Campbell, Mrs. Patrick (1865–1940)

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Campbell, Mrs. Patrick (1865–1940)

One of the most celebrated English actresses who passed into literary history when George Bernard Shaw created the role of Eliza in Pygmalion for her.

Name variations: Beatrice Tanner; Stella Campbell; Stella Tanner. Born Beatrice Rose Stella Tanner on February 9, 1865; died in Pau, France, on April 9, 1940; daughter of John and Maria Louisa Romanini Tanner; formal schooling at private schools, begun when she was ten, was erratic and ended when was 13; married Patrick Campbell (d. 1900), on June 21, 1884; married George Cornwallis-West, April 6, 1914 (separated); children: (first marriage) Alan Urquhart (b. 1885); Stella Tanner Campbell (b. 1886, an actress).

Made debut as Marie Graham in In His Power with the Anomalies Dramatic Club of Norwood (1886), then as a French modiste in Duty, as Marie de Fontanges in Plot and Passion and as Alma Blake in The Silver Shield (all 1886); joined the Frank Green Company playing on tour as Lynne Loseby in Bachelors (1888–89); toured with the Millicent-Bandmann-Palmer Company as Rachel Denison in Tares; joined Ben Greet's Woodland Company for a season, playing a variety of classical and modern roles, as Rosalind in As You Like It, as Olivia in Twelfth Night, as Helena in A Midsummer Night's Dream, as the Princess of France in Love's Labour's Lost, the title role inAdrienne Lecouvreur , as Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal, as Millicent Boycott in The Money Spinner, as Alma Blake in The Silver Shield (1889–90); made London debut as Helen in The Hunchback (March 13, 1889); on tour in Shakespearean roles and as Queen Eglamour in Love-in-a-Mist, as Stella Maris in A Buried Talent; on tour with A Village Priest (1890); first major London success as Astrea in The Trumpet Call (1891–92); as Elizabeth Cromwell in The White Rose, as Tress Purvis in Lights of Home (1892); as Belle Hamilton in The Black Domino; first triumph as Paula in The Second Mrs. Tanqueray (1893) and on tour (1894); as Dulcie Larandie in The Masqueraders; as Kate Cloud in John-a-Dreams; title role in The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith (1895); title role in Fedora (1895); as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (1896); as Audrie Lesden in Michael and His Lost Angel (1896); as Militza in For the Crown, the title role in Magda, as Lady Hamilton in Nelson's Enchantress (1897); as Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal; as the Ratwife and then as Rita Allmers in Little Eyolf (1896); as Ophelia in Hamlet, as Lady Macbeth in Macbeth, as Vera Carlyon in Carlyon Sahib; on tour in Germany and Amsterdam (1898); as Mélisande in Pelléas and Mélisande; as Nanoya in The Moonlight Blossom, as the peasant girl in The Sacrament of Judas, as Sybil Temple-Martin in The Canary (1899); title role in Mrs. Jordan; on tour in repertory, as Percinet in The Fantasticks, as Hilda Daventry in Mr. and Mrs. Daventry (1900); title role in Mariana, as Clara Sang in Beyond Human Power, in first American tour in repertory (1901–02); as Beata in The Joy of Living; as Jeannie Halston in Aunt Jeannie; title role in Undine (1903) as the Queen in Ruy Blas, as Theodosia Hemming in Warp and Woof, as the Queen of Spain in The Queen's Romance, as Mélisande in Pelléas and Mélisande (opposite Sarah Bernhardt playing Pelléas); second American tour (1904), including the role of Zoraya in The Sorceress; (with Sarah Bernhardt) on tour in England, Scotland and Ireland with Pelléas and Mélisande (1905); as the Countess of Ellingham in The Whirlwind, as Margaretta Sinclair in The Macleans of Bairness, as Greeba in The Bondsman (1906); title role in Hedda Gabler; third American tour including as new plays Von Hofmannsthal's adaptation of Sophocles' Electra and The Moon of Yamato (1907); as Phyllis Mortimore in The Thunderbolt, as Deirdre in Deirdre of the Sorrows, and the title role in Lady Windemere's Fan (in Dublin); on tour with Electra and Deirdre (1908); as Olive in Olive Latimer's Husband, as Fabia Sumner in His Borrowed Plumes, as Mierris in False Gods, and in A Russian Tragedy (1909); fourth American tour (winter–spring, 1910); title role in Lady Patricia, toured in music halls as Olga Weather in The Bridge, in Bella Donna (1911); as Leonora in The Adored One (1913); as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion (in London, then in New York and on a fifth American tour, 1914–15); in The Law of the Sands in London and on tour (1916–17); as Therese Bonnet in Pro Patria, as Madame La Grange in The Thirteenth Chair (1917); asGeorge Sand in Madame Sand, and revival of Pygmalion for British troops in Germany (1920); as Hedda Gabler (1922); toured the British provinces in repertory including Voodoo (1922–25); as Adela Rivers in The Adventurous Age (New York, 1927); returned to England touring in the title role in Madame Kuranda (1927); as Mrs. Alving in Ghosts (single performance, London, 1928); as Ella Rentheim in John Gabriel Borkman; as Anastasia Rakonitz in The Matriarch (1929); toured the States, where she appeared in one film and gave isolated performances in Ghosts (Los Angeles and San Francisco, 1930); small role in The Sex Fable (New York, 1931); as Clytemnestra in Sophocles' Electra (New York, 1932); in The Thirteenth Chair (brief English tour, 1932); Mrs. Mac-Donald in A Party (New York, 1933).

Films:

The Dancers (First National, 1930); Riptide (MGM, 1934); Outcast Lady (MGM, 1934); One More River (Universal, 1934); (the pawnbroker) Crime and Punishment (Columbia, 1935).

Mrs. Patrick Campbell was born Beatrice Rose Stella Tanner, the youngest of six children, on February 9, 1865; she was known as Stella. Her father John Tanner was a provider of military equipment for the British army in India but otherwise a ne'er-do-well, who, though frequently prosperous was just as frequently a failure and often absent. Her mother, born Maria Louisa Romanini , from whom Stella inherited her dark beauty, was the daughter of an Italian adventurer who had come to Bombay, where the couple were married in July 1852. Sent to private schools, Stella was soon bored with classwork, and her formal education ended when she was 13. Most of what she learned was derived from her association with her mother, her uncle Henry Tanner, and a one-year sojourn in Paris, when she was 15, during which she learned to speak French fluently enough to perform in the language in later years and developed a taste for luxury and sophisticated company that never left her.

In 1881, at age 17, Stella gave up a chance for a musical scholarship to marry a young man named Patrick Campbell by whom she was already pregnant. A handsome libertine like her father, Campbell drifted from one occupation to another and, after siring two children, migrated to the colonies virtually abandoning his family. His young wife, having no other means of earning a living and having experienced some success at dramatic readings, went on the stage to support her children. To assure her Victorian contemporaries of her respectability, Stella performed as Mrs. Patrick Campbell, inadvertently memorializing her shadowy husband for all time.

Mrs. Pat, as she came to be known by her contemporaries, made her debut on the stage with the Anomalies Dramatic Club of Norwood in a play entitled In His Power, replacing the star who had fallen ill. The success of her debut decided Campbell on an acting career, and she immediately appeared in other plays for the Anomalies Company. In 1888, she secured a contract, her first, with the Frank Green Company, opening in Liverpool on October 22 in Bachelors. This began a grueling tour of the provinces, which offered Campbell the opportunity to learn her craft by playing in a great variety of roles before vastly differing audiences. Moving on to Ben Greet's Woodland Company, she was soon playing Shakespearean roles, including Rosalind in As You Like It and Olivia in Twelfth Night; despite her total lack of experience with the Bard, she was a notable success. In the course of her association with Greet's company, she made her London debut in The Hunchback (March 3, 1889). In 1890, she had her first major London success in the role of Astrea in The Trumpet Call, which ran for 220 performances, and for which she received her first ovation.

Other roles on the London stage quickly followed, whereupon Mrs. Patrick Campbell became a star overnight in the role of Paula in Pinero's The Second Mrs. Tanqueray (1893), perhaps the first important "modern" play, inspired by the work of Henryk Ibsen, in English drama. That Campbell was the right actress for the role was beyond doubt when the play triumphed, even though the critics could see its faults. The Second Mrs. Tanqueray did more than make

Campbell a star; it opened up a new world of social contacts. She found herself sought after, not only by theatrical figures, artists and literati, but also by London "society," still wealthy and exclusive in the late Victorian age but willing to receive a fashionable actress. Mrs. Pat thoroughly enjoyed her new life and, in time, came to know everyone who mattered in England in the last years of Queen Victoria 's reign, from the prince of Wales to the playwright Oscar Wilde. She was said to have inspired Edward Burne-Jones to paint The Vampire and Rudyard Kipling to write the poem of the same name; the strange but talented Aubrey Beardsley drew her caricature, and she was thrice painted in oils, once by John Singer Sargent. Patrick Campbell, returning to London at this time as a penniless failure, was hard put to deal with the new situation and soon went back to South Africa, where, in 1900, he was killed in action during the Boer War.

For 20 years (1894–1914), Mrs. Patrick Campbell flourished as one of the great ladies of the English stage, appearing in no less than 43 roles, though not always to critical acclaim. In 1895, for example, she had a triumph in Pinero's The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith, appeared as Juliet to mixed reviews, and then failed in Sudermann's Magda. She then moved on to play Lady Teazle in Sheridan's The School for Scandal, only to turn to Ibsen to play the Ratwife and then Rita Allmers in the same production of Little Eyolf, performances that earned her universal praise. In 1898, she undertook a successful tour to Germany, where she was presented to the kaiser. Returning to London, Mrs. Campbell triumphed in Pelléas et Mélisande, the much-admired poetic drama by the Belgian playwright Maurice Maeterlinck, who was enjoying an enormous popularity at the time. Seeing her in this role, The London Times wrote that Mrs. Campbell was "an actress of rare physical grace, distinction and poetic charm," while the critic Walkley said of her performance that "the sheer physical pleasure of the thing is not to be described," and the playwright James Barrie wrote simply: "Mrs. Campbell is beyond comparison."

She expressed poetry with every gesture of her hands, and the objects which she touched in playing a scene suddenly seemed to gain immediate significance and life.

—John Gielgud

In 1900, Campbell undertook the responsibilities of manager and, at the Royalty Theater, staged a number of plays by a variety of dramatists, including both writers of traditional theater pieces as well as the practitioners of the new drama of social significance spawned by the Ibsen craze: Sudermann, Maeterlinck, Björnson, Echegaray, and Rostand. In 1901, Mrs. Pat made her first visit to America for six months of repertory in which she had an immediate and triumphant success in Chicago and New York. Everywhere she was taken up by high society, pursued by the press and admired by the critics. The following year, she returned to America for a second tour.

Perhaps the greatest triumph of Campbell's career occurred when the great French tragedienne Sarah Bernhardt undertook (at age 60) the role of the youthful Pelléas in Maeterlinck's Pelléas et Mélisande and chose Mrs. Pat to play his beloved Mélisande. Thereafter, Campbell undertook to appear in several of Bernhardt's successes, among them Fédora, which she had to leave after a few weeks because of the strain that the part placed on her voice. Campbell's friendship with Bernhardt was close, and she visited the great French actress a few days before her death in 1923.

Along the way, Campbell had her share of love affairs and close relationships with various men. At a celebration after the opening of His Borrowed Plumes on June 6, 1909, Campbell met George Cornwallis-West, the man who would become her second husband. At the time, he was the second husband of Lady Jennie Jerome Churchill and stepfather of Winston Churchill. Resentful of his wife's fame and the fact that she had far more money than he, Cornwallis-West had gradually edged into infidelity, and Mrs. Campbell was not the first of his outside interests. While pouring out his heart to her, he did not seem to notice that Campbell was similar to his wife and not much younger. Disappointed in her current theatrical venture and mindful of the gossip that was beginning to circulate around this affair, Mrs. Pat abruptly decided on an American tour in January 1910. With no engagement arranged and badly in need of money, she secured a turn in vaudeville, offering as her "act" a 20-minute Russian drama called Expiation. To everyone's surprise, she was an instant hit with her new audience, and Edward Albee, head of the circuit, booked her for ten weeks at her rather steep terms of $1,500 per week.

Returning to England, Campbell continued her relationship with Cornwallis-West, all the while becoming increasingly involved with the Anglo-Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw. The greatest fruit of this latter relationship was the comedy Pygmalion, which Shaw wrote for his inamorata on a dare in 1914. One of Shaw's best plays, Pygmalion had a long success with its reincarnation as a Broadway musical and Hollywood film, My Fair Lady. Although, at close to 50, Campbell was too old by 30 years for the part of a young cockney girl, she nevertheless had an astonishing success in the role, the critics being unanimous that she had brought it off. It was her last great triumph, and she owed it all to G.B.S. Through the years, Shaw wrote her some 128 love letters, some of which Campbell would publish in 1922, but the rest of which he forbade her to put into print while his wife was alive, admonishing her that he would not "play the horse to your Lady Godiva." A few years after Shaw's death in 1950, the relationship between the English-Italian actress and the Anglo-Irish playwright would be embodied in Jerome Kilty's play, Dear Liar, which was based on their correspondence. In 1914, Mrs. Patrick Campbell not only reached what was perhaps the peak of her career but at last married George Cornwallis-West.

Poster for Pygmalion, starring Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Eliza Doolittle (1914).

Stella Campbell was famed for her wit and notorious for her bad temper. She detested people who were afraid of her and usually responded to them by attempting to intimidate them further. Theater managers, hoteliers, steamship captains, waiters and chefs were treated with equal disdain, and directors hated working with her and seldom agreed to do so a second time. In 1907, she stunned New York by being the first woman to smoke in public. On her second visit, there was a turntable just in front of the theater where rumbling streetcars reversed direction. Annoyed that her audiences might miss the dialogue, Mrs. Pat demanded and got three cartloads of tanbark unloaded by the city and spread in front of the theater to hold down the noise while she performed. Her cavalier attitude towards her fellow cast members was legendary, and her regard for her audiences was not much higher. She changed her lines at will and, when on the stage, performed to perfection or walked through her roles. Never one to stand on ceremony, even with a giant such as George Bernard Shaw, Mrs. Pat freely antagonized the easily antagonized playwright by adding a final line to his Pygmalion that completely changed the author's intended ending.

As she grew older, Campbell's testiness matured into a ripe eccentricity that people increasingly refused to take seriously and that made her appear to a younger generation as an endearing "character" from an era long past. Though her education was spotty, Campbell had a passion for reading—especially Milton, Longfellow, Whitman, Keats, Tennyson, and Baudelaire—was a gifted pianist, loved chess, and was a sharp card player. Frequently ill, even in her youth, her constant ailments and collapses forced her to take time out from her career simply to recuperate. Though close to her extended family, Campbell's second marriage was a failure, Cornwallis-West deserting her in 1919, while her relationship with her daughter, a sometime actress performing under the name Stella Tanner Campbell , was troubled. Eventually, they ceased to communicate at all. Her beloved son was killed at the front in 1918, but she remained close to her daughter's son Patrick.

The First World War was a watershed in the history of the Western world. Nothing was the same afterwards. Trends that had been avantgarde in 1910 were now in the mainstream, and those artists whose careers spanned both sides of the great divide were often the worse for it. Always game, Ms. Pat acquired an automobile, bobbed her hair, and sailed gallantly on, but with far less success. Obese, but still a presence, she starred in a London revival of Hedda Gabler after which she went on a long provincial tour (1922–25) in repertory with Hedda, The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, Magda, and a dreadful melodrama set in old Virginia, titled Voodoo, whose sole distinguishing feature was that it had a very young Paul Robeson playing a pivotal role. In these years, Campbell played throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, and Wales, and not always to full houses. Told that her performance as Hedda was a tour de force, she quipped "that, I suppose, is why I am always forced to tour." When the long and arduous tournée was finished, Campbell appeared in London in H.F. Maltby's What Might Happen, an engagement for which she slimmed down and, now 60, made a sincere effort to please. Dissatisfied with the play, however, in spite of good reviews, and increasingly at odds with its author, she soon took to walking through the performances, and the play lasted but two weeks. In November, Campbell sailed for America to present The Adventurous Age. "I'm out of a job," she told reporters upon her arrival. "London wants flappers and I can't flap." The production opened in January 1927 and was a disaster. Alexander Woolcott called it a "recklessly ill-advised and acutely embarrassing evening." The general consensus was that Mrs. Patrick Campbell was a pathetic and overweight caricature of the dazzling beauty who had captivated New York a quarter of a century before, and the play lasted a bare six weeks. Penniless, Campbell wired Shaw for passage and returned to England.

Still possessed of her magnificent voice, if not her figure, and still her vibrant, energetic and witty self, Campbell now took to the lecture circuit. When Shaw suggested that she organize a benefit for herself to raise some badly needed funds, she recognized that she had made far too many enemies in the London theater to expect much response. Meanwhile, she was asked to appear in a one-performance revival of Ghosts as a part of the celebration of the centenary of Ibsen's birth. Playing her son Oswald was a young actor named John Gielgud, who after this engagement remained one of her closest friends. Critics objected that she did not begin to emote until the third act during which, however, she worked her magic as of old. The same complaint followed the opening of a revival of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman, in which she was described as giving a marvelous performance in the second and fourth acts and a disgraceful one in the rest of the play. As penniless as ever, Campbell was considering cashing in her insurance in 1929, when she was suddenly offered what proved to be the last important original role of her career, that of Anastasia Rakonitz in G.B. Stern's The Matriarch based on his novel The Tents of Israel. Though far from a masterpiece, the play afforded Campbell a triumph. The production ran for 249 performances, enabling her to put her financial affairs in order and, perhaps more important, to reinstate herself as one of the great actresses of the English stage.

After the closing of The Matriarch, Campbell toured briefly as the mother in Ghosts, everywhere receiving plaudits, but, in 1930, with no further offers forthcoming, she decided to take her lecture tour to the United States. The coming of talking films had created havoc in Hollywood as some of its brightest stars, unable to speak suitably, fell by the wayside and studios turned to the stage for performers who knew how to speak dialogue. Thrilled to have these artistes—Ethel Barrymore, Constance Collier, Ruth Chatterton , George Arliss—the studios treated them with deferential awe, even if some of the imports, like Mrs. Pat, were superannuated. Campbell arrived in Hollywood in mid-1930 and was given star treatment, but her first role in The Dancers was poorly written and most of her scenes were cut. Returning to the stage, in November 1930 Campbell secured an engagement to perform in Ghosts in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and then undertook a lengthy lecture tour beginning in Chicago. In June 1931, she was back in New York to play a small part in The Sex Fable, which failed and, in January, appeared in four matinees playing Clytemnestra to Blanche Yurka 's Electra in Sophocles' tragedy. Returning to England, Campbell toured briefly in The Thirteenth Chair, then returned to the States for another lecture tour, which she cut short to appear in the New York production of A Party, an English play about herself, thinly disguised as a Mrs. MacDonald, written by Ivor Novello. This may have been the first time in theatrical history for any actress to have portrayed herself in a stage play. Though the play was nonsense, Campbell received good reviews, and, armed with a contract from MGM, she set out once again to conquer Hollywood.

Campbell appeared in four films in 1934, but her performance as the pawnbroker in a modern-dress version of Crime and Punishment remains the only true film record of her as an artist. Used to creating character in one piece, Mrs. Pat found it difficult to perform in scenes totally out of chronological order. Out of her element in Hollywood society, she resorted to her traditional ploy of using outrageous behavior as a defense, pretending never to have heard of famous stars when introduced to them or, in the case of the celebrated American actress of her own vintage, Mrs. Leslie Carter , asserting to a companion in the actress' presence, "I thought she was dead." Cultivating her image as a character, Campbell insisted on traveling everywhere with her Pekinese dogs to whom she gave absurd names (Wush-Wush, Moonbeam), and it is Mrs. Pat whom Marie Dressler was obviously satirizing when she played the faded but still salty actress Carlotta Vance in the 1933 film comedy Dinner at Eight. Famed critic Alexander Woolcott could only shake his head at Mrs. Campbell's Hollywood antics, quipping that she was like a sinking ship firing on its rescuers.

Leaving Hollywood permanently, Campbell returned to New York and, in the summer of 1938, was invited to appear in The Thirteenth Chair at a summer theater in Milford, Connecticut, for $400 per week. Opening night was a triumph. Campbell received a standing ovation, but she would never perform again. That autumn, she decided to leave America for France rather than England, eventually settling in Paris. After the Second World War broke out on September 1, 1939, she moved to Pau, a resort in the foothills of the Pyrenees from where she could flee the country more easily if need be. That spring, Campbell caught a cold that quickly developed into a serious pulmonary congestion. She died on April 9, 1940, at age 75, and was buried in an unmarked grave in the municipal cemetery of Pau.

There seems to be no question that Mrs. Patrick Campbell was potentially one of the great actresses of her time. Paul Shiunkman called her the "last of the theatrical immortals," ranking her with Bernhardt, Eleanora Duse , and Ellen Terry ; James Agate even went so far as to class her with Bernhardt, Duse, Terry, Réjane , and Madge Kendal as one of the halfdozen greatest actresses of all time. Agate called her "the best tragic or emotional actress in the country," adding that "in the sheer acting sense, by which one means the marriage of spirit and technical means to convey that spirit, Mrs. Campbell has no rival on our stage." In actual fact, Mrs. Pat was rarely as great as she might have been, and there is no doubt that she lacked discipline in her work and an overall vision in her career, or that her greatness as an actress came more through instinct than through a conscious understanding of her craft. Graham Robertson described her life as "a record of talent thrown away, wasted time, lost opportunities." Richard Findlater compared her with her contemporary Janet Achurch (1864–1916) as "another case of burnt-out promise," concluding that, "If only she could have cared more: if only, like Ellen Terry, she had ever thought of being useful: if only she had believed, just a bit more, in the theater."

sources:

Findlater, R. The Player Queens. NY: Taplinger, 1977. Peters, Margot. Mrs. Pat: The Life of Mrs. Patrick Campbell. NY: 1984.

Philadelphia Free Library, Theater Collection.

suggested reading:

Campbell, Mrs. Patrick. My Life and Some Letters. London: 1922.

Dent, Alan. Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell: Their Correspondence. London: 1952.

Robert H. Hewsen , Professor of History, Rowan University of New Jersey, Glassboro, New Jersey