A playwright as well as an actress, Ohioan Laura Don was discovered by manager John Ellser in Cleveland, who engaged her as a member of the Academy of Music Stock Company in 1872. She first appeared in standard ingenue roles--Eliza in "Uncle Tom's Cabin," Fanchon in "Fanchon the Cricket," and Georgina in "Money." She sought her fortune in the East, contracting with Frank Mayo's Company. Her most significant role would be as Eleanor in Mayo's vehicle, "Davy Crockett." Another success was "Fresh, the American." Yet she discovered that she could not compete with the greatest artists of the period as an actress, so turned to the pen.
As a teenager Don had contributed stories to Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, and also became a fair watercolorist and photographer when briefly married in her late teens to photographer Charles Fox of Troy, New York. Upon returning to New York in 1878, she determined to move from prose to dramatic dialogue, composing "The Daughter of the Nile" a play that would eventually occasion an important silent movie of the same name. Effie Ellsler made a success of her play, "Daniel Boone," in 1889. Don's critical series of newspaper essays in the New York Drama News, "American Actresses by One of Them," stirred a hornet's nest of resentment while stimulating an improvement in performance quality, as rival performers abandoned some of their most self-indulgent habits.
In 1883 Don contracted tuberculosis, and fought the disease for three years before dying in 1886.
NOTES: "Laura Don is Dead," Cleveland Plain Dealer (Feb 11, 1886). David S. Shields/ALS