Fanny Davenport: An American Bernhardt

19th century stage actress Fanny or Fannie Davenport (Fanny Lily Gypsey Davenport, 1850-1898) was born of an April 10. Born in London, she was the daughter of actors Edward Loomis Davenport and Fanny Vining Davenport, and the (much) older sister of Harry Davenport (best remembered as Dr. Mead in Gone with the Wind) all of whom we wrote about here.

Fanny was brought to the U.S. when she was four and educated in Boston. At age 12 she made her professional stage debut at Niblo’s Garden as the King of Spain in Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady. Her career began in earnest at 19 when she joined Augustin Daly’s company. Plays she appeared in included Boucicault’s London Assurance (1869), with her father; Twelfth Night (1869); Checkmate (1869, an adaptation of a play by Scribe); Surf (1870); Man and Wife (1870); Bronson Howard’s Saratoga (1870), and New Year’s Eve, or False Shame (1872-73). Daly’s theatre burned down following a matinee performance of the latter show, ending this phase of her career.

In 1878 Davenport self-produced the play Olivia at the Union Square Theatre. She played the Bernhardt role in Sardou’s Fedora opposite Robert B. Mantell in 1883. Later she played opposite her second husband Melbourne MacDowell in Sardou’s Gismonda (1894-95), again in a role that had been Bernhardt’s. Her last Broadway role was the titular Saint in Joan (1898). Davenport died later that year of an enlarged heart. If she had lived a few more years, she might have (like her husband MacDowell and her younger brother Harry) left a cinematic record of some of her art, but alas it wasn’t to be.