Vol. 5 No. 1 (Spring 1984)

AT HOME AND ABROAD: THE ACTING CAREER OF JULIA ARTHUR (1869-1950)

Denis Salter

This article reconstructs the career in four countries - Canada, the United States, Germany, and England -of the Canadian actress, producer, and director Julia Arthur, from her birth in Hamilton, Ontario in 1869 until her death in Boston in 1950. Her story illuminates a number of historical and aesthetic issues, including Canada's cultural evolution from colony to nation, early touring conditions, changing critical vocabulary and standards of evaluation, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century styles of performance, and practical problems in theatre company management.

Cet article retrace la carrière dans quatre pays - le Canada, les Etats- Unis, l'Allemagne, et l'Angleterre - de l'actrice canadienne, metteur-en-scène, et régisseur Julia Arthur, depuis sa naissance à Hamilton, Ontario en 1869 j'usqu'à sa mort à Boston en 1950. L'histoire de sa vie éclaircit un certain nombre de sujets aesthetiques et historiques, don't l'évolution culturelle du Canada de la colonie à la nation, les conditions des tournées, les changements dans la vocabulaire critique, les styles de répresentation théâtrale à la fin de 19e debut de 20e siècle, et les problems d'ordres pratiques dans la direction théâtrale.

Christened Ida Lewis, Julia Arthur was born in Hamilton, Ontario on 3 May 1869 as the fifth of sixteen children in a family of Welsh and Irish descent. Her father, Thomas J. Lewis, was a tobacconist and cigar manufacturer, and her mother, Hannah Arthur Lewis, was a full-time homemaker. Together they created a family life which was quietly and unquestioningly informed with Victorian attitudes and feelings not so different from those to be found in a similar household in England. Her early artistic education too was steeped in convention. Her mother, a powerful influence and inspiration throughout her career, was an accomplished Shakespearean reader who used to recite selected passages to her family, to instruct them in the virtues of the finest dramatic literature and to make them appreciate how the speaking voice should be properly managed. Her young daughter was required to follow her mother's example by practising elocution at home; and eventually she took special instruction from the retired English actor and former British parliamentarian John Townsend. She also received encouragement from her father who regarded her, most proudly, as his very own infant phenomenon. Many of the family were gifted musically - Julia herself played the violin - and they had regular at-homes combining musical concerts with poetic recitations of standard works including 'The Wreck of the Hesperus' by Longfellow and 'Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight.' A child of intense imagination, she liked to make up plays in which she figured as the glorious star. And, from an early age, she participated in local amateur theatricals by playing an ambitious range of parts including Portia, Juliet, Hebe in Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore, and Zamora in John Tobin's The Honey Moon. 1

In March 1885 the German actor-manager Daniel E. Bandmann, who had toured virtually every size community in Canada, the United States, and Australia with all the seedy panache and true grit of Vincent Crummles, arrived in Hamilton with his company to stage his standard repertoire at the Grand Theatre. John Townsend, as an old friend of Bandmann's, arranged an audition for his protégée. Bandmann was not enthusiastic about the plan, but he soon paid attention when the young amateur recited with remarkable fervour and impressive skill two poems of her own choosing - the favourite 'Curfew Shall Not Ring Tonight' as well as 'The Baker's Last Banquet'. Bandmann recognised that such youthful dedication and energy would serve his stock company well, and arranged with her parents that she should have a place. She would not be paid - the stock company training was supposed to be payment in itself - until she had received her first good notice.

Julia Arthur's professional debut took place in her hometown at the Grand Theatre on 26 March 1885 when she played Maritana the ballad singer in Don Caesar de Bazan. On 28 March she and her sister Allie performed as the young princes in Bandmann's mainstay production of Richard III. Not long after, Bandmann took the company on an extended tour, first of Canada and then of the United States. During the three seasons which she remained with the German tragedian, Julia Arthur acted almost every kind of female role in a typical stock company repertoire, making a specialty of not only ingenues but roles for older (and often ugly) women. In Richard III, she first played one of the young princes, then the Duchess of York, the Queen, and later Lady Anne; in Macbeth, all of the Witches, a Lady-in-Waiting, and finally, Lady Macbeth; in As You Like It, Phebe, Celia, and Audrey; in The Merchant of Venice, a Page, then Nerissa, and eventually Portia; in Hamlet, the Player Queen, followed by Gertrude and Ophelia; in Othello, a Page, Emilia, and then Desdemona; and in Romeo and Juliet, a Page, Lady Capulet, the Nurse, and finally Juliet at only short notice. In the non-Shakespearean repertoire she continued to display her versatility, taking such highly desirable parts as the Widow Melnotte and then Pauline Deschapelles in Bulwer-Lytton's The Lady of Lyons, Julia in Sheridan Knowles's The Hunchback, in addition to Maritana, the boy, and then an old maid in Don Caesar de Bazan, Lady Teazle in Sheridan's The School for Scandal, Joyce the maid in a version of East Lynne, Emilie De Lesparre in Dion Boucicault's The Corsican Brothers, and Dora Allan in Charles Reade's play Dora based on Tennyson's English idyll of that name. With this part she received her first critical praise, and Bandmann, faithful to his promise to her parents, paid her ten dollars and a regular salary thereafter.

In the initial stages of her engagement she was of course relatively inexperienced. 'Her conception of the character was correct and her acting was exceedingly creditable for so young an actress' commented the Hamilton Spectator (27 March 1885) about her debut performance as Maritana.


 
It will not take her long to overcome the 'amateurishness which must necessarily be displayed in the acting of all beginners, for she has perseverance and love for her art as well as real talent, and she will soon become one of the most valued members of Mr. Bandmann's company.


Indeed she quickly proved herself to be a hardy and versatile trouper. What she required from Bandmann was fundamental, on-the-job training, and that is exactly what she got. Bandmann's costume wardrobe was, to her mind, unspeakably shabby and badly fitting. And so, in keeping with venerable stage practice, she made two gowns for herself. Initially she used to cake herself in unseemly quantities of make-up, only to forget some very conspicuous part such as her hands; but eventually she learned better. Her colleagues - such as William Armstrong, Henry Nelson, William Morton, Wilson Barton, David Hanchett, William R. Owen, and Daniel Bandmann himself, and Louise Beaudet, Marion Keith, Jennie Lyman, and Adelaide Fitz Allen - were not by any means distinguished leaders of their profession. But they possessed a rough-and-ready mastery of their art, and certainly knew how to seize the avid attention of audiences of varying dispositions and tastes in all sorts of venues: cold and drafty community halls, opera houses, Bowery district theatres, and ten, twenty, and thirty cent houses in cities such as Indianapolis, Detroit, Cincinnati, and Pittsburgh. The standard of the company can be readily determined from a satirical review in the Hamilton Spectator (30 March 1885) of their Richard III. The critic took them to task for ranting their parts: 'Seldom have so few people produced so much noise. Mr. Bandmann set a good example as Gloster, and fairly made the canvas houses and streets tremble with his elocutionary whirlwinds'. Their staging methods also left much to be desired.


 
When the king flung himself in his armor on the bed to snatch a few minutes of repose before the battle, the slats of the nineteenth-century bedstead gave way with a crash and let the commonplace modern straw mattress down on the floor in full view of the audience. There was a general roar of laughter, and even the awful ghosts of the murdered slain, in the background, could be observed trembling with suppressed mirth.


The story which Julia Arthur recounts in her memoirs about the actor David Hanchett is also very much in this vein. Whenever it was his turn to play Richard III, his performance was noteworthy, not so much for the quality of the acting, but for the large lumps all over his bared legs and for his very conspicuous wig fashioned from dirty and sagging corkscrew curls.2

Amid these trying circumstances, she began to develop some precisely defined and very determined ideas about the kind of acting she wished to create. That troublesome and elusive term 'natural' soon formed her touchstone. What she meant by it changed a great deal as she acquired more experience. She deliberately eschewed the kind of quasi-athletic histrionics favoured by Bandmann and attempted instead to adapt the finer qualities of his 'old school' mode. She would then practise diligently to master the kind of art which conceals art, to create the impression of verisimilitude. But there was always one more part to be memorized (she prided herself on her ability to learn a new role in fewer than five hours) and hurriedly rehearsed before the next performance. She found time, however, to prepare the ground a little for the principles and methods which would sustain her throughout her career. 'Among other things, I learned that those who played "old parts", such as I was frequently given, must study the faces of the old', she observes in her memoirs;


 
that those who impersonated sickness must study the expressions of sufferers, and that no real artist would attempt a 'maniac scene' without having studied a maniac in action. Quite off my own bat, I began to follow these hints. I studied the faces of the aged until my victims must have longed to strangle me; and then in the cities we visited I began to drop into hospitals and asylums.


On one occasion she was nearly stabbed to death by a crazed inmate -an incident which dampened her enthusiasm for such first-hand research (p 223).

When art and practice failed her, she could rely on her charming personality and her striking appearance. Her eyelashes and eyebrows were very black, very long, and very thick; her figure was slight and somewhat short; and she had acquired a rare gracefulness of manner, gesture, and movement in concert with eloquent facial play. 'She is dark and willowy, with grave, deep eyes and shining hair, very black and full of waves', the critic Amy Leslie observed. 'Her skin is clear, olive, and tender as a Marechal Neil roseleaf, and the outlines of her handsome figure are perfect. She has a studious, thoughtful cast of countenance, which lights up in most angelic splendor under her smile and which in comedy is a chase of pretty dimples and arch mischief.'3 Indeed to many of her admirers Julia Arthur was the epitome of the exotic and the sensual. 'Temperament such as hers, a personality not only suggesting but expressing the quality of tragedy, eyes such as hers, and beauty and voice like hers, we associate somehow with meridional countries, with southern France and Spain and Italy', explained an anonymous New York critic in 1894; 'To find them born under the chill, gray skies of a Canadian town surprises us, and possibly makes us timid to recognize them for their full significance and worth'.4 We can see, from paintings, sketches, and photographs of her various roles, that she was remarkably protean. This seems to have had less to do with the art of make-up than with her ability to transform herself from deep within her strong and intense personality.

She left the Bandmann company at the end of her third season, perhaps weary of the routine, perhaps recognizing that she had learned as much as she could from that kind of haphazard schooling. Like many North American artists, then and now, she had acquired from a very early age a marked taste for European culture. To a degree she felt ill-at-ease in being from a mere colonial culture such as Canada with its limited sense of self-worth and artistic promise. At Bandmann's suggestion she went to Leipzig where she studied the violin; eventually she gave it up to study voice and theatre. Because details are scanty (she does not mention this period in her memoirs), it is difficult to determine what kind of training she received and what influence it may have had on her career. We do know that she attended the theatre a great deal: first in Germany (where she saw The Winter's Tale, for example, though there is no evidence that she understood the language) and then in London. There she much admired the quality of performance, and possibly formed her resolve to join an English acting company of great distinction. This was an aspiration she was to realize less than a decade later when in 1894 she returned to London, eventually securing an engagement with Henry Irving and Ellen Terry at the Lyceum Theatre.

When she got back to North America after this first Europen tour, she accepted the position of star actress with a stock company in California. It proved to be a very shaky venture and within weeks she was looking for another engagement. She then joined the A.R. Wilbur Dramatic Company (based in San Francisco) as leading woman at $45 per week. But though she was with them for an entire season, working their way from California to New York, Wilbur paid them for only a few weeks. Her apprenticeship with Bandmann must have seemed relatively leisurely in contrast to what Wilbur expected of her. In the first week alone she learned and played six different parts, giving no more than one rehearsal to each of them and averaging just a few hours' sleep each night. Within the first month she had memorized and acted about twenty-one different roles. Bandmann could afford the luxury of giving each performer a complete copy of the play. Wilbur, however, relied on the old practice of 'sides'. Again she acted parts typical of a nineteenth-century repertoire - though on this occasion there was no Shakespeare - including Called Back, Ten Nights in a Bar-Room, The Pearl of Savoy, Three Wives To One Husband, East Lynne, The Galley Slave, Escaped From the Law, and The Two Orphans. Without a regular salary, however, she could not continue; and so during the Eastern phase of the tour she left the company and began a trying round of auditions in New York City.

After a brief engagement in New York, she travelled with the Jim (or James) Neill Company, starring Jim Neill and his wife Annie Helen Blancke, to Savannah, Georgia for a ten-week, summer season with the Ford Dramatic Association. Before long she became a favourite of audiences, receiving generous curtain-calls and splendid bouquets as tributes to her success in a variety of parts chosen to show off her versatility. As before she alternated ingenue roles with those of older women. In the humorous part of Araminta Brown in Tom Robertson's David Garrick, she acted 'with a zest and vicacity [sic] that never fail to please'; as Mrs Phobbs in John Maddison Morton's Lend me Five Shillings she 'played the part charmingly'; and as Edith Gray in The Planter's Wife she was given an excellent opportunity to 'be seen at her best in a stirring emotional role'. Critics accorded similar high praise to her acting as Diamond in J. Mortimer Murdoch's The Hoop of Gold, as the mother-in-law in Young Mrs. Winthrop, and as Betsey in Boucicault's The Long Strike.5 Above all else, her prettiness was bewitching and along with her conscientious dedication and versatility served as first-rate recommendation to actor-managers eager to replenish the exhausted ranks of their touring companies.

After another brief engagement in New York, Julia Arthur welcomed the opportunity to return to her native Canada for the 1889-1890 season as a member of E. A. McDowell's touring company.6 In Hamilton, McDowell drew special attention to the presence of a 'hometown daughter' in several of the leading roles, but theatregoers did not attend in the numbers that he had hoped for. On the first night they presented Moths (an adaptation of 'Ouida's' romantic novel of that name). They received a fairly good house; and Julia Arthur's entire family came out to see her. The Spectator (13 May 1890) was full of praise, noting that the audience reserved its heartiest applause for the young actress whose ability far exceeded their expectations. Yet on the second and subsequent performances of their one-week run, business fell off, despite the fact that the McDowell Company was an old favourite in the city, presenting a varied and attractive repertoire that included Henry Hamilton's Our Regiment, Henry Pettitt's The Black Flag, Lester Wallack's Rosedale, William Gillette's The Private Secretary, W.S. Gilbert's Pygmalion and Galatea, and Boucicault's The Shaughraun. McDowell tried a number of face-saving expedients. He announced changes in the bill and made the production of The Private Secretary into a benefit forJulia Arthur's former tutor John Townsend. In his thank-you Townsend spoke not only of his favourite theme - the importance of drama in a civilised country - but 'also expressed his gratification at seeing his pupil of former years, Miss Ida Lewis, rapidly rising in her profession, and predicted that before many years she would be a star' (Spectator 17 May 1890). This benefit drew the largest audience of the run - and would have been even larger, the Spectator explained, if it had not been in competition with a local band concert - but it was not large enough to balance McDowell's books, let alone show him a profit. Two days later the Spectator was reporting that he had lost $300-400 during the visit. 'Your town,' McDowell quipped to his up-and-coming star, '... is like the mountain it's always bragging about. It's only a bluff!' (p 267).

While Julia Arthur was with the McDowell Company she began to receive an increasing amount of descriptive analysis from the newspaper critics. She was fortunate too in that McDowell consistently achieved the highest standard, in acting, settings, and costumes, of any of the actor-managers she had worked for. She was now expanding her range so that, in addition to ingenues and older women parts, she could readily handle more passionate roles such as Vera Hubert in Moths, the play with which they had opened their disappointing run in Hamilton. 'In the first act nothing could have been sweeter and purer and fresher than the portraiture of the young girl', the Spectator (13 May 1890) declared, '... and in the latter acts her acting was marked by a sustained dignity and intense though well-controlled passion, and was altogether worthy of the admiration which it elicited'. Meanwhile as a beautiful heroine (in Boucicault's Irish plays especially) she was becoming even more skilful and enchanting. In Halifax, where the tour began, the Acadian Recorder (20 December 1889) said of her in Arrah-Na-Pogue: 'Miss Arthur looked neat and pretty as Arrah, especially in her first costume. She gave a delightful rendition of the title role, once more showing her great versatility'; and the Morning Chronicle pronounced her equal to McDowell himself as Shaun the Post in her expression of 'all the warmth, devotion and sacrifice of the Irish heart'. The intense naturalness which had formed her main goal since the beginning of her career characterized several of her performances. The Hamilton Spectator (14 and 15 May 1890) described her Olive in Our Regiment as being 'acted in her usual unaffected, conscientious and graceful style', and remarked of her work in The Black Flag that she 'confined her personation of Naomi Blandford, the heroine, within the bounds of naturalness, and deserves much credit for so doing, when the surroundings were a perpetual temptation to exaggeration'.

This search for pleasing naturalness or for verisimilitude as it was understood at that time, continued to preoccupy her when she spent the summer of 1890 in Saint John with the W. S. Harkins Company of New York. This time she was the leading lady, in plays such as Shadows of a Great City by L.R. Shewell and Joseph Jefferson, Woman Against Woman by Frank Harvey, Fate by Bartley Campbell, Queen's Evidence by George Conquest and Henry Pettitt, and once again, Pettitt's The Black Flag in which she took her former part of Naomi Blandford. The Daily Telegraph (15, 22, 23, 29, and 31 July) devoted a great deal of critical attention to the meritorious features of her various performances. Certain critical terms re-appeared frequently. Her Naomi Blandford was said to be marked by 'ease and charm', her Kate Midland in Queen's Evidence was praised for being 'sweetly sympathetic', her Florence Grantley in Fate for its pervasive 'natural acting', and her dual roles of Annie and Helen Standish in Shadows of a Great City for their 'charm and perfect naturalness of manner that captivated the entire audience'. Yet, as during her engagement with McDowell, when required to perform with more histrionic scope, she proved herself equal to the challenge. 'Miss Arthur's impersonation of Bessie Barton was a clean-cut, impassioned performance', commented the Daily Telegraph (25 July) in its review of Woman Against Woman.'... Her denunciation of Rachel Westwood, at the close of the fourth act, was a revelation, as none were aware that there was stored within her breast such dramatic fire. She sustained her role most admirably from the moment she spoke her first line to the finish'.

The next summer, 1891, found her based in New York City, where she readily accepted the leading part of Queen Fortunetta in The Black Masque, an adaptation by Frederick Giles of Edgar Allan Poe's prose tale The Masque of the Red Death. Rehearsals were haphazard and she had to borrow money from family, friends, and creditors to help pay for the costumes. The well-known actor E.J. Henley played the leading male role, and also worked as the assistant stage manager. His presence lent a certain degree of respectability to the venture and was valuable in attracting the attention not only of the public but of the press. When the production opened on 24 August 1891 at Union Square Theatre, the play itself was roundly condemned, as were the costumes, the settings, and many of the performances. But Julia Arthur had, at long last, reached the moment she had been searching for ever since her departure from Hamilton some six years before - she received superb reviews. Typical is the one in the New York Dramatic Mirror (29 August):


 
Miss Arthur's delicate and skilful treatment of the bad part of the Queen was the one striking feature of the performance. She is a clever woman, possessing that rare quality - sensibility. Her voice is musical and flexible; she has beauty and grace. Notwithstanding the vacuity of Mr. Giles' lines she managed to invest them with something approaching significance and force. We shall be surprised if Miss Arthur does not become a metropolitan favorite when she gets an opportunity.


That opportunity came very soon indeed. On the strength of her success in The Black Masque, A.M. Palmer invited her to join the New York based repertory company which he had formed with a number of well-known and respected performers, including Agnes Booth, Mrs D.P. Bowers, Maud Harrison, May Brookins, Ida Conquest, E.M. Holland, Maurice Barrymore, James H. Stoddart, Frederick Robinson, Edward Bell, Walden Ramsay, Reuben Fox, George Fawcett, and E.J. Henley. It is evident from the reviews that Julia Arthur was soon able to match the high standard of ensemble work expected in this industrious company. Her charm, her apparent ease, her prettiness, her finish, her versatility, her command of impassioned delivery on the one hand and natural restraint on the other - all these qualities stood her in good stead. Since it was a repertory company organized on the best principles, she was given a rare luxury - sufficient time in which to interpret and rehearse a role before subjecting it to the scrutiny of critics and audiences alike.

As always, the range of her parts was impressively wide: Letty Fletcher in Saints and Sinners by Henry Arthur Jones, Lady Windermere in Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde, and Mercedes in Thomas Bailey Aldrich's play of that name, as well as numerous roles in standard repertory pieces of the time, including Drusilla Ives in Jones's The Dancing Girl, Mary Lonsdale in A Woman's Revenge, Jeanne Torquenne in The Broken Seal (or A Village Priest), and the part in which she had truly excelled in the McDowell Company - Vera Hubert in Moths. Hector Charlesworth, who saw her Letty Fletcher on tour in 1893, provides a vivid account of her excellences at this period:


 
Her girlish simplicity and ingenuous weakness at the first were rendered with all artlessness; the heavy pathos of the later scenes she played with firmness and truthfulness where most actresses would have floundered painfully. Her presentation of the sick girl in the last act, when joy was striving for utterance through her utter weakness, was grand in pathos and gave a perfect illusion.


Years later Charlesworth admitted that this was 'a gushing tribute from a youth who loved the flow of his own words' yet on reflection he affirmed that 'the tribute was not only well deserved but prophetic'.7 This is a fair estimate, for the qualities which he singled out for praise - especially her ability to enter fully into the spirit of a characterization, sublimating her own personality - were those which later distinguished the most important roles of her career: Lady Macbeth and then Saint Joan in the 1920s.

For Palmer she played Lady Windermere in the first performance of Wilde's play in North America on 5 February 1893. Her interpretation displayed what Charlesworth had also noted of her Letty Fletcher - a complete independence from traditional notions and approaches, this time in the presentation of serious and highly articulate social comedy - and consummate skill in mingling a variety of often contradictory moods while at the same time creating a perfect unity of characterization. Describing Wilde's play as 'an exotic', Lewis C. Strang remarked that as Lady Windermere Julia Arthur 'made plain the tragic element that is so much a distinguishing trait of her dramatic personality.' Her striking natural features, moreover, lent a great deal of piquancy to the acting: 'She was scarcely more than a girl in those days' Strang went on to explain,


 
a brunette of the most pronounced type, a face Madonna-like, with eyes coal black and limpid, soft and caressing in moments of tenderness, welling full of tears in moments of sorrow, flashing, burning, scornful in moments of passion, wonderful eyes of abiding fascination, approaching Edwin Booth in their powers of expression.8


However, it was in Aldrich's play Mercedes - in the title role of a fiery Spanish girl - that Julia Arthur made the greatest impression during her tenure with Palmer in the masterful evocation of sensuous intensity and exotic beauty which she communicated with some of the 'old school' techniques first learned from Bandmann: arresting poses, resonant delivery, flamboyant gestures, and compelling, ever-shifting expressions of the face and eyes. In this role too she was able to rely upon that Mediterranean quality which had entranced a number of her critics and fans. 'In this brief one-act tragedy Miss Arthur found a character peculiarly suited to her personality', commented W.J. Thorold of her performance, '- for with her lustrous eyes, so large and dark, her raven-black hair, her soft, rich voice so full of music, her passionate expression, she is the ideal heroine of romance - the woman that men dream about and delight to look upon'.9

Despite her remarkable success in New York City, her touring days were not entirely over. During the summer break Palmer would lend her to other stock companies. In 1892, for example, she worked for Jacob Litt's Company in Minneapolis and St Paul. Palmer also placed her in a touring company of his own. On one occasion she made the long trek from Columbus, Ohio to Louisville, Kentucky, learning an entirely new part en route. Inevitably tensions arose. She found the stage-director a great trial and after a fracas with him resolved to quit the company. Upon her arrival in New York she went to see Palmer himself, who was most alarmed to discover that she could be so un-professional as to abandon her colleagues in the midst of a tour. And, despite the good fortune that had at last come her way, there were other matters aggravating the progress of her very ambitious career. Reading between the lines of her memoirs one detects a note of thwarted aspiration: she wanted to be the leading lady of the company and yet her way was blocked by other star performers.

She believed too that American performers (she seems to have thought of herself as chiefly American by this point) were not properly appreciated, indeed that they were forced to take second place in critical esteem and public favour to visiting European artists. She made a great fuss about the matter but was taken severely to task for being so presumptuous. 'How many of the foreign actors against whom Miss Arthur rails have attained so prominent a position as hers in so short a time?' inquired the New York Sun. 'Every one of them has gone through years and years of provincial drudgery before they ever dreamed of starving. Her slap at American managers after the treatment she has received at Mr. Palmer's hands savors of downright ingratitude.' 10 Deciding to turn her back on the United States for the time being, she set sail for England, explaining to a reporter for the New York Dramatic Mirror: 'I know that a higher standard of judgment and criticism prevails in England than here, but I am going to London in sheer desperation - discouraged, hopeless of ever finding a way to advancement in my own land unless I am able to return with a foreign stamp of approval.'11 Her apprenticeship had been thorough and punishing: by her own estimate she had played some 150 different roles in the previous eight years and yet she was still only twenty-five years old. With these impressive credentials she arrived in London in October 1894.

The English critics were intrigued when they discovered that a Canadian actress from Hamilton, Ontario was working hard for success on the London stage. The Theatre (1 August 1897) published a biographical article about her, along with a striking portrait, in which it cited Kipling's 'Our Lady of the Snows' to evoke an impression of Canada in the minds of its English readership. A letter of introduction from the American manager Charles Frohman served to open many doors. She was interviewed by George Alexander, by John Hare, and by Charles Wyndham. The latter introduced her to Oscar Wilde who flattered her by saying that he had heard good things about her Lady Windermere. The veteran critic Clement Scott made it widely known that in his opinion she would make an ideal successor to Mrs Patrick Campbell in the role of Agnes Ebbsmith.12 Meanwhile she received a number of offers from American actors and producers, including Daniel Frohman, Richard Mansfield, and Messrs Rosenfeld; she was also invited to return to New York to star in the first American production of Trilby. But she continued in London even though she had very little money. Finally she received word that Henry Irving would like to see her at the Lyceum. To her surprise he offered her the part of Rosamund in a revival of Tennyson's Becket, as well as various parts as understudy to Ellen Terry which she accepted with alacrity. According to Hector Charlesworth, she was told by Irving's manager Bram Stoker that she had been hired as a stimulus to Ellen Terry, who was supposed to be getting rather blasé about some of. her roles.13 This is difficult to believe; even if it were true, an English actress would have had the same inspiring effect. Quite simply, Irving seems to have been impressed not only by her competent acting but by the kind of dedication (rather like his own) which had sustained her throughout her many years of touring. She was duly impressed by him and by the high standard of work which he demanded from his company, Ellen Terry included. 'It seemed incredible that I, Julia Arthur, of Hamilton, Ontario, was actually here in Irving's famous playhouse', she commented in breathless wonder to herself while waiting for her first rehearsal to begin; '... But if it was a dream, as it seemed, it was a glorious one. ...' (p 389). In the two and a half years she remained with Irving (from December 1894 until the summer of 1897) she played an impressive array of characters: not only the promised plum of Rosamund in Becket, but Elaine in King Arthur by Comyns Carr, Elisa, Princess of Piombino in Sardou's Madame Sans-Gêne, Sophia in Olivia (an adaptation by W.G. Wills of Goldsmith's novel The Vicar of Wakefield) and in Shakespeare, Lady Anne in Richard III, Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, and Jessica in The Merchant of Venice. She also played Imogen in Cymbeline with H. Cooper Cliffe as Iachimo, but she was never given the opportunity to the play the part with Irving: that pleasure was reserved only for Ellen Terry.

Under Irving's patient tutelage, and with Ellen Terry and other members of the Lyceum Company serving as inspiring models, Julia Arthur's acting reached a very high level of achievement. Not until her portrayal of Shaw's Saint Joan some thirty years later would she receive such uniformly high praise. In ingenue parts - among them Elaine in King Arthur and Rosamund in Becket - her acting was characterized by winsome delicacy and refinement, by sweetness and beauty, and by captivating gracefulness in gesture and movement. Her voice was in good form: bell-like and resonant, it evoked ideal purity and the mysterious enchantments of myth and legend. For many critics she seemed to be not a mere flesh and blood actress but an attenuated being, otherworldly - a vision of Pre-Raphaelite loveliness. The American critics were especially susceptible to these impressions when she appeared With Irving and the Lyceum Company on the 1895-1896 tour of the United States. As Elaine, for instance, in King Arthur, her favourite criticism came from the dean of American critics, William Winter, who described her as 'an actress in whom long since was recognized a touch of something rare and fine, the freedom of an imaginative temperament and the singularity of an original person', and who remarked of her Elaine in particular that it was 'as delicate as a tracery of frost in winter'. 14 In a similar vein, the distinguished Boston critic Henry Austin Clapp wrote in the Daily Advertiser (7 October 1895) of her Rosamund in Becket that it had 'a sensibility almost poetic at its finest instants' while the Boston Post (6 October) suggested that she was certainly up to the standard which Ellen Terry had established in the role.

In Lyceum Shakespeare she also fared very well with the critics, particularly as Lady Anne in Richard III. She played the part only once at the Lyceum to Irving as Richard, for after the opening night (19 December 1896) Irving hurt his knee and the production had to be cancelled. According to William Archer she was 'preposterously and cumbrously overdressed' (the pictorial material suggests that he was right); Irving himself, Julia Arthur explains in her memoirs, was in a state of uncharacteristic nervous anxiety and kept interrupting the concentrated intensity of their scene together; and finally, as Bernard Shaw pointed out in his notice for the Saturday Review, she was hampered by having to act to the peculiar interpretation and methods of Irving in the title role! 'She could not very well box the actor-manager's ears, and walk off', Shaw added, 'but really she deserves some credit for refraining from that extreme remedy'. All these matters conspired against her to a certain degree. The Standard (21 December 1896) was forced to comment that she 'was somewhat overweighted as Lady Anne, for she began her scene with success, but scarcely sustained it'; and The Theatre (1 January 1897) declared: 'Unhappily the part of Lady Anne proved too much for her strength, although in the less exacting passages she showed decided ability'. However, there were many other critics who had far more approving things to say of her performance. J. T. Grein admired 'her tragic face and her thrilling, musical voice', and even Shaw, despite his caustic mood brought on by Irving's Richard, felt compelled to praise: 'Julia Arthur honestly did her best to act the part as she found it in Shakespear; and if Richard had done the same she would have come off with credit'.15 In a comparative analysis of the performers, J.F. Nisbet of the Times (21 December) observed: 'The place of honour among them must certainly be given to Miss Julia Arthur. As Lady Anne ... she helps us assuredly to understand how for once woman in this humour may be wooed and won. Hers is a fine performance, too, on the minor scale'. She herself was disheartened, however, by her acting; but she derived comfort from Irving when he remarked in his best avuncular fashion: 'Now I want you to forget those criticisms. You did beautiful work last night. "The Times" said so, and it was right. You will be a great actress, some day. Comfort yourself by thinking of that' (p 390).

At the Lyceum Julia Arthur became an actress of international recognition. She relied not only on the excellences of her art but on the ready adoption, depending on which one suited her purposes at any given time, of three national identities. In England she presented herself in the following rather complex way: as American by theatrical experience and training, as Canadian by birth, and as British by virtue of Canada's status as a monarchy. She seems to have acquired from her earliest years what we would call today a mid-Atlantic accent, or she could assume this accent whenever she wished. Irving once said to her: 'I'm glad you don't speak with an American accent!' (p 389) and a number of English critics were quick to notice how very English she seemed to be. The Gentlewoman (26 December 1896), for example, said of her performance in Richard III: 'Miss Julia Arthur, whom no one would have suspected of being an American, gave a fine rendering of the grief-stricken Lady Anne. ... she was beautiful to look upon, and in her grief none grieved more than she'. Indeed it was the marked condescension of the English which was in large measure behind Julia Arthur's desire to rise to the top of their theatre. When she had first arrived in London, she had been invited to the home of a popular English playwright (discreetly, she refuses to name him), who had been rude enough to say:'Don't you know ... that we don't like Americans on the stage over here?' (p 376). The remark so offended her that 'She resolved to prove him wrong; and so during her successful debut as Rosamund in Becket she had the pleasure of observing him in the audience:


 
The sight of him gave me a sense of exhilaration that carried me triumphantly through the performance. I did my best and knew that I was doing it. At the end of the last act Irving's friends swarmed behind the scenes, as was their custom, and many of them, including Pinero, said pleasant things to me. But the playwright-prophet, whose voice had filled with its hopeless message the wilderness of my first weeks in his country, was not among those friendly souls (p 389).


Yet, when she travelled with Irving, Ellen Terry, and the Lyceum Company on the 1895-1896 tour of North America, she was greeted in the United States not as an English or Canadian actress but as an American whose skill and extraordinary talent had vouchsafed her a place in the finest English company of the day, and who had chosen to return home, as it were, to present performance in which American audiences and critics alike could bask in reflected glory. 'Our first night brought me the great surprise of my life', she writes in her memoirs about their opening performance of King Arthur at Abbey's Theater in New York City on 4 November 1895,


 
for when I entered and knelt before Queen Guinevere - who of course was Terry - I was given a really beautiful reception by the audience. It was absolutely unexpected; for a moment I did not know how to receive it. I began my lines but the applause kept on, and now I realized that Terry was speaking to me and smiling her beautiful smile: 'Wait a moment, Julia,' she murmured. 'Give your friends a chance!'


During their run in New Orleans, the Lyceum Company manager Bram Stoker was compelled to point out to her that she 'was not the star of the company'; and in Chicago as well she was very warmly received. 'I confess that there was balm in this', she explains with great satisfaction, 'for I had carried away a sore heart which never quite healed until I discovered that so many of my countrymen remembered me and cared for me' (p 390). A sample of the reviews bears this out. 'Julia Arthur, the gifted young American girl who fled to England because this country ungraciously refused to recognize her talents, is so beautiful a vision as the flower maid of Astolat...', commented the effusive critic Amy Leslie in the Chicago Daily News (25 February 1896). 'Miss Arthur's reception was almost as generous and sincere as that accorded Miss Terry. ... This young woman is a little mine of genius, her beauty is indisputable and distinct and her mental qualities far above any American actress since the time of Mary Anderson'. In New York the Spirit of the Times (9 November 1895) wrote with quiet respect: 'Julia Arthur returns to America as the sad Elaine and in this slight sketch of a character shows the refinement of her European study'.

The cultural insecurity of the Americans affords an illuminating contrast to the way in which Canadian audiences and critics reacted to her success. 'It was extremely satisfying to go back as an associate of Irving and Terry, and the proudest hours I have known in my career came when we opened our season in Toronto', she explains in her memoirs,


 
and my mother was there to see me play Elaine. Irving and Terry were her theatrical idols, as they were mine; and I am sure that in seeing her daughter on the same stage with them, a member of the greatest theatrical company in the world, she must have experienced the sensation of unreality that so often swept over me (pp 389-390).


But the Canadian critics, though their observations were polite and generous in praise, had a very limited understanding of what she had accomplished, and of what it meant, in cultural, nationalistic, and colonial terms, for a Hamiltonian to be a member of Irving's distinguished theatre company. In Toronto, for example, the Daily Mail and Empire (27 September 1895) commented dryly: 'Miss Julia Arthur, the Canadian actress, had as Elaine a character that is unavoidably forced into the background. Yet she artistically availed herself of the few opportunities offered her, and showed much emotional power in her expression of her despairing love for Lancelot'. The Globe did not even mention her nationality, merely remarking: 'Miss Julia Arthur as Elaine has little to do, but does that little well, and looks the part to perfection'.

Clearly the critic for the New York Spirit of the Times had been right: the Lyceum had served as her advanced training school. Julia Arthur certainly saw it in this way, remarking in a London interview with St. Paul's (27 July 1895) that she was 'happy to be able to state that the great master and mistress of our art, to whom I have been pleased to go for my finishing-touches for one year, Sir Henry Irving and Miss Terry, have commended my work with them most highly.' Irving was an exacting task-master. He was noted for being ruthless and sardonic towards plodding, egocentric, or overwrought performers. Julia Arthur explains that during her first rehearsal he 'delivered himself of a few bitingly sarcastic remarks', but that she would not tolerate this sort of behaviour. "'Mr. Irving", I said, "I can bear any amount of criticism - I'm grateful for it; but I cannot bear sarcasm. It does not help me. So I beg that you won't use it again when you speak to me. "' Rather than being angry at her presumption, Irving gave her a smile and spoke a few pleasantries. 'The little incident must have lingered in his memory, however,' she records in her memoirs, 'for never again, during our two years and a half together, was he sarcastic at my expense, though he often flayed other members of the company' (p 389). Did she really come to imitate the acting of her so-called master and mistress? In describing her Imogen, played to H. Cooper Cliffe's Iachimo, one critic said that she was 'an intelligent and graceful actress, who has been able to study the methods of Ellen Terry. ...' 16 Yet this should not be taken to mean that she merely parroted their work. Her own artistic sensibility was too distinctly formed by the time she arrived in London; and her personality was far from docile. What she took from the Lyceum was a rare, almost religious devotion to creating the kind of theatre company where excellence could flourish. 'What they had given me could never be taken away, nor could the memory of Irving's almost invariable kindness and courtesy' (p 449).

In 1897 Julia Arthur left the Lyceum Company. She realized, as she had some three years earlier during her engagement with A.M. Palmer, that she had gone as far as she could, for Ellen Terry's position as Irving's leading lady had never really been in dispute. Julia Arthur had designs on being a leading lady herself. In the summer of 1897 she returned to the United States as the star of her very own company, financed and managed by her brother Arthur Lewis in collaboration with the Boston millionaire Benjamin Pierce Cheney, Jr, and as the star of a new play A Lady of Quality, adapted for the stage from Frances Hodgson Burnett's popular novel of that name. She was setting out to emulate the model of Irving, Terry, and the Lyceum, and entering the next main phase of her varied and strenuous career.

In forming her repertoire she was guided by the belief that in the staging of Shakespeare especially the theatre 'may be an advantageous handmaiden or ally of every institution of learning'. 17 Her intention, however, was not to serve up dull and exhausting lessons to audiences, but rather to inspire them to moral and artistic greatness through feeling. 'Emotional roles are the ones I succeed best with; those that require pathos, yes, and tears,' she explained of her own performances, 'for I believe, all that is said to the contrary notwithstanding, that people like to have their sympathies touched; women especially like to go the theatre to see plays that make them cry.' 18 Therefore she created a mixed repertoire of classical and modern works, including Shakespeare's As You Like It and Romeo and Juliet along with unquestionable money-spinners such as A Lady of Quality (in which she played her favourite part of the romantic heroine Clorinda Wildairs), Emile Bergerat's More Than A Queen (allowing her to play Empress Josephine), W. S. Gilbert's Pygmalion and Galatea, and her former starring-vehicle from the period with A.M. Palmer - Mercedes. The acting company was not up to the Lyceum standard in England, nor that of Daly and Palmer in the United States. But it was of middle-level competence and doubtless would have improved if Julia Arthur's new venture had managed to last more than a few years.19 Her best actress was her lifelong friend Florence Conron; Napier Lothian served as stage-director; and among the actors were Edwin Arden, Joseph Herbert, Stephen Townsend, and W.S. Hart who, among many important roles, played Romeo to her Juliet.

She did not have the lease of a New York theatre. It was therefore difficult to attract the kind of national and international focus which Irving, for example, enjoyed at the Lyceum Theatre in London. She was forced to open productions in important cities outside of New York and, if they were successful, she could transfer them without too much difficulty to Broadway. A Lady of Quality, for example, received its premiere production in Detroit on 4 October 1897 and then re-opened three weeks later on 1 November 1897 at Wallack's Theatre in New York. Actually this was something of a miracle, since the theatre in Detroit burnt down after the third performance, destroying all the scenery and costumes, estimated to be worth $30,000. Although this was a small fortune in those days, her brother and Cheney managed to raise enough capital to re-mount the production for the engagement at Wallack's. If they had not been able to do this, the production would not have received the kind of critical and public attention which it needed in order to meet expenses. Not having a permanent theatre in New York also meant that a great deal of time was inefficiently spent locating appropriate venues and negotiating contracts. Moreover, once a New York run was over, she had to make arrangements to take a production on a fairly extended tour.

As an actress and now director as well, she followed traditional styles of performance while introducing occasional new readings or pieces of business or by-play. She sought to create typical nineteenth-century historical verisimilitude in costumes, settings, and incidental music, in the arrangement of crowd scenes, and in the kinds of lifelike or 'natural' characterizations which she expected from her performers. Her promptbook for As You Like It is chock-a-block with information about lighting, settings, costumes, and stage properties, and reveals the varied and often complicated blocking in a wealth of detail.20 It is clear that she intended to create throughout an illusion of actuality, particularly in the scenes in the Forest of Arden. The result was realism of a kind; not the relentlessly lifelike realism of, for example, David Belasco, but the picturesque - that is to say, pleasing and somewhat idealized - variety practised by Irving in England and Bernhardt in France. On this point too she had been very clear in formulating her artistic principles. As she had once explained to W.J. Thorold in an interview: 'I shall endeavour to make each production of Shakespeare as simple as possible, though as beautiful as consistency will permit. The text itself will be the only limit to the splendour of the costuming and the mounting.' 21 However, this emphasis on sumptuousness in mise en scène was somewhat badly judged. Perhaps from lack of practice in organizing matters on such a large scale, she often provided too much upholstery and not enough stuffing. For this she was sometimes taken to task, and severely too, by the critics.22 The spectacular mode succeeded best when it was held firmly in check by a refined, discerning, and highly experienced artistic sensibility.

She seems to have found the dual responsibilities of acting and directing to be very onerous. Her own performances suffered accordingly. The reviews suggest that she was no longer at the zenith of achievement which she had reached as Imogen, Hero, Lady Anne, Elaine, and Rosamund when acting with the Lyceum Company. 'Miss Arthur, however, has still to reach her full artistic stature', commented Lewis C. Strang, 'and the tragic depths of her temperament have only partially been revealed'. At the same time Strang lauded her efforts to improve the artistic well-being of the American Theatre: 'she is, moreover, one of the three or four persons in this country who are actually - and at some personal sacrifice, too - accomplishing something for the drama as an art'.23 Her Rosalind, for example, had much to recommend it, and yet to some critics it seemed uninspired, perhaps even perfunctory, in too many of its features. 'She was, in all scenes, lovely to look upon', wrote the pleased critic of the New York Times (29 November 1898), 'for those speaking eyes of hers now spoke from under tresses of a reddish golden hue, her court gown was handsome and her doublet and hose - to wit, a brown jerkin with boots and leggings to match - became her well'. Yet the same critic had to admit that in the first 'two acts her portrayal was strangely deficient in spirit and expression, her facial play being limited to a look of mild astonishment, a polite smile and a pretty frown', and attributed this lacklustre manner to a desire to eschew theatrical traditions.


 
But she woke up in the second forest scene, and thereafter, though she carried the play forward at a pace somewhat too rapid, she put feeling into the portrayal and endowed it with the needful variety of tone and emphasis. A famous Rosalind she may never be, but her performance is sure to improve, and to repay the attention of intelligent playgoers, of whom not too many were present last night.


And indeed the performance did improve, for when the Times sent its critic Edward A. Dithmar to review the production on 4 December, he felt moved enough to quote the poetry of Julia Arthur's countryman Bliss Carman in order to describe the beauties of her acting:


 
this daughter of a fat but banished Duke is a rare and radiant creature, and she moves, now blithely, now dejectedly, through sylvan scenes so real in their verdure, so entrancing in their beauty, that to quote again the Canadian poet, one, as he looks on them, fancies he may -'hear the golden thrushes / Flute and hesitate by turns.'


Nonetheless, whenever she revived the production, the general impression was that although her Rosalind was very fine in its way, it did nothing to supersede the Rosalinds of Julia Marlowe, Ada Rehan, and Adelaide Neilson.

Criticisms of her Juliet suggest in a similar fashion that the distractions of management, the uneven quality of her company, and perhaps even a lack of true originality in her artistic temperament, all made for a performance which was good but not distinguished. Her Italianate quality, evident from early in her career, impressed many critics. 'Miss Arthur's Juliet is a rare picture always - a picture in oils, full of color, sharp, strong lights and heavy shadows', ran one much-quoted review. 'The color of Italy is there; the passionate warmth of the land where the soil but gently taxed gives up its wine and oil and rich fruits, is in the atmosphere of this production'. But despite this sort of encomium, she was censured for being either too tame or two weighty, especially in the early scenes. The same reviewer suggested that she was in fact too mature (she was nearing thirty) to play the role properly.24 Naturally enough, as the tragedy unfolded she improved, for emotional intensity was ever her strong suit. In the final death scene she was at her best, for it was a scene she knew well and loved, and had been one of her important achievements with Bandmann. With him she had sought, above all else, to be natural in dying but the effect had miscarried and was ludicrous rather than awe-inspiring: '... when in the last act I crawled across to Romeo's dead body, I was so long in getting there that a restless soul in the gallery started to leave', she recalled in her memoirs. 'Then the stillness of the house was broken by the voice of my first "gallery god".' "Set down, you! " he yelled sharply. "Give her time to die!" I died - more abruptly than I had intended to; and my last moments were made additionally painful by the horrible convulsions of Romeo, who was shaking with laughter under me' (p 223). In her own production almost fifteen years later she had much valuable experience, having mastered artistic restraint. Yet her intention was what it always had been: to render death with picturesque intensity and pathos. 'After her delivery of those terror-fraught lines, so uttered as to intensify the numbing horror of Juliet's position, she paused and stared off to nothingness with an expression in her magnificent dark eyes in which horror, devotion, futility, and determination alternated', explained H.R. Van Law in an article for Theatre Magazine (July 1910).'Then, with a slow compelling movement - as if forcing herself to act by sheer willpower - she drank the potion and fell backward full length upon the floor in the centre of the chamber. And I have never ceased to wonder how she contrived to fall backward so stiffly and yet with such undeniable grace'.

Despite all the praise her Juliet received, like her Rosalind it failed to register as one of the great performances of all time. Lewis C. Strang's final judgment summed up the reasons:


 
Miss Arthur, with all her marvellous beauty, with all her natural equipment of passionate power, is not an inspired Juliet. Her grasp on the poetry of the rôle is weak, and her limitation of temperament or narrowness of conception permit her to fill only here and there the full measure of Juliet's character. Unfortunately, she never displays any great sustained emotion nor strikes even ever so faintly the note of tragic genius.25


Possibly she was working too self-consciously to give up the histrionic traditions which she knew so well from her stock company training, and as a result fell into the opposing folly of being too restrained. There were other practical difficulties which she could do little to remedy. As in the production of As You Like It, the acting of her company was far below her own standard and her own performance suffered accordingly. W.S. Hart, as Romeo, for example, was taken to task by the critic Norman Hapgood for acting as though he were in a melodrama rather than a tragedy.26

The production formed, moreover, a signal nineteenth-century example of Shakespearean poetry, characterization, and story-telling being sacrificed on the altar of spectacular effects. In his autobiography W.S. Hart explains that he had five separate changes of costume. This excessive attention to visual splendour in the re-creation of Verona led to an amusing incident which reveals much about the kinds of everyday problems Julia Arthur had to contend with. Hart was so worn-out by his costume changes that during the parting scene he paused long enough out of view of the audience to drink some refreshing beer. But the scene resumed before he could finish, and suddenly he found himself looking up at Juliet on her balcony, 'gazing at her heart-broken lover guzzling a bottle of beer!' 27 Arthur, fortunately, had the good sense to laugh with Hart over this little mistake. The price for all the production's faults, however, was very high: it was not considered good enough to take to New York City, and instead spent its life touring. In Shakespeare real success was eluding her; unqualified praise was reserved for her romantic modern repertoire of A Lady of Quality, More Than A Queen, Pygmalion and Galatea, and Mercedes.

Her difficulties as an actress-manager were resolved in an unexpected way. She increasingly found herself in the company of her brother's business partner - the very wealthy Bostonian Benjamin Pierce Cheney, Jr. They fell in love, and on 23 February 1898, they slipped away from public view for a quiet marriage in Covington, Kentucky. Now she felt herself caught between the conflicting duties of a home-life and a continuing artistic career. Cheney, she explains in her memoirs, presented myriad reasons as to why she should give up her career. He was unwilling, for example, to follow her and her company on the road. In the event, Julia Arthur's dilemma came to an end when, during a run of A Lady of Quality in New York City in her third season of management, she found herself in a state of nervous exhaustion. Scuttling her plans to produce The Winter's Tale, Much Ado About Nothing, and possibly Antony and Cleopatra, she resolved to take a year's retirement, living amidst the quiet pleasures of the Cheney family cottage in Middle Brewster, Massachusetts. As it turned out she retired for over fifteen years. Many years later she met her great idol Sarah Bernhardt, who asked her why she had left the stage. 'Because I married,' Julia Arthur replied. And then, in recounting this story, she acted out Bernhardt's response. "'Pouff!" cried Sarah (and Julia, mimicking her look, tone and gesture exactly, flung up both arms, hands at different altitudes, wide apart), "Pouff! What has that to do with it?" "'Marriage," concluded Julia, laughing, "never had much to do with it for Bernhardt!"' 28

But marriage had a great deal to do with it for Julia Arthur. Poised to become one of the most noteworthy and admired actresses in the United States, she gave it all up for domestic pleasures. She may have recognized that she was not in fact Sarah Bernhardt, that she was not Ellen Terry or Henry Irving, that she had indeed reached the epitome of her career by the age of thirty. She may have been permanently exhausted by the Byzantine complexities of running a theatre company. On all these fine points her memoirs are silent. Doubtless the life of a Bostonian had its irresistible charms to which she readily acceded. As wife to a well-known American millionaire she did not really leave the limelight. Articles appeared regularly in the Sunday supplements and fashion magazines describing in vivid and tantalising detail the splendid home ('The Moorings') which she and Cheney built on Calf Island in Boston Harbor, their balls, their boating parties, their friendships, and the successes and failures of his career as a financier, She had become a charming and much sought-after socialite: 'after a very little time my old life on the stage began to seem vague and dream-like - almost as if I had lived it on some other wandering planet' (p 33).

She returned to the stage during World War I, at age forty-five, by reviving her ever-popular Mercedes, first as a benefit performance on 6 November 1914 at the Boston Theater for the European Actors' Relief Fund and the American Ambulance in Paris, and then at the Shubert Theater in New York City on 15 December during a War Benefit on behalf of the Secours National and the Actors' Relief Fund, Subsequently, in keeping with her former practice, she premiered a new play, The Eternal Magdalene by Robert McLaughlin, as a pre-season try-out in Wilmington, Delaware in September 1915. After a short additional run at the Academy of Music in Baltimore, she transferred it to New York City's 48th Street Theater where it opened on 1 November. Eventually, however, she had to take the production to Boston for its winter run. Again she was frustrated by not having a permanent New York theatre to attract continuing attention.

In a publicity interview with Geraldine Steinmetz for Maclean's Magazine, she explained that there were several reasons behind her attempt at a come-back. As a society woman concerned with doing good works she felt duty-bound to make some kind of contribution to the war-effort, Her husband, after many years of gentle persuasion, had at last given his consent (it seems that his own business was experiencing difficulties, and he needed some financial assistance). She was also very impressed by the moral loftiness - to say nothing of the striking opportunities which it gave her as an actress - of The Eternal Magdalene. 29 Fortunately she gained the support of the press. An exciting legend was fashioned from her career, especially when Hearst's Magazine agreed to serialize her memoirs over five issues.

By September 1916 (possibly even earlier) she at least had executive offices in the Hudson Theatre Building in New York City,30 and with a company of her own was under contract to Daniel Frohman to mount some of the plays of her former repertoire. Apart from The Eternal Magadalene, [sic] the only novelty was a romantic melodrama about medieval France called Seremonda by William Lindsey, which she opened at the Criterion Theater in New York City in January 1917. The commercial theatre had changed markedly, in its practical as well as artistic concerns, during her long retirement. In an interview with Louis R. Reid of the New York Dramatic Mirror (13 January 1917) there is a sense that, like Bernhardt or Ellen Terry, she had very little sympathy for the new naturalistic drama preoccupied with social problems such as women's rights. 'I have felt for quite some time that there was a public for the romantic play, and that is why I made this venture,' she remarked of Seremonda. 'If we fail in finding the public for romance, clean, sweet, and alluring, we at least have blazed the path and some one coming behind us a little later may accomplish the task we set for ourselves - that of making popular again the good old drama in which love and chivalry held sway.'A propos David Belasco and the realistic mode, she declared a trifle defensively: 'I think we have all witnessed enough of court-room scenes and bedrooms on the stage, and that the drama is in for a good and lasting revival of interest in the swashbuckling - as they call it - plays of the old school.' In the spirit of her former mentor John Townsend and the kinds of aesthetic ideals which she had espoused so fervently in 1897, she concluded the interview by observing: 'The stage, indeed , is more to me than anything else in the world, because it is the picture lesson of the world's school. I am not trying to elevate the stage, it needs no elevation - only intelligent and loving followers.'

But though she had her admirers, there was not enough real critical and public support for a repertory company run on old-fashioned principles in an old-fashioned style. The review in the New York Times (2 November 1915) of The Eternal Magdalene could just as easily have been written about one of her performances in the heroic idealized manner of the 1890s:


 
Her playing is done very quietly and in a single key. Her voice is of fine quality and her use of it a delight. Only in the closing scene, where an effort is made to reproduce most strikingly the color and outline of a famous painting, is her work a little unimpressive from its very conventionality of tone and gesture.


Even her husband, always her staunchest supporter, was forced to admit to the journalist Lucien Price that The Eternal Magadalene [sic] was not a success with the public.31 In its second review the Times (7 November) summed up the problem neatly by calling it 'The Eternal Maudlin.'

The period up to 1921 therefore found her engaged in the difficult business of recovering not only her interpretative skills but her former reputation with theatregoers. She also worked part-time for the Red Cross; and participated in several benefit productions of plays such as Ethellyn Brewer De Foe's When Baptiste Came Back, directed by David Belasco at his own theatre on 10 February 1919 for the Stage Women's War Relief, and J. Hartley Manners's Out There presented at the Century Theater on 11 May 1918 for the Red Cross. Becoming an example of the patriotic American, she made a phonograph recording for Victrola of the 'Battle Hymn of the Republic' and 'America'. The copy in the Recorded Sound Collection of the Music Division at the National Library gives a clear impression of her manner of delivery. The sound is grand and rich in colour, the enunciation is remarkably precise, and throughout she employs a subtle yet emphatic chant to impart melodic support to the verse. To the Canadian ear it sounds very English, similar to what is referred to, often deprecatingly, as the RADA voice. It certainly explains why her performances seemed more than a trifle old-fashioned to American theatre critics of the 1910s, though they were often generous in admiring her so-called old school virtues.

Inevitably, in search of audiences for her expensive productions, she was led back to her first home where, as both a native Hamiltonian and a great international artist, she was assured good business at the box-office. The older she grew, the fonder she became of her native country. The telling phrase 'I have only one home, and it is Hamilton' was not only her way of flattering theatregoers but was deeply felt.32 She had never severed her ties to the city. Often, between engagements over the years, she would visit her parents; on 15 March 1898 she was given a cordial reception by the Women's Art Association; and in March 1916 she took The Eternal Magadalene [sic] to both Hamilton and Toronto. In the interview with Julia Arthur in the January 1916 issue of Maclean's Magazine, Geraldine Steinmetz explained that Canadians were excited because one of their artists, no matter how distant she had been, was now making a newsworthy come-back. Cultural nationalism of the sort that had been so absent during the Irving tour of 1895-1896 was now in the ascendant, buoyed up by the patriotic fervour of the War. Yet in the midst of her enthusiasm Steinmetz inadvertently revealed that many Canadians still had little faith in their imaginative resources: 'Julia Arthur is not only by birth a Canadian, but is of that artistic race, the Celtic ... so that she couldn't help having temperament, even if she was born in Hamilton'.33 Julia Arthur regarded herself in this period as she had when she was with Irving at the Lyceum in London: as both a Canadian and a British subject with a theatrical career spent mostly in the United States. In 1918 she starred in the film The Woman The Germans Shot, concerned with the heroic story of nurse Edith Cavell. During a special showing of the film in Hamilton on 25 March 1919, which she attended, she explained: 'It is only right that a woman of British birth should play the role of Edith Cavell in this story'; and in her thank-you to the audience she observed 'that while the United States had been kind to her and she loved the Americans, after all it was "once a Canadian, always a Canadian."' 34

In the 1920s Cheney's finances were at a perilously low ebb, and so Julia Arthur continued to seek acting engagements. She eventually presented what turned out to be the two most important performances of her whole career: first, Lady Macbeth in the famous production directed by Arthur Hopkins and designed by Robert Edmond Jones with Lionel Barrymore as Macbeth, staged at the Apollo Theater in New York City on 17 February 1921; and then Saint Joan for the Theatre Guild's touring production of 1924-1925 and 1925-1926 taken to almost every city of note in both Canada and the United States. These two productions also serve, as does her own long and varied career, to bring into perspective the kinds of changes which had taken place in the transitional period of theatre history from the bedrock traditions of the nineteenth-century stage to the experimental diversity of the modern era.

The production of Macbeth represents one of the earliest attempts in the American theatre to come to terms with the principles and methods of abstract symbolism. It depended upon the strangely expressive powers of interpretative, chiaroscuro lighting effects and grotesquely distorted gothic arches and masks, all meant to symbolize the dark, sinister forces of fate, the pervasiveness of evil in a fallen world, and the inner workings of Macbeth's haunted imagination.35 Hopkins seems to have done relatively little to create a unified effect throughout. In consequence, Robert Edmond Jones's unusual settings were very much at odds not only with Lionel Barrymore's Macbeth ('I do not mind telling you', he says in his autobiography, 'that I was no good in Macbeth') 36 but also with Julia Arthur's Lady Macbeth which was conceived in the old school mode of the nineteenth century. She showed little patience for Jones's self-conscious experimentation. Her most derisive yet also amusing observations were reserved for the setting for the sleep-walking scene. During rehearsals, sitting in the theatre with her husband and her actress-friend Florence Conron, she discussed with them what the curious construction on the stage was supposed to be.


 
There was a shadowy background, something in night-blue I believe, then in the middle distance a large yellow object. None of us knew what it was. Mr. Cheney said it was intended to represent an enormous tennis racket. Florence, being English, insisted it was a lacrosse stick; I, being Canadian, said it was a snowshoe.


They proceeded in this bantering vein - 'each of us sticking up for our own stick' - when suddenly the stage designer himself appeared. 'Oh, Miss Arthur, when you play the scene, would you mind taking your speeches in front of that window.' 'The three of us looked at one another without a sound,' she comments, 'but in our astonished eyes, the words, "My God, it's a window!"' 37

Despite the incongruities of style, the critics found many points of interest in her performance. Arthur Hornblow, in his review for the April issue of Theatre Magazine, said that she 'read with fine elocutional distinction'; while Kenneth Macgowan declared: 'Her performance is by no means inspired; it does not partake of the true quality of the spiritual obsession of the setting. But it is fine enough to show, in the quick response of the audiences, that real acting could have turned Jones's work from a liability into an asset so far as the popular reaction goes.' 38 She did not follow the Sarah Siddons tradition of a criminal virago but rather the Ellen Terry approach of a cooing dove: gentle but insistent, poetic and tender, she was a victim of overpowering, baleful influences, and yet feminine all the while. Her best work came in the sleep-walking scene which had vexed her so much. Her own ghostly figure, the arched windows, wraith-like and suggestive in contrast to the guilt-laden murky background, and the intensity of her acting in the grand manner, all served to express the agonies of a conscience on the wrack.39 Lionel Barrymore, however, came in for a great deal of critical censure. 'Much can be said for Miss Arthur's Lady Macbeth', Alexander Woollcott concluded, 'For Mr. Barrymore's monotonous and unimaginative Macbeth - precious little'. 40

The finest performance of Julia Arthur's career was still to come. The first American production of Shaw's Saint Joan was staged by the Theatre Guild in New York City on 28 December 1923 with Winifred Lenihan as Joan. She seems to have disappointed critics and audiences alike by being far too subdued.41 Hector Charlesworth found her 'colourless' and placed the blame on her having chosen to follow 'the nonchalant methods of the present day school'. 42 When it came time to mount the touring production of 1924, it was felt that a more robust style of performance was in order. Accordingly Julia Arthur was cast in the role of the Maid. In a sense she had been preparing for a role of this calibre throughout her entire professional career: romantic melodrama was ever her forte, to which she could impart the heroic endurance, the religious loftiness, and the irradiating tranquility of martyrdom without a jot of staginess or bombast. '... Joan was one of those super-intelligences. I play her as a somewhat crude peasant girl, but one who was frank, loyal and utterly sincere,' she observed of her interpretation. 'She couldn't understand deceit and evil in those of high position.' 43 In her view, the key to the play is Joan's speech to the King, upon her first entry to the Court: 'I tell thee it is God's business we are here to do: not our own.' 44 This sturdy conviction formed the ruling passion of her conception, while around it were seemingly myriad qualities - of courage, fire, resiliency, simplicity, and determination - which she brought so intensely and yet so naturally together that some audience members felt that both she and they had become pure disembodied spirit in an act of worship.45

When she began playing the part she was fifty-five. 'I shall never forget my surprise when she walked on the stage, an agile, vigorous girl, apparently no more than twenty, handling Shaw's speeches with humour, ease and impassioned beauty', commented an astonished and pleased Hector Charlesworth.46Rather than being exhausted by the two-year North American tour, she was replenished by it, inspired to present better and better performances. 'Julia Arthur seemed even more satisfactory in the title role than on her first appearance here last October', wrote Lawrence Mason in the Toronto Globe (31 March 1925). 'Her beautiful speaking voice shows to much advantage throughout, especially in some of the tremendously moving speeches put into the heroine's mouth, and she repeatedly held the house perceptibly thrilled and spell-bound'. For Hector Charlesworth the whole performance 'provided a most effective vindication of the older school of acting,' for in her hands the play, which in Winifred Lenihan's performance had not impressed him, 'became a new thing, noble, moving, and at every moment appealing'. 47

As Saint Joan, Julia Arthur truly came home - once and for all - in the imaginations and hearts of her Canadian public. The production was taken to Montreal, Kingston, Toronto, London and of course to Hamilton where the demand for tickets was unparalleled. There was also a long Western Canadian tour which took in Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Regina, Saskatoon, and Winnipeg. It would seem that in this, her last major performance, she was inspired by the country which she had first left some forty years before. 'As a Canadian, I feel that I should give my audiences here of my best,' she proudly explained to the Toronto Globe (4 April 1925). '... Then, too, I sense an appreciation and a discrimination. Canadians read. They know their backgrounds.' In Toronto she was guest of honour at numerous gatherings and gave a talk to the Margaret Eaton School of Literature and Expression in which she affirmed, with her own arduous career as an example, that the theatre 'was a workshop, rather than a playroom'. 48 In Hamilton she was honoured by the Rotary Club, the IODE, and the Women's Canadian Club; and she made it clear, as she had in years gone by, that her affection for her homeland had not abated. 'I may make my residence in other cities, but down in my heart Canadians are my people and Hamilton my home.' 49 Her generous attention flattered Canadians who, for their part, shared vicariously in her success as an international star. 'We all feel a sort of reflected glory about Miss Arthur's fame,' observed a member of the Women's Canadian Club,' and a personal feeling of pride because this city is the birthplace of the greatest actress on the stage to-day, either in America or across the water'.50

Saint Joan was Julia Arthur's swansong. After the extraordinarily gruelling two-year tour, completed at the age of fifty-seven, she retired for the second and last time to her home in Boston. Benjamin Cheney had her all to himself again, this time for sixteen years until his own death on 10 June 1942. And then, eight years later, on 29 March 1950, she herself died of heart block and cancer: in a final romantic gesture, she was cremated and her ashes scattered at sea.


  Notes

AT HOME AND ABROAD: THE ACTING CAREER OF JULIA ARTHUR (1869-1950)

Denis Salter

1 This is a revised version of a paper read to the Association for Canadian Theatre History/Association d'Histoire du Théâtre au Canada at the University of British Columbia on 29 May 1983. The research was funded in part by a grant from the University of Calgary for which I express my appreciation. For assistance in locating and gaining access to the information on which this study is based, I am grateful to: the public libraries of Kingston, Saint John, Cincinnati, Detroit, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Saint Louis, San Francisco, and Savannah; the university libraries of Mount Allison, New Brunswick, Pittsburgh, and Stanford; Margaret Houghton, Special Collections, Hamilton Public Library; Helmut Kallmann, the National Library; the Provincial Archives of Nova Scotia; Heather McCallum, Theatre Department, Metropolitan Toronto Library; Kathleen Fraser; Steve Johnson; Linda Peake; Professors David Gardner, Robert G. Lawrence, Leslie O'Dell, and Mary Elizabeth Smith; the late Russell Hartley and Cobbett Steinberg, Archives for the Performing Arts, San Francisco; the Boston Globe; the Folger Shakespeare Library; Jeanne Newlin, Curator, and her Assistant Martha Mahard, Harvard Theatre Collection; Wendy Warnken, Associate Curator, Museum of the City of New York; Dorothy L. Swerdlove, Curator, The Billy Rose Theater Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center; Mary Ann Jensen, Curator, William Seymour Theatre Collection, Princeton University; Geoffrey Ashton, Librarian, the Garrick Club, London, England; Levi Fox, Director, the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, Stratford-upon-Avon; and Alexander Schouvaloff, Curator, and his Assistant James Fowler, Theatre Museum, London. Biographical information about Julia Arthur has been collated from the following sources: JOHN CLARKE, The Julia Arthur Book New York: Meyer Brothers, 1899; Notable American Women 1607-1950, 3 Vols, Cambridge, Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971; Who's Who in the Theatre, 7th and 9th edns; the Julia Arthur papers in the Hamilton Public Library (especially the Julia Arthur 1869-1950 Scrapbook of Clippings); the many boxes and scrapbooks of Julia Arthur memorabilia in the Harvard Theatre Collection; the Julia Arthur file at the Museum of the City of New York; and the Robinson Locke Dramatic Scrapbooks Vols 25 and 26 as well as miscellaneous materials about Julia Arthur in The Billy Rose Theater Collection, New York Public Library at Lincoln Center. Julia Arthur's memoirs were published as 'My Career' in Hearst's Magazine for 1916: Vol 29, No 3 (March), 176-177, 222-224, No 4 (April), 266-267 and 322-324, No 5 (May), 375-376, 386-387, and 389-390, No 6 (June), 449-450, 457, and 459, and Vol 30, No 1 (July), 32-33 and 41-43. These memoirs are the main source of information throughout.
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2 For more information about the character of the Bandmann Company see the Hamilton Spectator 23, 25, 26, and 28 March 1885; the New York Times 2 November 1886; the Pittsburgh Daily Post 31 December 1885; and DANIEL EDWARD BANDMANN, An Actor's Tour; or, Seventy Thousand Miles with Shakespeare, 3rd rev edn, New York: Brentano, 1886.
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3 Some Players: Personal Sketches Chicago and New York: Herbert S. Stone & Company, 1901, pp 316-317
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4 Unidentified cutting, Museum of the City of New York. See also Henry P. Goddard in Theatre Magazine February 1907.
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5 Savannah Morning News 18 and 23 June; 12, 19, and 26 July; and 4, 8-9, 23, and 30 August 1889
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6 For an interesting photograph of her from this period along with other members of the McDowell Company see KATHLEEN D.J. FRASER, 'Theatre Management in the Nineteenth Century: Eugene A. McDowell in Canada 1874-1891,' Theatre History in Canada 1:1 (Spring 1980), p 42. Her work with McDowell is documented in the Halifax Acadian Recorder 5, 16, 19, 23, and 26 November; 3, 16, 18, 24, and 27 December 1889; the Halifax Morning Chronicle 22 November and 24 December 1889; and the Hamilton Spectator 19 May 1890
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7 Julia Arthur 1869-1950 Scrapbook of Clippings, HPL
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8 Famous Actresses of the Day, 1st Series, Boston: L.C. Page and Company, 1899, pp 163-164
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9 'Canadian Successes on the Stage', Massey's Magazine 2:4 (October 1896), p 238
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10 Rpt in the Hamilton Spectator 13 October 1894
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11 Ibid
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12 See The Theatre 1 May 1895. She in fact became something of a celebrity: the Sketch (23 December 1896) published a photograph of her in personal dress, looking most elegant, on its front cover and announced that she was appearing as Lady Anne in Richard III at the Lyceum.
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13 More Candid Chronicles Toronto: The Macmillan Company of Canada, 1928, p 386
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14 The first quotation by WILLIAM WINTER is from the New York Daily Tribune 5 November 1895 and the second is from JULIA ARTHUR'S memoirs, p 390. For other impressions of her Elaine and Rosamund, see the Boston Evening Transcript 2 and 7 October 1895, the Chicago Tribune 15 March 1896, the Montreal Gazette 20 September 1895, and the New York Times 17 November 1895.
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15 WILLIAM ARCHER, The Theatrical 'World' of 1896 London, 1897, rpt New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc, 1971, p 349; J.T. GREIN, Dramatic Criticism London: John Long, 1899, p 187; and BERNARD SHAW, Our Theatres in the Nineties, 3 Vols, London: Constable and Company Limited, 1932, 11, 291. See also the Era and the Lady's Pictorial, both 26 December 1896
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16 Unidentified cutting, Chronicles of the Lyceum Company 1892-1898, the Garrick Club
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17 W.J. THOROLD, 'Some Actors and Actresses,' Canadian Magazine 12:3 (January 1899), p 240
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18 New York Times 30 March 1950
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19 See NORMAN HAPGOOD, The Stage in America 1897-1900 New York: The Macmillan Company and London: Macmillan & Co, Ltd, 1901, pp 168-169 and 204-205; and the New York Times 29 November and 1 December 1898.
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20 Folger Shakespeare Library, AYLI #7, Shattuck 72
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21 'Some Actors and Actresses,' p 238
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22 HAPGOOD, pp 203-204
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23 STRANG, p 162
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24 Unidentified cutting, Herbert Fairbairn Gardiner Scrapbook Vol 64, pp 1-2, HPL
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25 STRANG, p 172
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26 HAPGOOD, p 204
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27 WILLIAM S. HART, My Life East and West 1929; rpt New York: Benjamin Blom, Inc, 1968, pp 145-146
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28 Boston Daily Globe 25 May 1950
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29 'Julia Arthur Comes Back', Maclean's Magazine 29:3 (January 1916), pp 18-19
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30 Letterhead on a letter, 25 September 1916, from Julia Arthur to the Russell Uniform Company, William Seymour Papers, Princeton University Library
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31 Boston Daily Globe 26 May 1950
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32 Julia Arthur 1869-1950 Scrapbook of Clippings, HPL
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33 'Julia Arthur Comes Back', p 18
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34 Hamilton Spectator 26 March 1919
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35 DANA SUE McDERMOTT, 'The void in Macbeth: a symbolic design,' Themes in Drama 4: Drama and Symbolism, ed James Redmond Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982, pp [113]-125 and MARVIN ROSENBERG, The Masks of 'Macbeth' Berkeley: University of California Press' 1978, pp 22, 93, 429, and 502
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36 We Barrymores New York: Grosset & Dunlap, 1951, p 206
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37 Boston Daily Globe 26 May 1950
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38 'The Jones-Barrymore-Hopkins Macbeth', in MONTROSE J. MOSES and JOHN MASON BROWN, eds, The American Theater As Seen By Its Critics 1752-1934 New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1934, p 206
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39 Literary Digest 19 March 1921 and Alexander Woollcott in the New York Times 18 February 1921
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40 New York Times 27 February 1921
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41 NORMAN NADEL, A Pictorial History of the Theater Guild New York: Crown Publishers, Inc, 1969, p 26. For a stage history of the play, See BRIAN TYSON, The Story of Shaw's 'St. Joan' Kingston, Ontario: McGill-Queen's University Press, 1982.
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42 CHARLESWORTH, p 386
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43 Hamilton Spectator 17 April 1925
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44 Boston Daily Globe 27 May 1950
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45 LUCIEN PRICE in the Boston Daily Globe 29 May 1950 and E[LLA] J[ULIA] R[EYNOLDS] in the Hamilton Spectator 17 April 1925
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46 Julia Arthur 1869-1950 Scrapbook of Clippings, HPL
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47 CHARLESWORTH, pp 386-387
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48 Julia Arthur 1869-1950 Scrapbook of Clippings, HPL
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49 Ibid
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50 Ibid
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