Fiske, Minnie Maddern, 1865-1932

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Minnie Maddern Fiske (born Marie Augusta Davey; December 19, 1865 – February 15, 1932), but often billed simply as Mrs. Fiske, was one of the leading American actresses of the late 19th and early 20th century. She also spearheaded the fight against the Theatrical Syndicate for the sake of artistic freedom. She was widely considered the most important actress on the American stage in the first quarter of the 20th century. Her performances in several Henrik Ibsen plays widely introduced American audiences to the Norwegian playwright.

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, Minnie Maddern was the daughter of stage manager Thomas Davey and actress Lizzie Maddern. Coming from a theatrical family, she performed her first professional show at the age of three as the Duke of York in Richard III. She debuted in New York as a four-year-old in the play A Sheep in Wolf's Clothing. She toured extensively as a child, and was educated in many convent schools. She was a child prodigy, touring and performing in numerous productions. According to the New York Times article "Ibsen or Shakespeare?" (March 18, 1928), Harrison Grey Fiske was 12 years old when he first set eyes on the future Mrs. Fiske—she was but eight, performing in a Shakespearean role. Her pay was in lollipops.

By the time she was 16, she was a leading lady, and was cast in the leading role of Chip in the play Fogg's Ferry. She was recognized for her unique beauty and singing voice. She married LeGrand White, a theater musician in Fogg's Ferry, but they divorced shortly thereafter. Two years later, she married Harrison Grey Fiske in March 1890, and took three years off from the stage. Leaving a life of domesticity, she returned to the theatre in 1893 as a playwright and director, having written one-act plays such as A Light for St. Agnes, The Rose, and The Eyes of the Heart. She wrote several plays and collaborated with her husband in writing Fontenelle. Mr. Fiske directed virtually all of his wife's plays after their marriage.

After her husband's unsuccessful production of Hester Crewe, Minnie Maddern debuted as Nora in A Doll's House by Henrik Ibsen, at the Empire Theatre in New York, launching Ibsen's career because of her outstanding performance.[5] She is perhaps most famous for starring as Becky Sharp[6] in the original 1899 production of Langdon Mitchell's Becky Sharp, a play based on William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair. Among her many triumphs on the Broadway stage were: Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1897, revival 1902), Love Finds the Way (1898), Becky Sharp (1899, revivals 1904, 1911), A Doll's House (1902), Hedda Gabler (1903, revival 1904), Leah Kleschna (1904–05), Salvation Nell (1908–09), The High Road (1912–13), Madame Sand (1917–18), a play about George Sand; Mis' Nelly of N'Orleans (1919), Helena's Boys (1924), Ghosts (1927), Ladies of the Jury (1929–30), as well as her self-written plays The Rose (1905), The Eyes of the Heart (1905), A Light from St. Agnes (1906). Mrs. Fiske starred in everything from farce to tragedy and even appeared in a comedy with puppets Wake Up, Jonathan! (1921). Her final appearance on Broadway was in 1930 in an acclaimed production of The Rivals cast as Mrs. Malaprop.

In the mid-1910s, Mrs. Fiske starred in two feature film adaptions of two of her greatest stage triumphs: Tess of the d'Urbervilles in 1913 and Vanity Fair in 1915, both of which were surprisingly successful with moviegoers, although she felt she was not at her best in the medium and declined further film work.

She was a pioneer for realism in acting, supporting Ibsen's works for their honest portrayals of humanity. Her love for performing Ibsen over Shakespeare, and her position that Ibsen is the better study for actors, can not be overstated. She told The New York Times in January 1908: "Ibsen is of interest to the actor because properly to understand a role you must study the character from its earliest childhood. Most Ibsen men and women have lived their lives before the curtain rises. Shakespeare has often been pronounced tedious by actors because his characters require a great deal of study. But even Shakespeare seems easy when compared with the thought that must be bestowed upon Ibsen. The beautiful verse, the wonderful character drawing of Shakespeare furnish solutions of perplexing problems, but Ibsen is so elusive. He fascinates by his aloofness. He is the Wagner of the drama. Wagner struggled for understanding just as Ibsen has struggled."

In 1916, in Harpers Weekly, Fiske published the first article to consider Charlie Chaplin as a serious artist. "It will surprise numbers of well-meaning Americans," Fiske wrote, "to learn that a constantly increasing body of cultured, artistic people are beginning to regard the young British buffoon, Charles Chaplin, as an extraordinary artist as well as a comic genius. Many thoughtful persons are beginning to analyze the Chaplin performances to discover his secret. It is the old, familiar secret of inexhaustible imagination, governed by the unfailing precision of a perfect technique."

Although she was highly praised as an actor, she died poverty-stricken, having fought against a group of producers that organized the Theatrical Trust or Syndicate. This organization took control of first-class playhouses in the U.S., dictated the plays chosen, and the actors that were cast. She fought for artistic freedom for 12 years, which caused her to perform in third-class theatres, such as churches and skating rinks.

In addition to her battle against the Syndicate, she was also one of the most prominent animal welfare advocates of her era. She took interest in the activities of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and other humane leagues. She was known to have picked up stray dogs and cared for them. She fought against the wearing of the plumes of snowy and great egrets on hats, raised awareness of the cruelties of fur trapping, and changed the treatment of cattle on ranges. Because she was well-known and loved, people followed her example and she was able to broadly influence animal reform. She was twice named one of the twelve greatest living American women because of her fight for animal rights and for her outstanding talent. She was first named in 1923 by the League of Women Voters, and then again in 1931 by Good Housekeeping magazine. Mark Twain wrote the story "A Horse's Tale" at her request to combat bullfighting in Spain.Fiske was associated with Emarel Freshel's Millennium Guild. She was a strict vegetarian and opposed vivisection.

She died from congestive heart failure at the age of 66 in Queens, New York. She and Harrison had no children. Around 1915, the couple adopted an infant boy who would have been a teen at Mrs. Fiske's death in 1932. The actress Emily Stevens (1882–1928) was her cousin as was Elizabeth Maddern, the first wife of author Jack London; she was also related to stage actress Merle Maddern (1887–1984). Robert Stevens, for 23 years the director of the Rochester Community Players, and brother to Emily Stevens, was also a cousin.

During World War II, the Liberty ship SS Minnie M. Fiske was built in Panama City, Florida, and named in her honor. In 1961, her papers (23,000 items, weighing in at 1,400 pounds) were donated to the United States Library of Congress.

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Ball, Caroline Peddle, 1869-1938. Autograph letter signed Caroline Peddle Ball to: [Hugh Fullerton] August 11, 1925. Wellesley College
referencedIn Monroe, Harriet. Papers, 1873-1944 Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library,
referencedIn Clark, George Archibald, 1864-1918. George A. Clark papers, 1897-1917. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Robert Green Ingersoll Papers, 1826-1940, (bulk 1866-1899) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Brooks family. Papers, 1778-1912. Gadsden Public Library
referencedIn Townsend Walsh papers, 1763-1935, 1890-1935 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Stapleton, Patience. Correspondence with Mr. Fiske, Oct. 1, 1891 / Patience Stapleton. University of Wisconsin - Madison, General Library System
creatorOf Edwin Francis Edgett letters from others Houghton Library
creatorOf Fiske, Minnie Maddern, 1865-1932. Minnie Maddern Fiske and Harrison Grey Fiske papers, 1818-1955 (bulk 1884-1932). Library of Congress
referencedIn Fiske, Harrison Grey, 1861-1942,. Typescript letters from Harrison Grey Fiske, New York, to William Winter [manuscript], 1893-1903. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Monroe, Harriet, 1860-1936. Papers, 1873-1944 (inclusive). University of Chicago Library
referencedIn Wilder, Marshall P. (Marshall Pinckney), 1859-1915. Marshall P. Wilder papers, 1880-1914. Library of Congress
creatorOf Fiske, Minnie Maddern, 1865-1932,. Autograph letters signed from Minnie Maddern Fiske to various recipients [manuscript], 1886-1905. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Witter Bynner papers, 1829-1965. Houghton Library
referencedIn Papers, 1806-1973 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. Preparation book prepared by William Winter for Mrs. Fiske in Macbeth, ca. 1903. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn The Robert Cushman Butler Collection of Theatrical Illustrations Washington State University Libraries Manuscripts, Archives, and Special Collections (MASC)
referencedIn Kauser, Alice, ca. 1872-1945. Papers of Alice Kauser, ca. 1895-1940 (inclusive). Houghton Library
referencedIn Papers, 1806-1973 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Ray Henderson papers, 1904-1937 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
creatorOf Bunner, H. C. (Henry Cuyler), 1855-1896. Papers of H.C. Bunner, 1884-1935 and n.d. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Scrapbook on performing artists. Museum of Performance & Design
referencedIn David Belasco papers, 1868-1967 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Victoria Theatre (Dayton, Ohio). Season 1910-1911. Ohio State University Libraries
creatorOf Glaenzer, Richard Butler, 1876-1937. Papers of Richard B. Glaenzer [manuscript], 1885-1936. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Long, John Luther, 1861-1927. Papers, 1870-1958 (bulk 1901-1920). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Bynner, Witter, 1881-1968,. Letters : from various correspondents, 1900-1958. Houghton Library
creatorOf Minnie Maddern Fiske letters, 1913-1941 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Francis Wilson papers, 1875-1958 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
creatorOf Edgar, William C. (William Crowell), 1856-1932. William C. Edgar and family papers, 1832-1949. Minnesota Historical Society Library
creatorOf Fiske, Minnie Maddern, 1865-1932. Minnie Maddern Fiske letter, 1912. Louisiana State University, LSU Libraries
referencedIn Maddern, Lizzie, d. 1879,. Autograph letter signed from Lizzie Maddern, New York, to John A. Duff [manuscript], 1873 June 7. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Frueh, Alfred Joseph, 1880-1968. Theatrical caricatures : linocuts. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Paul Kester papers, 1880-1933 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Witter Bynner letters from various correspondents, 1900-1958. Houghton Library
referencedIn Corning, John Herbert, d. ca. 1940. John Herbert Corning papers, 1770-1933 (bulk 1880-1901). Library of Congress
referencedIn Miscellaneous theatrical papers, 1673-1976. Houghton Library
referencedIn Souvenir programs of theatrical productions, 1883-1965. Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Theater and Entertainment Scrapbooks, 1883-1947 Cleveland Public Library
referencedIn Alexander Woollcott correspondence, ca. 1856-1943 (inclusive), 1920-1943 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Clark, George A., 1864-1918. Fur seal controversy papers, 1897-1918. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Frost (Edwin Collins) and William Henry Frost Papers, Frost (Edwin Collins) and William Henry Frost papers, (bulk 1890-1927), 1890-1941 John Hay Library, Special Collections
referencedIn Nila Mack papers, 1910-1953 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Stark, Samuel. Theatre scrapbook collection., 1860-1950 Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn George A. Clark papers, 1897-1917 Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Robinson Locke Collection, 1870-1920 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Townsend Walsh papers, 1763-1935, 1890-1935 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Ingersoll, Robert Green, 1833-1899. Robert Green Ingersoll papers, 1826-1940 (bulk 1866-1899). Library of Congress
referencedIn Frost (Edwin Collins) and William Henry Frost Papers, Frost (Edwin Collins) and William Henry Frost papers, (bulk 1890-1927), 1890-1941 John Hay Library, Special Collections
creatorOf Minnie Maddern Fiske and Harrison Grey Fiske Papers, 1818-1955, (bulk 1884-1932) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Fetz, Florence Mansfield. Florence Mansfield Fetz papers, 1924-1955. University of South Carolina, System Library Service, University Libraries
creatorOf Walsh, Townsend. Townsend Walsh papers, 1763-1935, bulk (1890-1935). Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf Fiske, Minnie Maddern, 1865-1932,. Autograph letter signed from Minnie Maddern Fiske, Chicago, to William Winter [manuscript], 1902 October 29. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Fay family. Papers, 1800-1953 (inclusive), 1859-1953 (bulk). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Howells family papers, 1850-1954 (inclusive). Houghton Library
creatorOf Frost, Edwin Collins, 1867-1956. Edwin Collins Frost papers, 1846-1967. Brown University, Brown University Library
referencedIn Stark, Samuel. Theatre scrapbook collection, 1860-1950. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Kester, Paul, 1870-1933. Paul Kester papers, 1880-1933. New York Public Library System, NYPL
creatorOf Fiske, Minnie Maddern, 1865-1932,. Typed letter signed from Minnie Maddern Fiske, New York, to Viola R. Winter Brown, New York [manuscript], 1908 October 10. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Gardner, Isabella Stewart, 1840-1924. Isabella Stewart Gardner papers, 1760-1956. Archives of American Art
referencedIn Century Company records, 1870-1924 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
creatorOf Fiske, Minnie Maddern, 1865-1932,. Autograph letters signed from Minnie Maddern Fiske to Augustin Daly [manuscript], 1884-1887. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Channing, Grace Ellery, 1862-1937. Papers, 1806-1973 (inclusive). Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Morgan, Appleton, 1845-1928,. Autograph and typescript letters signed to Appleton Morgan from various correspondents [manuscript], 1850-1908. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Rogers Memorial Collection: Henry Munroe Rogers papers, 1812-1937 (bulk: 1862-1937) Houghton Library
referencedIn Crawford, Jack Randall, b. 1878. Crawford Theater collection, 1663-1992 (inclusive). Yale University Library
creatorOf Fiske, Minnie Maddern, 1865-1932. Minnie Maddern Fiske letters, 1913-1941. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Baker, George Pierce, 1866-1935. Papers of George Pierce Baker, 1882-1926 (inclusive), 1890-1926 (bulk). Houghton Library
creatorOf Fiske, Minnie Maddern, 1865-1932. Letters from Mrs. Fiske, American actress, to Mrs. Thomas Jeffress, and from Harrison Grey Fiske regarding the death of Mrs. Fiske, with obituary clippings [manuscript] 1930-1932. University of Virginia. Library
creatorOf Markham, Edwin, 1852-1940. Letter 1906 May 2, New York City [to] Minnie Madden Fiske, New York City / Edwin Markham. Wagner College, Horrmann Library
creatorOf Mitchell, S. Weir (Silas Weir), 1829-1914. S. Weir Mitchell collection, 1861-1935. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Theatre Arts Monthly, collection of portraits, ca., ca., 1924-1939 (bulk), 1916-1964 (inclusive). Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Thomas Bailey Aldrich papers, 1837-1926. Houghton Library
referencedIn De Pauw, Victor. Grand Street follies of 1928 portrait collection, 1928. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Robinson Locke Collection, 1870-1920 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Margaret Anglin papers, 1898-1952, 1911-1936 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Rogers Memorial Collection: Photographs, prints, and drawings, ca. 1600-1936 (bulk: 1861-1936) Harvard Theater Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Robinson, Corinne Roosevelt, 1861-1933. Papers, 1847-1933 Theodore Roosevelt Collection, Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Belasco, David, 1853-1931. David Belasco papers, 1868-1967. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Frank Carlos Griffith papers Houghton Library
referencedIn Crawford Theater collection, 1663-1992 Yale University. Department of Manuscripts and Archives
creatorOf Barrett, Lillian Foster, 1884-1963. Papers, 1922, April 4, to 1925, June 22, about "The dice of the gods". Brown University Archives, John Hay Library
referencedIn Papers, 1800-1953 Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library on the History of Women in America‏
referencedIn Locke, Robinson, 1856-1920,. Robinson Locke Collection, 1870-1920. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Power, Tyrone, 1869-1931,. Autograph letters signed from Tyrone Power, London and New York, to William Winter, New York [manuscript], 1902. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Marshall P. Wilder Papers, 1880-1914 Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Actors' Equity Association. corporateBody
correspondedWith Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 1836-1907 person
associatedWith Anglin, Margaret, 1876-1958 person
correspondedWith Atherton, Gertrude Franklin Horn, 1857-1948 person
associatedWith Baker, George Pierce, 1866-1935. person
associatedWith Ball, Caroline Peddle, 1869-1938. person
associatedWith Barrett, Lillian Foster, 1884-1963. person
correspondedWith Barrie, J. M. (James Matthew), 1860-1937 person
correspondedWith Belasco, David, 1853-1931 person
associatedWith Brooks family. family
correspondedWith Brown, Viola R. Winter (Viola Rosamund Winter), 1881-1970 person
associatedWith Bunner, H. C. (Henry Cuyler), 1855-1896. person
associatedWith Bynner, Witter, 1881-1968, person
correspondedWith Century Company corporateBody
associatedWith Channing, Grace Ellery, 1862-1937. person
associatedWith Clark, George A., 1864-1918. person
associatedWith Cleveland Public Library Literature Department corporateBody
associatedWith Corning, John Herbert, d. ca. 1940. person
associatedWith Crawford, Jack Randall, b. 1878. person
correspondedWith Daly, Augustin, 1838-1899 person
correspondedWith Dellenbaugh, Frederick Samuel, 1853-1935 person
associatedWith Edgar, William C. (William Crowell), 1856-1932. person
correspondedWith Edgett, Edwin Francis, 1867-1946 person
correspondedWith Eldridge, Louisa, 1828 or 9-1905 person
associatedWith Eyre, Lawrence person
associatedWith Eyre, Lawrence. person
associatedWith Fay family. family
associatedWith FAY FAMILY family
associatedWith Fetz, Florence Mansfield. person
associatedWith Fiske, Harrison Grey, 1861-1942. person
correspondedWith French, Daniel Chester, 1850-1931 person
associatedWith Frost, Edwin Collins, 1867-1956. person
associatedWith Frost, William G. (William Goodell), 1854-1938 person
associatedWith Frueh, Alfred Joseph, 1880-1968. person
associatedWith Gardner, Isabella Stewart, 1840-1924. person
associatedWith Glaenzer, Richard Butler, 1876-1937. person
correspondedWith GRACE ELLERY (CHANNING) STETSON, 1862-1937 person
associatedWith Griffith, Frank Carlos, 1851-1939 person
associatedWith Henderson, Ray, 1889-1937 person
associatedWith Heyse, Paul, 1830-1914. person
correspondedWith Ingersoll, Robert Green, 1833-1899. person
associatedWith Kauser, Alice, ca. 1872-1945. person
associatedWith Kester, Paul, 1870-1933. person
associatedWith Locke, Robinson, 1856-1920, person
correspondedWith London, Jack, 1876-1916 person
associatedWith Long, John Luther, 1861-1927. person
associatedWith Mack, Nila, 1891-1953 person
associatedWith Maddern, Lizzie, d. 1879, person
associatedWith Markham, Edwin, 1852-1940. person
associatedWith Mitchell, Langdon Elwyn, 1862-1935. person
associatedWith Monroe, Harriet, 1860-1936. person
correspondedWith Morgan, Appleton, 1845-1928, person
correspondedWith Palmer, Albert Marshman, 1838-1905 person
associatedWith Power, Tyrone, 1869-1931, person
correspondedWith Robinson, Corinne Roosevelt, 1861-1933 person
associatedWith Rogers, Henry Munroe, 1839-1937 person
associatedWith Samuel Stark person
associatedWith Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. person
correspondedWith Sousa, John Philip, 1854-1932 person
associatedWith Stapleton, Patience. person
associatedWith Stark, Samuel. person
associatedWith Victoria Theatre (Dayton, Ohio). corporateBody
associatedWith Walsh, Townsend. person
correspondedWith Wilder, Marshall P. (Marshall Pinckney), 1859-1915. person
associatedWith Wilson, Francis, 1854-1935 person
correspondedWith Winter, Elizabeth C. (Elizabeth Campbell), 1841-1922 person
correspondedWith Winter, William, 1836-1917 person
correspondedWith Winter, William Jefferson, b. 1878 person
correspondedWith Woollcott, Alexander, 1887-1943 person
associatedWith Young, Robert, 1927-2008, person
correspondedWith Ziegfeld, Flo, 1869-1932 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
New York City NY US
Subject
American drama
Vivisection
Animal welfare
Labor unions--United States
Dramatic criticism
Theater--Finance
Theater--United States
Labor unions
Acting
Strikes and lockouts
Theater management
Theater--Production and direction
Applications for positions
Theater
Theater--Production and direction--United States
Occupation
Actresses--United States
Theater managers
Actresses
Actors
Activity

Person

Birth 1865-12-19

Death 1932-02-15

Americans

English

Information

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