Elliott, Maxine (1868–1940)

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Elliott, Maxine (1868–1940)

American actress. Born Jessie Carolyn Dermot in Rockland, Maine, on February 5, 1868 (some sources cite 1871 or 1875); died in Cannes, France, on March 5, 1940; daughter of Thomas (a sea captain) and Adelaide (Hall) Dermot; older sister of actress Gertrude Elliott (1874–1950); attended Notre Dame Academy, Roxbury, Massachusetts; married George A. McDermott (a lawyer and marshal to New York Mayor William R. Grace), around 1884 (divorced 1896); married Nathaniel C. Goodwin (an actor and comedian), on February 20, 1898 (divorced 1908).

Although never acclaimed a great actress, Maxine Elliott was a significant figure in the American theater. A breathtaking brunette with a statuesque figure, she captured the attention of American and English theatergoers and became the toast of British society. Upon seeing her for the first time, Ethel Barrymore called her "the Venus de Milo with arms." Elliott opened her own theater in 1908, thus becoming the first woman manager and theater owner in New York. At age 52 (49 by her count), she left the theater for "a peaceful life" as a society matron.

Coghlan, Rose (1852–1932)

English-American actress. Born on March 18, 1852 (some sources cite 1853) in Peterborough, England; died in 1932; sister of actor Charles Coghlan; naturalized U.S. citizen, 1902; married and divorced twice; no children.

Famous for her mellow voice, Rose Coghlan made her debut in Scotland at age 13 and went on to star on the London stage. In 1872, she arrived in New York, where she would later appear as Countess Zicka in the American premiere of Diplomacy (1878). In 1880, Coghlan was a great success as Stephanie in Forget-Me-Not. From 1880 to 1889, she worked with Wallack's company. Her career declined in later years, when the over-dramatic style of acting to which she belonged became outmoded. Coghlan spent her last five years at St. Vincent's Retreat for Nervous and Mental Disorders in Harrison, New York, having thrice declared bankruptcy.

The daughter of a New England sea captain, Maxine Elliott appeared in a number of school theatricals while attending Notre Dame Academy in Massachusetts. While still in her teens, she made her way to New York to study acting with famed playwright-actor-manager Dion Boucicault. Elliott made her first stage appearance at Palmer's Theater in 1890, in The Middleman, then did a season each with Rose Coghlan 's and Augustin Daly's companies (1894 and 1895), making her London debut at Daly's Theater as Sylvia in Two Gentlemen of Verona (1895).

Early in her career, she had married George McDermott, a lawyer twice her age. The marriage ended in 1896, and two years later she married Nathaniel C. Goodwin, a well-established actor and notorious womanizer whom she toured with in Australia. For the next several years, Elliott worked exclusively with her husband, playing small parts to his leading ones. The couple enjoyed a string of successful hits, including Nathan Hale, A Gilded Fool, and The Cowboy and the Lady. During this period, Elliott's sister Gertrude Elliott , also an actress, appeared in Goodwin's company.

True to his reputation, Goodwin left Elliott in 1902, and the couple divorced in 1908. The actress then established herself as a star in Her Own Way, written by playwright Clyde Fitch expressly for her. Nearly every review of the play opened with the identical line: "Maxine Elliott had Her Own Way at the Garrick Theater last night," and most went on to praise her acting as well as her striking appearance. Elliott, long tired of being heralded for her looks, was thankful for credit as an actress. She told a reviewer for Theater Magazine that being termed a stage beauty was a hindrance to a budding career. It draws "attention," she explained, "and one's poor beginnings as an artist stand out more glaringly because of the prominence one would so gladly escape during those first two or three years."

In 1905, after a long run in New York, Elliott took Her Own Way to London, where she attracted the attention of Edward VII, who requested an introduction and thereafter remained a warm admirer. In 1908, with help from the Shubert brothers (and reputedly financed by J.P. Morgan), Elliott opened the Maxine Elliott Theater in New York, which was considered a model of elegance and decor for its time. After appearing in the theater's opening production of The Chaperon, she began devoting more time to her theatrical enterprises than to acting. In 1911, she purchased a large estate known as Hartsbourne Manor in England for herself and for Gertrude and her family. Her London appearance in Joseph and His Brethren in 1913 marked

the end of her theatrical career, except for brief engagements on the American stage in Lord and Lady Algy (1918) and Trimmed in Scarlet (1920). In 1916, she made a few silent films, notably the Eternal Magdalen and Fighting Odds.

During World War I, Elliott immersed herself in relief work. She enlisted as a Red Cross nurse and had her automobile transformed into an ambulance. Using her own money, she outfitted a fleet of barges to carry relief supplies to civilians along the canals of Belgium. For her effort, she received the Belgian Order of the Crown as well as decorations from the French and British governments.

From 1925, Elliott spent most of her time on the Riviera, where her estate Villa de l'Horizon, near Cannes, was a gathering place of the international social set. She refused even the suggestion of a comeback and was quoted in a 1937 interview as saying: "I never did like playing—never did really. All I care about are my friends and peace." The actress was 72 when she died at her villa. Though generous to her friends and family throughout her life (she reportedly gave her niece $500,000 as a wedding present in 1924), she left an estate in excess of one million dollars.

suggested reading:

Forbes-Robertson, Diana. My Aunt Maxine: The Story of Maxine Elliott. NY: Viking, 1964.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts.

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Elliott, Maxine (1868–1940)

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