Terry, Ellen (1847–1928)

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Terry, Ellen (1847–1928)

Foremost English actress of the late 19th and early 20th centuries who is best remembered for her Shakespearean roles, in particular her interpretation of Portia in The Merchant of Venice. Name variations: Mrs. George Frederic Watts (1864–78); Mrs. Charles Claverine Kelly (1878–85); Mrs. James Carew (1907–09); Dame Ellen Terry. Born Ellen Alice Terry on February 27, 1847 (and not in 1848 as found in her autobiography, which appears to have been an honest mistake); died on July 21, 1928; second daughter of Benjamin Terry (1818–1896, an actor) and Sarah Ballard Terry (1819–1892, an actress who performed as Miss Yerret); sister of Kate Terry (1844–1924), Marion Terry (1852–1930) and Florence Terry (1854–1896), all actresses; aunt of Phyllis Neilson-Terry (1892–1977) and Beatrice Terry (both actresses); great-aunt of John Gielgud, the actor; sister-in-law of Julia Neilson (1868–1957); had irregular education, trained as an actress by Mrs. Charles Kean [Ellen Kean ], whose husband managed a theater in London where Terry appeared as a child; married George Frederic Watts (a painter), in 1864 (divorced around 1878); married Charles Wardell (an actor who performed under the name Charles Kelly), in 1878 (divorced around 1885); married James Usselman (1876–1938, an American actor who performed under the name John Carew), in 1907 (divorced around 1909); children: (with Edward Godwin) Edith Craig (1869–1947, British actress, costume designer, stage director and suffragist); (Edward) Gordon Craig (b. 1872, world-famous stage designer).


Golden Jubilee in the theater celebrated (1906); medal of the Founders of the New Theater (New York, 1910); LL.D., St. Andrew's University, Scotland (May 5, 1922); became the second actress (after Genevieve Ward in 1921) to be created Dame Commander of the British Empire (1925).

Having made her London debut (1856), teamed with Henry Irving (1878), becoming a great favorite with audiences in his lavish productions at the Lyceum Theater in London, and with whom she toured extensively, including appearances in the U.S., until his death (1905); was a great friend of the Anglo-Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw, and her extensive correspondence with him was published after her death; best remembered for the magnificent portrait in the role of Lady Macbeth, painted by John Singer Sargent, that hangs in the National Gallery in London.

Selected theater (unless otherwise noted, all appearances were in London):

made debut as Mamillius in Charles Kean's production of The Winter's Tale at the Princess Theater (April 28, 1856); appeared as Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1856), William Waddilove in To Parents and Guardians, Jacob Earwig in Boots at the Swan, the dual roles of Goldenstar and Dragonetta in The White Cat (1857), Karl in Faust and Marguerite, Prince Arthur in King John, Fleance in Macbeth, and the Genie of the Jewels in The King and the Castle (1858); appeared as Tiger Tim in If the Cap Fits, Hector Melrose in Home for the Holidays, Giles, Harry, James and other parts in Distant Relations (1859), Mabel Valecrusis in A Lesson for Life (1860), Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Clementine in Attar Gull, Sophia Steinbach in All in the Dark, Rosetta in A Stumping Legacy, Letty Briggs in The Governor's Wife, Sophie Western in Bamboozling, Clara in Matrimony, Mabel in A Lesson for Husbands, Mrs. Brinstone in A Nice Quiet Day (1861); appeared as Florence in A Chinese Honeymoon, Louisa Drayton in Grandfather Whitehead, Clorinda in A Family Failing, Margot in The Sergeant's Wife, Sally Potts in The Eton Boy, Kate Mapleton in Nine Points of the Law, Cupid in Endymion, Alice in Marriage at Any Price, Dictys in Perseus and Andromeda, Marie in The Marble Heart, Marguerite de Stormberg in The Angel at Midnight, Gertrude Howard in The Little Treasure, Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, Lady Touchwood in The Belle's Stratagem, Serena in Conrad and Medera, Fanny Fact in Time Tries All (1862); appeared as the Spirit of the Future in the opening ceremony of the Theater Royal in Bath, Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream, Britannia in Buckstone at Home, Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, Lady Frances Touchwood in The Belle's Stratagem, Desdemona in Othello, Mary Ford in A Lesson for Life, Isabella in A Game of Romps, Flora in The Duke's Motto, Nerissa

in The Merchant of Venice, Constance Belmore in One Touch of Nature, Julia Melville in The Rivals, Sir Tristram in King Arthur, and Mary Merideth in The American Cousin (1863); appeared as Helen in The Hunchback (1866), Marion Vernon in A Sister's Penance, Margaret Wentworth in Henry Dunbar, Madeleine in The Antipodes, Kate Dalrymple in The Little Savage, Rose de Beaurepaire in The Double Marriage, Mrs. Mildmay in Still Waters Run Deep, Katherine in Katharine and Petruccio (1867); appeared as Kitty in The Household Fairy (1868), Philippa Chester in The Wandering Heir, Susan Merton in It's Never too Late to Mend, Helen Rolleston in Our Seaman, Volante in The Honeymoon, and Kate Hardcastle in She Stoops to Conquer (1874); appeared as Portia in The Merchant of Venice, Clara Douglas in Money, Mrs. Honeyton in A Happy Pair, Pauline in The Lady of Lyons, Mabel Vane in Masks and Faces (1875), Blanche Hayes in Ours, Kate Hungerford in Brothers, Lilian Vavasour in New Men and Old Acres (1876), Georgina Vesey in Money, Lady Teazle in The School for Scandal, Lady Juliet in The House of Darnley (1877), Mrs. Merryweather in Victims, title role in Olivia, Iris in The Cynic's Defeat, title role in Dora (1878); appeared as Ophelia in Hamlet (1878, Lyceum), Lady Anne in Richard III, Ruth Meadowes in Eugene Aram, Henrietta Maria in Charles I, and Frou-frou in Butterfly (1879); appeared in the title role in Iolanthe and as Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing at Leeds (1880); appeared as Lilian Vavasour in New Men and Old Acres, Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing (1880), Camma in The Cup, Letitia Hardy in The Belle's Strategem (1881), Desdemona in Othello (1881), Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (1882), Jeannette in The Lyons Mail and Clementine in Robert Macaire (1883), Viola in Twelfth Night (1884), Margaret in Faust (1885), Peggy in Raising the Wind (1886), Ellaline in The Amber Heart, Josephine in Werner, Mary Jane in Wool-Gathering, Lady Macbeth in Macbeth (1887), Catharine Duval in The Dead Heart (1889), Lucy Ashton in Ravenswood (1890), title role in Nance Oldfield, Queen Katharine in Henry VIII (1891), Cordelia in King Lear, Rosamund in Becket (1892), Lady Soupire in Journeys End in Lovers' Meeting (1894), Guinevere in King Arthur, Yolande in Godefroi and Yolande, Imogen in Cymbeline (1895), Catharine in Madame Sans-Gene (1897), Catherine in Peter the Great, Sylvia Wynford in The Medicine Man (1898), Clarice in Robespierre, Mrs. Tresilian in Variations (1899), Volumnia in Coriolanus (1901), Mrs. Page in The Merry Wives of Windsor (1902), Hiordis in The Vikings, Evodia in The Mistress of the Robes (1903), Kniertje in The Good Hope, Brita in Eriksson's Wife (1904), Alice Grey in Alice Sit-by-the-Fire (1905), Lady Cicely Waynflete in Captain Brass-bound's Conversion, Francisca in Measure for Measure, Hermione in The Winter's Tale (1906), Elizabeth of York in Henry of Lancaster, Aunt Imogen in Pinky and the Fairies (1908), Alexia Vane in At a Junction, Nance Oldfield in A Pageant of Famous Women (1909); toured with Four Lectures on Shakespeare (1910–21); toured the U.S. (1910); appeared as Nell Gwynn in The First Actress (1911), the Abbess in Paphnutius (1914); toured Australia (1914–15); appeared as the Queen in The Princess and the Pea, Darling in The Admirable Crichton (1915); appeared in The Lady of the Manor (also known as The Homecoming, 1916); appeared as Gran'Mere in Ellen Terry's Bouquet (1917), The Nurse in Romeo and Juliet (1919), Mrs. Long in Pride and Prejudice (1922); made final appearance on stage as Susan Wildersham in Crossings (1925).


Her Greatest Performance (1916); Pillars of Society (1920); The Bohemian Girl (1921); Potter's Clay (1922).

Ellen Terry was born in Coventry, England, on February 27, 1847, in a theatrical rooming house while her parents were on tour with Miss Acosta's acting troupe. Of mixed Irish and Scottish parentage, she appears to have had no English blood in her veins. She came from a theatrical family, and her life spanned the period between the days when actors were considered to be not quite respectable to the era when knighthoods were bestowed upon them. The founder of the family tradition was her father, Benjamin Terry, the son of an Irish innkeeper of Cork, who had come to Portsmouth as a young man and went on the stage at an early age. After his marriage to Sarah Ballard Terry , the daughter of a Scottish builder of Portsmouth, he induced his wife to follow the same profession and soon she was performing as Miss Yerret. Eleven children were born to this marriage: two died in infancy, but the rest entered the theater in one capacity or another. Three of the sons became theatrical managers; Kate Terry (1844–1924), the eldest daughter, went on the stage, as did her daughter Mabel Gwynedd Terry-Lewis (1872–1957). Two other sisters, Marion Terry (1852–1930) and Florence Terry (1854–1896), and a brother Fred Terry (1863–1933), were also in the theater as were Fred's children with actress Julia Neilson —Dennis Neilson-Terry and Phyllis Neilson-Terry . But it was the second daughter, Ellen Alice, who became the best-known member of the family, being hailed as the greatest English actress of her day.

Ellen Terry began her career as a child performer in London on April 28, 1856, appearing as Mamillius in Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale, the first performance of which inaugurated the Princess Theater in Oxford Street, with Queen Victoria , Prince Albert and the princess royal Victoria Adelaide in attendance. The production ran for 100 performances after which the child actress played in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Princess Theater, under the management of Charles Kean. There she received her first favorable notice: "Miss Ellen Terry played the merry goblin, Puck, a part that requires an old head on young shoulders, with restless, elfish animation, and an evident enjoyment of her own mischievous pranks." Thereafter, Terry played a great variety of roles, both male and female, occasionally appearing in two plays on the same evening. Her first striking success occurred on October 18, 1858, as Prince Arthur in Shakespeare's King John. The Kean management terminated in 1859, and Ellen Terry and her sister Kate then went on tour for several months in a drawing-room presentation; part one was called Distant Relations and part two Home for the Holidays. Returning to London, she appeared in Atar Gull and then went on to the Theater Royal in Bristol, where her parents and siblings had secured permanent positions with the local stock company, which, under the management of J.H. Chute, had become one of the finest ensembles in Britain. There, she again played various roles especially that of Cupid in Endymion, a lavish spectacle of the kind for which Chute was known. On March 4, 1863, Terry took part in the opening production of the new Theater Royal in Bath, playing the Spirit of the Future in the Prologue and Titania in A Midsummer Night's Dream. These years of repertory in Bristol and Bath allowed Terry to cut her teeth in a highly varied repertory of classic and recent plays, all of which enabled her to learn her craft. As her reputation grew, she was called back to London and on March 19, 1862, she appeared at the Haymarket Theater as the heroine opposite the distinguished E.H. Sothern (future husband of Julia Marlowe ) in The Little Treasure. The sincerity of her portrayal in this role greatly impressed audiences and made her name in London. She then appeared as Hero in Much Ado About Nothing, at which time one critic praised her as "graceful and winning," and then as Lady Touchwood in The Belle's Stratagem. Terry remained with the Haymarket Company until 1864, when she met the prominent painter George Frederic Watts, who had been engaged to render a portrait of her sister Kate; despite the fact that George was twice Ellen's age, she left the stage to marry him. Not quite 17, naive in regard to men and to life in "the real world," she was in love with the idea of love and marriage, and with the desire to become a part of Watts' milieu of artists and intellectuals. But Terry found herself completely lost in a world she was too ignorant and inexperienced to understand. An older man, lacking in patience, Watts soon realized that he had made a great mistake. Less than a year later, the exasperated artist sent her home to her family. His beautiful portrait of her, painted in 1864, survives to testify to the first months of their love.

Neilson-Terry, Phyllis (1892–1977)

English actress. Name variations: Phyllis Terson. Born in London, England, on October 15, 1892; died in 1977; daughter of Fred Terry (an actor-manager) and Julia Neilson (1868–1957, an actress); niece of Ellen Terry (1847–1928); educated at Westgate-on-Seas, Paris, and Royal Academy of Music; married Cecil King (died); married Heron Carvic.

In 1909, Phyllis Neilson-Terry made her debut at the Opera House, Blackpool, as Marie de Belleforet in Henry of Navarre, under the stage name Phyllis Terson. She made her London debut in the same part at the New Theater in January 1910. That February, when her actress-mother Julia Neilson took ill, Phyllis replaced her as Marguerite de Valois in the same play. In April, she played Viola in Twelfth Night at His Majesty's Theater, while her father Fred Terry played Sebastian. Neilson-Terry went on to play many of Shakespeare's women, including Juliet, Lady Macbeth, Desdemona, Rosalind, Katherine, and Portia. In November 1914, she made her first New York appearance, as Viola, at the Liberty Theater. After she played the title role in Trilby, she went on tour in America and Canada, returning to England in 1919, following the war.

In 1922, Neilson-Terry took up the management of the Apollo Theater and continued to act. Over the years, she was seen in numerous plays, including Bella Donna, Craig's Wife, Sweet Nell of Old Drury, and Candida. She also portrayed Elizabeth in Elizabeth of England and appeared in Separate Tables. Her movies include Doctor in the House, Look Back in Anger, and Conspiracy of Hearts.

At first all went well for Terry, for Watts gave her an allowance and her parents were content to let her stay at home, their ambitions for their children amply satisfied by the achievements of Kate, who was now a successful actress on the London stage. Only when Kate retired to marry in 1867 did the Terrys pin their hopes upon their second daughter and urge Ellen back upon the stage. In less than a year, however, the impulsive Ellen, now barely 21, suddenly and quietly left her home to live in a cottage in the country with the successful architect and stage designer Edward Godwin, a man 12 years her senior, whom she had known as a child when he was secretary of the Bristol Shakespeare Society. With the start of this new relationship, Terry again left the theater, this time for six years. Two children were born to Terry during this period, a daughter Edith Craig (1869) and a son Edward Gordon Craig (1872), neither of whom could be legitimized because their mother was still married to George Watts. In time, they chose the surname Craig, which both of them were to make famous. The country idyll with Godwin was not to endure. Beset with financial woes and losing interest in Terry, he turned to other matters, and the young mother found it necessary to return to work simply to support herself and her children.

I can pass swiftly from one effect to another, but I cannot fix one, and dwell on it, with that superb concentration which seems to me the special attribute of the tragic actress.

—Ellen Terry

It was through the urging of playwright Charles Reade that Terry returned to the stage in 1874, first as Philippa in his drama The Wandering Heir and as Katherine opposite Henry Irving's Petruchio in Shakespeare's The Taming of the Shrew. Despite her absence from the stage, she was so fine an actress that she again found herself immediately popular with audiences that seemed willing to overlook her decidedly un-Victorian escapade. During this period, she performed in a number of popular plays but especially as Portia in Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, a role that she would often repeat and which would eventually mark the height of her career. This engagement was the result of her having come into contact with the Bancrofts, who managed the Prince of Wales's Theater, and under whom Terry worked until late in 1876. After this, she appeared in a number of plays including Ours, in which George Bernard Shaw was to see her for the first time. In 1878, Terry, now safely divorced from Watts, suddenly married Charles Wardell, an actor who performed under the name Charles Kelly, but though he was good to her children, his jealous temper proved impossible to live with and, after securing a legal separation in 1881, Terry was once again on her own.

In 1878, Henry Irving took on the management of the Lyceum Theater in London's West End, and Terry was the first artist hired. He was 40; she was 31, and she would be his leading lady. Thus was begun the partnership that would last for years and become legendary in the annals of the London stage. Irving was then at the height of his career and powers. His Hamlet had created a sensation in 1874, and he knew that with his own theater he needed only a young actress of great promise to secure his position as the leading actor of Great Britain. Terry, aside from her successes as Portia and Olivia, was still poised at the threshold of her career and her greatest days lay before her. Their first performance at the Lyceum was in Hamlet with Terry as Ophelia, which opened the theater under Irving's management on December 30, 1878.

The Lyceum arrangement between Irving and Terry lasted for 24 years. During this time, she was to receive £200 per week (nearly $1,000), a handsome sum, which gave her financial security and the ability to raise and educate her children without worrying about the cost. Appearing as permanent leading lady at the Lyceum was a glorious position for Terry in the English theater. This was the late Victorian age, when Britain was at the height of its power and glory and the wealth and self-confidence of the country was at its peak, a time when those who reached the top found themselves at a very great height indeed. The Irving productions were lavish, the costumes, scenery, lighting and music the best that money could buy, and the receptions at the Lyceum drew members of the royal family, the nobility, the moneyed classes in general and the intellectual, artistic and cultural elite of the age. Each year, the company made a four-month tour of the provinces that was the event of the annual cultural life of much of the country, and on seven different occasions the company toured the United States. That Irving and Terry were lovers has never been proved, but all the evidence suggests that they were, and, in fact, in her old age she as much as admitted it. The dark side of the professional relationship, however, was that although her position at the Lyceum enabled Terry to shine in a number of great roles, especially Shakespearean ones, there were others that were denied her or early removed from the repertoire either because they had no suitable part for Irving or because for some reason or other Irving no longer chose to appear in them.

In 1883, Terry and Irving essayed their first American tour. Terry was then 35 years old, already an acclaimed actress and ready for the exposure in the New World that would enhance not only her reputation but her purse as well. Her first appearance on the New York stage was as Queen Henrietta Maria (1609–1669) in W.G. Will's drama Charles the First. The New York Tribune was particularly enthusiastic about the young English artist:

Miss Terry is spontaneous, unconventional, and positively individual, and will use all characters in the drama as vehicles for the expression of her own. Thus in Queen Henrietta Maria … Miss Terry's acting … proceeds essentially from the nervous system—from the soul. There were indications that her special vein is high comedy; but she was all the woman in the desolate farewell scene that ends the piece, and she melted every heart with her distress, even as she had charmed every eye with her uncommon loveliness.

From New York, the company moved on to Philadelphia, Boston, Baltimore, Brooklyn, Chicago, Cincinnati, and St. Louis, traveling in eight cars, enjoying the luxuries of American hotels but deploring the unpleasantness of early steam heat. Terry was to return to America again in 1884, 1887–88, 1893, 1907 (the first time without Irving), 1910 and 1915.

In his biography of Irving, Bram Stoker wrote of the positive aspects of the Irving-Terry relationship:

Irving was only too glad to let her genius and her art have full swing…. In the studying of her own parts and the arranging of her own business of them she had always a free hand with Irving. At the Lyceum she was consulted on everything; and the dispositions of other persons and things were made to fit into her arrangements…. The advantages which both Irving and Ellen Terry gave to dramatic art will be even more marked in the future than it is at the present…. Naturally, the years that went into the doing of this fine art work threw the two players together in a remarkable way, and made for artistic comradeship which, so far as I know, has had no equal in their own branch of art. Her performance of Ophelia alone would have assured her a record of greatness; Irving never ceased expatiating on it.

Not everyone was enthusiastic about the Irving-Terry partnership. George Bernard Shaw writing 25 years after it ended said:

To me Irving's years at the Lyceum, though a most imposing episode in the history of the English theater, were an exasperating waste of talent of the two artists who had seemed to me peculiarly fitted to lift the theater out of its old ruts and head it toward unexplored regions of drama. With Lyceum Shakespear [sic] I had no patience. Shakespear, even in his integrity, could not satisfy the hungry minds whose spiritual and intellectual appetites had been whetted and even created by Ibsen.

On December 13, 1902, the Lyceum years came to an end with a performance at the Prince's Theater in Bristol. Tastes were changing, the company was earning increasingly less money, a fire destroyed much of their valuable scenery, and Irving's health began to give way. Meanwhile, in his private affections Irving had tired of Terry and had developed a new interest of an amorous nature. The pair acted together for the last time on July 14, 1903, at a benefit for the Actor's Association at the Drury Lane Theater, she playing Portia to his Shylock, after which they went their separate ways. Irving died in 1905.

In her appearance, Ellen Terry was a tall, handsome woman with blonde hair, gray eyes, and a strong, square jaw. A striking figure on stage, famed for her animation and grace in movement, she was a robust and, in her middle years, portly woman, considered, however, to be very attractive according to the taste of her day. Shaw insisted that every male theatergoer was in love with Terry but the remarkable fact about her was her ability to inspire the devotion of her own gender; she was extremely popular with female audiences in Britain and America alike. Despite her youthful indiscretions, the British public adored her as "our Ellen," and, though many people considered Madge Kendal the greater artist, Terry was beyond any doubt the most popular actress on the stage in the late Victorian era—even more so than Mrs. Patrick Campbell , who had a great vogue among theatergoers and critics alike but who never took her work seriously. As the leading lady of the English stage for some 25 years, Terry knew most of the major lights of her day—Shaw, Wilde, Tennyson, Browning and Ruskin—but remained a simple person, quite at home with ordinary people of every walk in life. A warm-hearted extrovert, she was a great favorite with artists; she posed for Rossetti and her painting in the role of Lady Macbeth (Gruoch ) by John Singer Sargent was the sensation of the year when it was first displayed at the New Gallery in 1888. Terry, troubled by the mixed reception her interpretation of the role had drawn, always felt that this portrait most clearly conveyed what she was aiming for.

When the Terry-Irving partnership came to an end, Terry undertook the management of the Imperial Theater, where she staged and appeared in Much Ado About Nothing and made a rare appearance in an Ibsen play, The Vikings. Two years later, in 1905, she played Alice Grey in James M. Barrie's Alice Sit-by-the-Fire. In 1906, she starred there as Lady Cicely in CaptainBrassbound's Conversion, a part especially written for her by Shaw. The same year marked the 50th anniversary of her first appearance on any stage, and it evoked a remarkable outpouring, not only from the luminaries of her own country but from her fellow artists both on the Continent and in America (Sarah Bernhardt, Eleonora Duse, Adelaide Ristori, Réjane , Coquelin, etc.). The jubilee banquet, which followed a matinee commemorative performance at the Drury Lane Theater and was attended by 22 members of her family, was presided over by the rising statesman Winston Churchill.

Terry is largely remembered as a Shakespearean actress, but her reputation as an interpreter of the Bard rested on a surprisingly few roles, most of which she undertook at an age when she was really too old to do them justice. Yet do them justice she did, enthralling her audiences as Portia in The Merchant of Venice, and as Beatrice, Juliet, Cordelia, Imogen and Hermione. Side by side with these roles, however, must be ranked the ones that she never undertook—Rosalind in Twelfth Night, Miranda in The Tempest, Perdita in The Winter's Tale, and Katherina in The Taming of the Shrew—and those in which she appeared with less than true success—Lady Macbeth and Volumnia in Coriolanus. The later post-Shakespearean classics she avoided, and the new drama of Ibsen she deliberately bypassed, an oddity when one considers that Ibsen reached Britain when she was in her prime and that she was in constant communication with George Bernard Shaw, one of Ibsen's greatest champions. Thus, in attempting to assess the greatness of Terry one must admit that the evidence was never fully in. Some observers considered her "restless and fidgety" on the stage but her grandnephew, John Gielgud, allowed in his memoirs that her restlessness on stage "was part of her glory," recalling that even in her old age "she moved with an extraordinary spontaneity and grace and crossed the stage with an unforgettable impression of swiftness." Shaw felt that she had a genius simply for standing still that contrasted strikingly with her bearing when she was in motion. For her part, Terry never once classed herself as a great actress though she took her work with the greatest seriousness.

But for all her devotion to her art, there remained until very late in life a streak of the devil-may-care in Terry's character, not the least of which lay in her relations with men. In 1907, at age 60, she allowed herself to be swept off into a third marriage, this time with American actor John Carew (né Usselman), a man 25 years younger than herself, whom she had met when he played in the production of Captain Brass-bound's Conversion. The marriage lasted but two years, though Carew remained an occasional visitor even in her last years.

By 1913, it was clear that Terry had passed her prime and that her career was drawing to a close. Nevertheless, with the war raging in Europe, she undertook an exhausting tour of Australia with her readings in 1914–15. Beset by cataracts, she stopped in New York to have her eyes operated on in 1915, but she was close to blind thereafter and increasingly unable to remember lines. When she appeared as the Nurse in Romeo and Juliet in 1919, opposite Doris Keane and Basil Sydney in the title roles, she had to be aided by the actors who whispered cues to her. Unable to sustain the run of a play but badly in need of funds, she agreed to appear in films, but none of the five that she undertook between 1916 and 1922 amounted to anything that could be called artistic. She continued to give her readings until 1921, when she broke down on the stage of the Gaity Theater. Thereafter, ailing and not always fully lucid, she spent most of her time in her country home, Small-hythe, in Kent. In 1925, she was taken to Buckingham Palace to be created a Dame Commander of the British Empire (CBE), only the second actress to be so honored. Three and one-half years later, after suffering a stroke, she died peacefully at Smallhythe (now the Ellen Terry Museum) on July 21, 1928, with her daughter at her side.

Apart from her excellence as an actress, Terry was also a lady of letters. She published her autobiography, The Story of My Life, in 1908; kept a diary until the end of 1926; carried on a lengthy correspondence with Audrey Campbell (1887 to 1912), and an even lengthier one with Shaw (1892 to 1922) which was published after her death. It was Shaw who writing to her in 1918 observed: "I scan the rising generations of women for another Ellen; but Nature really seems to have broken the mould this time: nobody replaces you in my heart."


Auerbach, Nina. Ellen Terry Player in Her Time. NY: London, 1987.

Manvell, Roger. Ellen Terry. London, 1968.

St. John, Christopher. Ellen Terry and Bernard Shaw: A Correspondence. NY, 1931.

Stoker, Bram. Personal Reminiscences of Henry Irving. London, 1906, repr. Westport, CT, 1970.

Terry, Ellen. The Story of My Life. London, 1908 (new ed. as Ellen Terry's Memoirs with a Preface, Notes and Additional Biographical Chapters by Edith Craig and Christopher St. John, London, 1932, repr. New York, 1969).

suggested reading:

Brereton, Austin. The Life of Henry Irving. London, 1908 (repr. 1969).

Craig, E.G. Ellen Terry and Her Secret Self. London, 1931.

Gielgud, John. An Actor and His Time. London, 1979.

Pemberton, T. Edgar. Ellen Terry and her Sisters. London, 1902.

Terry, Ellen. Four Lectures on Shakespeare. London, 1932.

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

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Terry, Ellen (1847–1928)

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