21 May 2011

Violet Vanbrugh

Miss Violet Vanbrugh was born in 1867, the eldest of three children. Her real name was Violet Augusta Mary Barnes. Her father was an official at Exeter Catherdral and the Vicar of Heavitree. Violet had a younger sister Irene (later to be Dame Irene) and a brother Kenneth (Sir Kenneth) both of whom were destined to follow in her footsteps to a theatrical career.

At the age of nineteen Violet travelled to London in pursuit of a stage career and, after some months, she attracted the attention of the great Ellen Terry. Ms Terry helped Violet to secure her first professional stage appearance in Toole's Theatre where she performed as a chorus girl in Burnand's burlesque Faust and Loose.

While it was a strange start for a provincial but well educated girl Violet made the very best of her opportunity. Her next role was in the West End of London in "The Little Pilgrims" (her first speaking part) and, over the next two years, she developed her stagecraft performing in a considerable number of productions in London. By late 1887 and early 1888 she was performing lead Shakespearean roles for the Sarah Thorne company and the following two years saw her touring America with the Kendalls in a variety of roles.

After her return to London her great chance came when Henry Irving offered her the part of Ann Boleyn in his production of King Henry VIII at the Lyceum Theatre (1892). This was followed by a period with Augustin Daly's Theatre company where she met her future husband the actor Arthur Bourchier.

Violet married Bourchier in 1894 and over the next few years frequently appeared on stage with him. It seemed the ideal theatre and marital partnership.. Their first child, a daughter named Prudence, was born in 1902 and she also was destined to become a successful Vanbrugh actress. Violet continued over the forthcoming years to charm her theatre audiences. In 1906 at Stratford upon Avon she played Lady Macbeth to her husband's Macbeth.

There followed an endless stream of dates and roles. They appeared in a film together in 1911 and two years later produced their own silent movie performing scenes from Macbeth. Sadly the off stage relationship had its problems and Violet and Arthur separated in 1916, their marriage was dissolved two years later. Violet continued her stage and film career throughout her life. She died in London in 1942, a strong woman, a pioneer, eclipsed somewhat by her younger sister.

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