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Maude Fealy

Biography: 

(1886-1971)

In the first decade of the 20th century, Memphis-born Maude Fealy became the favorite actress of the post-card and cabinet card collectors. Blessed with a gorgeous face and a tumult of dark hair, she generated a photographic legacy disproportionate to her modest skills as an actress. Debuting on Broadway as Eunice in "Quo Vadis" in 1900, much of her stage career took place in London as a protege of William Gillete, and later as Sir Henry Irving's leading lady during his successful comeback in 1906 just before he died. She was perpetually on tour in the United States in vehicles such as "Hearts Courageous" and "The Truth Tellers." She performed in historical dramas and spectacles, but her forte proved to be comedy.

When John Cort became her manager in 1906 he increased Fealy's popularity by putting her in a series of humorous plays, "The Illusion of Beatrice," "The Stronger Sex," and the occasional sentimental slice-of-life drama such as "Louise." In 1907 she married a Denver drama critic, Hugo L. Sherwin, but refused to live with him, even when threatened with court orders. In 1909 they divorced which she starred in a play titled "Divorce." She quit the play and secretly married James Durkin, an actor.

Durkin and Fealy performed together in a number of plays, including "The Right Princess" (1913), an amusing look at "mental healing," i.e. psychiatry. Her career began slipping in the mid-1910s and she began touring vaudeville performing playlets such as "The Turn of the Tide." Eventually, Fealy tired of Durkin, divorced him, and in 1920 married John Cort, the son of her manager. They lived together for a year before she took to the roads. Cort divorced Fealy for abandonment in 1923.

The life of a stock company diva tired on her in 1931 and she headed for Hollywood where she played minor roles in numerous movies. Cecil B. DeMille, who knew her from his acting days, put her in every sound film he made. During the First World War she had made a number of silent films, but her theatrical gesturing then seemed too extravagant. David S. Shields/ALS