Julia Arthur, the precocious Canadian actress, was a stock company lead in classic repertory by the age of twelve, whose maturity of conception, clarity of voice, and quick memory impressed seasoned professionals who played with her in the Bandmann Company in the 1880s. At age sixteen, in 1885, she spent a year of study in performing arts in Germany and returned to North America intent on making a reputation as a leading actress in modern dramas. She engaged with a troupe in California and traversed the United States while mastering the most popular heroine roles of the 1880s' stage. She was a household name when she enjoyed her triumph as the Queen in "The Black Masque" at the Union Square Theater in 1892. Having secured star status, Arthur began to intermingle favorite Shakespearian roles--Rosalind, Imogene, Queen Anne--into her resume. This range attracted Sir Henry Irving who secured her services in 1895 for a London season, the basis for her international reputation.
Few performers had Arthur's versaility in impersonation. It is difficult to think of another American leading woman who could triumph in "Lady Windemere's Fan," the melodramatic "The Two Orphans," and in "Cymbeline." By the time of her marriage to wealthy Bostonian Benjamin Pierce Cheney, Jr., in 1898 there were no new worlds to conquer. The development of the motion picture into a narrative art after the turn of the 20th century enticed her to experiment in pantomiming roles for J. Stuart Blackton in 1908. She remained a beloved presence on the American stage into the 1920s. David S. Shields/ALS