Terriss, Ellaline (1871–1971)

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Terriss, Ellaline (1871–1971)

British actress. Name variations: Ellaline Lewin; Lady Hicks. Born Ellaline Lewin on April 13, 1871, at the Ship Hotel, Stanley, Falkland Islands; died, age 100, on June 16, 1971, in England; daughter of William Terriss (an actor) and Amy (Fellowes) Terriss; sister of Tom Terriss (1874–1964, an actor); married Sir Seymour Hicks (an actor, writer, and impresario), in 1893 (died 1949); children: Betty Hicks (b. 1904) and one son (died in infancy).

Performed in amateur plays as a teenager; debuted professionally as Mary Herbert in Cupid's Messenger (1888); signed with Charles Wyndham (1888); came to prominence in the role of Cinderella (1893); maintained an extensive repertoire, including The Man in Dress Clothes, Sleeping Partners, and Bluebell in Fairyland; wrote two books: Ellaline Terriss, By Herself and With Others (1928) and Just a Little Bit of String (1955).

Selected filmography:

Masks and Faces (1917); Blighty (1927); Land of Hope and Glory (1927); Atlantic (1929); A Man of Mayfair (1931); Glamour (1931); The Iron Duke (1934); The Royal Cavalcade (1935); The Four Just Men (1939).

A popular actress and singer, Ellaline Terriss appeared on the English stage for over 40 years. Born in the Ship Hotel in the Falkland Islands in 1871, she was the daughter of Amy Fellowes Terriss and William Terriss, a sheep farmer and aspiring actor. When she was very young the family moved to London, where William established himself in the theater. Although she received little formal education, Ellaline learned acting, singing, and dancing at home. After appearing in numerous amateur productions, she made her own debut as a professional actress at London's Haymarket Theater in Cupid's Messenger in 1888. Beautiful and demure with a strong, sweet voice, Terriss was hailed as a new talent; with her father's support, she was offered a three-year contract at the Criterion Theater playing in musical comedies. When her father encouraged her to expand her repertoire with dramatic roles, Terriss left the Criterion in 1891 to perform in melodramas at the Princess Theater. In 1893, she married Seymour Hicks, a comedic actor and playwright; over the next 50 years, the couple would be one of the stage's most successful husband-and-wife teams.

Also in 1893 came Terriss' first major role, when she was offered the lead in the Lyceum's production of Cinderella, a role that brought her critical acclaim in the London press. This success led to Terriss' debut on the New York stage the following year in the same role. Hicks and Terriss signed on with the impresario George Edwardes of the Gaiety Theater on their return to London and often performed together. Terriss' most noted roles at the Gaiety were as the leads in The Shop-girl, The Circus Girl, as well as in The Runaway Girl, which ran for almost 600 performances. In 1897, Terriss gave birth to a son who survived only two days; soon after, she learned that her father, by then a star at the Adelphi Theater, had been murdered by a jealous colleague. Tragedy struck a third time a few months later with the death of her mother Amy. Despite her grief, Terriss returned to work at the Gaiety, then signed again with the Criterion in 1899. A short U.S. tour in 1900 was followed by several seasons at London's Vaudeville, which Hicks managed. Their daughter Betty Hicks was born in 1904.

In December 1905, Hicks and Terriss opened their first theater, The Aldwych. A second, the Hicks Theater, was opened in 1906; the couple starred in its most successful play, The Beauty of Bath, which ran for 341 performances. Terriss continued to perform in their own and other theaters across London as well as touring England in various productions until 1912, when she and Hicks went on a music-hall tour of South Africa. They were as popular as ever in London on their return home, but they now faced serious financial problems. With the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, theater attendance dropped off. This, combined with the costs of maintaining their theaters and their luxurious lifestyle, forced Terriss and Hicks to sell the theaters and jewelry to pay off their debts.

Their popularity among London theatergoers, however, allowed them to continue performing for other theater managers throughout the war. In 1917, Terriss was offered her first film role, in Masks and Faces, after which she returned to the London stage for several years. She toured Australia in 1924 in a production of The Man in Dress Clothes, returning in 1925 to London to perform in Sleeping Partners, one of her best-known roles. In addition to her many stage roles in the 1920s, Terriss made numerous gramophone recordings and appeared in the leading female role in her second movie, Blighty (1927), a World War I melodrama which also starred Hicks (he had appeared in films since 1913). Her third film, Land of Hope and Glory, was also released that year. In 1928, Terriss ventured into writing, publishing Ellaline Terriss, by Herself and With Others, an autobiographical work. In 1929, she made a third film, Atlantic, an early "talkie" about the sinking of the Titanic. She played in four more films in the early 1930s, including 1931's Glamour, directed by her husband, who also wrote screenplays for a number of other films.

In 1935, Seymour Hicks was honored with a knighthood and Terriss became Lady Hicks. In May 1935, at age 64, Terriss gave her final stage performance in a Victoria Theater production of The Miracle Man. Retired from theater, she made one last film, 1939's The Four Just Men. Hicks' memoirs, Me and the Missus, appeared that same year before the couple went on tour to entertain British troops in the Middle East. They then moved on to South Africa, but the unfolding events of World War II made ocean travel impossible and they were forced to remain there until 1946.

Sir Seymour Hicks died at age 78 in 1949, and Terriss retired from all public performances. In 1955, she published a second book of reminiscences, Just a Little Bit of String; the title was the name of a popular song she had performed in her early years. She died at age 100 in 1971.


Morley, Sheridan. The Great Stage Stars. Australia: Angus & Robertson, 1986.

Terriss, Ellaline. Just a Little Bit of String. London: Hutchinson, 1955.

Laura York , M.A. in History, University of California, Riverside, California

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Terriss, Ellaline (1871–1971)

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