You are here

Estelle Clayton

Biography: 

Estelle Clayton

(1867-1917)

One of the literate beauties of the late 19th-century stage, Estelle Clayton could sing, dance, and wield a pen with equal ease. In looks she resembled an earlier diva, Edith Kingdon. Her performing skills were honed by Jane Coombs who discovered her and made her a member of her touring company for Gilbert's "Engaged" in 1879. Augustin Daly hired her in 1880 for the cast of "The Royal Middy" where her performance won great applause. Palmer at the Union Square Theater hired her away for his hit "Felicia." And thus Clayton's performing career was established. Yet her ambitions were greater than those of the ordinary comic opera beauty. Clayton's great ingenuity as a performer lay in ascertaining novels and stories suited to her mimetic imagination, adapting them for the stage, and then performing them to great success. Her first blockbuster role was "Favette," (1885) in which she played the title role and appeared on stage barefoot, creating a sensation a decade before Trilby's bare feet became the fetish of the stage in the 1890s. She followed this up with "Goodbye, Sweetheart, Goodbye," and "The Quick or the Dead." In 1890, she determined that she would write original comic opera librettos, and produced three, the finest of which was 1895's "The Gentle Savage," played by Henry Dixey. Her most ambitious operatic creation, "The Viking," proved to be a money pit, leading to financial difficulty in late 1895. This forced a reactivation of her performing career, which had been suspended for three seasons. Clayton fashioned a new vehicle, "A Puritan Romance," starring her sister Isabelle Evesson and herself, and money once again began coming in.