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Carter, Mrs. Leslie (1862–1937)

Carter, Mrs. Leslie (1862–1937)

American actress. Name variations: Caroline Louise Carter. Born Caroline Louise Dudley in Lexington, Kentucky, on June 10, 1862; died in Santa Monica, California, on November 13, 1937; married Leslie Carter, in May 26, 1880 (divorced 1889); married William L. Payne (an actor), on July 13, 1906.

Some believe that Mrs. Leslie Carter's acting career was ignited from the ashes of her scandalous private life. After her nine-year marriage to wealthy Chicagoan Leslie Carter ended in a sensational divorce case in which she was found guilty of adultery, she persuaded famed theatrical producer David Belasco to launch her on a stage career. No doubt intrigued as much by her notoriety as her acting ability, he starred her as the central character in his 1890 production of The Ugly Duckling. Critics found promise in her fiery red hair, green eyes, and willowy figure, though her performance was considered a tad unrestrained. Her second effort, in the title role of Audran's operetta Miss Helyett (1891), was well received, but her real success came with her portrayal of the determined Maryland Calvert in The Heart of Maryland (1895). Roles as a prostitute in Zaza (1899) and a courtesan in Du Barry (1901) expanded her following. Carter continued to use her ex-husband's name throughout her career.

Carter's performance in the title role of Andrea (1905) was considered her finest by far. William Winter, who had previously been critical of her overacting, overwrote glowingly of her portrayal of the tragic heroine. "No denotement in Mrs. Carter's acting of Du Barry had even remotely indicated such depth of tragical feeling and such power of dramatic expression as she revealed in the scene of the tempest, in pronouncing Kaeso's doom, and, above all, in the terrible, piteous, tragic self-conflict through which the Woman became the incarnation of Fate and the minister of death."

In 1906, secure in her partnership with Belasco, Carter suddenly married a young actor, William L. Payne, an act that so offended the producer that he dissolved their relationship and never spoke to her again. After the break, she toured on her own and with other managements, but her career went into decline until 1921, when she won generous notices as Lady Catherine in Somerset Maugham's The Circle, opposite John Drew. Her last New York performance was in a 1928 revival of She Stoops To Conquer. Carter also made one movie, The Vanishing Pioneer, when she was in her 70s.

Carter kept up an impassioned, although one-sided, correspondence with Belasco until his death in 1931, but he never forgave her. The actress made some stage appearances in California before her death on November 13, 1937, in Santa Monica.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

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