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Elizabeth Risdon

Biography: 

(1887-1958)

English-born Elizabeth Risdon electrified the American theater when she brought in 1912 George Bernard Shaw’s "Fanny’s First Play" to New York. Trained at the London Royal Academy of Arts, she possessed classic stage technique, a wonderfully modulated voice, and a briskness of repartee that made her a first-call character actress on both sides of the Atlantic. She played in several important Shaw plays ("Misalliance," "Heartbreak House"), in a number of the Theater Guild productions in 1927, and in British and American movies. At the end of her career she was appearing regularly on television.

Risdon's greatest strength as an actress was an ability to project a complete sincerity as a character. During the silent era she appeared in 40 English films, playing young women from 1913-1917 and mothers from 1917 to 1919. The most reputable of these were 1914’s "In the Days of Trafalgar" and 1917’s "The Mother of Dartmoor" (released in the U.S. as "Mother"). During her Hollywood film career that spanned from 1935 to 1950, her accent, personal gravity, and slightly dowdy appearance contributed to an active career in dozens of films impersonating dowagers and imperious matriarchs.

NOTES: "Elizabeth Risdon’s Career," Boston Daily Globe (Nov 27, 1921), 40; "Elizabeth Risdon Dies," NY Times (Nov 23, 1958), 2; "Elisabeth Risdon is Embodiment of Loved Word," Chicago Daily Tribune (Jan 18, 1918), 14; "American Stage is Democratic" Boston Daily Globe (Dec 4, 1921); "Fanny’s First Play" NY Times(Sep 17, 1912), 11; Alexander Woollcott, NY Times (Nov 11, 1920), 20. David S. Shields/ALS