Adams, Maude (1872–1953)

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Adams, Maude (1872–1953)

American actress, lighting designer, and professor of drama, best known for her contributions to her most famous role, as Peter Pan. Born Maude Ewing Adams Kiskadden on November 11, 1872, in Salt Lake City, Utah; died on July 17, 1953, in Tannersville, New York;

daughter of Asenath Ann Adams Kiskadden (Annie Adams , an actress) and James Henry Kiskadden (a businessman); never married; lived with Louise Boynton.

Carried onstage by her mother as a young child; appeared frequently with her as a child and eventually took her mother's maiden name; left school after her father's death (September 22, 1883); after appearing in many roles in San Francisco and other theaters in the Southwest, eventually appeared as the maid in The Paymaster in New York (1888); played Nell in Last Paradise, staged by Charles Frohman's stock company (1891); Frohman made her John Drew's leading lady (October 1892); British playwright James Barrie wrote Little Minister for her (1897); as head of her own company, continued to star in Barrie's plays created for her, including Quality Street, (1901), Peter Pan (1905), What Every Woman Knows (1908), The Legend of Leonora (1914), and A Kiss for Cinderella (1916); performed Peter Pan more than 1,500 times, the pinnacle of her career; fell dangerously ill during the 1918 flu epidemic while playing A Kiss for Cinderella and retired from the stage for 13 years; at age 49, began another career as a lighting designer and went to work with General Electric, developing an incandescent bulb widely used in color film (1921); returned to theater playing Portia to Otis Skinner's Shylock in a national tour of The Merchant of Venice (1934); for the next few years, participated in a series of six radio plays; became a professor of drama at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri (1937–46).

Maude Adams was nine months old when she first appeared on stage with her mother in a play entitled The Lost Child. Born Maude Kiskadden in Salt Lake City, Utah, on November 11, 1872, she was the daughter of James Henry Kiskadden, a businessman of Scottish descent. Her mother, Asenath Ann Adams Kiskadden, had been raised a Mormon, the child of parents who joined Brigham Young on his way to Utah in 1847. Under the name Annie Adams , she became an actor in Young's theatrical company. Before Maude, Annie gave birth to twin boys who lived only briefly. Maude was her only child to survive.

Because her husband was a poor provider, Annie Adams resumed acting shortly after Maude was born. When Maude was two, the family moved to Virginia City, Nevada, and then on to San Francisco in 1875, where the name of "Little Maude" appeared on programs and handbills. On October 17, 1877, Maude was just shy of her fifth birthday when she became a salaried actress for her role in Fritz, a popular melodrama of the time. According to impresario David Belasco, "She could act and grasp the meaning of a part long before she could read," though her frequent appearances did not leave much time for an ordinary childhood. She eventually adopted her mother's maiden name of Adams, as her stage name.

For four years, Maude lived with her grandmother in Salt Lake City and studied at the Collegiate Institute. After the sudden death of her father, on September 22, 1883, when she was 11, she decided to quit school to join her mother in a traveling road company. In an arduous apprenticeship lasting for the next few years, the young girl appeared in theaters large and small throughout the Southwest, drilled in the skills of acting by her mother. Melodramas were a staple on the road, and Adams became a seasoned professional in plays like Uncle Tom's Cabin and The Octoroon, performed over and over.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, before the era of movies, radio, or television, theater was a chief form of entertainment in towns small and large. On the traveling circuit, her life an endless routine of packing and unpacking costumes and scenery, Maude Adams gradually played increasingly important theaters. By 1888, she and her mother had worked their way East in a touring version of The Paymaster; in 1890, Maude was cast in a minor role in All the Comforts of Home by Charles Frohman, the well-known New York producer. In 1892, Frohman cast Adams as the leading lady opposite the famous actor John Drew, in Clyde Fitch's Masked Ball. "Her piquant beauty, slight figure, and rippling laughter captivated audiences," wrote reviewer William W. Appleton, "and she played a tipsy scene in so attractive a fashion that even the staunchest prohibitionists capitulated to her charm."

Always seeking to unite actors and playwrights, Frohman invited the Scottish-born novelist and playwright James Barrie to see Adams in her starring role in Rosemary, in 1895. Stage historian Lewis Strang describes the actress at this point in her career:

In figure almost painfully slight and girlish; her face elfishly bewitching in its very plainness; her eyes large, blue and roguish; her hair ashen brown and delicately rippling; unusually gifted intellectually and with a personality of the most persuasive magnetism, Maude Adams … [was] the most popular woman on the American stage.

Until his first play, Walker, London, had been produced in 1893, Barrie had been known chiefly as a novelist. Blessed with a creative imagination, he described his business in life as "playing hide and seek with angels." In Barrie: The Story of a Genius, J.A. Hammerton wrote: "Like Hans Andersen, he mixed the everyday world with fairyland and like Dickens he entices us to that borderland of laughter where we suddenly find ourselves in tears." Barrie's successful mix of comedy and pathos in lighthearted dramas quickly found an adoring public. When he discovered Adams, Barrie was searching for an actress who could bring his characters to life, and he was immediately taken by the young actress.

In 1897, Barrie decided to adapt his romantic love story, The Little Minister, written in 1891, as a play for Adams. The story involves Lady Barbara, who is sympathetic to the plight of the discontented weavers in the town of Thrums. Disguising herself as a gypsy to help the workers, "Lady Babbie" also engages the assistance of an austere minister, the Rev. Gavin Dishart, and, when troops are called in to quell the workers' rebellion, the two are questioned. When Lady Babbie leads a soldier to believe she is the minister's wife, the cleric does not contest, a sign that he has been captivated; by the play's

end, the two are pronounced man and wife according to the old Scottish law by which any couple who declared themselves wed in public were considered married in fact.

The role of Dishart was played by Robert Edeson. Strang writes glowingly of Adams' portrayal, "She was dashing, careless, and free as the tantalizing gypsy girl; as the daughter of Lord Rintoul, graceful and spirited, serious and sympathetic." The play ran for 300 performances and began a collaboration between playwright and actress that was to propel Maude Adams to national prominence. In 1901, she starred in Barrie's Quality Street as Phoebe and was enthusiastically acclaimed by audiences and critics alike.

In Shakespearean roles, she was not as well received. Playing the title role in Romeo and Juliet in 1899, Viola in Twelfth Night in 1908, and Rosalind in As You Like It in 1910, Adams was deplored for her lack of passion and depth. Some criticized her avoidance of mature roles and her narrow theatrical range. What she excelled at was playing children, androgynous heroes, and graceful young women, and these were the roles she preferred. The noted Chicago drama critic Amy Leslie , wrote of her abilities within her range:

She is direct and graceful and alive with the finer, more soulful emotions, so that she sighs and melts and droops with supine pleasantness. She is brightly intelligent and reads … with much charming intuition and feeling.

In 1905, this ability to be "true to the fairy idea, true to the child nature, lovely, sweet, and wholesome" made Adams a natural for the American production of Barrie's Peter Pan. By now a close friend of the playwright, she had great insight into his work. "So much of Barrie's life is second nature to me," she said, "that I have to remind myself that other people do not know it so well."

Withdrawing to the Catskills for a month that summer, Adams prepared for the play, not simply by learning her lines, but shaping many facets of the upcoming production. Rejecting the costumes used in the London production, she designed her own, in what was quickly to become a fashion trend. After they were worn on stage by Adams, the Peter Pan collar and peaked hat were soon seen everywhere. Nina Boucicault had originated the play's leading role in London in 1904, but it was Adams who defined the role for posterity, appearing as Peter Pan more than 1,500 times. Said Barrie of Adams, "Charm is a sort of bloom upon a woman. If you have it, you don't need to have anything else." The "elfin charm, her pathos, and her elusive quality" made her perfectly suited to play his most famous character.

In 1908, Adams starred in What Every Woman Knows, her fourth Barrie hit. She next chose two plays by Edmond Rostand, which were excellent vehicles for displaying her talents. In L'Aiglon ("The Eaglet," 1910), she portrayed the dreamy and ineffectual son of Napoleon Bonaparte. In Rostand's Chantecler (1911), she assumed the identity of a rooster who thinks his crowing makes the sun rise. Captivated by both productions, audiences sometimes demanded as many as 22 curtain calls, and Adams was idolized from coast to coast; "children, corsets, and cigars" were named after her.

In 1914, a year after Barrie was knighted, becoming a baronet, Adams appeared in another of his plays, The Legend of Leonora. In May 1915, Charles Frohman was among those who died in the sinking of the Lusitania, and Adams' relations with his firm began to deteriorate. Eventually, she formed her own company.

Boucicault, Nina (1867–1950)

English actress. Born in Marylebone, England, on February 27, 1867; died on August 2, 1950; daughter of Dion Boucicault the Elder (1822–1890, an actor and dramatist) and Agnes Robertson (an actress); sister of Dion Boucicault the Younger (1859-1929) and Aubrey Boucicault; married E.H. Kelly; married Donald Innes Smith.

Nina Boucicault starred in the original production of Peter Pan at the Duke of York Theatre, London, England, in 1904. Her father Dion Boucicault the Elder was the producer. Twenty years earlier, she had made her stage debut as Eily O'Connor in The Colleen Bawn with her father's company in Kentucky. She then accompanied him on a three-year Australian tour. Returning to America in 1888, Nina appeared at Madison Square Theatre in A Legal Wreck. In 1892, she made her London debut as Flossie Trivett in The New Wing at the Strand and then played Kitty Verdun in Charley's Aunt for two years. Boucicault worked continuously on the London stage; her best known roles included that of Suzanne de Villiers in Le Monde ou L'On S'Ennuie (she repeated her performance in an English adaptation) and Susan Throssel in Quality Street (1914). She also had great success as Bessie Broke in The Light that Failed at the Lyric and as Moira Loiney in Little Mary at Wyndham's, both in 1903. Nina Boucicault retired around 1936.

The British playwright and his favorite American star continued their amazingly successful partnership when Adams returned to another Barrie production, A Kiss for Cinderella, in 1916. Barrie revisited the fairy tale venue in this fantasy comedy, where, according to Hammerton, the scene shifts "from reality into dreamland or into ghostland, and the comedy more than ever seems to be tinged with a deep sense of human tragedy." Cinderella was an enormous hit and ran for two years until Adams became dangerously ill, struck down during the deadly flu epidemic of 1918. Forced to leave the production, she withdrew from public life to recover, then remained in virtual retirement for the next 13 years.

Offstage, Maude Adams always avoided the limelight, rarely granting interviews or attending highly publicized events. She never married and from 1905 until her death in 1953, she lived with her devoted companion, Louise Boynton , who functioned as her personal secretary. Adams, a nominal Protestant, was intensely religious, and though she never converted to Roman Catholicism, she withdrew a number of times to spend periods in meditation and reflection in Catholic convents. At the height of her fame, the Cenacle Convent in New York City maintained a room always available for Adams. Those who worked with her knew her as generous and high-principled as well as a practitioner of her deep Christian faith. On more than one occasion, she raised the pay of actors and stagehands in her current production, paying them out of her own salary. She also refused to cash in on her fame. Once, when a theater owner doubled the price of tickets of the play in which she was appearing, she refused to go onstage until the difference had been refunded to the playgoers.

"As all my life had been in the theater, it was natural to turn to something akin, not too remote from my former profession," Adams said, explaining her decision in 1921, at age 49, to take up studies as a lighting designer. After receiving an honorary M.A. from Union College, she moved to Schenectady, New York, to conduct lighting experiments at General Electric, where co-workers were amazed by her technical proficiency. During her tenure from 1921–23, she designed a lighting bridge and developed an incandescent bulb that became widely used with color film. Adams did not patent the bulb and refused to sue when others copied her idea, not wishing to attract any negative publicity.

At the time she left General Electric, Adams was fascinated by the emerging film industry and its technology. She wrote a scenario for a screen adaptation of Rudyard Kipling's Kim and made trips to Europe and India to scout locations, but despite offers from production companies the movie was never produced. Her autobiography, "The One I Knew Least of All," was serialized in seven installments in the Ladies' Home Journal between 1926–27. In the early 1930s, she returned to the stage in the role of Portia, with Otis Skinner as Shylock, in The Merchant of Venice. In 1934, she played Maria in a summer stock production of Twelfth Night, and she starred on radio that same year in eight productions of her earlier stage triumphs.

At age 65, when many people retire, Maude Adams began a third career, as professor of drama at Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri. In 1937, she plunged into her teaching duties with the same enthusiasm that marked all her ventures. At Stephens, she wrote manuscripts for three textbooks—The First Steps in Speaking Verse, The Spoken Verse, and A Pamphlet on English Speech and English Verse, now in the Maude Adams Collection in the Library of Congress. She directed many plays, including Everyman and Chantecler, and continued to live a quiet private life. She regularly withdrew for meditation in convents and spent time on her two estates purchased in 1900, Ronkonkoma on Long Island and Caddam Hill at Onteora in the Catskills.

Maude Adams was 74 when she retired from teaching; she lived another six years before dying of a heart attack at age 80, in Tannersville, New York. In 1922, she had donated her large estate at Ronkonkoma to the Cenacle Convent, where she continued to spend time in retreat until her death, and she was buried in the convent's private cemetery.

Although few by then remembered the actress who had enchanted a large portion of the American public in the early years of the 20th century and had been a dominant presence on the American stage for two decades, the legacy of Maude Adams was to live on. When Mary Martin was chosen to play Peter Pan in a musical revival of Barrie's play, her portrayal was based on Adams' characterization; and when Walt Disney created its cartoon version, it was not by chance that Peter Pan wore the peaked cap Adams had created. Her elfin influence later resurfaced in the movie Hook.


Appleton, William W. "Adams, Maude," in Dictionary of American Biography. Supplement Five. 1951–1955. Edited by John A. Garraty. NY: Scribner, pp. 7–8.

Archer, Stephen M. American Actors and Actresses: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit, MI: Gale Research, 1983.

Bordman, Gerald, ed. "Adams, Maude," in The Oxford Companion to the American Theatre. NY: Oxford University Press, 1992.

——. American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama, 1869–1914. NY: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Brock, H.I. "Her Light Still Glows in the Theatre," in New York Times Magazine. November 8, 1942.

Drew, John. My Years on the Stage. NY: E.P. Dutton, 1922.

Hart, Columbia. "Adams, Maude," in Notable American Women: The Modern Period. Edited by Barbara Sicherman and Carol Hurd Green. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press, 1980, pp. 5–7.

Kuehn, Eileen K. Maude Adams, An American Idol: True Womanhood Triumphant in the Late 19th and Early 20th Century Theater. Ph.D. Dissertation, Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin, 1984.

Wilmeth, Don B., and Tice L. Miller. A Cambridge Guide to American Theatre. NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Woods, Alan. "Adams, Maude," in Notable Women in the America Theater: A Biographical Dictionary. Edited by Alice M. Robinson, Vera Mowry Roberts, and Milly S. Barranger. NY: Greenwood Press, 1989.

suggested reading:

Davies, Acton. Maude Adams. NY: Frederick A. Stopes, 1901.

Patterson, Ada. Maude Adams: A Biography. NY: B. Blom, 1971, reprint edition.

Robbins, Phyllis. Maude Adams: An Intimate Portrait. NY: Putnam, 1956

——. The Young Maude Adams. Francestown, NJ: Marshall Jones, 1959.

Karin Loewen Haag , freelance writer, Athens, Georgia