Lord, Pauline (1890–1950)

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Lord, Pauline (1890–1950)

American actress . Born in Hanford, California, on August 13, 1890; died in Alamagordo, New Mexico, on October 11, 1950; one of four children of Edward Lord (a tinsmith) and Sara (Foster) Lord; attended Holy Rosary Academy in Woodland, California; studied acting at the school of the Alcazar Theater, San Francisco, California; married Owen B. Winters (an advertising executive), on April 27, 1929 (divorced 1931).

Selected theater:

made stage debut as the maid in Are You a Mason? (Alcazar Theater, San Francisco, California, 1903); made New York debut as Ruth Lenox in The Talker (January 1912); appeared as Sadie in The Deluge (1917), Anna in Anna Christie (1921), Amy in They Knew What They Wanted (1924), Nina in the touring company of Strange Interlude (1928–29), Zenobia in Ethan Frome (January 1936), Amanda Wingfield in the touring company of The Glass Menagerie (1946).

One of the leading actresses of the new realism during the first half of the 20th century, Pauline Lord made an important contribution to the development of the American theater. She did not have a particularly easy time of it, however. Slight of stature, with tawny hair and a face once described as "victoriously paying the price of intelligence," she was not a conventionally pretty woman and had difficulty finding roles to fit her physical characteristics. Furthermore, she was not always discriminating in her choice of scripts.

Born in Hanford, California, in 1890, Lord moved with her family to San Francisco when she was a child. While attending Holy Rosary Academy in Woodland, Lord spent her weekly 25-cent allowance attending Saturday matinees in the city. Eventually, she enrolled in the school of the Alcazar Theater to study acting, and it was there that she made her professional debut at the age of 13, playing a maid in a Belasco Stock Company production of Are You a Mason? She then endured years of touring until 1912, when she enjoyed her first New York success as Ruth Lenox in The Talker. For five year after that, Lord was not offered another good role, and filled in with vaudeville and tours. In 1917, she finally landed a role as Sadie, a street-walker, in the short-lived production The Deluge, directed by Arthur Hopkins. Impressed with her talent, Hopkins promised to find another role for her, but it was a long time coming. Finally in 1921, at the age of 31, she was offered the title role in Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie, which opened at the Vanderbilt Theater on November 2. It was the breakthrough role Lord had waited for, and, after a successful Broadway run,

she toured with the show in the United States and in England, where she received a full half-hour ovation at London's Strand Theater.

The floodgates had opened for the actress and throughout the decade of the 1920s, she was rarely without work. Notable among her roles were Amy in Sidney Howard's They Knew What They Wanted (1924) and Nina Leeds in the touring company of another O'Neill play, Strange Interlude (1928). On April 27, 1929, however, Lord's career was halted by her marriage to advertising executive Owen B. Winters. The union lasted until 1931, when Winters filed for divorce, charging incompatibility.

Lord returned to the theater in 1932. Following a successful run as Abby in Sidney Howard's The Late Christopher Bean, she made her first and only film, playing the title role in Alice Hegan Rice 's Mrs. Wiggs of the Cabbage Patch. Lord found the process of movie-making boring, however, and returned to the stage. In 1936, she was cast as Zenobia in Ethan Frome, a dramatization of the Edith Wharton novel, which turned out to be her last Broadway appearance and her only role of note for the next decade. It was not until 1946, when she was offered the role of Amanda Wingfield in the touring company of Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie, that she found another character worthy of her talent. In the superbly crafted role of the mother, who desperately manipulates the lives of her crippled daughter and impractical son, Lord achieved what Arthur Hopkins described as "acting that was not acting, poignancy that came from deep wells."

In October 1950, Lord sustained rib and chest injuries in an automobile accident in Alamagordo, New Mexico. She died shortly thereafter, on October 11, 1950.


James, Edward T., ed. Notable American Women 1607–1950. Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1971.

McHenry, Robert, ed. Famous American Women. NY: Dover, 1980.

Wilmeth, Don B., and Tice L. Miller, eds. Cambridge Guide to American Theater. Cambridge, England and NY: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts