Anderson, Mary Antoinette

Mary Antoinette Anderson, actress, was born at Sacramento, Cal., July 28, 1859. The next year her parents removed to Louisville, Ky., and her father became a soldier in the Confederate service. He died in Mobile, Ala., in 1863, being only twenty-nine years old. His widow married, in 1867, Dr. Hamilton Griffin, a practicing physician of Louisville, and Mary was sent to the Ursuline convent to be educated under the care of the Presentation nuns. She made but small progress with her studies, and spent more time on Shakespeare than with her regular lessons. When but twelve years old she witnessed a fairy play, and decided that she would like to be an actress. A year later she saw Edwin Booth in Richard III. Her step-father encouraged the girl's ambition and directed her future education. She took lessons in music, literature and dancing. In 1874 she met Charlotte Cushman, and was advised by her to continue her study for the stage and "to begin at the top." Early in 1875 she received a few preparatory lessons from Vandenhoff, and made her first public appearance at McCauley's theatre, Louisville, in the character of Juliet, Nov. 27, 1875. To obtain the use of the theatre she agreed to raise four hundred dollars, and so did by selling tickets about the city for three months previous to the performance. Despite her inexperience and extreme youth she was not made the subject of severe criticism, although her acting was crude, and, conscious of her faults, she labored assiduously to correct them. She was induced to go to St. Louis to fill an open date for Manager DeBar, who, by advertising her as a southern girl, "daughter of a Confederate soldier killed in battle," and thus appealing to public sentiment and curiosity, made the engagement a success, which induced Manager Morton to engage her to star through the southern states, a venture which resulted in financial disaster. After her return she filled a week's engagement in Louisville in January, 1876, interpreting Evadne, Juliet, Bianca, and Julia. The public found a warm place for her in its big heart, and the critics accused it of being so blinded by the arch beauty of the young actress that it was incapable of correct judgment as to her acting. However, they soon began to speak of her as the "hope of the American stage." She played with stock companies in St. Louis, New Orleans and other southern cities; then two weeks with John McCullough in San Francisco, Cal., where for the first days of her engagement she received the most severe criticism. This, however, wore off, and the last nights of her engagement witnessed crowded houses and enthusiastic applause. On Nov. 12, 1877, she began what proved to be a very successful engagement in New York city, at the Fifth Avenue theatre, and henceforth she was ranked among the leading actresses of America. From this time her career was a series of brilliant triumphs so far as her audiences were concerned; and the critics, although denying her technical accuracy, acknowledged that her youthful crudities were wearing off. She toured the provincial cities of England; played at the Lyceum theatre, London, 1884-'5, and made her first appearance as Rosalind at the opening of the Memorial theatre at Stratford-on-Avon, where her portrait in that character adorns one of the panels. She made a tour of the United States. 1885-86; revisited England 1886-88, and there made a success as Perdita at Henry Irving's Theatre. She returned to the United States in 1888, and in March, 1889, was obliged to cancel her engagements owing to serious illness. She sailed for Europe in April, 1889, and married, June 17, 1890, Antonio F. de Navarro, of New York. She abandoned the stage and became a resident of Worcestershire, England. She published "A Few Memories" (1896). See the Stage Life of Mary Anderson (1886), by William Winter.


From: Twentieth Century Biographical Dictionary of Notable Americans, Johnson, Rossiter, editorBiographies

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