Wife of a British Army Officer, Mrs. Patrick Campbell [Beatrice Stella Turner] took the compliments that she had stageable good looks to heart, joing a club of amateur actors. Applause intoxicated her and she sought formal training. A year later she joined the Ben Street touring company, and upon seeing an opportunity with the more reputable Bandmann-Palmer Company, joined it as well. From the first she proved a charismatic, if unschooled performer. Under the circumstances it was not unusual that her first triumph was playing a modern woman, Paula, in "The Second Mrs. Tanquery" (1891) at the St. James Theatre. The power of that performance made her the actress of the moment, and the major actors jostled to secure her services: Beerbohm Tree in "John O'Dreams," John Hare in "The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith," but it was Forbes-Robertson who most captivated her interest by having her perform classic repertoire; she became Juliet to his Romeo.
Convinced that she was as versatile as any actress on the English stage, Campbell threw herself into classic roles with a passion, eradicating the impression that she could only play contemporary women. When she first toured the United States in 1901, she only appeared in English standard repertoire. 1902, however, saw her toured America in Sudermann's "Joy of Living." Willful and unconventional, she bridled at suggestions that she could or should not do certain things. In 1904 she teamed with Sarah Bernhardt to perform Maeterlinck's "Peleas and Melisande." Her third American tour in 1904-05 employed Sardou's "La Sorcere" as her vehicle. She used her fourth tour to introduce her daughter, Stella, as an actress.
During the first decade of the 20th century critics conceded that Campbell was the foremost tragedienne on the London stage. Yet Campbell was growing increasingly interested in comedy, particularly the social problem comedies of George Bernard Shaw. She was a memorable Eliza Doolittle in "Pygmallion." One method she devised of securing the sort of cultural permission to explore repertoire was to cultivate and publicize certain eccentricities of behavior: her cut-throat gambling at whist, her habit of crooning her dog's name "Pinky Panky Poo," her relish of smoking cigars in public places, her many changes of wardrobe during the course of a day.
Campbell toured as a star and avoided engagements with established companies after the turn of the 20th century. When she found managing a troupe tiresome in 1910, she trimmed her entourage and performed Glass's one act "A Russian Tragedy" in vaudeville. In the 1920s her greatest roles tended to be in the dramas of Ibsen. Her Italianate good looks remained with her well into her fifties. David S. Shields/ALS