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Pauline Markham

Biography: 

(1847-1919)

This statuesque English blonde made her spectacular debut on the American stage as the most magnificent of Lydia Thompson's Amazons in the extravaganza "The Black Crook" (1868). Even more noteworthy, Pauline Markham came to incarnate female carnal glory for the American public as Stalacta. Hers was the burlesque body against which all other figures were measured.

Born Margaret Hall to a middle-class London family, Markham's beauty and voice immediately attracted notice, and she was originally trained as a operatic soprano. She had a silvery, bell-like voice, and sang with a beautiful legato line. Yet she found herself the most eye-catching creature in the founding spectacle of American musical comedy. Good hearted, temperamental, and careless of money, she drew the sons of plutocrats like flies and found herself encrusted by gift jewelry.

Her stage career lasted until 1893 when she broke her leg while playing "My Husband" in Louisville, Kentucky. Of husbands she had three: the extravagant and abusive Southerner, General McMahon; actor Randolph Murray, whom she found boring and left after inheriting $50,000 in 1886; and Adelard Gravel, a printer. In the mid-70s she returned to London with McMahon and performed in the musical hall there.

The theatrical career of Markham during the final decades of her life were curiously miscellaneous. Always a lead, she was at her best in roles such as Josephine in "H.M.S. Pinafore," but would stage melodramas such as "East Lynne" after her voiced declined in the 1880s. She sometimes organized a touring troupe, at other times hired her services to Woods' or other companies. David S. Shields/ALS