Allen, Viola (1867–1948)

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Allen, Viola (1867–1948)

American actress. Born on October 27, 1867, in Huntsville, Alabama; died on May 9, 1948, at her home in New York; daughter of actors Charles Leslie Allen and Sara Jane (Lyon) Allen; married Peter Cornell Duryea (a Kentucky horse breeder), in 1905; children: none.

Performed on stage for 35 years, appearing in over 80 different roles, including her debut in the title role of Esmerelda on July 4, 1882.

While Charles Leslie Allen and Sara Jane Allen performed in the major Eastern theater cities of New York, Boston, and Toronto, as well as with touring companies, their four children traveled with them. Viola Allen was born in Huntsville, Alabama, while her parents were on their road. As preteens, Viola, her sister, and two brothers appeared as needed in their parents' plays and attended schools wherever the family stayed. At home, Viola's father studied Shakespeare with her, hoping to further his daughter's literary interests and refine her rhetorical talents. In 1882, when Viola was 14, Charles presented her to the director of the play Esmerelda, in which he was performing. She was chosen as an understudy to Annie Russell (1869–1936), who held the title role. On July 4 of that year, Viola made her New York debut and did not stop working for the next 35 years. Her 80-plus roles included several of those Shakespearean characters studied with her father, including Lady Macbeth and Ophelia. On December 1, 1918, at age 51, Viola Allen retired from the stage.

Allen had married Peter Cornell Duryea, a wealthy Kentucky horse breeder, in 1905, and the couple divided their time between homes in America and Europe. Though Allen made occasional appearances in charity benefits and war relief efforts, she was largely removed from public life. In 1944, her husband died. Two years later, Allen made her last public appearance in a ceremony during which she donated her large collection of theater memorabilia—much of it related to her roles and travels—to the Museum of the City of New York. In 1948, Viola Allen died at her home, at age 80.

Crista Martin , Boston, Massachusetts

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