Robert B. Mantell: Stage Struck Scot

Robert B. Mantell (Robert Bruce Mantell, 1854-1928 — he was named after his ancestor Robert the Bruce) was born this day. I’ll cut to the chase with the most interesting bit of trivia about Mantell — he was the great uncle of the Lansburys — Angela, Edgar and Bruce. 

A Scot by birth, Mantell was raised in Dublin, where his parents kept an inn. He performed in amateur theatricals as a kid, and then dismayed his parents by turning professional. As a result of their disapproval, in early years he used the stage name of “Robert Hudson”. His debut was in Lancashire in an 1876 production of Boucicault’s Arrah-na-Pogue. In 1878 he embarked on his first tour of America, performing with Modjeska in Romeo and Juliet and East Lynne. He returned again in 1883, where his performance in Fanny Davenport’s production of Fedora put him on the map. The years 1903-18 were his heyday on Broadway. He was especially associated with Shakespearean roles. King Lear was his and the audience’s favorite, but he also maintained a repertoire that included Hamlet, Othello, MacBeth, Julius Caesar, Richard III, The Merchant of Venice, Romeo and Juliet, As You Like It, The Merry Wives of Windsor, and King John. He also frequently played in Richelieu, Louis XI, and The Dagger and the Cross. 

At age 61, he decided to dabble in films. He made seven of them: Blindness of Devotion (1915), The Unfaithful Wife (1915), The Green-Eyed Monster (1916), A Wife’s Sacrifice (1916),  The Spider and the Fly (1916), Tangled Lives (1917) and Under the Red Robe (1923), in which he put one of his favorite roles, Cardinal Richelieu down on celluloid. His last Broadway production was a 1923 revival of The School for Scandal.

According to the Sobels’ Illustrated History of Vaudeville, Robert Mantell occasionally toured the vaud circuits with one act playlets. It’s what first brought him to our notice. To find out more about vaudeville, check out that book, and my own  No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous