Elsie Ferguson labored thirteen years in twenty-five plays in stock companies before joining the ranks of the immortal Broadway actresses in 1914's "Outcast." She had climbed every rung of the ladder to the heavens, from chorine to bit player, to supporting actress, featured player, lead (in 1909's "Such a Little Queen"), and star. Upon her elevation into the first rank of performers, a critic noted that she represented the new generation of female lead who did not begin performing in Gilbert and Sullivan, but started in the chorus and absorbed musical comedy and drama in a long apprenticeship on the road.
With a patrician face, a voice that lacked nasal pretensions to class, a luxurious pile of hair, and a striking physical grace, Elsie Ferguson became the most glamorous figure on the American stage during the First World War. Her import was evidenced when fellow actresses, such as Jeanne Eagels, broke into the theater by purchasing copies of Ferguson's wardrobe, miming her gestures, and affecting her breezy nonchalance with producers and directors.
Because Ferguson was the most visually alluring actress of the period, she gravitated toward silent films in 1917, joining Famous Players-Lasky for six features, including "A Doll's House." No prints of any silent film she made survives. She returned to the stage to much fanfare, twice in the 1920s. Her aura was such in that decade that she earned laudatory reviews, despite the weakness of the scripts or shoddiness of the production until her retirement in 1929.
Married four times, she devoted much of her post-stage life to charities in support of animal welfare. She came out of retirement briefly in 1943 to perform in "Outrageous Fortune," a play written by a friend. David S. Shields/ALS