Terry family



  • A British family of actors, consisting of Benjamin Terry (1818 - 96),his wife Sarah Ballard (1817 - 92), their four daughters KateTerry (1844 - 1924), Ellen Terry (1847 - 1928), Marion Terry(1856 - 1930), and Florence Terry (1855 - 1896), and theirson Fred Terry (1863 - 1933).

    The elder Terrys were provincial actors. Ben, the son of anIrish publican, never rose above mediocrity as a performer. Sarah, thedaughter of a Scottish Wesleyan lay preacher, was more successful;using the stage name of Miss Yerret she once played Gertrude to WilliamMacready's Hamlet. Of their 11 children, nine survived and five wenton the stage. When young, the children slept in drawers in Sarah'sdressing rooms.

    Kate Terry danced hornpipes on the stage when three, playedPrince Arthur in Charles Kean's production of King John at eight, andat 14 was the youngest ever Cordelia in a professional production ofKing Lear. In 1862 she went on as an understudy in VictorienSardou's Nos Intimes and overnight became "the stagedivinity of her day". In 1865 she won acclaim in Tom Taylor'sThe Ticket-of-Leave Man and the following year took the femalelead in Dion Boucicault's Hunted Down, the play in which HenryIrving made his spectacular London debut. Some critics consideredher superior to her famous sister Ellen, but in 1867 Kate marriedand left the stage, giving an emotional farewell performance as Juliet.Her eldest daughter, also called Kate, was the mother of Sir JohnGielgud.

    Dame Ellen Terry was the most famous member of the family andone of the most adored of her profession. Oscar Wilde once described her as"like some wan lily overdrenched with rain".

    Ellen made her debut at the age of nine as Mamillius in CharlesKean's production of The Winter's Tale. In 1861 she joinedthe Haymarket Company and three years later, at 17, married the painterG. F. Watts, who was 47. The marriage lasted less than a year. Shelater lived with the stage designer E. W. Godwin, bearing him twochildren, Edith and Gordon Craig (see Craig family).

    In 1878 she married the actor Charles Kelly (Charles Wardell;1839 - 85). That same year she joined Henry Irving'scompany at the Lyceum Theatre to begin a famous partnershipthat lasted for a quarter of a century. The highlights included numerousperformances of Shakespeare - she excelled as Beatrice, Cordelia,Desdemona, Olivia, and Viola - and the famous melodrama TheBells, which Terry and Irving gave as a command performance forQueen Victoria.

    Terry was infamous for forgetting her lines. Mrs Patrick Campbellrecalled a performance of Cymbeline in which Terry, playingImogen, "forgot her words and, giving a delicious look at theaudience and then towards heaven, spoke three times in a voice thatmelted your bosom, this word: 'Beyond...Beyond...beyond'.There was no 'beyond' in the text, but it was the loveliest word Iever heard, and described her Imogen."

    After Irving's retirement from the Lyceum she became managerof the Imperial theater in 1903 and produced several plays with sceneryby her son Gordon Craig. In 1906 she celebrated her golden jubileewith a spectacular matinée at Drury Lane, in which 22 membersof the Terry family appeared. She was then playing Lady Cicely Waynfletein Captain Brassbound's Conversion, a part created especiallyfor her by George Bernard Shaw. He based the character on the personalityshe had revealed in the flirtatious love letters they had exchangedsince 1897 (the two had never met). Playing opposite her was the 30-year-oldUS actor James Carew (James Usselman; 1876 - 1938), who becameher third husband.

    In 1917 Terry attended a schools performance of JuliusCaesar at All Saints' School near Oxford circus. Her companionsexpressed admiration for the young actors playing Caesar and Antony,but Terry put aside her bag of boiled sweets and said, "No."A long silence sat upon the group. "The boy who played Brutus,"she said finally, "the dark little boy - he is a bornactor." The 10-year-old boy's name was Laurence Olivier.

    In 1925 she gave her last performance, in Walter de la Mare'sCrossings at the Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith. That same yearshe was created DBE, the second actress so honoured.

    Marion Terry, known to the family as Polly, was noted for herrefined manner, which brought her many parts as titled ladies; even in old ageEllen delighted in spreading wild stories about her well-bred sister. In1892 Marion created the part of Mrs Erlynne in Wilde's Lady Windermere'sFan (1892) and in 1902 the role of Susan Throssel in J. M. Barrie'sQuality Street. At 64 she played the aristocratic Mrs Higginsin a revival of Shaw's Pygmalion. Marion retired in 1923, owingto arthritis.

    Florence Terry, known as Floss or Flossie to the family, wasconsidered the happiest and kindest of the sisters. She began acting as a childand later played a supporting role to Ellen's Portia in The Merchantof Venice. She would also stand in for Ellen and Marion when required.Critics expected her to become a star, but Florence had little ambitionand appeared mainly in amateur productions after marrying in 1882.

    Fred Terry, known as the golden Terry, was a romanticactor who retained his florid acting style into the 20th century. He dislikedhis famous sister Ellen, who used to lock him in cupboards when theywere children. When he was 17 and his voice broke on stage, Ellen,instead of covering for him, imitated him to draw a laugh. From 1905to 1913 Fred occupied the New Theatre for a six-month season withhis actress wife Julia Neilson, during which he gave an acclaimedperformance as Sir Percy Blakeney in The Scarlet Pimpernel.Their actor son Dennis Neilson-Terry (1895 - 1932) died in SouthAfrica while touring. Fred also had two actress daughters with hissecond wife Mary Glynne (Mary Aitken; 1898 - 1954).