Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson

Definition

Theater

  • (1853 - 1937) British actor-manager noted for his bearingand beautiful voice. Trained by the Shakespearean actor Samuel Phelps,he made his debut in 1874 and became a member of Irving's companyat the Lyceum Theatre in 1882. After touring America, he took overthe management of the Lyceum and played Romeo to Mrs Patrick Campbell'sJuliet. This led to an affair between them: after she eventually rebuffedhim, he stunned her by marrying a younger actress. In the same seasonhe gave an outstanding Hamlet, playing him as the archetypal "sweetprince" of tradition. His greatest commercial success came playingthe Stranger in Jerome K. Jerome's The Passing of the Third FloorBack (1908). He retired in 1913, having been knighted during hislast week at Drury Lane.

    Forbes-Robertson wrote in his autobiography that he was onlyhappy when he was a painter in his youth and that he left the theaterwith "intense relief". He added, "Never at any timehave I gone on the stage without longing for the moment when the curtainwould come down on the last act. Rarely, very rarely have I enjoyedmyself in acting." However, he was noted for his imperturbability.He was once nearly killed during rehearsals for Caesar and Cleopatrain Liverpool, when a carpenter dropped a hammer from the grid duringone of his speeches. It missed the actor by inches, and he paused,looked up, and before continuing his speech, said quietly, "Pleasedon't do that again."

    His daughter, Jean Forbes-Robertson (1905 - 62),became a well-known actress, appearing in Uncle Vanya (1926),The Constant Nymph (1928), and Time and the Conways(1937). She also played Peter Pan for eight seasons.

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