Monday, April 29, 2013

Maxine Elliott

Maxine Elliott (1873-1940)

Maxine Elliott was born Jessie C. Dermott in Rockland, Maine USA on 5th February, 1873. She was the daughter of Thomas Dermott, a active sea Captain, and hia wife Adelaide (Hall). She had one sibling, a younger sister (by one year) Gertrude, who also became a celebrated actress.

Much of the sisters childhood was spent aboard a sailing ship of which their father was captain, plying the North American sea lanes. Maxine was educated at the Notre Dame Academy at Roxbury, Massachusetts, before striking out to pursue a career as an actress in New York as a tender sixteen year old. Her first professional stage appearance was in the role of 'Felicia Umfraville' in "The Middleman" at Palmers Theatre in New York on 10th November, 1890. That was with the company of the great English actor/producer Edward S. Willard, in his first US production. She remained with Willard for the next three years, touring the USA and Canada in various productions, most notably "The Professor's Love Story", one of Willard's greatest successes. She began to use the stage name 'Maxine Elliott' at the suggestion of the great actor and dramatist Dion Boucicault. Her sister Gertrude would adopt the same surname for her own stage career.
In 1893 she was at the newly opened American Theatre in New York playing 'Violet Woodmere' in "The Prodigal Daughter", and the following year joined the English actress Rose Coghlan's company touring in various plays. She was joined soon after in that company by Gertrude, and the two sisters appeared together on stage for the first time in "A Woman of No Importance" at Saratoga, Gertrude as 'Lady Stutfield' and Maxine as 'Mrs Allenby'.

Maxine was by now an established and respected performer and in January 1895 was engaged by the great theatrical impressario Augustine Daly, first appearing for him in "The Heart of Ruby" at his self-named Daly's Theatre in New York. With Daly she gained her first experience of Shakespearean roles in "The Two Gentlemen of Verona" and "A Midsummer Nights Dream". It was also with Daly's company that Maxine made her first appearance on the English stage, in the latter two plays at Daly's Theatre in London in July 1895. That direction she received from Daly and the acting experience she gained in his company refined her talents to make her one of the best young actresses of her era.

The following year she accompanied the comedic actor Nat Goodwin on a tour of Australia, and then in the USA on their return. At that point she was rejoined by her sister Gertrude and the two sisters appeared in a number of productions together during 1897, the more experienced Maxine helping her younger sister to perfect her craft.

If Maxine's professional career was by now set upon a firm course sailing upon smooth seas, her private life had set itself upon an altogether different path and her marriage to attorney George McDermott ended in 1896 when Miss Elliott's petition for divorce went uncontested. She was then engaged by Nat Goodwin to be his leading lady on a tour of Australia. Maxine had been recommended to Goodwin's manager, George B. McLellan, by Frederick Edward McKay of The Dramatic News. McLellan offered Maxine the position but when she heard of Goodwin's telegraphed response, "All right; but isn't she too tall?", she promptly declined and instead took up the offer of a leading place with a San Francisco stock company. Goodwin immediately regretted his reaction however, and followed Maxine to San Francisco where he prevailed upon her to reconsider. It cost Goodwin 2500 dollars plus the privilege of producing his plays at reduced royalties to buy out Maxines contract from the San Francisco manager, plus double the salary he had first offered for Maxine herself as well as a place in the company for her sister Gertrude. Goodwin's wife then cited Maxine as co-respondent in her divorce suit which Goodwin vehemently denied, although the couple did then become engaged following the granting of divorce, and were subsequently married on their return to America.

The Goodwin-Elliott's returned to England in June 1899 for a season at the Duke of York's in London, and scored a major success in "An American Citizen", with Gertrude Elliott against figuring prominently in the cast alongside Maxine and Goodwin. In subsequent years Maxine became a regular on both side of the Atlantic as her professional stature and reputation continued to grow - as indeed did that of her sister who enjoyed an almost equally illustrious career. In 1903 Maxine came under the management of Charles Dillingham in the USA, and it was around this time that she first came to be recognised as a headline star, particularly in her homeland (where she was always more prominent than Gertrude). As well as an accomplished actress she was an astute businesswoman who knew how to market herself. Recognised as one of the great beauties of her time, she manipulated her feminine allure to her financial advantage through sponsorship, and as a result her personal fortune grew rapidly as her career flourished. Unfortunately, she did not enjoy the same level of success in her domestic arrangements and by 1908 her marriage to Goodwin had collapsed. In other romantic entanglements, at various times, she was reputed to have been involved with some of the most iconic figures of her time, including: heavyweight boxer 'Gentleman' Jim Corbett; financier John Pierpoint Morgan (the leading industriallist of that era); baseball superstar John Montgomery Ward, even being named as co-respondent in his latters divorce; and australian tennis ace Anthony Wilding, tragically killed leading a charge in the Great War.

In 1908 she built the Maxine Elliott Theatre* on 39th Street, in the Times Square area off Broadway in New York - the first woman to build a theatre on her own account in the theatre capital of the USA. The Maxine Elliott theatre opened on December 30th 1908 with "The Chaperon". Maxine continued in management of the Maxine Elliott theatre until 1920, producing and appearing in numerous plays there, as well as continuing to tour both in England and the USA. After she quit that theatre, such was her prominence that it retained her name for as long as it continued to be a playhouse. Today, the building no longer exists. It ceased to be a theatre in 1941 when it was converted to a radio studio. It later became a television studio before it's demolition in 1956.

During the Great War of 1914-18, Maxine quit the stage to travel to France to nurse wounded soldiers. There she used her own personal fortune to equip and staff a barge to serve as a floating hospital (see my article Our Lady of the Boats). Her last stage appearance prior to this time had been as 'Zulieka' in "Joseph and his Brethren" at His Majesties Theatre in London, opening in September 1913. Although she always expressed a dislike for acting, she resumed her career for a short time after the war as her fortune had become somewhat depleted by her charity work.

Her last major stage appearance was fittingly at her own theatre, as 'Cordelia' in "Trimmed in Scarlet" from February 1920. In retirement she made her home in England and continued for some years to be a prominent figure in international society. She owned a villa on the Mediterrean coast of France where she would regularly entertain some of the best known celebrities of the time; Winston Churchill, Douglas Fairbanks, and the Duke of Windsor to name but a few. Maxine Elliott passed away at Juan-Les-Pins in France on 5th March 1940 from a heart ailment.

At the height of her career, Maxine Elliott was one of the most popular actresses of her time, particularly in the USA. She also became an icon of feminine charm and beauty representing the ideal of American womanhood. It was an image she was careful to cultivate and take advantage of, as through her marketing of 'Maxine Elliott Soap'.
Movie Credits (source
1917 - The Fighting Odds [Mrs. Copley]
1919 - The Eternal Magdalene [The Eternal Magdalene]

"Reproduced courtesy of Don Gillan (Copyright),"

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