Katharine Cornell

Definition

Theater

  • (1893 - 1974) US actress who dominated the New York stagebetween the world wars and vied with Helen Hayes for thetitle of First Lady of the American Theatre.

    Cornell grew up in Buffalo, New York, where her father manageda theater. She made her Broadway debut with the Washington SquarePlayers in Bushido at the Comedy Theatre. In 1921 she foundacclaim with her performance as Sydney Fairfield in Clemence Dane'sA Bill of Divorcement at the George M. Cohan Theatre. She subsequentlymarried its director, Guthrie McClintic, and they worked togetherfor the remainder of her career.

    Her other successful roles included the title part in Shaw'sCandida (1924) at the 49th Street Theatre and iris Fenwickin The Green Hat (1925) at the Broadhurst Theatre. During thelatter's run, she showed Leslie Howard how to make his face flushwith false excitement before entering a tense scene by placing hishands on his knees and breathing heavily (see shaking the ladder).

    Cornell's best known role was that of Elizabeth Barrett Browningin Rudolf Besier's The Barretts of Wimpole Street (1931). Itran at the Empire Theatre for a year and then toured. Cornell's appetitefor touring was prodigious. In the 1933 - 34 season, for instance,she covered 75,000 miles to visit 77 US cities and perform to halfa million people. She was joined by Edith Evans, Orson Welles, BrianAherne, and Basil Rathbone for the three plays, Romeo and Juliet,Candida, and The Barretts of Wimpole Street. In 1934she played Juliet on Broadway with Maurice Evans as Romeo and RalphRichardson as Mercutio; Brooks Atkinson called the performance "ahigh plane of modern magnificence".

    Later roles included that of Mrs Patrick Campbellin Jerome Kilty's Dear Liar (1960); she retired the followingyear. She wrote two autobiographies, I Wanted to be an Actress(1939) and Curtain Going Up (1943). see also Antonyand Cleopatra.

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