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Drew, Louisa Lane (1820–1897)

Drew, Louisa Lane (1820–1897)

British actress and theater manager. Name variations: Mrs. John Drew. Born Louisa Lane on January 10, 1820, at Lambeth Parish, London, England; died in Larchmont, New York, on August 31, 1897; daughter of Eliza Trentner (an actress) and William Haycraft Lane (an actor and stage manager); married Henry Blaine Hunt, in 1836 (divorced 1846); married George Mossop; married John Drew (1827–1862, an actor), in July 1857; children: (third marriage) Louisa (whose daughter, actress Georgiana Drew Mendum , was a constant companion to her cousin Ethel Barrymore); John, Jr. (1853–1927); Georgiana Drew (1854–1893); (adopted) Sidney; (adopted) Adine Stevens; grandchildren: actors John, Lionel, and Ethel Barrymore.

Famous at the turn of the century as Mrs. John Drew, Louisa Lane Drew could trace her theatrical lineage back to 1752, to a family of strolling players. She made her stage debut at 12 months, playing the part of a bawling baby. She would not be the last actor, however, to ignore stage directions. "Cry I would not," she recalled, "but at sight of the audience and the lights gave free vent to my delight and crowed aloud with joy." From that moment on, the same sight would fill her with the "most acute pleasure."

In 1827, arriving in the United States in the company of her widowed mother, actress Eliza Trentner , and an English stock troupe, Louisa made her American debut at the Walnut Street Theater in Philadelphia, playing the adolescent Duke of York to Junius Brutus Booth's Richard III. Her mother married a Philadelphia stage manager named John Kinlock, who was determined

to turn Louisa into an "infant prodigy" like the successful Clara Fisher (1811–1898). With her mother, Louisa joined various stock companies and toured for the next 12 years. On one of these tours to the West Indies in 1832, her stepfather caught yellow fever and died.

At 16, Louisa married Irish actor Henry Blaine Hunt, 24 years her senior. The union ended after ten years. She then wed George Mossup, an Irish comedian and singer, but the marriage had a short run that could be calculated in months. Mossup, a heavy drinker, soon died while on tour, and Louisa left him in an Albany graveyard without remorse. She found a modicum of stability in her third marriage to another Irish actor, John Drew, who had approached her for the hand of her half-sister Georgia Kinlock , 12 years her junior. A determined Louisa kept the man for herself, and they married in July of 1857.

When her husband John then went on an extended theatrical tour with Georgia and returned with a baby girl, Louisa promptly adopted the child and named her Adine Stevens . While John had been gone, Louisa had also been active, having adopted a boy named Sidney (who would be known to the Barrymore children as Uncle Googan), or so she claimed. "Mrs. Drew, of course, may say what she wishes in the matter," said her grandchild Lionel Barrymore, "but Uncle Googan certainly looked like her."

John Drew became a famous Irish comedian and, with Louisa's help, part lessee of the Arch Street Theater in Philadelphia. After his death at age 35 on May 21, 1862, Louisa managed the theater (reopened as Mrs. John Drew's Arch Street Theater) for 31 years, making her one of the first women in American history to run an important theater. During her tenure, she built up one of the most successful repertory companies in the history of the American stage—headliners included Edwin Booth, Fanny Davenport , and Helena Modjeska —while distinguishing herself as a major comedy actress. She played Lady Teazle, Peg Woffington , as well as Mrs. Malaprop in Sheridan's The Rivals, her most famous portrayal. As late as 1895, she played Mrs. Malaprop in some special performances with Joseph Jefferson. Her sons, John and Sidney, and her daughter, Georgiana Drew , all became successful actors, as did her acclaimed grandchildren John, Lionel, and Ethel Barrymore . After settling in Larchmont, New York, in 1896, Louisa died a year later and was heralded as the queen mother of the American theater. An Autobiographical Sketch of Mrs. John Drew was published in 1899.

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