The all-American actress Julia Marlowe (née Sarah Frances Frost/Brough) (1866 - 1950) was actually a British transplant. Her father, John Frost, a sportsman laboring under the mistaken impression that he had put out a neighbor's eye with a whip during a race, gathered his family from their home in Keswick, Cumberland, England in 1870, and fled to America where he changed their name to Brough. They settled in Kansas, then moved eastward to Portsmouth, Ohio, then on to Cincinnati.
In her early teens, Marlowe, whose nickname was "Fanny," began her career in the chorus of a juvenile opera company. She toured with the company for nearly a year, performing the role of Sir Joseph Porter in Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore, under the direction of Col. Robert E. J. Miles, manager of the Cincinnati Opera House. (She would later play Galatea in W. S. Gilbert's Pygmalion and Galatea.)
Her excellent training and early successes were largely due to her manager, Ada Dow, Col. Miles's sister-in-law, whom Fanny always called "Aunt Ada." Still in Cincinnati, and billed as Fanny Brough, she performed her first Shakespearean roles — Balthazar in Romeo and Juliet and Maria in Twelfth Night. Ada Dow took Fanny, still in her teens, to New York where for several years she was given voice and elocution lessons, and a new name: Julia Marlowe.
To be an unknown 20-year-old actress in New York was a challenge in and of itself; but add to that mix her determination to play only Shakespearean roles, and therein loomed an enormous obstacle to her success. But, as luck would have it, Col. Miles, former manager of the Cincinnati Opera House, was now manager of New York's Bijou Opera House. He gave his sister-in-law's young protégée an opportunity to play on tour for two weeks in New England, and this provided Marlowe with the repertoire she needed. Her mother came to her aid, and hired the Bijou for a matinée of Ingomar* on October 20, 1887. For her portrayal of Parthenia, Marlowe received excellent notices, which set her on the path to Broadway.
*Ingomar was a popular play adapted by Maria Lovell from a 5-act German play, Der Sohn Der Wildniss (English translation: Ingomar the Barbarian), by Frederick Halm. Marlowe would reprise her role in a 1904 revival of Ingomar, produced by Charles Frohman, and boasting a cast of notable actors, including Frank Reicher, Thomas Lindsay, Paul Weigel, Ralph Lewis and Tyrone Power, Sr.
After good reviews of her roles in several off-Broadway productions, Marlowe made her Broadway debut in 1895 at Palmer's Theatre, as young Henry, Prince of Wales, in Shakespeare's King Henry IV, Part I. With her in the cast were William F. Owen and her newlywed husband, Robert Taber. (The husband & wife team next appeared in an 1896 revival of Sheridan's The Rivals, which will be the subject of my next post.)
Off to a good start, Marlowe next appeared with Taber on Broadway as Mary in For Bonnie Prince Charlie, an original drama which played Wallack's Theatre in March and April of 1897. She followed that with the title role in a short-lived original, Collinette. In October 1899, Barbara Frietchie, an original play in 4 acts — written by Clyde Fitch, produced by Charles Frohman, with Marlowe in the title role — opened at the Criterion Theatre where it ran for 83 performances. It was Marlowe's first bona fide hit on Broadway. Her marriage to Robert Taber ended the following year. They had no children, and remained friends until Taber's untimely death in 1904 at the age of 39.
In 1901, Marlowe had starred as Mary Tudor in a production of When Knighthood was in Flower, a play in 4 acts by Paul Kester, based on Charles Major's novel. Then in 1904, Charles Frohman produced the play, also starring Marlowe, which was a huge success — one that put her on the road to financial independence.
A string of hits followed, including a 1904 revival of Pygmalion and Galatea by W. S. Gilbert. In Gilbert's Pygmalion story, the sculptor is married to Cynisca, who is often away, and doesn't want her husband to be bored, so she encourages his interest in his statue, Galatea. But when the statue comes to life, chaos reigns! A delicious comedy — just what we'd expect from Sir William!
In 1904, a theatrical milestone was achieved when Marlowe partnered with actor E. H. Sothern, and they breathed new life into the works of Shakespeare in America, starting with the title roles in Romeo and Juliet, followed in quick succession by Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, and the leads in Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. Then adding The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, and The Merchant of Venice, the Sothern and Marlowe Repertory Company played both on Broadway and on tour all over the U.S.
In 1906, they added Percy McKaye's Jeanne D'Arc, Suderman's John the Baptist, and Gerhart Hauptmann's The Sunken Bell. In 1907, there followed another theatrical milestone: Long before Joe Papp brought Shakespeare to the Park, Sothern & Marlowe brought him, at affordable prices, to the New York Academy of Music, affording lower-income audiences the opportunity to experience superb performances of great Shakespearean plays. In 1908, they dissolved their company, each going out on their own, but near the end of 1909, they reunited in Antony and Cleopatra. In 1910, they toured Macbeth to both critical and popular acclaim, and brought it to New York where it was a hit.
Marlowe and Sothern continued touring their Shakespearean repertoire, and where they could, they fitted in special performances for school children. And finally, in 1911, Marlowe and Sothern married. They continued touring until 1924 when Marlowe retired due to ill health. Sothern continued performing until 1928, then became a lecturer until he died of pneumonia in 1933 in New York, after which Marlowe became something of a recluse. She died in 1950 in New York City. She was 84, and had no children.
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