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Pearl Eytinge

Biography: 

Pearl Eytinge

(1860?-1914)

Pearl Eytinge lived a life of bold strokes. Niece of the famous actress Rose Eytinge, daughter of Sol Eytinge, illustrator for Harper's Magazine and poet Margaret Eytinge of Bayonne New Jersey, Pearl grew up in a cosmopolitan family. By the age 16 she was a superb elocutionist, a volatile, witty, literary, and beautiful exhibitionist. Her public readings secured her a place in Lester Wallack's acting company in the late 1870s and the famous manager declared her the hope of the American Theater. Edwin Booth revered her talent. Initially, she appeared as ingenues in Sardou's "Diplomacy" (1878), in "Uncle Tom's Cabin" (1879), and R. M. Yost's "Brentwood" (1882). But she was in no way a conventional player. She published poetry in magazines, wrote plays, stories, and magazine articles, and even composed songs. She was fascinated by the world of spiritualism and became an associate of New York's seance parlors. Having read DeQuincy, she experimented with opium, and became rather famous for frequenting the smoking dens of New York. She had a taste for scandal. She married playboy physician Dr. J. W. Yard twice, both times against the wishes of Yard's family; Yard beat her up and ran away the second time. Shortly thereafter she became the mistress of Robert Cheesebrough, another millionaire (he invented vaseline), and a poet who gifted her with a Manhattan townhouse which she occupied until a morphine addiction bankrupted her and nearly killed her in 1896. Her fascination with high society and moral transgression was refracted into a novel, Velvet Vice (1889), more interesting for its style than its representations of turpitude. The height of her notoriety occurred in 1889-90 when she acted the part of Iza, an artist's model, in "The Clemenceau Case" and appeared in the buff. Her publishing company, banking on the scandal, printed William Fleron's English translation of Alexandre Dumas "Affaire Clemenceau." Eytinge's plays--"Two Women," "Vivien" (1891) "The Quick and the Dead" (1888 adaptation of the Amelie Rives story)--mirrored her personality in their interest in sensation, their lack of dramatic tact, and their gynefocal preoccupation. The exception was a short comedietta entitled "Mr. Cupid" for the Barrison Sisters to play in vaudeville. When age and drung-induced illness began marking her handsome face, she underwent a conversion to Christianity at the hands of evangelist Dwight L. Moody. The remainder of her life she criss-crossed America testifying to the evils of Morphine and the wonders of grace. Witnesses regarded her the most riveting woman evangelist in the United States.