Nance O’Neil: Famous Friend of Lizzie Borden


Today is the birthday of Nance O’Neil (Gertrude Lamson, 1874-1965).

O’Neil was a major stage and screen star of her day, called “the American Bernhardt“, managed by McKee Rankin, she toured Australia, the British Isles and the whole of continental America, in addition to Broadway, playing the leads in such plays as Camille, Hedda Gabler, Trilby, Judith of Bethuliah, and her breakthrough role in Leah, The Foraken. She also appeared in about three dozen movies from 1913 through 1932, notable ones being Floradora Girl (1930) with Marion Davies, and Edna Ferber’s Cimarron (1931).

But, because we are terrible, we find her most interesting because she was a close, personal friend of Lizzie Borden. I first learned about this from David Foley’s play Nance O’Neill, which I caught at the Access Theatre in 2010. O’Neill and Borden met at a party in Boston in 1904. This was 12 years after the Fall River murders. Both women had a certain notoriety, so there was something in common there. They became besties, and some suspect, more.

Anyway, this inspires me. As part of my series of Halloween horror posts launched here, I think I’ll follow this one up later today with one about screen portrayals of Lizzie!

To find out  about the variety arts past and present, 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 Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, released by Bear Manor Media. 

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