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Minnie Maddern Fiske

Biography: 

(1865-1932)

Daughter of a New Orleans theatre manager and raised in the wings, Minne Maddern [Davey] first heard applause when she brought down the house at age two singing "Jamie Comin' over the Meadow." As a child she regularly appeared with the most lustrous performers on the American stage. Her education took place in a number of convent schools in the United States and Canada until she turned fifteen when she entered fully into professional life as an actress.

Cosmopolitan in taste, suffragete in politics, southern in manners, careful in finance, and ambitious in terms of dramatic art, Fiske became a center of gravity in the turn of the century theatrical scene. She refused to knuckle under to the theatrical syndicate and toured her own company securing theatres beyond the oligarchy's control. She assiduously searched out young talent to bolster her company and introduced many talents into the profession. She championed the works of Ibsen, but it was Hardy's "Tess of D'Urbervilles" that established her as a tragedienne belonging to the great tradition. (She would film the production in 1913 for Famous Players). Another of her landmark performances was "Lea Kleschna."  She preferred dramas that focused upon women, with "Becky Sharp," "Salvation Nell," "Madam Sand," and "Mary of Magdala" forming pillars of her repertoire. While she could play women of intense seriousness, she also had during the final decade of her career a streak of impish humor and satire that she could deploy with great effect.

In 1890 she married Harrison Grey Fiske, journalist and playwright, and appeared under the name "Mrs. Fiske" during the last 40 years of her life. She was celebrated repeatedly in print for refusing to engage in publicity gimmicks.