Mary Anderson (stage actress)

Mary Anderson (stage actress)
Mary Anderson
Born Mary Antoinette Anderson
July 28, 1859(1859-07-28)
Sacramento, California, U.S.
Died May 29, 1940(1940-05-29) (aged 80)
Broadway, Worcestershire, U.K.
Other names Mary Anderson de Navarro
Spouse Antonio Fernando de Navarro (married 1890)

Mary Anderson (b. July 28, 1859, Sacramento, California — d. May 29, 1940, Broadway, Worcestershire, U.K.) was an American stage actress.


Early life

Mary Antoinette Anderson was the daughter of Charles Henry Anderson, an Oxford-educated New Yorker, and his wife, Antonia Leugers; the latter had been disowned by her Philadelphia Catholic family after the couple had eloped to California.[citation needed]

Shortly after Mary was born, the couple moved to Louisville, Kentucky, where her father enlisted in the Confederate States Army in the American Civil War. He was killed in action at Mobile when she was three.

Mary was educated at the Ursuline convent and the all-girl Presentation Academy in Louisville. She was an unenthusiastic pupil except for an interest in reading Shakespeare. Encouraged by her stepfather, Dr Hamilton Griffin, at 14 she was sent to New York for ten lessons with the actor George Vandenhoff, her only professional training.

Stage career

In 1875, she made her first stage appearance at a benefit performance at Macauley's Theatre in Louisville, Kentucky in the role of Shakespeare's Juliet. The manager, Barney Macauley, was sufficiently impressed to extend the booking to a week as Juliet and further roles including Julia in Sheridan Knowles's The Hunchback, Bianca in Henry Hart Milman's Fazio, and R. L. Sheil's Evadne.

Further engagements at St Louis, New Orleans and John McCullough's theatre in San Francisco led to a contract with John T. Ford. Starting as Lady Macbeth in his Washington theatre in 1877, she began an extensive US tour, culminating with a six-week engagement in Edward Bulwer Lytton's The Lady of Lyons at the 5th Avenue Theatre, New York. Critical review was mixed, but she was immediately popular with the public as "Our Mary"

From this point she enjoyed a twelve-year career of unbroken success, with regular New York performances and US tours. In 1879 she went on a voyage to Europe, meeting Sarah Bernhardt and Adelaide Ristori.[citation needed]

In 1883, after starring in an American production of W. S. Gilbert's Pygmalion and Galatea, she went on the London stage at the Lyceum Theatre, remaining in England for six years to perform to much acclaim including at the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in Stratford-on-Avon. Her first season there, she starred in Gilbert's Comedy and Tragedy.[1]

In 1887 in London she appeared in The Winter's Tale in the double role of Perdita and Hermione (the first actress to include this innovation). This production ran to 160 performances, and was taken back to the United States. She invited writer William Black to appear in the production, but, even in a non-speaking role, he froze up and interrupted the performance.[2] In 1889, however, she collapsed on stage due to severe nervous exhaustion during a performance at Albaugh's Theatre in Washington. Disbanding her company, she announced her retirement at the age of 30. Some commentators, particularly in the British press, ascribed this turn of events to hostile press reviews on her return to the U.S.[3] The author Willa Cather went further and blamed a specifically hurtful review from a close friend.[4]


Later life

Ordered to rest after her breakdown, Mary Anderson visited England. In 1890 she married Antonio Fernando de Navarro, an American sportsman and barrister of Basque extraction, who was a Papal Privy Chamberlain of the Sword and Cape. She became known as Mary Anderson de Navarro. They settled at Court Farm, Broadway, Worcestershire, where she cultivated an interest in music and became a noted hostess with a distinguished circle of musical, literary and ecclesiastical guests. She also gave birth to a son and a daughter in her happy marriage.[5][6]

A devout Roman Catholic, she had a chapel built in her attic, with stained-glass windows designed by Paul Woodroffe. She has been cited as a model for characters in the Lucia novels of E F Benson, either the operatic soprano Olga Bracely [7][8] or Lucia herself,[9][10] as well as the prototype for the heroine of William Black's novel The Strange Adventures of a House-Boat.[10]

She resisted encouragements to return to the theatre, but did a number of fund-raising performances during World War I in Worcester, Stratford and London. The latter included roles as Galatea, Juliet and Clarice in W. S. Gilbert's play Comedy and Tragedy.[11] She published two books of her memories, the 1896 A Few Memories and the 1936 A Few More Memories, and collaborated with Robert Smythe Hichens on a 1911 New York stage adaptation of his novel, The Garden of Allah.


She died at her home in Broadway, Worcestershire, in 1940, aged 80.


Land donated to the Franciscan monks by Anderson is now the Mt. St. Francis Monastery, and home to the Mary Anderson Center, an artist colony. In 1989, the portion of US Route 150 that adjoins the donated property was named The Mary Anderson Memorial Highway.[12] A figure based on Anderson appears in the Louisville Clock.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Comedy and Tragedy at The Gilbert and Sullivan Archive, accessed 18 December 2009
  2. ^ Thomas Wemyss Reid. William Black, Novelist. London and New York: Harper and Brothers, 1902, p. 283.
  3. ^ Return of Mary Anderson, New York Times, October 7, 1911
  4. ^ The Kingdom of Art: Willa Cather's First Principles and Critical Statements, ed. Bernice Slote, Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966. Google Books
  5. ^ New York Times MARY ANDERSON HAS ANOTHER PLAY IDEA; Former Actress... dated Wednesday October 25, 1911
  6. ^ New York Times Sunday October 8 1905 MARY ANDERSON TO MODJESKA: Sends Her Good Wishes for Polish Actress's Farewell Tour
  7. ^ Mr Benson remembered in Rye, and the world of Tilling, Cynthia & Tony Reavell, 1984
  8. ^ The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, Contributor Adolf Carl von Noé, v.47 1953, University of Chicago Press
  9. ^ "Anderson, Mary", Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. [1]
  10. ^ a b Dictionary of American Biography, The American Council of Learned Societies, Sribner, 1959
  11. ^ Obituary, Mme. de Navarro, The Times, May 30, 1940
  12. ^ "INDOT: Memorial Highways and Bridges". INDOT. Retrieved 2010-01-20. 


  • Donald Roy, ‘Anderson, Mary (1859–1940)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  • Winter Stage Life of Mary Anderson (1886)

External links

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