Dame Marie Tempest



  • (Mary Susan Etherington; 1864 - 1942)The leading British comedienne of the early 20th century. She madeher debut in 1885 in Suppé's comic opera Boccaccio,later winning acclaim as Kitty Carol in The Red Hussar (1889),which she took to New York the same year. Her greatest success camein 1902, when she played Kitty Silverton in The Marriage of Kitty,a play adapted from the French by her husband Cosmo Gordon-Lennox.She kept the piece in her repertoire for 30 years. Another triumphwas provided by Noël Coward, who wrote the part of Judith Blissin Hay Fever (1925) especially for her; the play ran for3367 performances. In 1934 she played opposite Olivier in Kaufmanand Ferber's Theatre Royal, a play about the Barrymores. Herlast big success came when she appeared in Dodie Smith's Dear Octopus(1938) at the age of 74.

    Short and plump, Tempest was fastidious about clothes andwould never sit down in her dressing room when in costume. Once whenan emotional young actress flung herself at Tempest's feet to begforgiveness for being late, the grand lady commanded, "Get up! Getup! Have you no respect for your management's clothes?"

    Rex Harrison recalled that she was so nervous on opening nightsthat during the tea party scenes (that always seemed to feature inher plays) her cup had to be glued to the saucer. He also noted thatwhenever they left a scene, dame Marie would wait until she was outof sight of the audience and then begin clapping; the audience, thinkingthe sound came from their midst, would take up the applause. She alsomilked extra applause by having her maid shoo her Sealyham dog onstage during the last curtain call; she would appear surprisedthat the dog had followed her and take it lovingly in her arms whilethe audience roared approval, resulting in two or three extra calls.see also Marie Tempest.