Mary Mannering and Her Mannerly Men

We are so sorry that the title of this post is not also the name of an act. It’s just our way of telling you that the article treats also of our touchstone’s significant others. We learned of the existence of Mary Mannering (Florence Friend, 1876-1953) in the annals of the Smith Opera House. As her life interacted with those of some other notables, including some we hadn’t written about, we thought we’d spill a bit of ink on all of them.

As Florence Friend (her given name, which I consider a better stage name than the one she switched to), she began acting professionally in the English provinces at age 16 (1892). Originally from Leicester, she once told a reporter that she came to the theatre passively. Recuperating from an illness, she sat for a portrait painter. A theatrical producer saw the picture and decided that he needed her face to adorn his next production. At the beginning of her career, Mannering studied under American-born acting guru Hermann Vezin (1829-1910), who specialized in the now lost arts of elocution and diction.

In 1896, she was discovered by Daniel Frohman who brought her to the States, changing her name to Mary Mannering. She was a Broadway star for 15 years, appearing in 19 plays, including the original American productions of Trelawney of the “Wells” (1898), Janice Meredith (1900, the basis of the later Marion Davies film), The Stubbornness of Geraldine (1902, later parodied by Weber and Fields as The Stickiness of Gelatine), Glorious Betsy (1908, which was the show she brought to the Smith), and The Garden of Allah (1911, later adopted into three different films in 1916, 1927 and 1936, the last with Marlene Dietrich).

Mannering’s first four American roles were in plays co-starring James K. Hackett (1869-1926, no apparent relation to Florence, Raymond and Jeanette). The shows they appeared in jointly were The Courtship of Leonie (1896), The First Gentleman of Europe (1987), The Mayflower (1897), and The Princes and the Butterfly (1897). I mention this of course because the pair were married from 1897 to 1908. Hackett is most closely associated with The Prisoner of Zenda, starring in stage adaptions in 1896 and 1908 and a film in 1911. He was Mercutio in an 1896 Romeo and Juliet starring William Faversham and Olga Nethersole; three years later he played the part again with Faversham and Maude Adams. He played MacBeth twice (in 1916 and 1924), and he starred in the original stage adaptations of Winston Churchill’s The Crisis (1902) and William Dean Howells’ The Rise of Silas Lapham (1919), with Erskine Sanford and Henry Travers.

Hackett’s father, James Henry Hackett (1800-1871) was also a stage star of both New York and London, known for being the stages first Rip Van Winkle (1830, prior to to Joseph Jefferson), and for playing Falstaff to great acclaim on numerous occasions. In 1863 he penned the book Notes and Comments on Shakespeare (1863).

At any rate, in 1908 Mannering and the younger Hackett divorced. In 1911, she married Frederick E. Wadsworth (1868-1927), a scion of the same family that co-founded Hartford, Connecticut and started the Wadsworth Athenaeum (but surprisingly not the same family as that of Peleg Wadsworth, Longfellow’s grandfather). Frederick Wadsworth, was a Detroit manufacturing millionaire whose plant produced small boats and auto parts. His divorce from his previous wife in order to marry Mannering caused a scandal at the time. But Mannering retired from the theatre and devoted herself to charity, and was soon accepted as a local socialite. Wadsworth died at their Palm Beach estate in 1927. When Mannering died in 1953 she was living in Bel-Air.

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