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Fanny Janauschek

Biography: 

(1830-1904)

One of the great European tragediennes in the emotional style, Czech-born Fanny Januschek developed her art as the leading lady of the State Theater in Frankfurt. Her first roles in America were performed in German, including a "Macbeth" in which Edwin Booth spoke English and Januschek's Lady Macbeth replied in German to surprisingly favorable response. She spent two years, 1868 and 1869, learning to speak English fluently. In 1870 she launched her English language career and fixed upon the United States as her place of residence.

Janauschek challenged the greatest actresses of the age - Charlotte Cushman and Adelaide Ristori - in her ability to inspire pity and terror. Well into the 20th century witnesses remember moments of her acting: as Medea caressing her children on the verge of slaying them; as the Gypsy sybil Meg Merilees speaking out dreadful matters in grave simplicity; or her dual personalities in "Chesney Wold" as the elegant but timid Lady Dedlock and the vengeful servant girl who desired to see her destroyed. Even by the 1880s and late in her career when forced to play melodrama rather than the classics, she transformed ill-written roles into extraordinary characters - her rendering of Mother Mandelbaum in "The Great Diamond Robbery" became nothing less than the voice of fate.

While a famous tragic actress, Janauschek, like Sarah Bernhardt, could also perform comedy. She was probably the most versatile major actress to appear on the stage in the 1870s. She retired in 1891 and because of bad stock investments lost most of her life savings. She lived out her last years until her final illness at the Actor's Home in New York. David S. Shields/ALS