Sir Herbert (Draper) Beerbohm Tree

Definition

Theater

  • (1853 - 1917) British actor-manager, a flamboyant showmanwho excelled in large-than-life costume roles. The half-brother ofthe caricaturist and critic Sir Max Beerbohm, Tree made hisacting debut in 1878. His first real success did not come until 1884,when he played the Revd Robert Spalding in Charles Hawtrey's popularfarce The Private Secretary.

    Tree became manager of the Comedy Theatre in 1887 before movinglater that year to the more prestigious Haymarket,where he remained for nine years. At the Haymarket, Tree staged worksby Ibsen, Wilde, and Shakespeare, enjoying an enormous personal successas Falstaff and an equally resounding failure as Hamlet: a performancedamningly described by W. S. Gilbert as "funny without beingvulgar".

    Tree's success at the Haymarket enabled him to build Her Majesty'sTheatre, where between 1897 and 1915 he staged a series of lavishShakespearean productions. As an actor, Tree enjoyed two major successesat Her Majesty's; the first, playing Fagin in an adaptation of OliverTwist (1905) and the second, as Henry Higgins in Shaw's Pygmalion(1914).

    Tree was married to the actress Helen Maud Holt (1863 - 1937),by whom he had three children; he also had a further six childrenby a woman named May Pinney, with whom he appears to have conducteda simultaneous family life (one of his children by May would become thefilm director Carol Reed). A minor actress, Muriel Ridley, gave birthto Tree's last child in 1917, the year of his death.

    Tree, who was knighted in 1909, is also remembered for foundingthe Royal College of Dramatic Art (see RADA) in 1904.see also Richard II.

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