Marlowe, Julia (1866–1950)

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Marlowe, Julia (1866–1950)

English-born actress who was one of the most popular Shakespearean actresses on the American stage of her day . Name variations: earliest stage name, Fanny Brough; performed as Julia Marlowe from 1887; also known as Mrs. Robert Taber (1894–1900), then Mrs. Edward H. Sothern (from 1911); Julia Marlowe Sothern. Born Sarah Frances Frost (family changed name to Sarah Frances Brough) on August 17, 1866, at the village of Upton Caldbeck, near Keswick, Cumberlandshire, England; died in New York City on November 12, 1950; daughter of farmers; attended Kansas and Cincinnati, Ohio, public schools; married Robert Taber (an actor), in 1894 (divorced 1900); marriedE.H. Sothern (1859–1933, an actor), on August 17, 1911 (died October 28, 1933).

Brought to U.S. as a child of four (1870); made first stage appearance in a children's performance of Gilbert and Sullivan's light opera H.M.S. Pinafore, in Vincennes, Ohio, under the name Fanny Brough (1878); appeared in Rip Van Winkle, Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet, Richard III, The Chimes of Normandy, The Hunchback, Pygmalion and Galatea (in repertory, 1878–84); made New York debut in Ingomar (1887); made subsequent appearances inter alia in Twelfth Night, and As You Like It (1887), The Rivals (1896), Countess Valeska (1898), Barbara Frietchie (1899), When Knighthood Was in Flower (1901), The Hunchback and Romeo and Juliet (1904), The Sunken Bell and Gloria (1907); subsequently appeared in repertory in Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Hamlet, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, The Merchant of Venice, Jeanne d'Arc, John the Baptist, and in revivals of The Sunken Bell, When Knighthood Was in Flower, etc.; retired from the stage (1924).

Born Sarah Frances Frost on August 17, 1866, at Upton Caldbeck, near Keswick, Cumberlandshire, in the north of England, Julia Marlowe came from a family of farmers of pure English descent. By sheer coincidence, she was born in the same village as Adelaide Neilson , who also went to America and became a famous actress. Marlowe's father was forced to flee England after having assaulted a neighbor with a horsewhip. When Marlowe was four, she crossed the ocean with her mother, brother, and sister to join him in America. The family settled first in Kansas, where Marlowe began her schooling, and then moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, where for some reason the Frosts changed their surname to Brough, and where Marlowe attended the local public schools. No one in her family had ever been on the stage, and there was no sign that acting was to become her life's work until she was 12 years old. When she did appear on the stage, she first went by the name of Fanny Brough.

Julia Marlowe's career began fortuitously in 1879. A theatrical manager in Cincinnati, Colonel Robert E.J. Miles, undertook to stage the popular comic opera, Gilbert and Sullivan's H.M.S. Pinafore, in Vincennes, Ohio, using children from the local public schools in Cincinnati (such children's productions were very popular at that time). "My experience began as a sailor boy in the chorus," wrote Marlowe.

My voice proved so powerful that I was promoted to be Sir John Porter. I next became the little boy Heinrich in Rip Van Winkle. Here as my acting was received with tumultuous laughter by the audience, I was led to believe that I was the star of the piece, and it was some time before I outgrew my delusion.

For awhile Marlowe, still known as Fanny Brough, continued to perform in juvenile productions of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas but increasingly developed an interest in Shakespeare. While still only a novice, she came in contact with several important players, in particular the famous Polish star Helena Modjeska with whose company she briefly appeared. The repertory nature of the theater in that era was a wonderful training ground for a budding performer, and, in addition to Shakespearean plays, Marlowe performed in such productions as The Chimes of Normandy, The Hunchback, and Pygmalion and Galatea. By the time she was 18, she had appeared in 18 roles including a tiny part in a production of Romeo and Juliet, which was her first role in a work of the Bard. In 1884, an experienced actress named Ada Dow , a cousin of Colonel Miles, took an interest in young Marlowe and undertook her training. The three years of study of acting and elocution that followed ended in 1887, and despite her lament over her long struggle for recognition, Marlowe actually secured a theatrical role at 21 almost as soon as she chose to seek one. It was Dow who encouraged her to move to New York to undertake a serious theatrical career, and it was Colonel Miles who arranged for her eastern debut in New London, Connecticut, on April 26, 1887, in the role of Parthenia in Maria Anne Lovell 's play Ingomar. About this time, she took the stage name Julia Marlowe, which was based on the character of Julia in Sheridan Knowles' play The Hunchback coupled with the last name of Christopher Marlowe, the Elizabethan playwright whom she admired but whose works she never attempted to play. Her New York debut took place a few months later on October 20, 1887, at a special matinee at the Bijou Opera House, again in the role of Parthenia in Ingomar. Wrote The New York Times drama critic Edward A. Dithmars: "Julia Marlowe. Remember her name, for you will hear of her again."

Soon after, Marlowe appeared at the Star Theater as Juliet, and then as Viola in Twelfth Night and as Rosalind in As You Like It. In the years that followed she performed regularly in plays both old and new, especially those by Shakespeare, and by 1890 she had also appeared in Cymbeline. In 1894, Marlowe married Robert Taber, an undistinguished actor with Modjeska's troupe, who then became the leading actor in her own company. They starred jointly for a season or so, spending their summers at a country retreat at Hyde Park, Vermont Gazetteer, but were separated after three years of marriage and divorced in 1900.

Meanwhile, in 1896 Marlowe played the role of Lydia Languish in a famed all-star production of Sheridan's The Rivals, with Mrs. John Drew (Louisa Lane Drew ) as Mrs. Malaprop (a role that Drew had long made her own), and the beloved comic actor Joseph Jefferson (famed for his Rip Van Winkle), as Bob Acres. Only then, at 30, after a long apprenticeship, did Julia Marlowe achieve serious recognition. Stardom, however, eluded her for two years longer until her appearance in Charles Frohman's production of Countess Valeska in 1898. Thereafter, however, one success followed another, one of her greatest being the role of Mary Tudor in When Knighthood Was in Flower, which proved to be one of the most lucrative roles that she had ever undertaken.

When performing in New York, Marlowe lived in a house near the theatrical district where she pursued a Spartan and carefully disciplined routine. Rising early, she was finished with breakfast and the answering of her correspondence by eight, and spent an hour or so with costume and set designers before walking to the theater. There, she put in two hours at rehearsals, returning home for lunch at 12:30. An hour

later, she was back at the theater, for additional rehearsing or to perform in a matinee if her play had already opened. At 5:30, she was off for an automobile ride, after which she prepared herself for the evening's performance. After the curtain fell, she returned home for a light supper, followed by time spent with her secretary, not retiring until 2 am after having spent an 18-hour day at work.

A robust, vigorous woman, fond of the outdoors, Julia Marlowe spent each summer at Highmount, her country estate located in Ulster County in the Catskills Mountains of New York. The property consisted of nearly 400 acres of rocky, wooded land, left almost totally in its natural state, and was dominated by a large, newly built, colonial-style mansion sitting atop a high bluff with a commanding view of the surrounding forest and mountains. There, Marlowe retreated immediately after the end of each theatrical season, and there she stayed until the new one opened. At Highmount, she retired early and rose early, hiked and went horseback riding, played golf and went fishing for trout. A great reader, she spent evenings and rainy days in her library, which was said to have held some 5,000 volumes. She was a serious collector; she commissioned special hand-crafted editions of each play in which she appeared printed on vellum and made to look like medieval manuscripts, and spent one summer in Germany learning the binder's art. When traveling on tour, Marlowe carried some 200 books with her to occupy her leisure hours, including poetry, fiction, history, philosophy, essays, memoirs, and volumes on art. When not reading in the evening at Highmount, Marlowe spent her time in the company of her frequent guests, musicians and writers. A pianist and a gifted singer, Marlowe preferred the classics and avoided popular music. She traveled frequently to Europe and her home was filled with the curiosities and objets d'art that she brought back with her. Marlowe once commented, "My highest aim in life is to write a book, and a great one." She never did.

This is the greatest emotional actress in America but it will be a heart-breaking task to find plays equal to her strength.

—Daniel Frohman, 1897

Julia Marlowe's second marriage, a much more notable success, was to E.H. Sothern, her theatrical peer, and lasted until his death in 1933. No description of the career of Julia Marlowe can ignore the importance of her association with Sothern, with whom she realized her great desire to perform regularly in the Shakespearean roles she so loved. Edward Hugh Sothern was born in New Orleans on December 6, 1859, the son of the distinguished actor E.A. Sothern, a native of Liverpool, England, who had immigrated to the United States early in his career. E.H. Sothern made his debut as a taxi driver in his father's play Brother Sam at the Park Theater in New York on September 8, 1879, and, though he remembered his debut as a disaster, he soon made it clear that his range as an actor was greater than his father's. He made his London debut in 1881 and, under the management of Charles Frohman, was the leading man at the Lyceum Theater in New York from 1885 to 1897. Though he was older than Marlowe by several years, Sothern achieved stardom at just about the same time that she did, making his first great success in the title role in The Prisoner of Zenda in 1895. Like his father, he was long best known for light comedy and romantic roles, but in 1900 he achieved a remarkable success in the role of Hamlet, thereby distinguishing himself as a Shakespearean actor of the first rank. Over the remaining years of his career, he appeared in one Shakespearean role after another, successfully tackling the characters of Romeo, Antony, Shylock, Macbeth, Petrucchio, Malvolio, and Benedict. His style as a Shakespearean actor was more realistic than previously portrayed on the New York stage, and he was said to have bridged the gap between the great heroic method of acting of the 19th century practiced by Booth and Forest and the modern method exemplified by the Hamlet of John Barrymore in 1922.

It was theatrical promoter Frohman who first teamed Julia Marlowe with E.H. Sothern, their initial joint appearance being in Romeo and Juliet at the Illinois Theater in Chicago on September 19, 1904. After this, except for a brief hiatus in 1907–09, they became for 20 years the most important acting team in the United States and the leading interpreters of Shakespearean roles on the American stage. Traveling to England, they opened in London in Gerhardt Hauptmann's The Sunken Bell on April 22, 1907, where for the next five weeks they performed Shakespeare successfully before the most discriminating of audiences. At first, they worked under a three-year contract with Frohman, but after two years, seeing that he was not making as much money from the association as he had expected, Frohman released them from their obligation and the pair set out on separate careers as actor-managers. During this time, Marlowe continued to tour with her own repertory company, performing Shakespeare and even experimenting with a new play titled Gloria. In 1909, however, they rejoined forces and on November 8th of that year they opened at the New Theater in New York City in Antony and Cleopatra. From that time onward, Marlowe and Sothern were inseparable. Appearances followed in such productions as Romeo and Juliet, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, Macbeth, and The Merchant of Venice, both in New York and on continuous tours back and forth across the northern and southern United States. In addition to Shakespearean plays, they also appeared in Jeanne d'Arc, John the Baptist, and in revivals of The Sunken Bell and When Knighthood Was in Flower. Close association on the stage led to the blossoming of a romance between the acting duo, and in 1910 Sothern divorced his first wife, Virginia Harned (c. 1868–1946). The following year, on August 11, he and Marlowe were married in London. He was 51; she was 45.

A brunette of above average height and relatively slim for the fashion of her day, Julia Marlowe was strong and healthy. Her face was noted for its intelligence and strong character coupled with a gentle and pleasant expression. Her large, beautiful, brown eyes were counted among her greatest assets. Not a great beauty but an exceedingly handsome woman, she was famed for the deep cleft in her chin that made her features remarkable. She certainly looked like no one else. Her voice, which was strong but rich and musical, was a great asset and often noted by the critics. Wrote one reviewer in 1915: "Julia Marlowe is a woman of independent mind, great force of character, rare intelligence, acute perception, and intrinsic, not less than cultivated, faculty of impersonation, and the rank that she has worthily gained is the consequence of powers developed by experience and employed with energy and skill."

Despite her excellence as an actress and her popularity with the public, true greatness as a performer seems to have eluded Marlowe, and while her Shakespearean characterizations were much admired no one ever claimed that her Juliet, Viola, Rosalind, Ophelia or Portia were the greatest of her time. Devoted to her art, she found her years of hard work rewarded by a steadily maturing of her talent and, though she never attained the popularity of Maude Adams , by the sincere devotion of her many fans. College boys flocked to her performances, heaping her with bouquets of violets or roses, and in her later years her fans converged to hear her recite Julia Ward Howe 's Battle Hymn of the Republic or Gray Cone's Chant of Love for England at simple church benefits. "Magnetic," "warm," and "vital" were among the terms most often used to characterize her performances. Marlowe took pains to continue the illusion of youth, usually giving 1870 as the year of her birth rather than 1866.

In A History of American Acting, Garff B. Wilson classes Marlowe as a member of the "personality school" of acting and discusses her in conjunction with Maude Adams, Viola Allen , and Ada Rehan , calling them together "a sisterhood of sweetness and light." In his estimation, they were all accomplished actresses, but they achieved their success more through their individual charms and their admirable characters. As artists, he felt that they had served their profession with dignity and devotion and had given remarkable performances as long as they stayed in roles that lay within the limits of their range. Of the four, he considered Marlowe the most talented, citing her beauty of voice and skill in delivery. None of them, he thought, were truly effective in the great tragic roles. Marlowe, for example, never attempted Greek tragedy or the classics of French drama or, least of all, the great heroines of the new drama of Henryk Ibsen—Nora, for example, in A Doll's House. Even in Shakespearean drama, she generally steered clear of such roles, even though she did attempt Cleopatra and Lady Macbeth. These were parts that she sensed might sully the image she normally projected to her audiences.

In 1915, E.H. Sothern announced that the season of 1915–16 would be his last and that after a lengthy farewell tour, he would retire from the stage. Seriously ill, Marlowe announced her retirement that same year, but as soon as she recovered her health both she and her husband were back on the boards. She retired definitively in 1924, age 58, after being injured in an accident; she and Sothern then donated the scenery, costumes and props for ten Shakespearean dramas to the Shakespeare Memorial Theater at Stratford-on-Avon. Her last appearance on any stage was as Imogen in Shakespeare's Cymbeline, which she often cited as her favorite role. Sothern continued to appear on the stage occasionally until 1927; he died on October 28, 1933, at 73. Thereafter, Marlowe lived in virtual seclusion, her only public appearance taking place in 1944, at age 78, when she opened an exhibition of theatrical memorabilia and costumes used by herself and Sothern at the Museum of the City of New York. In fair health for her age, after a brief illness, she died on November 12, 1950, at age 84, in her apartment at the Plaza Hotel in New York City. She had no children and was survived by two nieces, Vera Hone , living in Ireland, and Grace Brewster of New York. At the time of Marlowe's death, it was noted that she had appeared on the stage in Shakespearean performances more than anyone else in theatrical history and that she had brought Shakespeare to more people than any other performer. She made no films, however, and the phonograph recording of her Juliet, the sole record of her art, preserves an elocutionary style that would seem artificial to a modern audience.

In her theatrical philosophy, Marlowe approved of formal training but recognized that training alone could never make a true artist or replace talent, dedication and hard work. Though she began her own career as a child, she disapproved of children being put on the stage, asserting that the hours and the work were unsuited to them and that all children could truly do on the stage was parrot the lines they had been required to learn. She was much taken with the question of how to achieve realism on the stage and finally came to the conclusion that it was all a question of selection; what one chose to take from reality to represent it on the stage. She considered a true reproduction of actual reality, so popular in the modern theater of her day, to be in danger of appearing vulgar and offensive. Always careful of her image in an age when actresses were not thought of as entirely respectable, Julia Marlowe was an active Episcopalian and involved in a number of philanthropical works. Not even her divorce in 1900 could damage her reputation for virtue.


The Free Library of Philadelphia, Theater Collection.

Hamm, Margherita Arlina. Eminent Actors in Their Homes. NY, 1902.

Wilson, Garff B. A History of American Acting. Bloomington, IN, 1966.

Winter, William. Vagrant Memories. NY, 1915, repr. NY, 1970.

Young, William C. Famous Actors and Actresses on the American Stage. Vol. 2. NY, 1975.

suggested reading:

Marlowe, Julia. "How to Succeed on the Stage," in Metropolitan. September 1909, pp. 287–288.

Russell, Charles Edward. Julia Marlowe: Her Life and Art. NY, 1926.

Sothern, E.H. Julia Marlowe's Story. Edited by Fairfax Downey. NY, 1954.

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

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Marlowe, Julia (1866–1950)

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