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Kate Claxton

Biography: 

(1848-1924)

Immortalized in the annals of American theater for her portrayal of blind Louise, the pitiable sister of the ur-melodrama "The Two Orphans" (1875), Kate Claxton may have played the role as many as 4,000 times in the course of her stage career. Her other claim to fame was as a harbinger of ill: she was on stage in the Brooklyn Theater fire of December 1876, the St. Louis hotel fire of 1877 and three minor other fires, and audience panics on four other occasions. To her annoyance people nicknamed her "the fire witch."

Born Katherine Cone in New York City, Claxton debuted as Mary Blake in "Andy Blake" at Crosby's Opera House in Chicago in 1869. She joined Augustin Daly's company in New York and won her first measure of critical notice in 1873 playing young Mathilde in "Led Astray." While she played in numbers of other roles, not even her rave notices as Madge Carlton in "The World Against Her" could dislodge the public's association of Claxton with blind Louise.

Her personal life was fraught with trouble: two divorces, the second of which she labored to have annulled, being named in another woman's divorce case, the death of a teenage son by pneumonia, the suicide of an adult son, her own near death from peritonitis, and bankruptcy on two occasions. David S. Shields/ALS