LeGallienne, Eva

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Born 11 January 1899, London, England; died 1991

Daughter of Richard and Julie Norregaard LeGallienne

Eva LeGallienne's father was a poet and her mother a translator and journalist. LeGallienne studied acting at Tree's Academy (later the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art) in London; she made her stage debut in London in 1914 and her American debut on Broadway in 1915. She established herself as a star in the role of Julie in Liliom in 1921 and five years later founded the Civic Repertory Theatre, a company devoted to offering the highest quality dramas at low cost to the public. She both acted in and directed works of Ibsen, Chekhov, and Shakespeare, as well as plays such as Peter Pan and Alice in Wonderland, touring extensively with these works. LeGallienne received many honorary degrees and awards, among them the Woman of the Year Award (1947) and a special Tony award (1964).

Eva LeGallienne's Civic Repertory Plays (1928) includes four texts plus her character analyses, stage directions, and set diagrams. Her detailed annotations capture her commitment to stage realism in terms of acting, directing, costumes, and scene design. LeGallienne focuses on the characters and derives her thematic conceptions from their actions and attitudes. Her notes are invaluable: They preserve, over time, a sense of her productions.

In At 33 (1934), her first autobiography, LeGallienne relates significant events from her childhood and education in Europe up to the founding of the Civic Repertory Theatre. She does not dwell on any particular period, but devotes as much space to her early auditions and roles as to her direction of such classics as Hedda Gabler and The Three Sisters. LeGallienne had stated, "I have always felt so impersonally about my work," and nowhere in her writing is this better exemplified. She writes clearly and dispassionately about herself, using short, quick verbs which impel the narrative forward and revealing a wry wit. Thus LeGallienne's character emerges from both the form and content of her writing. Her vision of life as action is reflected by the range of her theatrical endeavors as well as by her linear, short, and succinct style; she plunges from story to story in her narrative as fearlessly as she has plunged into work. At 33 is an exuberant account, dealing almost exclusively with her professional life and activities, but upon completion, this record leaves one strangely cold.

With a Quiet Heart (1953), which deals with LeGallienne's life from the age of thirty-three to fifty-three, is more contemplative. She commits more space to each episode and discusses a wider range of experience. Her feelings about her father and her friends are more openly revealed, lending depth to the work. For the most part, however, this book is again dedicated to her professional achievements. Its tone is tempered, yet it objectively reveals LeGallienne as a resourceful and tenacious artist.

The critical preface to Ibsen's The Master Builder (1955) is one of LeGallienne's best works, in which she gives free rein to her emotional and intellectual imagination. Here she discusses the drama in terms of character and action, dividing the essay into three sections which correspond to the acts and scenes in the play. She relates to The Master Builder tonally and calls the composition "great music." She focuses on major events in the play, ignoring other parts that are only passing or connecting notes. Delving into the psychological drives of the major characters, LeGallienne examines their conflicts and goals and charts the changes in their moods and attitudes. Still, she raises as many questions as she answers; well aware that the symbolism in the play is complex, LeGallienne warns against forming absolute or oversimplified interpretations.

The discussion reads like a director's promptbook notes. She uses many of Ibsen's stage directions to formulate or support her ideas. Her concern for the theater as a physical space is central to her critiques, and she believes that through external settings, a figure's inner self may be illuminated. Through her scene studies, LeGallienne evokes an intense visual and poetic experience.

LeGallienne's greatest contributions are her play and character analyses and her notes. She combines a literary sensibility with a technical knowledge of the theater. Thus, her essays reveal an understanding of drama at its deepest levels. Her notes on directing and design are valuable documents in the study of theater history.

Other Works:

Flossie and Bossie (1949). Six Plays by Henrik Ibsen (translated by LeGallienne, 1951). The Strong Are Lonely by F. Hochwalder (adapted by LeGallienne, 1955). Seven Tales of Hans Christian Andersen (translated by LeGallienne, 1959). The Wild Duck, and Other Plays by A. Chekhov (translated by LeGallienne, 1961). The Mystic in the Theatre: Eleanora Duse (1965). The Nightingale by H. C. Andersen (translated by LeGallienne, 1965).


Cooper, P. R., Eva LeGallienne's Civic Repertory Theatre (dissertation, 1967). Copeland, P. A., "Contribution to the American Theatre of Eva LeGallienne's Leadership in the Civic Reperatory Theatre" (thesis, 1959). Davis, W., The Importance of Being Eva LeGallienne (1977). Hewitt, B., Theatre U.S.A. (1959). Hughes, G., A History of the American Theatre: 1700-1950 (1950). Little, S. W., Off-Broadway (1972). Macgowan, K., Footlights across America (1929). Rudisill, A. S., The Contributions of Eva LeGallienne, Margaret Webster, Margo Jones, and Joan Littlewood to the Establishment of Repertory Theatre in the United States (dissertation, 1979). Schanke, R. A., Eva LeGallienne: A Bio-bibliography (1989). Schanke, R. A., Eva LeGallienne: First Lady of Repertory (dissertation, 1975). Schanke, R. A., Shattered Applause: The Eva LeGallienne Story (1995). Tumbleson, T. R., Three Female Hamlets: Charlotte Cushman, Sarah Bernhardt and Eva LeGallienne (dissertation, 1981). Wilson, G., Three Hundred Years of American Drama and Theatre (1973). Young, W. C., Famous Actors and Actresses of the American Stage, Vol. II (1975).

Reference works:


Other references:

[Interview by Darryl Croxton] (cassette, 1973). "Eva LeGallienne: Dick Cavett Talks with the Legendary Actress" (cassette, 1979).