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tess of d'urbervilles

Mrs. Fiske

Minnie Maddern Fiske (Mrs. Fiske) (December 19, 1865February 15, 1932), was one of the leading American actresses of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She also spearheaded the fight against the Theatrical Syndicate for the sake of artistic freedom. Often billed as simply "Mrs. Fiske", she was widely considered the most important actress on the American stage in the first quarter of the 20th century. Her performances in several Henrik Ibsen plays widely introduced American audiences to the Norwegian playwright.

Born Marie Augusta Davey in New Orleans, Louisiana, she was a professional actress from age five. Fiske is perhaps most famous for starring as Becky Sharp in the original 1899 production of Langdon Mitchell's Becky Sharp, a play based on William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair. She wrote several plays and collaborated with her husband Harrison Grey Fiske in writing Fontenelle. Mr. Fiske directed virtually all of his wife's plays after their marriage. According to a New York Times article "Ibsen or Shakespeare?" of March 18, 1928, Harrison Fiske was 11 years old when he first set eyes on the future Mrs. Fisk--she was but 3, performing in a Shakespearean role. Her pay was lollypops.

Among Mrs. Fiske's many triumphs on the Broadway stage were "Becky Sharp" (1899, revivals 1904, 1911), Tess of the d'Urbervilles {1897, revival 1902), A Doll's House (1902), Hedda Gabler (1903, revival 1904), Leah Kleschna (1904-05), "Salvation Nell" (1908-09), "The High Road" (1912-13), "Madame Sand" (1917-18), a play about George Sand; "Mis' Nelly of N'Orleans" (1919), "Helena's Boys" (1924), "Ghosts" (1927), Ladies of the Jury (1929-30), as well as her self-written plays "The Rose" (1905), "The Eyes of the Heart" (1905), "The Light from St. Agnes" (1906). Mrs. Fiske starred in everything from farce to tragedy and even appeared in a comedy with puppets "Wake Up, Jonathan!" (1921). Her final appearance on Broadway was in 1930 in an acclaimed production of The Rivals cast as Mrs. Malaprop.

In the mid 1910's, Mrs. Fiske starred in two feature film adaptions of two of her greatest stage triumphs, Tess Of The D'Urbervilles in 1913 and Vanity Fair in 1915, both of which were surprisingly successful with moviegoers, although she herself felt she was not at her best in the medium and declined further film work.

Her love for performing Ibsen over Shakespeare, and her posture that Ibsen is the better study for actors, can not be overstated. She told the New York Times in January of 1908, "Ibsen is of interest to the actor because properly to understand a role you must study the character from its earliest childhood. Most Ibsen men and women have lived their lives before the curtain rises. Shakespeare has often been pronounced tedious by actors because his characters require a great deal of study. But even Shakespeare seems easy when compared with the thought that must be bestowed upon Ibsen. The beautiful verse, the wonderful character drawing of Shakespeare furnish solutions of perplexing problems, but Ibsen is so elusive. He fascinates by his aloofness. He is the Wagner of the drama. Wagner struggled for understanding just as Ibsen has struggled."

Fiske was one of the most prominent animal welfare advocates of her era.

She died from congestive heart failure at the age of 67 in Queens, New York. She & Harrison had no children. Her cousin was the actress Emily Stevens(1882-1928) and her niece was stage actress Merle Maddern(1888-198?) who looked remarkably like Mrs Fiske.

Selected Theater Appearances

Publications

  • Mrs Fiske and the America Theatreby Archie Binns. New York: Crown Publishers, 1955.
  • Mrs. Fiske: Her views on actors, acting, and the problems of production. Recorded by Alexander Woolcott. New York: The Century Co., 1917.
  • Strang, Famous Actresses of the Day in America (Boston, 1899)
  • McKay and Wingate, Famous American Actors of To-Day (New York, 1896)
  • Hapgood, The Stage in America, 1897-1900 (New York, 1901)
  • Winter, The Wallet of Time (two volumes, New York, 1913)
  • Ibsen or Shakespeare? New York Times, Sunday, March 18, 1928. Section 9, pg.4

External links

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