the Skinners

Definition

Theater

  • The US actor Otis Skinner (1858 - 1942) and his daughterCornelia Otis Skinner (1902 - 79), who were among the theater'smost versatile performers. Otis was a classical tragedian, romantichero, comedian and character actor, while his daughter became an actress,singer, diseuse, humorist, poet, and dramatist.

    Otis Skinner worked as a clerk before making hisdebut in 1877 at the Philadelphia Museum Theatre (see Davidge'sSnake Shop). He played 92 different roles during his firstyear in the professional theater before making his Broadway debutin Enchantment in 1879. In 1884 he acted with Edwin booth (seeBooth family) and Augustin Daly at Toole's Theatre, London.After several years touring with Helena Modjeska, he started his owntouring company in 1894, hiring Maud Durbin as leading lady and marryingher a year later.

    Skinner's most famous role was Hajj the beggar in Edward Knoblock'sfantasy Kismet, which he created in 1911 at the KnickerbockerTheatre. He played Hajj for a year on Broadway and then toured inthe part for a further three years, making a silent film version in1916 and a 'talkie' in 1930.

    Skinner mostly concentrated on Shakespeare in his later years;one of his last roles was that of the title character in UncleTom's Cabin at the Alvin Theatre in 1933. He wrote several volumesof reminiscences, including Footlights and Spotlights (1924)and The Last Tragedian (1939).

    Cornelia Otis Skinner made her debut beside her fatherin 1921 in Blood and Sand. She later wrote and performed inmonodramas, which she toured in America and Britain. Theseone-woman shows included The Wives of Henry VIII (1931), TheEmpress Eugénie (1932), and The Loves of Charles II(1933). They were generally well-received, but the critic George JeanNathan noted "A woman talking steadily for two hours is hardlymy idea of entertainment whether in the theater or in private."

    Cornelia also starred in Candida (1939), Lady Windermere'sFan (1946), and The Pleasure of His Company (1958), writtenin collaboration with Samuel Taylor. She wrote several acclaimed theatricalbiographies including Madame Sarah (1967) about Sarah Bernhardt.

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