled her ability to develop the characterization.
She said:
With one or two exceptions, I n^rself, at my
ITew York performances have, on first nights, emerged
with a vivid personal sense of failure that has
been confirmed by critical opinion, no matter how
fortunately that first night inadequancy may have
been made up for in subsequent performances. And
an impressioh of failure has far reaching influences.
A critics opinion is final; no reverses are
possible once an injustice is done to an excellent play.
Mrs. Fiske1s first Hew York performance of "Tess of the
d'Urbervilles” was a failure.
The opening night per­
formance of "Becky Sharp” was not satisfactory, in fact,
the last act was received with no understanding.
in the season, however, the same act became the most
12 Minnie Maddern Fiske, "The Effects of a"First
Eight" Upon the Actor,” The Critic, 39:317, October,
highly -entertaining. Ho explanation for the change was
offered; the illusive something that should make a
brilliant performance, .was missing on the first night.
Her first performance of STidermannfs ’’Magda” was
not even reviewed by some critics in their columns and
was condemned by others.
The actors failed to catch
any spark of empathy from the unsympathetic audience,
until suddenly, a small group of listeners gave the
actors their cue, and the play became an instant success
Prom then until the closing date the theater was packed
with enthusiastic people.
Mrs. Fiske believed her
greatest personal success on the stage was experienced
at the final performance of - ’’Magda.”1^
She offered no
explanation for these first night feelings, stating only
These are odd facts and are unconsidered by
writers on the stage. They deal with some of the
hidden springs that work for failure or for success
in the theater. They are but abstracts from the
strange realizations of many actors that the actors
themselves wonder at and cannot explain.15
Mrs. Fiske deplored the themes selected for use
on the stage by the dramatists.
Their standard subjects
were the theater and the people of the theater; both
were consistently misrepresented.
Not believing the
author's conclusions were arrived at through ignorance
or unfamilarity with the subject,' she concluded they
must be deliberate.
To her, it was wrong to present a
drama before the public that might give them a distorted
impression of the theater and the acting profession.^
Opposing the presentation of sex on the stage, Mrs
Fiske pointed to the fact that the majority of heroines
became distorted when viewed by the eyes of masculine
Their women chatted about their sorro?/s and
their woes, and at the end were overcome by the tragic
This is a false picture of American womanhood.
Granville Barker instituted the theory of the
New Theater in America.
An institutional playhouse
was proposed which was to have a stationary company for
holding alternating performances of good dramatic art.
The actor would have the opportunity of playing many
different rSles which he could not do under his own
Mrs. Fiske objected strenuously to Granville
Barker's theory of an institutional theater because she
said it would gives
16 Minnie Maddern Fiske, "Plays of Stage Life,”
Harper 's Weekly» 58:12. August 23. 1913.
17 Minnie Maddern Fiske, "Mrs. Fiske Bisects and
Ridicules Sex Nonsense on the Stage," Current Litera&u&g.
72:69, January, 1922.
Deserved "but unexpected longevity to master­
pieces too frail and precious perhaps, to fill the
auditorium eight times a week, and yet well Yforth
while nursing along in repertory.18
She believed the lleY/ Theater was headed for ship­
wreck from the beginning, that repertory was bound to
v-rreck it— it v/as but a lovely dream which would never
come true.
In the first place, she knew a company could
not give five different plays and produce them properly
although they had years in which to prepare them.
company suited for one production would automatically
destroy the other four.
It is grandiose presumption to pretend that a
repertory theater can compete artistically with
such a production as Mr. Belasco could make with
a specially selected cast.1^
This is an age of specialization, and in !lSuch an age
the repertory theater is an anachronism, a ludicrous•
anachronism. f,20
Mrs. Fiske was of the opinion that repertory
advocated too staggering a program which, while it had
succeeded in Germany and France, was no signal it could
sticceed in America.21
She did not believe repertory was
1® Alexander ?/oollcott, Mrs. Fiske...(Dew York:
The Century Company, 1917), p. T 5 4 •
19 Ibid., p.
20 Alexander Woollcott, "Mrs. Fiske Punctures the
Repertory Idea," The Century, 93:332, January, 1917.
21 Woollcott, op. cit., p.
necessary for an actor’s training when it was done at
the public expense of forfeiting good dramatic fare.
An actor does not need several roles a year to
keep him fresh and unstagnated.
To Mrs. Fiske, an
actor with one good role could hardly exhaust its
possibilities in less than a year, and in all probability
he could not play it perfectly until the end of the
first season.
Then, if the director was incompetent,
she asks whether the actor in the making is better off
if he plays one role badly or five relies badly?
an actor feels at the end of the season that he had
exhausted his part he should not continue in that role.
And if he was not stimulated, during that first season,
he should study.22
"Actors should always study, a
singers studies a,re never done.
It should be so in the
Mrs. Fiske believed whole-heartedly that the
individual deserved no place in the theater.
She was willing to sacrifice
ninty per cent in order
to achieve a perfect ten per cent.
’’Salvation Fell”
part was
the roles were recast
22 rbidt , p.' 155.
23 Ibid.. p.
In her production
at the end of
she had a new company.
It was in this production she
felt that Mr, Fiske and herself had achieved an absolute­
ly perfect performance:
Only once in twenty years. Only once has ray
own personal critical sense been completly satisfied
in our own personal effort. That satisfaction came
to me in our first production of "Salvation Hell."^
A producer must search for his cast until per­
fection is found.
Arnold Bennett abandoned his pro­
duction of "The Honeymoon" because he could not find the
right star to play the rSle of the aviator: "If people
produce plays without the right actors the plays are
crushed as the wings of a butterfly,"^
Mrs. Fiske summoned up her objections to Mr.
Granville Barker’s theory of the new theater by saying,
"It is destructive of valuable theatrical property.
That is it, it destroys property."^8
After four years
of struggle the new theater folded its wingn, and, as
Mrs. Fiske prophesied,'., it was shipwrecked in America.
Mrs-. Fiske^^ advocated a national Theater— a
training school for young actors.
* P*
rbid.,p." 128.
was to be a
self-supporting traveling company.
Her formula for a
National Theater was an idealistic one; first, to find
an ideal director, to endow him, and then to leave him
She spoke of this ideal director as, ^An amiahle
and gifted tyrant.
He must he of the theater.
have that mysterious sixth sense, the sense of the theater.
The ability to teach the young to act.”
The director should remain constant; he would
choose the plays, stage them, and follow them on their
A lieutenant would take his place as a
watcher, when he could not he present.
In order to
have the three hundredth performance as smooth as the
first there must always he a watcher.
If the watcher
wa,s correct in his details the three hundredth per­
formance would he much better.
Critics claimed there would be difficulties in
finding actors, hut Mrs. Hiske knew there would he aplenty, for young actors would want and would enjoy the
training, prestige, and good times concerned with the
National Theater--a home training school.
The expense
to the public would he nominal as endowments could
reduce the admission to as low as fifty cents a seat.
28 rbid». p.
The actors would he changed continually, in order to
have the perfect company at all times, for Mrs. Fiske
said the ideal for all in the theater was:
The hest possible performance of the immediate
play at hand. Aim for that directly and for that
alone. Then the training of the actors, the
encouragement of playwrights, the upbuilding of a
responsive public, and the slow formation of a
National Theater will take care of themselves.
29 IMd., p.
Alexander Woollcott Has given us the listings
Mrs, Fiske*s performances*
These include:
Hester Crewe in MHester Crewe,” by Harrison
Grey Fiske.
Marie Leloche in "The Queen of Liars,” adapt­
ed from the French by Harrison Grey Fiske*
Nora in ”A Lollfs House,” by Henrik Ibsen*
Toinette in "A Light from St. Agnes,” a oneact play hy Mrs. Fiske.
Cesarine in ”La Femme de Claude,” by Lumas.
Cyprienne in "Livorcons,” as adpated by Harrison
Grey Pis!ke.
Madeleine in "Love Finds the Way,” adaptation
by Marguerite Herrington.
Adelaide in ”Not Guilty,” one-act play by Mrs.
The Little Marquis in ”The White Pink,” adapt­
ed from the Harrison Grey Fiske.
Tess in "Tess of the d’Urbervilles,” a dramatizationhy Lorrimer Stoddard.
Giulia in "Little Italy,” one-act play by Horace
B. TFcyZ
Saucers in ”A Bit of Old Chelsea,” one-act play
by Mrs.Oscar Berringer.
Magda in "Magda," by Herman Sudermann.
Gilberte in "Frou-Frou,” adapted by Harrison
Grey Fiske.
Becky in "Becky Sharp," a dramatization "by
Bangdon Mi t che11*
Miranda in "Miranda of the Balcony," a drama­
tization hy Anne Crawford Flexner.
Mrs. Hatch in "The Unwelcome Mrs. Hatch," hy
MrsT‘T2urtbn Harrison.
Mary in "Mary of Magdala," William Winter* s
English version of Heyse*s play*
Hedda in "Hedda Gabler," by Henrik Ibsen.
Leah in "Leah Kleschna," by C* M. S. McClellan.
Cynthia Karslake in "The Hew York Idea," by
Langdon Mitchell.
Dolce in "Dolce," by John Luther Long.
Rebecca West in "Rosmersholm," by Henrik Ibsen.
Hell Sanders in "Salvation Hell," by Edward
Hannele in "Hannele," by Gerhart Hauptmann.
Della Bumpstead-Leigh in "Mrs. Bumpstead-Leigh,
by Harry dames 3mith.
Agnes Bromley'in "The Hew Marriage," by Langdon
Julia France in "Julia France," by Gertrude
Lady Patricia Cosway in "Lady Patricia," by
RudoIph Besier.
Mary Page in "The High Road," by Edward Sheldon
Lady Betty in "Lady Betty Martingale," by John
Luther "Long.
Juliet Miller in "Erstwhile Susan," by Marion
de PorrestT^
7/hen the variety of scripts in which Mrs. Eiske
starred is considered, one is almost overwhelmed hy
the demands made upon any one actress.
Fine plays were
to appear in electric lights “before her greatest of p,ll
triumphs, "Tess of the d* Urbervi lies,M
in 1896,
appeared ‘
Lorrimer Stoddard, an American writer, made
an adaptation of Hardy’s novel.
Advice was given to
her, “by “both managers and critics, that this production
’ would not “be welcomed “by the public.
In spite of this
she proceeded with her production, and at the end of
one season the enthusiastic support of the audiences
led to the plays revival.
This proved Mrs. Eiske*s
contention that the public was ready for a higher type
of drama.
Despite the fact that Mrs. Eiske did not possess
the physical qualifications for the role of
Tess, she
portrayed the character with keeness of perception,
with Remarkable.power and pathos.
Most of the critics
believed she was the spirit of Har&y’s Tess, but there
were others who did not hold the same opinion.
Alexander Woollcott, Mrs. Eiske... (Few York?
The Century Company, 1917) , p. 5T5.
Banken Towse^ stated that she gave a very interesting
performance, hut to him she did not portray Hardy* s
Tess.. He enjoyed her simulation of dumb amazement, fear,
perplexity, hut he thought she failed in her emotion­
al power.
In contrast, Mr.
believed Mrs. Fiske
made her own characterization of Tess, and that her
power of repressed emotions was very effective.
she remained almost motionless, the audience caught the
feeling of horror and amazement across the footlights.
Edith Wharton said of her performance: "She swept
away a mass of super annuated conventions, and in the
most direct and simple terms of which dramatic art is
capable she gave a superbly living presentment of
Hardy's heroine."4
Kenyon Y/est said, she was called:
"America's pride,,f "our greatest actress," the
"peer of Fuse and ’Bernhardt"--in fact the critics
agreed that her interpretation of Tess was one of
the highest and most emotional acting given on the
American stage. She showed herself to be a master
of suggestion, taking account of the repression of
emotion as well.5
^ John Banken Towse, Sixty Years of the Theater
(iTew York: Funk & Wagnalls Company,' I9I6T7 PP* 412-416 •
^ Forrest Izard, Heroines of the Modern Stage
(Hew York: Sturgis & Walton dompany, 19 15) , "pp• 266-274.
4 Kenyon West, "The Personality and Art of Mrs.
Fiske," The Arena, 39:33-44, January, 1908.
5 i M d * » P*
In the interval between her production of "Tess
of the d ’Urbervilles" and that of "Magda" by Herman
Sudermann in 1899, Mrs* Fiske brought to her public a
one-act play, "Little Italy," by Horace B. Fry.
its brevity, the script, whose scene was laid in a
tenament, was a play, "Charged with violence and tropi­
cal passion. "6
Mr. Towse was of the opinion that Mrs.
Fiske impersonated the character of Giulia, the Italian
woman, with a great deal of cleverness.
He also gave
her credit for an excellent "make ups"
But in dealing with the elemental emotions of
the more melodramatic episodes a relapse into her
habitual mannerisms destroyed all illusion. She
needed the primeval passion, the gripping sincerity,
with which Duse glorified "Santuzza."'
However, Horman Hapgood believed her acting was
brilliant, and Kenyon West® said her personality be­
came that of the Italian woman.
She was the living,
breathing character, and she showed a fine, powerful
In 1899, Mrs. Fiske produced "Magda" by Hermann
Her interpretation of the title role
6 ToWSe, op« SXX* * P*
7 rbid., pp.
8 West, op. cit•, pp.
"bronght dissention among the critics*
J. R. Towse^
said her limitations were sharply defined, and she made
her character appear rude, arrogant, selfish, and
This was probably due to the fact that she
was trying to emphasize the self-confidence and intellectu­
al freedom of Magda.
He did not approve of the in­
different attitude she showed her parents, of her
cynical treatment of the parson.
She was successful
in the scene where she dismissed Von Keller from the
house, for this gave her an opportunity which she v/as
equal to meet:
But the deeper, inner workings of Magda’s soul-the conflicts in the heart of the woman and mother—
she gave little or no indication. Throughout, the
manner of Magda was the manner of Tess, of Cesarine,
and of Minnie Maddern Riske.1^
The majority of the critics were convinced that she
delved deep into the manifold phases of the role and that
her bitter scorn and satirical mockery were in character.'
She also portrayed Magda’s buoyant and whimsical moods.-**■*■
Mr..West said:
Mrs. Piske’s interpretation of the complex
emotions of the character far surpassed any in­
terpretation given in America, before or since.^
^ Towse, op. cit., p.
Loc. cit.
Following the production of "Magda11 Mrs, Fiske
appeared in Langdon Mitchell*s stage adaptation of
"Becky Sharp."
The critics were of the opinion it was
an impossible play, hut Mrs. Fiske, through the character
of Becky, achieved another theatrical triumph.
Mitchell’s adaptation retained little of Thackeray, it
was considered high comedy, "Because it was a true,
sharp picture of Becky, sparing nothing, painted by two
masters of comic irony, Thackeray and Mrs. Fiske."^3
Mr. Towse was hoping for a part perfectly fitted
for Mrs. Fiske, but he was.again disillusioned.
felt she v/as lacking in the main elements of Becky* s
character, and 7/as therefore incapable of portraying
Thackeray’s Becky Sharp♦
She showed nothing or barely
nothing of?
The supple hypocrisy, the mo'ck sentiment, the
artful coquetry, the ready guile, the sparkle,- the
fascination, the venom, and the fury which are
conspicious elements in the composition of this
complex creature.^4
Mr. Strangle said that, although the drama was
colorless throughout its entirety, he had never passed
-*-3 W a l t e r Prichard Eaton, "The Theater Mrs. Fiske
Knew," Theater Arta Monthly, 16?371, May, 1932.
Towse, op. cit♦, p.
15 Lewis C. Strang, Famous Actresses of the Day
(Boston? L. C. Page & Company, 1902), pp. 1OT-1X6•
a more enjoyable evening at the theater than when he
witnessed Mrs, Fiske in "Becky Sharp."
He thought her
captivating impersonation inspired rhapsodies.
She was
sympathetic in her understanding of the character, and
he had never known insincerity to he shown with such
s incerity :
Mrs. Fiske never glossed Becky’s failings,
Becky’s heartlessness, her selfishness, her flatter­
ing cajolery of her easy victims, her falseness to
every one and everything except herself--yet she
never sacrificed Becky’s charm.16
By exciting sympathy, Mrs. Fiske caught the spirit
of Thackeray’s Becky--the Becky one wishes to condemn hut
One might expect to find pathos in the character,
hut there was little; her Becky was clear pluck and grit
all the way.
There was an intense dramatic heat in the
scene in which she sat before the fire, philosophising,
wondering if any one obtained what he wanted in this
world, or ever wanted exactly what he received.
one felt it hover near when Becky faced Rawdon Crawley
after her misadventure with Lord Steyne.
Although there
was not a logical reason for sympathizing with Becky,
compassion for her over-balanced the sense of justice
and sorrow for .Crawley.-*-^
Ibid., p.
Ibid., pp.
Mrs. Fiske will "be remembered by all who saw
her in the role of Becky.
Many consider her production
of ,!Becky Sharp” one of the high points in the American
She. so completelyidentified herself with
of Becky that the audiences were moved to a
sympathetic understanding of the character.
1901, Mrs. Fiske played the title r3le in
"Miranda of the Balcony," a weak play which did not do
justice to her ability as an actress.
J. R. Towse again
spoke of her limitations in this part, saying:
This play has an absurd and inconsistent plot,
these can only be justified by the theatrical value
of the emotions they occasioned. To the realism
of these torturing and diverse emotions Mrs. Fiske1s
stereotyped methods were wholly inadequate, but in
the less exacting scenes she played with the in­
telligent intent, if restricted executive ability,
manifest in all her work.^-8
Perhaps "Miranda of the Balcony" was a faulty drama,
but its production was justified because of its out­
standing scenic effects.
"Mary of Magdala," adapted by Wiliiam Winter,
a dramatic play written in poetic verse, gave Mrs.
Fiske the opportunity
to use her rich voice to
■*-8 John Ra,nken Towse, Sixty Years of the Theater
(Mew York & London: Funk & WaghaTIs Gompany, 1916
p« 414.
fullest extent.
Mrs. Fiske gave a brilliant interpre­
tation of Mr. Winter’s conception of Mary.
The two
countercurrents running throughout the play; the tragic
fate of the Master, and the tragedy which overcomes
Judas, were poignantly revealed.-1-9
Forrest Izard criticized her performance as
being siiperficial and clumsy.
He wrote of her, "She
lacks the sensuous in her temperament and method, and
on the whole she lacked in this part sustained power."20
In 1903, Mrs. Fiske portrayed Hedda in Ibsen’s
"Hedda Gabler."
The production and her characterization
created one of the strangest episodes in the American
theater, namely, Mr. William Winter, dean of the American
critics, stood in the theater lobby condemning all
women who saw this despicable play.
The drama itself
was an interesting study, but, to many it did not
measure up to Ibsen’s former works.
In reviewing a revival of "Hedda Gabler" in 1914,
H. T. Parker wrote in the Boston Transcripts
Mrs. Fiske’s power of ominously significant silence
of play, of feature that reveals the working brain
behind, rises very high in the final scene with Brack.
The price of silence is the submission that Hedda,
with all her curiosity and zest for evil, is too
Kenyon West, "The Personality and Art of
Mrs. Fiske," The Arena, 39:42, January, 1908.
20 Izard, op. cit., p.
cowardly to pay. Her only refuge is the manner
and cowardly escape of suicide. She does not speak,
yet one sees the idea germinate, mount and possess
her until it flowers into reckless action.
In 1904, f,Leah Kleschna,, by C. M. S. McClellan
was produced "by Mrs. Eiske with George Arliss, John Mason,
¥. B. Mack, Charles Cartwright, and Emily Stevens in the
The company presented a perfectly balanced com­
bination of talents.
Each actor was given equal oppor­
tunity to use his individual talent.
The result was a
production which featured an all star cast without a
starring r£le.
The theme of trLeah Kleschna" is trivial,
and the critics deemed it unworthy of the talents of the
company and its star.
Langdon Mitchell was fortunate to have Mrs. Eiske
play Cynthia Karslake in his MThe Hew York Idea.”
Here was a script in which her acting was brilliant,
and her capacity to adjust her mood to the fast mov­
ing tempo was clearly portrayed.
In 1907, Mrs. Eiske took wThe Few York Idea”
on an extensive tour.
The company played in border
towns of the Southwest, and in remote villages in
Many towns in which they played had never
seen a professional production.
21 rbid. , p.
Everywhere the tour
was successful:
Calgary demanded a return -engagement. At
Edmonton the play was given in a rink on an improvished stage, and lasted from eleven o ’clock— the
time of the arrival of the "belated train--till two
of the early northern dawn. At Glohe, Arizona,
the axidience contained hundreds who had come from
long distances “by train, stage, or horseback.
This tour strengthened Mrs. Eiske’s the need
of a National Theater which would tour throughout the
country, bringing dramatic art within the reach of all.
Mrs. Eiske’s third Ibsen production was
’’Rosmersholm” in which she played the character Rebecca
As always the public and the critics differed in
Some believed she was too cold in her love
for Rosmersholm, and that she misinterpreted Rebecoa’s
Others thought it to be one of her, ’’Most
finished and fascinating portraits•”23
But all agreed
that, "In the moments of intense passion she rose
superbly to the o c c a s i o n . Next Mrs. Eiske was to offer Edv/ard Sheldon’s
”Salvation Nell,” a product of Harvard’s ”47 Workshop.”
In the first act of Mr. Sheldon’s play with its forty
Ibid., p.
23 John E. Weber, ”A New York Season of Drama,”
The Canadian. 27:11, May, 1906.
24 Eorrest Izard, Heroines of the Modern Stage
(New York: Sturgis & Walton Company, Id'15) , pp. 274-281.
characters, Mrs.. Fiske dominated the scene through
her personality and her acting technique:
Mrs. Fiske, as the scrub woman in the "barroom,
sat holding her drunken lover’s head in her lap
for fully ten minutes without a word, almost with­
out a motion. Gradually one could watch nothing
else; one became absorbed in the silent pathos of
that dumb, sitting figure. Miss Mary Garden, her­
self a distinguished actress, said of this, “Ah,
to be able, to do nothing like that.”^5
In the second act Mrs. Fiske faces the real­
ization that she loves Jim better than the Army; her
struggle is shown by, “Her quiet intensity, and her
long pauses so poignantly impressive that the audiPA
ences can scarce control themselves•“
The third act takes Mrs. Fiske to irresistible
heights, when she addresses Jim ini her Salvation Army
As a whole, the production of “Salvation
Hell“ is:
One of the most remarkable that the Mew York
stage has ever known, because of the fidelity of
the details. From Mrs. Fiske down to the children,
the players are details, more or less important
in this picture drama. Only in the second act did
the story dominate the scene.27
“Salvation Hell” was thought by many to be too realistic
to meet with public approval, but it proved a triumphant
25 Loc. cit.
26 “The Players,” Everybody’s , 20:418-420, March, 1909.
27 Loc. cit.
success and was revived in later years*
Her fourth Ibsen role was Lona in "Pillars of
Mrs* Fiske.
Perfection of production was a passion with
In this study of Ibsen, the sketchy role
of his heroine came to life in Mrs* Fiske1s hands.
As she portrayed Lona Hessel the
an honest, humorous person.
audience saw Lona as
Her work in the second act
was a masterpiece of satirical comedy.
In the last
act, when Lona’s lover confessed to the mob, Mrs*
Fiske became an inspired figure*
Walter Prichard Eaton
described the scenes
Mrs. Fiske, as Lona, sat quiet, one of the
crowd; but gradually, as she saw the man she loved
throwing off his yoke of hypocrisy, the light of
a great joy radiated from her face, ending in a
stifled .pry, half-sob, half-laugh of triumph, of
indescribable poignancy.
If an actress can charge the audience with an
electrified silence by her facial expressions only,
is this not a tribute of the highest order?
no other American actress could have accomplished this
Other plays produced during this period were:
"Hester Crewe," "The Queen of Liars," "A Light from
St. Agnes," "La Femme de Claude," "Livorgons,"
28 Forrest Izard, Heroines of the Modern Stage
(Hew York: Sturgis & Walton Company, T3T5 ) , p. £TO*
"Hot Guilty," "The White Pink," "A Bit of Old Chelsea,"
"Frou-Frou," "The Unwelcome Mrs. ftatch," and
Perhaps it was gracious of the critics not to dwell
upon these plays "because the majority of them did not
portray Mrs. Fiske at her "best.
Alexander. Woollcott, Mrs.- Fiske...' (lew York:
The Century Company, 1917), pp* £25-226.
2 9
f,I Have retired from the stage hut nohody
knows it.11-*- Mrs. Fiske whispered these words to
Alexander Woollcott in 1916.
The roles of Tess, Fell
Hedda, Hannelle, and Becky had taxed her strength.
She was retiring from roles such as those and their
playwrights, hut she remained in the theater because
it was her home— her life.
Critics would no longer
laud her acting in these r$les with unforgetahle
Mrs. Fiske instinctively and surely identified
herself with the hest that was awaking in the
theater of Europe and America. Her Tess, with it
tragic and fateful power; her Becky, wTi h its
resourceful and gleaming comedy;' ’her pathetic
and enohling Fell, are among the unforgetahle
The roles and plays in which she was to appear
during her remaining years, were light, nonsensical,
and, worst of all, always trivial.
The curtain calls
that she was to have for this type of new production
were mellowed, gentle calls, hut on occasion the
1 Alexander Woollcott, Mrs. Fiske... (Few York
The Century Company, 1917) , p.""' 62.
2 rbid., p.
audiences remembered, aware of the true genius she
possessed, and responded with its tumultuous applause
as they had done in earlier days#
Her unusual choice of plays in these last years
hrought heavy criticism to Mrs. Fiske.
The critics
could not understand why she wasted her time on such
ordinary plays.
Only a few people knew of her self-
imposed retirement and they could not "believe it.
Until this time the theater and the "best its drama­
tists could offer had been the first consideration of
Minnie Maddern Fltske, now her primary interest became
the protection of animals.
Years before Mrs. Fiske
had expressed her opinion on the artificiality of the
theatrical world.
In giving advice to young actors,
she had stressed the.importance of maintaining an out­
side the theater interest, in order to obtain a current
of new air, a renewal of inspiration.
The years proved
she was to follow her ot o advice.
During her last years she fought as valiantly
for the humane treatment of animals as she had for her
principles of production.
It was never too much
trouble for her to pick up a despicable, pitiful mongrel,
and drive to the nearest veterinarian where it was cared
for until a home could “be found*
If Mrs. Fiske saw
an animal mistreated hy any individual, she would immed­
iately intervene with a vigorous tirade.
Her consideration for dumb animals was carried
to such an extent that she would not wear furs, and
stated3 they were barbarous decorations which
should not-be worn by women.
She was the instigator
of a campaign by which she hoped to make American women
conscious of the tortures endured by animals in order
that their skins might enrich women’s clothes.
plea was: why is it necessary for unprotected animals to
suffer torture in order to satisfy the vanity of woman?
She carried her campaign into the theater,
sponsoring a benefit performance for the humane treat­
ment of animals.
The entire acting profession lent its
Those not in the performance acted as
ushers and ticket sellers, while othdr distinguished
figures in the theatrical world gave their support from
the ’’front of the house.”
These were the days in which Mrs. Fiske
appeared as Mrs. Bump stead Xeigh in the play of the
3 Minnie Maddern Fiske, ’’What a Deformed Thief
This Fashion Is,” The Ladies Home Journal, 38:20-21,
September, 1921.
same title, "by Harry James Smith.
William Winter
wrote enthusiastically of her performance:
....She invests "Mrs. Bumpstead Leigh" with
authority,amakes it buoyant and gay, and by reason
of her personal attributes and her competent
art, almost causes its absurdity and impossibility
to be forgotten for the moment....In the principal
scene, when Mrs. Bumpstead Leightand Peter Swallow
are confronted, her assumption of cool audicity
and competent nonchalance is perfect. Only an
accomplished executant and extremely interesting
woman could make.such a preposterous and silly
scene effective.
In 1912, Mrs. Eiske produced the ,fHigh Road"
by Edward Sheldon.
In this five act play she portrayed
the part of Mary Page, the heroine; a girl of sixteen,
a girl of nineteen, a successful woman of thirty-six,
and the wife of the candidate for President of the
United States.
The different ages of the character,
combined with the spiritual changes throughout the
years, were clearly shown by Mrs. Eiske.
The dreams
of youth faded into the mature foresight of a middle
aged woman as Mary Page successfully conquered the
years, and prepared herself to be the wife of a
Presidential candidate.
"The Bice of the Gods" by Lillian Barrett, a
melodramatic tragedy, was:
4 William Winter, "Shadows of the Stage,"
Harper*s Weekly. 55:19, April 22, 1911.
Bearable for only Mrs. Fiske*s presence in
it....You are almost persuaded that nothing hut
depth of spirit and understanding is needed for
acting, so strong is the spell of this remarkable
woman and the force of her. idea.^
Faulty breathing, monotonous movements, and inaudible
tones shattered the spell for the same critic*
theless, Mrs* Fiske used her magnetic force, obtain­
ing remarkable effects of pathos and humor.
In her best moments Mrs* Fiske transcends the
casual realm of acting by some fine thing she does,
imperceptible but unerring, something that appears
to proceed, not from the actors craft, but from a
kind of mental device, and inner technique*••.In
the ramifications of the subtle she shines. From
this gift it is that Mrs. Fiske gets her best
moments of spring and go, and glancing vitality.
Through this gift of hers is the most intelligent
comedy on the stage; through it her comedy has
imps in it, and her burlesque has style, vim, and
sly mentality.^
Among the plays in this final period of Mrs.
Fiske*s theatrical career was her production of "Ladies
of the Jury" by Fred Ballard.
This was a weak,
farcicg.1 drama, but Mrs. Fiske moved through "Ladies of
the Jury" flaunting her technique, first with "Robust
abandon and again with caniving acuteness."*^
5 Stark Young, "Mrs. Fiske*s Play," The New
Republic, 34:243, April 25, 1923.
6 Loc. cit.
? John Hutchens, "Mid-Season Show Shop,"
Theater Arts Monthly. 14:12, January, 1930.
Robert Garland, in M s review of "Ladies of the
Jury” in the Hew York Telegram of October 22, 1919,
That Great Lady of the Theater, that High Class
Low Comedienne, that Grand old Trouper whose name
is Mrs. Fiske has returned once more to town.
There is something about her which I have never
been able to get into words. But it is a very
real something which can take a shaky little play
such as Mr. Bred Ballard’s MLadies of the Jury"
and transform it into a glittering and glamorous
evening’s entertainment. She crashes into the
play with gusto. She uses her resources. The
result is in these days delightful. "Ladies of
the Jury" is Mrs. Fiske, first, last, and always.
That is why I like it, why I like it, in fact,
tr emendou sly.8
Mrs. Fiske, always the supreme comedienne, played the
farce with:
Tricks which at first glance might seem
boisterous, but at second and third glance they
are seen to be under perfect control. They are
carefully adjusted to the speed of the play and
yet they remain on the lighter side of carricature.9
There was little doubt that Mrs. Fiske enjoyed
her role.
John Mason, Brown wrote in the Hew York
Evening Post of 1929, speaking of her:
Highly individual manner, not only of elbowing
8 Montrose Moses and John Mason Brown, The
American Theater 1752-1934 (Hew York: W* W. Horton <&
Company, 1934), "p7 165.
® John Hutchens, "Mid-Season Show Shop,*1
Theater Arts Monthly, 14:12, January, 1930.
her own way through the lives and Jostling them
to their point, but also of sending them scurrying
across the footlights— awakened and ready to nudge
us* She startles them into provocation, meaning,
and above all into comedy. She startles them be­
cause she never allows them to startle her, as is
the sad habit of so many of the lesser actresses,
particularly the younger comediennes.
Percy Hammond, dramatic critic of the Hew York
Herald Tribune, said her speech was never misunderstood
although, at times, it became inarticulate.
Mr. John
Hutchens said:
Her speech may be clipped and abrupt as
sentences hurry madly after each other. But it
is unfailingly clear and it misses no point.
Though she sits in the Jury box, unblinking in
apparent seriousness, silences are made alive with
the humor enforced by pose and gesture. The
nervous tapping with a lorgnette, a sniff of im­
patience, the edge of exaggeration in her honeyed
persuasion. They are mannerisms— weapons that have
served before to follow a situation, a line to the
furthermost point of its possibilities. And in her
use of them, and the contrasting failure or in­
ability of others to use them, one recognized them
as old school technique of constant awareness that
not only recognized artifice but leaped at the
opportunities it afforded. It is bright, hard work
calculated to keep farce going particularly when
the play has no sustaining force save hers....It is
an assurance that sweeps down on points half made,
catches them up and charges them with a new vi­
tality. So a midly amusing idea, a lady playing
havoc with a courtroom proccedlure--becomes suddenly
a piece of full blown absurdity. You forget the
play. You forget everything at hand. It is acting
which, by its very preoccupation with itself, is of
the players theater
^ MMrs. Fiske Serves on the Jury,ff Literary
Digest, 103:21, November 9, 1921.
Hutchens, op. cit., p.
On February 15, 1932, Minnie Maddern Fiske
took her final curtain call and closed her career on
the American stage.
"The curiously quiet yet most
vibrantly alive"^ Mrs. Fiske stopped her incessant
foot tapping.
Her life in the theater may be divided into
four sections: her appearance as a child star; her
girlhood stardom as a second Lotta; her reappearance
on the stage as Mrs. Fiske; and her ’retirement from
the sta,ge, this last period when she entertained with
light comedies.
Mrs. Fiske, the American actress, contributed
greatly to the upbuilding of the American theater.
She brought a new and great dramatist, Henrik Ibsen,
to the American public; she popularized the American
playwright; she fought for freedom of the theaters un­
controlled by the Syndicate; she worked earnestly for
the building of a national Theater.
At every point in the career of Mrs. Fiske she
was, above all else, an American actress, one of
the first actresses of the American stage to become
^ Laurette Taylor, "The Greatest of These
(Hew York: George H. Moran Company, 1918) ,
a Doctor of Letters*
She contributed inmeasurably to
the glory of the American theater, to which she truly
gave her life and which, in turn, gave her many honors
seldom accorded a woman in the theatrical world*
Without formalities, rites, or ceremonies, the
body of Mrs* Minnie Maddern Fiske, one of the most
beloved figures on the American stage, was cremated
on February 18, 1932*
Despite the fact that it had been widely announced
that therd would be no services, as Mrs* Fiske had
wished, and that only three persons, who had been
close to her during her .life, would attend the
cremation, nearly two hundred men and women lined the
sidewalk on Y/est Thirtieth Street in front of the
undertaking establishment from which the body was
As the hearse drove west on Thirtieth Street....
men on the sidewalk removed their hats and stood
with bowred heads. Women, many of whom had appeared
with Mrs. Fiske or witnessed performances given by
her, were in tears.
Only one car followed the hearse, which pro­
ceeded up Eighth Avenue, a half block from theaters
in which Mrs. Fiske had appeared. In the car were
Harrison Grey Fiske, husband of the actress; Miss
Mae Cox, her companion and associate for years,
and Miss Merle Maddern, her cousin. After the
cremation the three returned to their homes.^
Mrs. Fiske was to the American theater what
Rejane was to France, Ellen Terry to England, and
Duse to Italy. She was the very last-of her school,
and with her passing the -last great woman disappears
from the American stage. For this was absolutely
true; that for forty years she held the position
of the First American Actress. 'We have had many
Hews item in the Hew York Times, February 19, 1932.
great people on our stage, "but none of them for
so long.^
14 George Tyler, "Mrs. Fiske: A Tribute from a
Manager and a Friend," TTew York- Times, February 21, 193
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164 pp*
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Terry, Ellen, The Story of My Life. London:
Hutchinson" "Company,.^otermoster Row, 1920.
381 pp*
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Hovember, 1931.
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■Sacrifice for Art,11 Saturday Evening Post, 197:18,
April 11, 1925,
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October, 1902.
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Cosmopolitan. 41:201, June, 1906.
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?2:566, March, 1907.
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12, 1916.
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October, 1901.
----- , "Mrs. Fiske Bisects and Ridicules Sex
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January, 1922.
-------, "American Romances— III," The Delineator.
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--------------. April, 1932.
---- , "What a Deformed Thief this Fashion is,"
The Ladies Home Journal, 38:20-21, September, 1921.
— —
— , "The Training of an Actress," The Ladies
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Weekly, 49:160-161, February 4, 1905.
-------, "Plays of Stage Life," Harper*s Weekly,
58:12, August 23, 1913.
Franklin, Barnett, "A Few First Aids to Disillusion
in the Theater," The Overland Monthly, 53:17,
.January, 1907.
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54:100, July, 1907.
Grant, Rev. Percy .Strickney, "Mrs. Fiske*s "Mary of
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Hammerstein, Oscar, "Public Taste and the Winter’s
Drama," Cosmopolitan, 35:710, October, 1903.
"Have You Hamed Your Great Woman?," Good Housekeeping,
91:83, December, 1930.
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Harper’s Weekly, 45:1061-1063, October 19, 1901.
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• Monthly 9 14:12, January, 1930.
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The Delineator, 65:67, January, 1905.
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January, 1900.
"Leah Kleschna," Harper's Weekly, 62:159, February
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The American Review of Rewiews» 96:82, January, 1924.
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June 7, 1902.
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35:183-185, February, 1905.
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103:21, Hovember 9, 1929.
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17:45, September, 1929.
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The Independent, 110:301-302, April 28, 1923.
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56:11, August 24, 1912.
"Revival of "Mary of Magdala"," Harper1s Weekly,
27:1519, September 19, 1903*
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48:34, March 16, 1912.
10 1
Homer', "An Appreciation of "Leah
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March, 1908.
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in Spain," The Century, 93:909-918, April, 1917.
------, "Mrs. Fiske Goes to the Play," The Century.
94:71-82, May, 1917.
.. — .
— , "Mrs. Fiske on Ibsen the Popular," The
Century. 93:529-538, February, 1917.
- - ■ "Mrs. Fiske Punctures the Repertory Idea,"
The Century, 93:321-332, January, 1916.
— ---- — , "Mrs. Fiske to the Actor-In-The-Making,"
The Century, 93:714-723, March, 1917.
_ -- — , "The Story of Mrs. Fiske," Collier*s.
76:5-6, November 7, 1925.
— —
, "The Story of Mrs. Fiske,” Collier*s, 76:9,
Hovember 14, 1925*
, "What the Public Got,” Everybody *s . 44:42-43,
June, 1921.
Young, Stark, ”Mrs. Fiske*s Flay,*1 The Hew Republic.
34:243, April 25, 1923.
— ■----- , "Mrs. Fiske,” The Hew Republic. 70:71, March
2, 1932.
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Pp. 234, 280-283, 320,
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New York Times, February 17, 1932*
— —
, February 18, 1932.
, February 19, 1932.
, February 21, 1932.
______„ f M r u a r y 24, 1932.
* April 21, 1932.
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