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Logan, Olive

LOGAN, Olive

Born 22 April 1839, Elmira, New York; died 27 April 1909, Banstead, England

Also wrote under: Chroniqueuse, Mrs. Wirt Sikes

Daughter of Cornelius Logan and Eliza Akeley; married Henry A. DeLille, 1857 (divorced); William Wirt Sikes, 1871 (died 1883); James O'Neill, 1892

Olive Logan, the daughter of a theatrical couple, made her stage debut as a child and continued acting in New York City and on tour throughout the U.S. until about 1868. Her career was interrupted in the mid-1850s for eight years during her first marriage. It was not for love of the theater that Logan returned briefly to the stage in her own play, Eveleen, in 1864. The economic necessity brought on by her divorce from DeLille forced her resumption of one career, acting, that she always despised and one, writing, that she enjoyed. She had also by this time begun to make a name for herself as a feminist lecturer. The exact date of her retirement is uncertain, but she seems to have entirely abandoned acting by 1868, continuing her connection with the theater as playwright only. Three plays, Surf (1870), Newport (1879)—both mild satires of high society—and Armadale (1866), a dramatization of Wilkie Collins' novel, were produced for the stage but not published. Her second marriage in 1872 to Willaim Wirt Sikes lasted until his death in 1883. Her third husband, O'Neill, was twenty years her junior. Logan's literary productivity was particularly intense during those years when she was not being supported by a husband. The poverty and insanity which haunted her for most of her adult life became acute in old age and she died at the age of seventy in an English home for the insane.

Logan's literary career began with lectures, articles, and a lengthy record of "politics, art, fashion, and anecdote" in the Paris of 1862. Photographs of Paris Life (1862) was first published under the pseudonym Chroniqueuse. Chateau Frissac: Home Scenes in France (1865), Logan's first novel, attacked the evils in the French marriage of convenience. In the melodramatic style, love is temporarily thwarted by inadequate dowries, family disapproval, and arranged alliances. Another short novel followed in 1867: John Morris' Money is the story of a family of modest means who take in a widowed aunt, entertain her with four tales of the triumph of romantic love over greed, and finally, at the old woman's death, unexpectedly inherit her secret fortune.

In Apropos of Women and the Theater (1869), Logan expounded upon a theme which often occupied her: the immorality of Lydia Thompson's "British Blondes," the lavish 1866 production of The Black Crook, both of which featured dancers in fleshcolored tights, and the subsequent seminudity which gave respectable actresses bad names. Logan's most impressive and longest work appeared in 1870 under the title Before the Footlights and Behind the Scenes and in 1871 The Mimic World. This is one of the most informative but disorganized and often biased accounts of backstage life from the legitimate stage to the circus. It includes biographical sketches and anecdotes, arguments for treating actors with respect, and attacks on stage nudity and the third tier.

Also published in 1870, "The Good Mr. Bagglethorpe," is a cinderella story about a poor, orphaned young actress appearing in "moral dramas" who is seen and loved by the well-heeled Willie Gentry. To make the union between the two possible, she must be taken from the stage and educated for two years.

Logan continued her interest in writing nonfiction with Get Thee Behind Me, Satan: A Home-born Book of Home-Truths (1872), a celebration of marriage and the home under attack by free love and loveless "mercantile" marriages. Logan also warns women of the dangers in believing that marriage is the only existence that awaits them and in allowing themselves to be treated as commodities. Portraits of several types of unhappy women underscore her thesis: one woman whose family is excessively eager to see her married, one considered only as a beautiful object, and one who is neglected by her husband.

They Met By Chance: A Society Novel (1873), Logan's last major work of published fiction, describes the life of the wealthy aristocrat in 19th-century New York: the vacation spots, the entertainments, the matchmaking, and the petty games. As in her other novels of high society, much hangs on disguise, mistaken reports of a character's death, coincidence, and intrigue.

The American Abroad (1882) is a derisive comment on the contempt with which Americans are treated in England, necessitating the formation of a special organization to act in behalf of Americans abroad and to help Britishers attempting to immigrate to the U.S.

Logan's strengths lie not in her imagination and creativity, but in her observations of attitudes and details which help to characterize the 19th-century life and mind.

Bibliography:

Brown, T. A., History of the American Stage (1903). Ireland, J. N., Records of the New York Stage (1866-67). Ludlow, N., Dramatic Life as I Found It (1913). Winter, W., The Wallet of Time (1913).

Reference works:

AA. DAB. NAW. NCAB 6.

—CLAUDIA D. JOHNSON

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