If Lotta Crabtree was the most popular actress to be shaped by the stages of the West Coast, Annie Pixley was the performer whose Californian training most eloquently bespoke the West. Educated in a Catholic convent school in San Francisco, she learned to sing to a guitar accompaniment. Her gestural language on stage, while womanly, had a candor and informality that struck viewers as forthrightly frontier. This worked to her favor when she appeared in the rambunctious title role of "M'liss, the Child of the Sierras," a stage adaptation of Bret Harte's "Luck of Roaring Camp," one of the founding stage westerns. Her husband, Robert Fulford, bought rights to the play, and it became her calling card across the continent.
Her earliest stage work took place in San Francisco, and she toured Australia before venturing to make her reputation on Broadway and Philadelphia. Actor Joseph Jefferson wisely steered the aspiring actress in Gilbert and Sullivan. "H.M.S. Pinafore" would occasion her first popularity in the East. "M'liss" convinced critics that she manifested a development beyond the soubrette comedy established by Crabtree.
While effervescent on stage, the death of her twelve-year-old and only son, made her home a sober place, with a statue of the boy, and an alcove of his clothing and toys serving as a memorial. She died of "brain fever" in London during an 1893 visit to her brother-in-law.
NOTES: "Death of Anne Pixley," New York Herald (Nov 10, 1893), 9. David S. Shields/ALS