Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942

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Otis Skinner (1858-1942) was an American actor and writer. Born June 28, 1858 in Cambridge, Massachusetts, he was brought up in Hartford, Connecticut where his father Charles Skinner was a Universalist minister. Otis Skinner was interested in theater from a young age, and through his father's friendship with P.T. Barnum was introduced to William Pleater Davidge, who gave him his first theatrical role.

In the latter half of the 1870s, he played various bit roles in stock companies, and alongside stars such as John Edward McCullough. He built up his repertoire for several years in New York and Boston, including three years with Lawrence Barrett.

By the mid-1880s, he was touring first with Augustin Daly, then, in 1889, with the troupe of Edwin Booth and Helena Modjeska. After that season, he played Romeo in London opposite Margaret Mather. His association with Mather lasted two years; after, with Booth dead, he returned to Modjeska, starring opposite her in her most famous roles. He also originated the role of Schwartz in Hermann Sudermann's Magda, and played Armand in Dumas's Camille.

In 1894, he produced and starred in Clyde Fitch's His Grace de Grammont; the same year, he performed in his brother's translation of Victor Hugo's Le roi s'amuse. In 1895 in Chicago, he succeeded as Hamlet. From 1895, he was associated with the troupe of Joseph Jefferson.

He excelled in Shakespearean roles like Shylock, Hamlet, Richard III and Romeo, and his Colonel Phillipe Brideau in The Honor of the Family was considered one of the greatest comedic performances of the first quarter of the twentieth century. Skinner's signature role was as Hajj the beggar in Kismet (1911) on Broadway, and he continued playing it on stage for twenty years, recreating his performance both in the 1920 and 1930 film versions of the play.

His later roles included Albert Mott in Humpty Dumpty (1918), the title role in Sancho Panza in Melchior Lengyel's adaptation of Don Quixote (featuring Lucille Kahn in a supporting role), Sir John Falstaff in both Henry IV, part 1 (1926) and The Merry Wives of Windsor (1928), and Shylock opposite the Portia of Maude Adams (1931–32) in The Merchant of Venice.

Skinner was also a writer, whose books included Footlights and Spotlights and Mad Folk of the Theatre. In 1902, he turned Mary Hartwell Catherwood's novel Lazarre (1901) into a successful stage play. He was a devout Episcopalian and a member of the Episcopal Actors Guild.

Skinner's daughter Cornelia Otis Skinner, who became an actress and writer, was born in 1899. Otis Skinner was portrayed onscreen by Charlie Ruggles in the film version of Cornelia's book Our Hearts Were Young and Gay.

Skinner last appeared on stage in 1935, reciting the Forward in a revival of George M. Cohan's Seven Keys to Baldpate. His wife of over forty years, actress Maud Durbin, died on December 25, 1936. Otis Skinner died at his home in New York City on January 4, 1942, nearly a month after he had fallen ill while attending a benefit performance of "The Wookey" held at the Plymouth Theatre (today Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre).

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Walsh, Townsend. Townsend Walsh papers, 1763-1935, bulk (1890-1935). Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
creatorOf Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942,. Autograph letter signed from Otis Skinner, Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania, to William Winter, New York [manuscript], 1916 November 3. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Henrietta C. Bartlett papers, 1471-1961 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Heloise Durant Rose Letters, 1873-1945 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
creatorOf Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942. Letters to Horace Howard Furness, Jr., 1919-1927?, n.d. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Skinner family. Papers of the Skinner family, 1874-1979 (inclusive). Harvard University, Houghton Library
referencedIn William Pleater Davidge papers, 1850-1937. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Nagle, Jay Edwin Sturgis,. Papers, Philadelphia Correspondence and Indentures Collection, 1699-1929. Temple University Libraries, Paley Library
creatorOf Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942. Letter to Richard Butler Glaenzer, 1933 April 12. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Barrows family papers, 1861-1931. Houghton Library
referencedIn Hackett, Norman. Promptbooks for productions of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing, 1804-1905. Harvard University, Houghton Library
referencedIn Samson Raphaelson Papers, 1916-1982 Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
creatorOf Miller, Alice Duer, 1874-1942. Phonorecords of Mrs. Miles Carey [manuscript] ca. 1940. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Review of Reviews (New York, N. Y.), Golden Book Magazine, editorial correspondence, 1921-1935. Houghton Library
referencedIn Thomas Bailey Aldrich papers, 1837-1926. Houghton Library
creatorOf Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942,. Autograph letter signed from Otis Skinner, New York, to Bertha Welby [manuscript], 1894 January 27. Folger Shakespeare Library
creatorOf MacKay, Constance D'Arcy. Constance D'Arcy MacKay papers, 1915-1939. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Cooke, George Frederick, 1756-1812. Promptbooks for productions of Shakespeare's King Richard the Third, 1785-1905. Harvard University, Houghton Library
referencedIn Francis Wilson papers, 1875-1958 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Glueck, Sheldon. Sheldon Glueck papers. 1916-1972. Harvard Law School Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Taylor, Newton. Newton Taylor papers, 1941-1963. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942,. Autograph letter signed from Otis Skinner, New York, to unidentified recipient, 1889 September 10. Folger Shakespeare Library
creatorOf Otis Skinner papers, ca. 1898-ca. 1923 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Bender, Albert M. (Albert Maurice), 1866-1941. Albert M. Bender papers, 1871-1948. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Brown, Gertrude Foster, b. 1867. Additional papers, 1732-1956 (inclusive), 1815-1956 (bulk). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
creatorOf Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942,. Autograph letter signed from Otis Skinner, Cincinnati, to Viola Allen, New York [manuscript], 1916 March 14. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn American Vaudeville Museum collection, 1845-2007, (bulk 1910-1940) University of Arizona Libraries, Library Special Collections
referencedIn Lagowitz, Harriet L., fl. 1877-1890. Harriet L. Lagowitz autograph albums, 1877-1890. Johns Hopkins University, Sheridan Libraries and the Milton S. Eisenhower Library
referencedIn Photographs of theatrical performers, 1862-1982. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
creatorOf Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942,. Autograph letter signed from Otis Skinner to the editor, Metropolitan magazine [manuscript], 1900 September 28. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Rogers Memorial Collection: Henry Munroe Rogers papers, 1812-1937 (inclusive), 1862-1937 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Brown, Gertrude Foster, b. 1867. Papers, 1732-1956 (inclusive), 1815-1956 (bulk). Harvard University, Schlesinger Library
creatorOf Howe, John, fl 1850. Promptbooks for productions of Shakespeare's Hamlet, 1800-1909. Harvard University, Houghton Library
creatorOf Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942,. Autograph letters signed from Otis Skinner, Washington, D.C. and Norfolk, Virginia, to William Winter, New York [manuscript], 1902 February. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Century Company records, 1870-1924 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Hamilton, Clayton, 1881-1946. Autograph letters signed (3) : the Players, New York, to Edward Wagenknecht, 1938 Aug. 2, 1940 Feb. 15, and 1943 June 15. Pierpont Morgan Library.
referencedIn Skinner, Maude Durbin, d. 1936. Letter, to Karl Schmitt. Dartmouth College Library
creatorOf Cushing, George William, b. 1888. George William Cushing papers, 1904-1959. Detroit Public Library, Detroit Main Library
creatorOf Glaenzer, Richard Butler, 1876-1937. Papers of Richard B. Glaenzer [manuscript], 1885-1936. University of Virginia. Library
referencedIn Raphaelson, Samson, 1896-1983. Papers, 1916-1982. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Additional papers, ca. 1870-1922. Houghton Library
creatorOf Milton, Robert, 1885-1956. Letter, 1914 March 15, New York, to Otis Skinner. Dartmouth College Library
creatorOf Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942,. Autograph letters signed from Otis Skinner to various recipients [manuscript], 1884-1898. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Pach Brothers Portrait Photograph Collection, 1867-1947, undated (bulk 1880-1940) © 2011 New-York Historical Society
referencedIn Felix Mendelsohn scrapbook, 1927-1962, 1927-1935 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Pleiades Club Collection, 1893-1943 Fales Library & Special Collections
referencedIn Clara E. Sipprell Papers, 1915-1970 Special Collections Research Center, Syracuse University Libraries
referencedIn John Eldon Thayer collection of motion picture memorabilia, 1916-1979. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn George Cochrane Hazelton papers, 1848-1941 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
creatorOf Mantell, Robert Bruce, 1854-1928. Letters, 1914-1915, to Mr. Skinner. Dartmouth College Library
creatorOf Ford, Harriet, 1868-1949. Harriet Ford papers, 1888-1948. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Dorothy Lockhart papers, ca. 1922-1957 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Robert Benney research materials, 1926-1978 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Viola Price Franklin letter collection, 1849-1941 Willamette University University Archives and Special Collections
referencedIn John Mason Brown papers, 1922-1967. Houghton Library
referencedIn Constance D'Arcy MacKay papers, 1915-1939 The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.
referencedIn Skinner, Maud Durbin, d. 1936. Letter : to Emily Sartain, 1915 Sept. 23. Bryn Mawr College, Mariam Coffin Canaday Library
referencedIn Catherwood, Mary Hartwell, 1847-1902. Mary Hartwell Catherwood papers, 1865-1945. Newberry Library
creatorOf Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942,. Autograph letter signed from Otis Skinner to Mrs. Vieira [manuscript], 1894 March. Folger Shakespeare Library
creatorOf Schmidt, Karl. Letters, 1883-1937. New Hampshire Newsp Project
referencedIn C. J. Bulliet Papers, 1899-1952. Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
referencedIn Papers of Izetta Jewel, (inclusive), (bulk), ca.1850-1978, 1899-1965 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
creatorOf Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942. Otis Skinner letters written during tour, 1894-1895 Houghton Library
referencedIn Bulliet, C. J. (Clarence Joseph), 1883-1952. C. J.Bulliet papers, 1899-1952. Columbia University in the City of New York, Columbia University Libraries
referencedIn Louis Evan Shipman papers, ca. 1859-1933. Houghton Library
referencedIn Golden Family Collection, 1795-1996 Working Men's Institute of New Harmony, Indianahttp://www.workingmensinstitute.org/
referencedIn Harriet Ford papers, 1888-1948 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Wilson, Francis, 1854-1935. Francis Wilson papers, 1875-1958. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Witter Bynner papers, 1829-1965. Houghton Library
referencedIn Durang, Charles. Promptbooks for productions of Shakespeare's The First Part of King Henry the Fourth, 1824-ca.1900. Harvard University, Houghton Library
referencedIn Neiman, Howard S. Pleiades Club Collection. New York University, Fales Collection
referencedIn Gillette, William, 1853-1937. Letter, 1933 September 4, Hadlyme, Conn., to Charlotte Countryman, Hartford, Conn. Connecticut Historical Society
creatorOf Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942. Otis Skinner papers, ca. 1898-ca. 1923. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Theatre Arts Monthly, collection of portraits, ca., ca., 1924-1939 (bulk), 1916-1964 (inclusive). Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Theatrical letters sent to Herbert I. Jackson, 1898-1944. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn Frueh, Alfred Joseph, 1880-1968. Theatrical caricatures : linocuts. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn John Jay Chapman additional papers, 1841-1940. Houghton Library
referencedIn Mendelsohn, Felix, Jr. Felix Mendelsohn scrapbook, 1927-1962, bulk 1927-1935. New York Public Library System, NYPL
referencedIn Rosen, Julius, 1833-1892,. Autograph letter from Julius Rosen to Augustin Daly, 1887 August 28. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Papers, (inclusive), (bulk), 1822-1978, 1910-1949 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
referencedIn Theater and Entertainment Scrapbooks, 1883-1947 Cleveland Public Library
referencedIn Autograph File, S, 1556-1996. Houghton Library
referencedIn Theater collection, 1849-1964. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
referencedIn Irving, Henry, Sir, 1838-1905. Promptbooks for productions of Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, ca.1797-1907. Harvard University, Houghton Library
creatorOf Skinner, Otis, 1858-1942,. Autograph letter signed from Otis Skinner, Bridgeport, Conn., to William Winter, New York [manuscript], 1896 March 5. Folger Shakespeare Library
referencedIn Alexander Woollcott correspondence, ca. 1856-1943 (inclusive), 1920-1943 (bulk). Houghton Library
referencedIn Townsend Walsh papers, 1763-1935, 1890-1935 New York Public Library. Manuscripts and Archives Division
referencedIn Additional papers, (inclusive), (bulk), 1732-1956, 1815-1956 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
creatorOf Lockhart, Dorothy, 1905-1985. Dorothy Lockhart papers, ca. 1922-1957. Campbell University, Wiggins Memorial Library
referencedIn Souvenir programs of theatrical productions, 1883-1965. Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
correspondedWith Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 1836-1907 person
correspondedWith Aldrich, Thomas Bailey, 1836-1907 person
correspondedWith Allen, Viola, 1867-1948 person
associatedWith American Museum of Vaudeville corporateBody
correspondedWith Barrows family. family
associatedWith Bartlett, Henrietta C. (Henrietta Collins), 1873-1963 person
associatedWith Bender, Albert M. (Albert Maurice), 1866-1941. person
associatedWith Benney, Robert, 1904-2001 person
associatedWith Brown, Gertrude Foster, b. 1867. person
correspondedWith Brown, John Mason, 1900-1969 person
associatedWith Bulliet, C. J. (Clarence Joseph), 1883-1952. person
correspondedWith Bynner, Witter, 1881-1968 person
associatedWith Catherwood, Mary Hartwell, 1847-1902. person
correspondedWith Century Company corporateBody
correspondedWith Chapman, John Jay, 1862-1933 person
associatedWith Clark, Barrett H. (Barrett Harper), 1890-1953 person
associatedWith Cleveland Public Library Literature Department corporateBody
associatedWith Cullen, Frank, 1936- person
associatedWith Cushing, George William, b. 1888. person
correspondedWith Daly, Augustin, 1838-1899 person
correspondedWith Davidge, William Pleater, 1814-1888 person
correspondedWith Dellenbaugh, Frederick Samuel, 1853-1935 person
associatedWith Flagg, James Montgomery, 1877-1960. person
associatedWith Ford, Harriet, 1868-1949. person
associatedWith Franklin, Viola Price person
associatedWith Frueh, Alfred Joseph, 1880-1968. person
associatedWith GERTRUDE (FOSTER) BROWN, 1867-1956 person
associatedWith Gillette, William, 1853-1937. person
associatedWith Glaenzer, Richard Butler, 1876-1937. person
associatedWith Glueck, Sheldon, 1896- person
associatedWith Golden Family family
associatedWith Hamilton, Clayton, 1881-1946. person
associatedWith Hazelton, George Cochrane, 1868-1921 person
correspondedWith Izetta Jewel, 1883-1978 person
correspondedWith Jackson, Herbert I., recipient. person
associatedWith Lagowitz, Harriet L., fl. 1877-1890. person
associatedWith Lambs (New York, N.Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Lockhart, Dorothy, 1905-1985. person
associatedWith MacKay, Constance D'Arcy. person
associatedWith Mantell, Robert Bruce, 1854-1928. person
correspondedWith Maxwell, Perriton, 1868-1947 person
associatedWith McNeilly, Donald, 1945- person
associatedWith Mendelsohn, Felix, Jr person
associatedWith Mendelsohn, Felix, Jr. person
associatedWith Milton, Robert, 1885-1956. person
associatedWith Modjeska, Helena, 1840-1909 person
associatedWith Nagle, Jay Edwin Sturgis, person
associatedWith Neiman, Howard S. person
associatedWith Neiman, Howard S. person
associatedWith Peabody, Josephine Preston, 1874-1922 person
associatedWith Raphaelson, Samson, 1896-1983. person
associatedWith Review of Reviews (New York, N. Y.) corporateBody
associatedWith Rogers, Henry Munroe, 1839-1937 person
associatedWith Rose, Heloise Durant. person
associatedWith Rosen, Julius, 1833-1892, person
associatedWith Schmidt, Karl. person
associatedWith Shakespeare, William, 1564-1616. person
associatedWith Shipman, Louis Evan, 1869-1933 person
associatedWith Sipprell, Clara E. (Clara Estelle), 1885-1975 person
associatedWith Skinner family. family
associatedWith Skinner, Maud Durbin, d. 1936. person
associatedWith Skinner, Maude Durbin, d. 1936. person
associatedWith Spies and Smart. corporateBody
associatedWith Taylor, Newton. person
associatedWith Thayer, John Eldon, 1899-1980 person
correspondedWith Vieira, Mrs., fl. 1894 person
associatedWith Walsh, Townsend. person
correspondedWith Welby, Bertha, d. 1917 person
associatedWith Wilson, Francis, 1854-1935. person
correspondedWith Winter, William, 1836-1917 person
correspondedWith Woollcott, Alexander, 1887-1943 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Cambridge MA US
New York City NY US
Subject
Theater--United States
Hamlet (Legendary character)--Manuscripts
Theater
Occupation
Actors--Theater
Actors, American
Writers and Editors
Function

Person

Birth 1858-06-28

Death 1942-01-04

Americans

English

Information

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