14 June 2011

Ellen Terry

by Julia Margaret Cameron 

Dame Ellen Terry, (27 February 1847 – 21 July 1928) was an English stage actress who became the leading Shakespearean actress in Britain. Among the members of her famous family is her great nephew, John Gielgud. Born into a family of actors, Terry began acting as a child in Shakespeare plays and continued as a teen, in London and on tour.

At sixteen she married the much older artist George Frederick Watts, but they separated within a year. She briefly returned to acting but then began a relationship with the architect Edward William Godwin and retired from the stage for six years. She returned to acting in 1874 and was immediately acclaimed for her portrayal of roles in Shakespeare and other classics.

In 1878 she joined Henry Irving's company as his leading lady, and for more than the next two decades she was considered the leading Shakespearean and comic actress in Britain. Two of her most famous roles were Portia in The Merchant of Venice and Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing. She and Irving also toured with great success in America and Britain.

"Choosing" by George Frederick Watts

Alice Ellen Terry was born in Coventry, England, the third surviving child born into a theatrical family. Her parents, Benjamin (1818–96), of Irish descent, and Sarah (née Ballard, 1819–92), of Scottish ancestry, were comic actors in a touring company based in Portsmouth, (where Sarah's father was a Wesleyan minister) and had eleven children. At least five of them became actors: Kate, Ellen, Marion, Florence and Fred. Two other children, George and Charles, were connected with theater management. Terry's sister Kate was a very successful actress until her marriage and retirement from the stage in 1867. Marion, over a long career, played leading roles in over 125 plays.

Terry's first appearance on stage came at the age of eight, when she appeared opposite Charles Kean as Mamillius in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale at London's Princess's Theatre in 1856. Between 1861 and 1862, Terry was engaged by the Royalty Theatre in London, managed by Madame Albina de Rhona, where she acted with W. H. Kendal, Charles Wyndham and other famous actors. In 1862, she joined her sister Kate in J. H. Chute's stock company at the Theatre Royal in Bristol, where she played a wide variety of parts, including burlesque roles requiring singing and dancing, as well as roles in Much Ado about Nothing, Othello and A Merchant of Venice. In 1863, Chute opened the Theatre Royal in Bath, where Terry, now aged 15, appeared at the opening as Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream and then returned to London to join J. B. Buckstone's company at the Haymarket Theatre in Shakespearean roles as well as Sheridan and modern comedies.

as Guinevere (costume by Burne-Jones)

Terry married three times and was involved in numerous relationships. In London, during her engagement at the Haymarket Theatre, she and her sister Kate had their portraits painted by the eminent artist George Frederick Watts. His famous portraits of Terry include Choosing, in which she must select between earthly vanities, symbolised by showy but scent-less camellias, and nobler values symbolised by humble-looking but fragrant violets. His other famous portraits of her include Ophelia and Watchman, together with her sister Kate, The Sisters.

Watts soon proposed marriage to Terry. She was impressed with Watts's art and elegant lifestyle and wished to please her parents by making an advantageous marriage. She left the stage during the run of Our American Cousin, a hit comedy by Tom Taylor at the Haymarket, in which she played Mary Meredith. She and Watts married on 20 February 1864 at St Barnabas, Kensington, seven days before her 17th birthday, when Watts was 46. She was uncomfortable in the role of child bride, and Watts's circle of admirers, including Mrs. Prinsep, were not welcoming. Terry and Watts separated after only ten months of marriage.

"The Sisters", by George Frederick Watts

Nevertheless, during the marriage Terry made the acquaintance of a number of cultured and important and talented people, among them Browning, Tennyson, Gladstone, Disraeli and the photographer Julia Margaret Cameron. Because of Watts's paintings of her and her association with him, she "became a cult figure for poets and painters of the later Pre-Raphaelite and Aesthetic movements, including Oscar Wilde".

She returned to acting by 1866. In 1868, over the objection of her parents, Terry began a relationship with the progressive architect-designer and essayist Edward William Godwin, another man whose taste she admired, whom she had met some years before. With him she retreated to a house, Pigeonwick, in Harpenden, Hertfordshire, retiring for six years from acting. They could not marry, as Terry was still married to Watts and did not finalise a divorce until 1877 – then a scandalous situation. With Godwin she had a daughter, Edith Ailsa Geraldine Craig, in 1869 and a son, Edward Gordon Craig, in 1872. The surname Craig was chosen to avoid the stigma of illegitimacy.

The relationship with Godwin cooled in 1874 amid his preoccupation with his architectural practice and financial difficulties, and Terry returned to her acting career, separating from Godwin in 1875. Even after their separation, however, Godwin continued to design costumes for Terry.

In 1875, Terry gave an acclaimed performance as Portia in The Merchant of Venice at the Prince of Wales's Theatre, produced by the Bancrofts. Oscar Wilde wrote a sonnet, upon seeing her in this role: "No woman Veronese looked upon / Was half so fair as thou whom I behold." She recreated this role many times in her career until her last appearance as Portia at London's Old Vic Theatre in 1917.

Terry married again, in November 1877, to Charles Clavering Wardell Kelly (1839–1885), an actor/journalist but Kelly and Terry separated in 1881. After this, Terry was finally reconciled with her parents, whom she had not seen since she began to live out of wedlock with Godwin.

In 1878, the 30 year old Terry joined Henry Irving's company at the Lyceum Theatre as its leading lady, at a generous salary, beginning with Ophelia opposite Irving's Hamlet. Soon, Terry was regarded as the leading Shakespearean actress in Britain, and in partnership with Irving, reigned as such for over 20 years until they left the Lyceum in 1902. In 1879, The Times said of Terry's acting in All is Vanity, or the Cynic's Defeat by Paul Terrier, "Miss Terry's Iris was a performance of inimitable charm, full of movement, ease, and Laughter... the most exquisite harmony and natural grace... such an Iris might well have turned the head of Diogenes himself.

"Lady Macbeth", by John Singer Sargent

Terry made her American debut in 1883, playing Queen Henrietta opposite Irving in Charles I. Among the other roles she essayed on this and six subsequent American tours with Irving were Jeanette, Ophelia, Beatrice, Viola, and her most famous role, Portia. Her last role at the Lyceum was Portia, in 1902, after which she toured in the British the provinces with Irving and his company in the autumn of that year. Whether Irving's relationship with Terry was romantic as well as professional has been the subject of much speculation.

According to Michael Holroyd's book about Irving and Terry, A Strange Eventful History, after Irving's death, Terry stated that she and Irving had been lovers and that: "We were terribly in love for a while". Irving was separated, but not divorced from his wife. Terry was separated from Wardell in 1881, and Irving was godfather to both her children. The two travelled on holiday together, and Irving wrote tender letters to Terry.

by Frederick Hollyer

In London, Terry lived in Earls Court with her children and pets during the 1880s. She first lived in Longridge Road before moving to Barkston Gardens in 1889, but she kept country homes. In 1900, Terry bought her farmhouse in Small Hythe, Kent, England, where she lived for the rest of her life. In 1889, her son joined the Lyceum company as an actor, appearing with the company until 1897, when he retired from the stage to study drawing and produce woodblock engravings. Her daughter, Edith, also played at the Lyceum for several years beginning in 1887, but she eventually turned to stage direction and costume design, creating costumes for Terry and for Lillie Langtry and others early in the twentieth century.

In the 1890s, Terry had struck up a friendship, and conducted a famous correspondence, with Shaw, who wished to begin a theatrical venture with her. In 1903, Terry formed a new theatrical company, taking over management of the Imperial Theatre with her son, after her business partner, Irving, ended his tenure at the Lyceum in 1902. Here she had complete artistic control and could choose the works in which she would appear, as Irving had done at the Lyceum.

The new venture focused on the plays of George Bernard Shaw and Henrik Ibsen. Theatre management turned out to be a financial failure for Terry, who had hoped the venture would showcase the set design and directing talents of her son and the costume designs of her daughter. She then toured England, taking engagements in Nottingham, Liverpool, and Wolverhampton, and created the title role in 1905 in J. M. Barrie's Alice-Sit-by-the-Fire at the Duke of York's Theatre. Irving died in 1905 and, upset by his death, Terry briefly left the stage.

She returned to the theatre again in April 1906, playing Lady Cecily Wayneflete to acclaim in Shaw's Captain Brassbound's Conversion at the Court Theatre and then touring successfully in that role in Britain and America. On 12 June 1906, after 50 years on the stage, a star-studded gala performance was held at the Drury Lane Theatre for Terry's benefit and to celebrate her golden jubilee, at which Enrico Caruso sang.

Lady Macbeth 1888

In 1907 she toured America in Captain Brassbound's Conversion under the direction of Charles Frohman. During that tour, on 22 March 1907, she married co-star, American James Carew, who had appeared with her at the Court Theatre. She was thirty years older than Carew. Terry's acting career continued strongly, but her marriage broke up after only two years.

In 1910 she toured in the provinces and then in the U.S. with much success, acting, giving recitations and lecturing on the Shakespeare heroines. Returning to England, she played roles such as Nell Gwynne in The First Actress by Christopher St. John (Christabel Marshall; 1911). Also in 1911, she recorded scenes from five Shakespeare roles for the Victor Talking Machine Company, the only known recordings of her voice.

by Sir Johnston Forbes Robertson

In 1914 to 1915, Terry toured Australasia, the U.S. and Britain, again reciting and lecturing on the Shakespeare heroines. While in the U.S., she underwent an operation for the removal of cataracts from both eyes, but the operation was only partly successful. During World War I she performed in many war benefits.

In 1916, she appeared in her first film as Julia Lovelace in Her Greatest Performance and continued to act in London and on tour, also making a few more films through 1922. She also continued to lecture on Shakespeare throughout England and North America. She also gave scenes from Shakespeare plays in music halls under the management of Oswald Stoll. Her last fully staged role was as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet at the Lyric Theatre in 1919.

In 1920 she retired from the stage and in 1922 from film. In 1925 she was made a Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire, only the second actress to be so honoured. In her last years, she gradually lost her eyesight and suffered from senility. Terry died of a cerebral haemorrhage at her home at Smallhythe Place, near Tenterden, Kent, England, at age 81.

source: Wikipedia

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