Inextricably linked with a role - "Fanchon the Cricket" - the impetuous, diminutive Maggie Mitchell [Margaret Julia Mitchell] was a theatrical name from 1860 to 1890. Her great rival as foremost "girl" of the United States in the era after the Civil War was Lotta Crabtree. Just as Lotta played Maggie's Fanchon, Mitchell frequently played Crabtree's famous role, "Mignon." These twin avatars of youthful wild femininity reveled in appearing a bit grubby, unrefined, and direct, thus inspiring sympathy from a broad class of American womanhood for whom the hoop-skirted propriety of domestic respectability seemed confining.
Mitchell exercised to keep her figure trim, and invested heavily in cosmetics to hold wrinkles at bay. Thus she was able to play Fanchon into her 50s. Her artless laugh became cherished as the sound of joy itself. She retired from the stage in 1892-93. Her son Julian Mitchell became a Broadway producer and designer of revues.
Poet Eugene Field captured Maggie Mitchell's hold on a generation in a verse written shortly before Mitchell died:
My grandsire, years and years ago / In round old English used to praise / Sweet Maggie Mitchell's pretty ways / And her fair face that charmed him so. / Her tuneful voice and curly hair, / Her coquetry and subtle art, / Ensnared by grandsire's willing heart, / And ever reigned supremely there.
NOTES: "The Pretty Ways of Maggie Mitchell," Kansas City Star (Mar 29, 1918), 14. David S. Shields/ALS