Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Gertrude Elliott

  • Born 14th December, 1874 - Rockland, Maine USA.
  • Died 24th December, 1950 - Kent, England.
  • Real Name Gertrude Dermot
  • Sister of actress Maxine Elliott.
  • Married actor Johnston Forbes-Robertson (1900).
  • 1913 - became Lady Forbes-Robertson.

Gertrude Elliott was born Gertrude Dermot in Rockland, Maine USA on 14th December, 1874. She was the daughter of Thomas Dermot, a active sea Captain, and hia wife Adelaide (Hall). She had one sibling, an elder sister Maxine, 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. Gertrude's sister left to pursue a career as an actress in New York weeks before her sixteenth birthday, and quickly became established. By 1894, Maxine was playing in Rose Coghlan's company in Saratoga where Gertrude then joined her, both sisters using the stage name of 'Elliott' which had been suggested to Maxine by Dion Boucicault. Gertrude's first stage role was as 'Lady Studfield' in Oscar Wilde's (then) new play "A Woman of No Importance", her sister playing the central role of 'Mrs Allenby'. Gertrude's first New York appearance came later that year with the same company, when she played 'Pert' in "London Assurance" at the Star Theatre opening in December.
The following year both sisters left the Coghlan company, whereupon Gertrude joined the prominent American actress Marie Wainwright and appeared with her in "An Unequal Match" and "The Love Chase". In 1897 she rejoined her sister in the company of the comedic actor Nat Goodwin, with whom Maxine had just returned from a tour of Australia and whom she (Maxine) would marry the following year. Gertrude remained with Goodwin for the next two years supporting her sister in numerous productions whilst perfecting her own craft and gaining much valuable experience. She made a particular success as 'Midge' to her sisters 'Mrs Weston' in Clyde Fitch's popular comedy "The Cowboy and the Lady" at Philadelphia from March 1899.

That latter production brought the sisters to England and Gertrude made her English debut at the Duke of York's Theatre on June 5th, 1899. At the same theatre, Gertrude appeared on stage with her sister for the last time in a reprise of another of Goodwin's US productions, "An American Citizen", in which they appeared as 'Georgia' and 'Beatrice' respectively. The sisters then parted, Maxine returning to tour again in the USA whilst Gertrude spent the next year playing in various roles at other London theatres. In September 1900, she was engaged by the prominent English actor Johnston Forbes-Robertson to be his leading lady - initially playing 'Ophelia' to his 'Hamlet' on tour. Just three months later on 22nd December 1900, she and Forbes-Robertson, twenty-one years her senior, were married thus cementing their on-stage partnership for many years to come. In 1902 her new husband took over the management of the Lyric Theatre and his first production there, "Mice and Men" including Gertrude as 'Peggy', was an enormous success, running for over a year.

In 1903 she returned to her homeland for the first time accompanying her husband on an American tour, opening at the Knickerbocker Theatre in New York on 9th November in "The Light that Failed". Over the following years she continued to appear regularly on stage with her husband both in England and the USA, scoring many notable successes. In 1905 Forbes-Robertson took over management at the newly refurbished Scala Theatre and Gertrude opened there as 'Amoranza' in "The Conquerors" on September 25th. In 1906 she scored a notable success in the USA as 'Cleopatra' in her husbands premier production of Bernard Shaw's historical satire "Caesar and Cleopatra", which she repeated in England the following year. Another notable success was as 'Stasia' in "The Passing of the Third Floor Back" which opened at the St James in September 1908 and subsequently transferred to Terrys Theatre to complete its run.

From September 1910 Gertrude embarked on a two year extended tour of Canada and the USA, separately from her husband although he spent much of the same period in the USA also. She returned to England in September 1912, in time to rejoin her husbands theatre company for his farewell tour of the English provinces, followed by a farewell season at the Drury Lane in London. Between March and June 1913 they reprised a number of their best known and most loved roles together, including 'Hamlet' and 'Ophelia' in "Hamlet", 'Caesar' and 'Cleopatra' in "Caesar and Cleopatra", as well as their roles in "The Light that Failed", "Mice and Men", "The Passing of the Third Floor Back", "Merchant of Venice" and "Othello". During the last week of that season Johnston Forbes-Robertson was created a knight for his services to the theatre, thus making Gertrude Lady Forbes-Robertson.

Gertrude then accompanied her husband on a final tour of the USA where he would make his last professional stage appearance, and they would make their first appearance together on film, a silent telling of "Hamlet". Gertrude did not retire with her husband and would continue to regularly appear on stage for a further twenty years. Johnston came out of retirement only once, to appear with Gertrude in a second silent movie (which also featured Gladys Cooper and Irene Vanbrugh) entitled "Masks and Faces" in 1918. Johnston spent much of his time in retirement writing his collection of reminiscences, published in 1925 as "A Player Under Three Reigns", from the couples home in Bedford Square, London. In September 1918 Gertrude went into management on her own account, successfully producing and appearing in (as 'Gina Ashling') the play "The Eyes of Youth" at the St James Theatre which ran for over a year. She subsequently produced "Come Out of the Kitchen", in which she appeared as 'Olivia Dangerfield', at The Strand from March 1920 with similar success.

She toured South Africa for the first time in a reportory of plays during 1921. She was accompanied there by her daughter Jean Forbes-Robertson (born 16th March 1905) who made her acting debut in Durban (Natal SA) under the stage name Anne McEwen in her mothers production of "Paddy the Next Best Thing". Gertrude returned to South Africa the following year, again accompanied by her daughter, as part of an extended tour which also encompassed Australia and New Zealand. Back in England Gertrude provided her daughter her first London stage appearance when they appeared together as 'Ethel' and 'Catherine Westcourt' in "Dancing Mothers" at the Queen's Theatre on 17th March 1925.

This was to be the beginning of a long and successful career for Jean who would carry on in her mothers finest tradition. But if Jean's career was only just beginning, Gertrude's was by now approaching its end. Her last major role on the English stage was as 'Lady William Bacton' in "This Year - Next Year" at the Everyman Theatre in June 1927. She made only one futher appearance on the US stage, as 'Gertrude' in "Hamlet" with Leslie Howard at the Imperial Theatre, New York in 1936.

Gertrude had made England her home and it was here that she retired from the stage. Her husband, Johnston Forbes-Robertson passed away on 6th November 1937, leaving an estate of £8000, a comfortable sum if not exactly a fortune in those days. Her sister Maxine died in France of a heart ailment in 1940. Gertrude saw her daughter rise to become an actress of at least equal stature to herself before she too passed away in Kent (England) on 24th December, 1950. Her other children each found success in their own ways, Maxine ("Blossom") became an artist and married Viscount Ratendone, Chloe also became an artist, and Diana was an author. In life Gertrude had been a fine actress, with a style which was at once charmingly natural and more than adequately artistic. A petite woman with a haunted ghostlike quality, she lacked her sisters particular beauty but was nevertheless undeniably attractive. She was competent in a variety of roles but is best remembered for her Shakespearean heroines in which she played alongside her husband
"Reproduced courtesy of Don Gillan (Copyright),"

No comments: