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Bella Pateman

Biography: 

(1841-1924)

An English-born actress, Isabella "Bella" Pateman came to the United States in 1869 to play the burlesque "Robinson Crusoe" at Wood's Museum in New York. She toured the circuits in a company organized by Charlotte Thompson in 1870, until she wangled a place in the troupe at Booth's Theatre in New York. There she distinguished herself as support to Joseph Jefferson in "Rip Van Winkle" and "Love and Loyalty." She began to show her dramatic range when she opted to play the villainess Madame Marco in 1871's "Marble Heart" and galvanized audiences with her cruelty. She began playing opposite Edwin Booth in Shakespeare at Booth's in winter of 1872, and this partnership would enjoy periodic renewals, particularly in the early 1880s when Booth went touring. She proved capable of performing comedy, when Dion Boucicault cast her in "Daddy O’Dowd" in 1873.

Pateman clearly tired of her tepid reception among New York’s critics, for in June 1873 she shipped to California and set up as the leading lady there. Using "The New Magdalen" as her vehicle, she asserted herself as the major actress on the West Coast, and the toast of the city. She returned to New York to repeat her triumph. It brought her sufficient fame that Booth suggested that they partner to form a touring company.  This they did in 1874, and spent the winter season in Chicago performing a variety of repertoire. She announced that she was departing for Europe in May, but decided upon a triumphant return to San Francisco instead.

At the California Theater Pateman refined her art in roles such as Lady Macbeth and Juliet. Her fame had its costs. The wife of the Lt. Governor of California, Mrs. Pacheco wrote a four act play expressly for her performance; it was not a success. Yet the California Theatre Company to which Pateman belonged had the greatest gross annual receipts of any theater in the country.

In spring of 1876 she departed, intent on returning to England and establishing her reputation on the London stage. This she accomplished in the autumn of 1876 playing "Mary Stuart." She worked in London in conjunction with her husband Robert Pateman for four seasons before returning to America to partner with Edwin Booth in autumn of 1881.

Her career remained vital until 1902, and included several highlights, particularly Lady Isabel in the paradigmatic melodrama "East Lynne." Known among performers as easy-going, professional, and efficient, she suffered a public relations fiasco in 1875 when she dissed the American flag being worn by a street cur in San Francisco. David S. Shields/ALS