Today is the birthday of the great actor/ manager Eva La Gallienne (1899-1991).
The daughter of a French poet and a Danish journalist, La Gallienne was born in London and raised in France and England. She began acting as a teenager, and was already appearing on Broadway by age 16. From the mid 1920s she was regularly starring in Ibsen, Chekhov and Shakespeare in productions usually directed by herself, and produced by her groundbreaking Civic Repertory Theatre. Her 1928 revival of Peter Pan ran for over a year, and she was not above appearing in revues by the likes of Elsie Janis and Frank Fay.
Her list of Broadway credits is insane; it’s the dream career, dozens and dozens of roles in distinguished classics over decades with NOTHING that looks like a mis-step or an embarrassment. In 1933, the Depression forced the closure of the Civic Repertory Theatre, but she continued to act, direct and produce for five decades. (One short lived venture was the American Repertory Theatre (1946-1948), which she ran with Margaret Webster and Cheryl Crawford. An “out” lesbian, her relationships over the years included Webster, Tallulah Bankhead, Alla Nazimova, Mercedes de Acosta and Josephine Hutchinson.
She only appeared on film and television a scant handful of times. Her performance in the 1980 film Resurrection garnered an Oscar nomination. Her last stage appearance was her 1982-1983 revival of her adaptation of Alice in Wonderland (she played the White Queen); her last screen appearance was in a 1984 episode of St. Elsewhere.
To learn more about show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
And don’t miss my new book: Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, just released by Bear Manor Media, also available from amazon.com etc etc etc