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Madeline Lucette

Biography: 

(1858-1934)

Some achieve success by extraordinary competence. Madeline Lucette perhaps embodied this maxim better than any other woman of the theater at the turn of the century. Blessed with intelligence, tact, a confidence in her rightness, perseverance, mimetic skill, a trained voice, and ability as a writer, Madeline Lucette rose steadily in the regard of her contemporaries with every project she undertook in the theater. English-born, she was hired for one of the touring companies of Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Sorcerer" and was dispatched by D'Oyley Carte to America to play in "Patience" in 1881.

Making her first reputation as a performer, she toured in the Gilbert & Sullivan production of "Patience" through America's theatrical circuits until in early 1883 when she was called upon by the McCaull Opera company to replace Lucy Couch, an amateurish debutante, in the title role of the Stephens and Solomon's comic opera, "Virginia; or, Ringing the Changes." Her skill cemented her place in the company, in support of Lillian Russell. She performed in "Le Coeur et la Main" and won the critics' favor with her effervescence in Offenbach's "The Princess of Trebazonde."

In winter of 1884, she tired of being the first supporting actress, so organized a company to put on "The Queen's Lace Handkerchief." It was under-rehearsed; its decor was generic; and its supporting characters only competent. Fortunately Madeline Lucette secured summer employed with the Boston Museum Company. In 1885 she began composing plays and made her first attempts to interest managers in their production, suffering repeated rejection. She returned to the Bijou Theatre to perform Alice in Gilbert & Sullivan's "The Sorcerer."

In autumn of 1885 she decided to tour as a star under the management of J.F. Milliken, performing "Madam Boniface," "King of Diamonds," and "Three Wives for One Husband." The venture collapsed after a tour of New England and by November Lucette had signed onto the company assembled by Rudolph Aronson of the Casino Theatre to stage "Amorita." When J.C. Duff organized a company to stage "The Mikado" in 1886, Lucette found herself in congenial circumstances and joined the company on its continental itinerary. She found herself performing in Duff's less reputable offerings as well - "A Trip to Africa"and "Gasparone." 1887 saw Lucette perform in "Iolanthe."

In 1888 one of her plays, submitted under the name John Grant, was accepted for performance by Minnie Maddern Fiske. Performed in London for copyright purposes, "Lady Jemima" proved a solid success. In the late 1880s Lucette sought to turn from performance to playwrighting.

During the late 1880s she began cohabiting with John H. Ryley, the English comic opera baritone. In 1889 the couple joined Arthur Rhean's acting company and in 1890 they married. The life of constant touring was interrupted in 1893 by the presentation in New Rochelle of Lucette's second play, the farce "Valentine's Day," written under her married name Madeline Lucette Ryley. It did not make the splash she had hoped, but her next effort, "Christopher, Jr.," when presented by John Drew in June 1894 proved a smashing success. Then, in rapid succession came a string of plays, many of them hits, that would make Lucette among the most popular and successful playwright of the ten years between 1895 and 1905: "The Time of Strife" (1896), "The Mysterious Mr. Bugle" (1897), "A Coat of Many Colours" (1897), the runaway hit "An American Citizen" (1897), "The Voyagers" (1898), "Realism" (1900), "My Lady Dainty" (1901), "Richard Savage" (1901), "Mice and Men" (1901), another major hit "The Grass Widow" (1902), "An American Invasion" (1902), "The Altar of Friendship" (1902), "The Lady Paramount" (1905), "Mrs. Grundy" (1905), and a final work, 1907's "The Sugar Bowl."

At this juncture she and her husband returned to English to retire. There she espoused the suffragette cause and enjoyed not having to perform. David S. Shields/ALS