Mrs Patrick Campbell

Definition

Theater

  • (Beatrice Stella Tanner; 1865 - 1940). British actress,who became famous overnight as Paula in Pinero's The Second MrsTanqueray, presented at the St James's Theatre, London, in 1893.She was also the first Agnes Ebbsmith in Pinero's The NotoriousMrs Ebbsmith (1895) and the original Eliza in Shaw'sPygmalion (1914), a part she played when she was nearly 50.Although by this time she had lost her looks and become fat and slovenly,Shaw fell deeply in love with her.

    At the age of 19 she turned down a music scholarship to marryPatrick Campbell. Her London debut was in 1890 in A Buried Talentat the vaudeville Theatre; in 1900 she took over the management ofthe Royalty Theatre for two years. Although Mrs Pat (as shewas always known) won great acclaim in her three famous roles, herperformances were notoriously uneven, especially in Shakespeare: whenshe played Juliet at the Lyceum Theatre in 1895, she cut the difficultspeeches.

    Her temper was famous, and fellow actors dreaded her tantrumsand sharp tongue. She said of Tallulah Bankhead's popularityin London: "She's always skating on thin ice, and the Britishpublic wants to be there when it breaks." When Alexander Woollcottintroduced Mrs Pat to a rival actress, she held the woman's hand andwhispered audibly to Woollcott, "I thought she was dead."In later years, Woollcott called her a "sinking ship firingupon her rescuers". One New York critic was less kind: "Whatchance does mere skill at trivial comedy stand against the recollectionof a once lovely woman become fat and yellow?"

    If only you could write a true book entitled WHY, THOUGHI WAS A WONDERFUL ACTRESS, NO MANAGER OR AUTHOR WOULD EVER ENGAGEME TWICE IF HE COULD POSSIBLY HELP IT, it would be a best seller.But you couldn't. Besides, you don't know. I do.
    George Bernard Shaw, letter to Mrs Patrick Campbell,11 August 1913
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