Mary Anderson's combination of beauty and emotional engagement made her the most compelling American actress on the stage from 1875 to 1887. A Californian by birth, she lost her father in the Civil War, endured a convent education in St. Louis, and parlied a reading interest in Shakespeare into a chance performing on stage in Louisville, Kentucky, in 1875.Her professional instruction in the dramatic arts consisted of ten acting lessons with New York manager George Vandenhoff when she was 14 years old. Yet, her resonant speaking voice, heroic carriage, and neoclassical face made up for any defects in her dramatic technique.
Naturally dignified, she radiated a self-possession that men and women found attractive and respectable. Comedy would never be her forte. She came to represent the ideal of the legitimate actress. She crossed the Atlantic in 1881 for a six year sojourn on the English stage. In 1886 she returned, performed "The Winter's Tale" in a hit version, then retired in 1887, aged 30. Her ethos--blonde, beautiful, serious, passionate--anticipated that of Ingrid Bergman in the 1940s. David S. Shields/ALS