The distinguished Scottish-born Shakespearean actor was famed equally for his virtuosic ability to inhabit vastly different characters in classic dramas and his appetite for young, spirited women, whom he married and divorced with remarkable frequency. He attempted to secure work on an 1874 foray to America and failed. He returned four years later as a supporting actor in Helen Modjeska's company, but a falling out with the actress forced a second return to Great Britain.
In 1883 he had honed his skills sufficiently to become a lead and playing opposite Fanny Davenport in "Feodora" established a reputation as a solid actor on Broadway. Henceforward he would never surrender primacy, always playing the male lead, and attempting always to arrange matters to maximize control over productions.
For years Mantell toured the United States at the head of his own company working in standard repertoire. By the 1910s many considered him the greatest tragedian working in American theatre. He performed many roles, but came to be known for Macbeth, Louis XI, King Lear, and Cardinal Richelieu particularly. In his later years, despite a visage that resisted age, his attempts at playing Romeo, a role he did not wish to surrender, became increasingly uncomfortable for viewers. David S. Shields/ALS