By Acton Davies
|As Juliet in 1899|
Some weeks ago, when it was announced that Miss Maude Adams had barely escaped with her life from a serious surgical operation, the entire theater-going public of America expressed its delight at her recovery. The articles published in the newspapers could scarcely have been more flattering to Miss Adams if they had been her obituary notices.
The incident emphasized the great popularity which this clever young actress enjoys from one end of the United States to the other. Not alone is she one of the greatest financial "draws" in the profession, but there is no woman on the stage so genuinely beloved by the public at large. Hers is the popularity of the woman even before the artist, and, curiously enough, it is to her own sex that her personality makes its greatest appeal.
In all probability, Miss Adams is as ignorant as anyone else of the secret of this spell which she asserts over playgoers generally and women in particular. It is something quite different from charm of feature. For when you come to analyze her, Miss Adams could scarcely be called even pretty. She has a certain piquant grace of beauty and manner which is all her own, and which stand her well instead of more conventional beauty; but it is through her little mannerisms of gesture, and the thousand and one expressions of her face, that she takes her audiences captive.
|As Babbie in The Little Minister|
Although there is no more serious and indefatigable worker on the stage than Miss Adams in all that pertains to the performance of her roles, there is no actress who pays so little attention to the outside world. Except for the society of three or four friends of her girlhood, she lives a life which stands quite apart. Society, in the general acceptance of that term, she has always detested and shunned. It is only on the rarest occasions that she will go out to dinner, even at the house of old acquaintances, and then only on condition that no other guests are to be present. When not acting herself, it is very rarely that she thinks of entering a theater. She is an insatiable reader, and for the past five or six years has been deeply engrossed in the study of French. She loves riding and long walks. Indoors, she has a horror of "gimcracks," portieres, and all sorts of stuffy things. When she was building her country home at Ronkonkoma, Long Island—one of the quietest and most out-of-the-way spots within fifty miles of New York—she had the entire ground floor made into a single huge room, so that fresh air might sweep through it in every direction.
It has often been asked why Charles Frohman, who has engineered her entire stellar career so well, has never taken Miss Adams to London, as he has so many of his other stars. But with the American continent at her feet, why should she yearn to conquer so comparatively limited a theatrical field as that of England? If she ever does cross the Atlantic, however, it is almost a certainty she will repeat, at least in large measure, her great American success; for with all due appreciation of her personality as a woman, Maude Adams as an artist can win her way upon any stage.
She never proved this fact more conclusively than last season, when she produced that plaintive little cockney play, "'Op-o'-Me-Thumb," at the Empire. Here she threw all her charms of person to the winds. When she first came into view, the audience did not recognize Miss Adams in the half-starved, tightly pigtailed little slavy who stood before them. To the matinee girls her appearance was an appalling shock, but rarely has she scored a greater artistic triumph.
|As Dora in Christopher Junior|
Miss Adams' real namee is Maude Kiskadden. She was born in Salt Lake City, where her father was engaged in business. Her mother, Annie Adams, was then the leading character actress of the local stock company. She made her debut at - the age of nine months in a play called "The Lost Child." It was entirely, an impromptu appearance. The baby cast for the title role was suddenly seized with a fit of colic, and yelled so loudly, just as the curtain went up, that the actors were thrown into consternation. It was feared that "The Lost Child " would have to be like "Hamlet" with Hamlet left out, but fortunately Mrs. Kiskadden had brought little Maudie to the theater with her. The child lay asleep in her dressing-room. Snatching it ups hastily the actress carried it on the stage, while the mother of the stricken infant hurried off in quest of paregoric.
So successful was little Maudie on her first appearance that she was soon installed as a regular member of the company, and created a number of baby roles before she went into temporary retirement at the age of two.
From Salt Lake Mrs. Kiskadden went to other Western cities, where she played long engagements. The little girl was her mother's constant companion, and at the age of five began her professional career in real earnest. Her mother was then leading woman in J. K. Emmett's company in San Francisco. "Little Maudie" as everybody called her, was such a precocious youngster that Mr. Emmett insisted on casting her for the important role of Little Schneider in one of his Irish plays. She had nearly a hundred lines to speak, but she memorized them without the slightest difficulty, and her success was complete.
|As Suzanne in The Masked Ball|
For about four years she was the most popular child actress in the Pacific States. She did not come to the East until later, after she had spent half a dozen years at school. Her first appearance in New York was at the Star Theater, in a play by Duncan B. Harrison called "The Paymaster," in which she had the ingenue role. Then she joined E. H. Sothern's company at the Lyceum, and played several parts so successfully that Charles Hoyt engaged her to create the role of the young schoolmistress in "A Midnight Bell." It was during the run of this play that Charles Frohman saw her for the first time. David Belasco and William De Mille were then writing for Mr. Frohman's Twenty-Third Street Theater a drama called "Men and Women." Manager and playwrights agreed that Miss Adams was just the girl they wanted for one of the important characters, and Mr. Frohman made her a proposition to join his company. Mr. Hoyt, naturally anxious to keep her for his road tour, offered to double her salary if she would remain with him. Mr. Frohman promised her that if she succeeded in the new play she would have better opportunities in the future. Miss Adams took him at his word, and has since remained under his management.
One of her great successes at the Twenty-Third Street was in Belasco's adaptation, "The Lost Paradise," in which she acted Nell, the lame girl. In this, her first really pathetic role, the critics began to recognize Miss Adams as an actress of fine possibilities.
A year later Mr. Frohman promoted her to be leading woman with John Drew, who had that season become a Frohman star. They opened at Palmer's Theater on October 3, 1892, in a Clyde Fitch adaptation, "The Masked Ball." The success of both the new star and the new leading woman was instantaneous. I have heard Mr. Frohman say that it was on the first night of her fine performance of Suzanne that he decided to make Miss Adams one of his stars.
|As the Duke of Reichstadt in|
Wise in his generation, however, Mr. Frohman determined to leave her with Mr. Drew for several seasons, and she appeared with him in "The Butterflies," "The Bauble Shop," "Christopher, Junior," "Rosemary," and two or three other plays. When her manager felt that the time had come for the young actress to blossom forth as a star, the piece selected for her was Barrie's "The Little Minister." With this she opened in Washington, coming to New York—at the Empire—on September 28, 1897. "The Little Minister" proved a tremendous success. It was only the other day, on its fourth revival, that Miss Adams played Lady Babble for the one thousandth time.
After two seasons in this play, Mr. Frohman, by way of giving his star a little rest, engaged a special company and produced "Romeo and Juliet." The next year, in "L'Aiglon," she played her first boy's role since the days of Little Schneider. Then came J. M. Barrie's "Quality Street" and Mrs.Frances Hodgson Burnett's "The Pretty Sister of Jose." In September she will be seen once more as a boy in J. M. Barrie's fantastic comedy "Peter Pan."
From Munsey’s Magazine, 1905.