Morris, Clara

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Born 17 March 1847, Toronto, Canada; died 20 November 1925, New Canaan, Connecticut

Also wrote under: Mrs. Clara Morris Harriott

Daughter of Charles La Montagne and Sarah Jane Proctor; married Frederic C. Harriott, 1874

Clara Morris lived with her seamstress mother in boardinghouses. At thirteen, she became a dancer's apprentice in a Cleveland musical company, and advanced after seven years to Augustin Daly's Fifth Avenue Theater in New York. Morris then moved to A. N. Palmer's Union Square Company, where she remained for most of her 30 years in the theater as the unchallenged queen of the emotional school of acting. In 1890, chronic poor health forced Moore to relinquish regular acting jobs for occasional appearances, lectures, and writing.

Moore's marriage was an unhappy one. In her last years, her considerable fortune exhausted, Moore battled poverty and arthritis. Several benefits staged for Moore by her fellow actors failed to save her house from creditors.

In a desperate effort to keep herself alive, Moore wrote eight books in eight years. Little Jim Crow (1899) is a children's book of sketches of real-life waifs. Life on the Stage (1901) is both an account of Moore's early childhood and rise to stardom and a defense of the profession. Three volumes appeared in 1902: A Pasteboard Crown, a novel about a star's hopeless love for a married man; A Silent Singer, another collection of real-life sketches, primarily about old age and death; and Stage Confidences, containing advice for the aspiring actress.

In 1904, M. published Left in Charge, a novel of the Ohio frontier of her youth. Many details are autobiographical: A woman alone with her daughter tries to scrape together a living and escape discovery by her bigamist husband. Another short sketch of frontier life, The Trouble Woman appeared the same year. It is about a woman who loses husband, children, and farm to the harshness of 19th-century rural life.

The Life of a Star (1906) is a series of character sketches of people Morris knew: a Mormon leader, the pacifist L. Q. C. Lanar, Dion Boucicault, and others.

No element of melodrama is missing from The New East Lynne (1908). A wronged wife, disfigured by an accident, returns incognito to be her own children's governess.

The literary strengths and weaknesses of Morris' work derive from the domestic tragedies in which she appeared as an actress—stock melodramatic characters and stories and rapidly moving plots. Despite the superficiality of much of her work, Morris learned to tell a story and to reveal the problems of women in her time: the constant "neurasthenia," the double sexual standard, the plight of the woman alone, and the burden of urban and rural poverty.


Ayres, A., Acting and Actors (1894). Holcomb, W., Famous American Actors of To-Day (1896). Strang, L. C., Players and Plays of the Last Quarter Century (1902). Towse, J. R., Sixty Years of the Theatre: An Old Critic's Memories (1916). Wilson, G. B., A History of American Acting (1966). Winter, W., The Wallet of Time (1913).


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Morris, Clara

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