Eva Le Gallienne (January 11, 1899 – June 3, 1991) was a well-known actress, producer, and director, during the first half of the 20th century.
Early life and early career
Eva Le Gallienne was born in London
to English poet
descent, Richard Le Gallienne
, and Danish
journalist, Julie Norregard. After Eva's parents separated when she was three years old, she spent her childhood shuttling back and forth between Paris
. She made her stage debut at the age of 15 in a 1914 production of Maurice Maeterlinck
's Monna Vanna
Fame and relationships
The next year Eva sailed for New York
, and then on to Arizona and California where she performed in several theater productions. After traveling in Europe
for a period of time, she returned to New York and became a Broadway
star in several plays including Arthur Richman's Not So Long Ago
(1920) and Ferenc Molnár
Disillusioned by the state of commercial theatre in the 1920s, Eva founded the Civic Repertory Theatre in New York, with the financial support of one of her lovers, Alice DeLamar, a wealthy Colorado gold mine heiress, whose support was instrumental in the success of the repertory theatre movement in the U.S. In 1928 she earned a great success with her performance in Ibsen's Hedda Gabler. The Civic Rep disbanded at the height of the Depression in 1935.
Open lesbianism, close friends
Eva never hid her lesbianism
inside the acting community, but reportedly was never comfortable
with her sexuality, struggling privately with it. In early Hollywood
and acting circles, lesbianism was fairly common, and although generally not divulged to the public, it was accepted behind the scenes. Le Gallienne was very protective of her private life, and although she had no problems with people inside the acting community knowing her sexuality, she was very opposed to anything going public.
During those early days of her career she often was in the company of outspoken and bisexual actress Tallulah Bankhead, and actresses Estelle Winwood and Blyth Daly, with the four of them being dubbed "The Four Horsemen of the Algonquin", referring to the Algonquin Round Table.
In 1918, while in Hollywood, she began an affair with the great actress Alla Nazimova
, who was at her height of fame, and who at that time wielded much power in the acting community. The affair ended reportedly due to Nazimova's jealousy. Nonetheless, Nazimova liked Le Gallienne greatly, and assisted in her being introduced to many influential people of the day. Le Gallienne was also involved for some time with actresses Tallulah Bankhead
and Laurette Taylor
during that time. Her only known heterosexual affair was with actor Basil Rathbone
Mercedes de Acosta
Later, around 1920, she became involved with writer Mercedes de Acosta
, with the latter making quite a nuisance of herself over the next several years. She and de Acosta began their five year affair shortly after de Acosta's marriage to Abram Poole, also a homosexual. They vacationed and traveled together often, at times visiting the salon
of famed writer and socialite Natalie Barney
. De Acosta wrote two plays for Eva during that time, Sandro Botticelli
and Jehanne de Arc
. Neither were successful, and the combined financial failures of both plays and de Acosta's possessive and jealous nature brought the affair to an end. De Acosta would go on to become involved in a long affair with actress Greta Garbo
, with whom she would become completely obsessed.
By early 1927, Eva was involved with married actress Josephine Hutchinson
. Hutchinson's husband started divorce proceedings and named Le Gallienne in the divorce proceedings as "co-respondent". The press began accusations that named Josephine Hutchinson
as a "shadow actress", which at the time meant lesbian. Five months later, Le Gallienne performed in the daring play about Emily Dickinson
, entitled Alisons House
. The play won a Pulitzer Prize
For a time after the Hutchinson scandal, Le Gallienne drank heavily. According to biographer Richard Schanke, Le Gallienne's anxiety over being lesbian haunted her terribly during this time. One cold winter's night, drunk, she wandered over to a female neighbor's house. During the conversation that followed, she told her neighbor "If you have any thoughts about being a lesbian, don't do it. Your life will be nothing but tragedy."
Another biographer, Helen Sheehy, has rejected Shanke's portrait of the actress as a self-hating lesbian. Sheehy quotes Le Gallienne's words of advice to her close friend May Sarton, who was also a lesbian: "People hate what they don't understand and try to destroy it. Only try to keep yourself clear and don't allow that destructive force to spoil something that to you is simple, natural, and beautiful." Similarly, Le Gallienne told her heterosexual friend, Eloise Armen, that love between women was "the most beautiful thing in the world."
Eva Le Gallienne starred as Peter Pan in a revival that opened on November 6, 1928, and presented the lead character full of elan and boyish charm. The flying effects were superbly designed, and for the first time Peter flew out over the heads of the audience. The critics loved 'LeG' as she became known, and more than a few compared her favorably with the great actress Maude Adams, who had originated the role. The Civic Repertory Theatre presented Peter Pan a total of 129 times.
In late 1929, just after the great stock market crash, Eva was on the cover of TIME. During the Great Depression that followed, she was offered directorship of the National Theater Division of the Works Progress Administration by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She declined on the grounds that she preferred working with "true talent" rather than nurturing jobs for struggling actors and actresses.
American Repertory Theater
In the late 1930s Le Gallienne became involved in a relationship with theater director Margaret Webster
. She, Webster, and producer Cheryl Crawford
later co-founded the American Repertory Theater, which operated from 1946 to 1948. In the following years she lived with her companion Marion Evensen. In the late 1950s she enjoyed great success playing the role of Queen Elizabeth
in Mary Stuart
, an off-Broadway
Here Lies The Heart controversy
In 1960, writer and former lover to many female Hollywood
celebrities, Mercedes de Acosta
, released her controversial book, Here Lies the Heart
, documenting and releasing to the public the details of her numerous affairs with many of Hollywood
's leading actresses and female personalities. This resulted in de Acosta being outcast by most of her former lovers and friends.
Eva Le Gallienne, in particular, was furious, and discarded anything reminding her of de Acosta. Many denounced de Acosta as a liar, although most of her claims have since been substantiated through personal correspondence and Hollywood insiders. Among those "outed" by de Acosta as having once been her lovers were, of course, Greta Garbo, Le Gallienne, dancers Tamara Karsavina and Isadora Duncan, actresses Alla Nazimova, Ona Munson, and Marlene Dietrich, among others.
In 1964 Le Gallienne was presented with a special Tony Award
in recognition of her 50th year as an actress and in honor of her work with the National Repertory Theatre.
Although known primarily for her theatre work, she has also appeared in films and television productions. She earned an Oscar nomination for her work in Resurrection, for which she gained the honor of being the oldest Oscar nominee up to that time (1980) until Gloria Stuart in 1997; and won an Emmy Award for a televised version of The Royal Family after having starred in a Broadway theatre revival of that play in 1976.
She made a rare guest appearance in a 1984 episode of St. Elsewhere, appearing with Brenda Vaccaro and Blythe Danner as three women sharing a hospital room.
Eva was a naturalized United States citizen. The National Endowment for the Arts recognized her with the National Medal of Arts in 1986.
She died at her home in Connecticut of natural causes at the age of 92.