LITTLE BIJOU HERON
The Little Prodigy and Her Strange Mother
Yesterday I met little Bijou Heron, the child actress. I was so delighted with the sprightly little thing that I told her I wanted to come over to Second avenue and see her mamma.
“Come,” said Bijou, “but maybe she will see you and maybe she won’t. But I’ll tell her about you, and I think she’ll want to see you.”
I find everybody is talking about the little prodigy Mr. Daly has secured, and everybody wants to know about her mother.
“Demons—angels! This is not fair. They shall not play Cammile. Cammille is for Bijou, and I’ll tear the eyes out of any one who dares to play it! But—ah! nevermind; will sleep it off.”
In a moment the little Bijou came to the head of the stairs, and artlessly taking my hand, half-way led and pulled me into the room. But oh, what a sight met my gaze! The room was littered and poverty struck. There was an old faded [Illegible] cookstove; with the griddles scattered around the floor. On the stove in place of griddles was an old faded bouquet, dried dusty, and there sprawled upon an old lounge, was the once beautiful actress. Her feet were shoeless, dress half unbuttoned, and her beautiful dark hair, which we have so often seen relieved by white camelia, was cut tight to her head. In place of long silken tresses were short bristling hairs, each standing straight up. The sweet pale face and the neck gracefully carved alabaster were gone and in their place were the puffed and crimson features seen only among poor and miserable people. The mind of the great actress was partly gone, the fire of her eye had flickered out, and I saw before me a poor woman helplessly crazy—foolishly insane.
I do not write this unfeelingly. This statement of facts does not detract one iota from the honor and glory of Matilda Heron, but it calls upon us all to give her our sympathy and love. A great actress belongs to the people, and they have a right to now everything about her and then they can come forward with aid and sympathy. Matilda Heron’s insanity should be known as well as Horace Greeley’s.
But I found the great actress more than insane. Her insanity prompts her to indulge in stimulants, and insanity, poverty, and strange appetites makes her trebly the object of our pity and sympathy. Something must be done for Matilda Heron.
As little Bijou led me into the room, her mother said smilingly:
“I’ll tell you how it was sweetheart, I’m a Catholic. Henry Ward Beecher is the Redeemer of the World. One day, twenty years ago—I’m forty-four years old now—one day Fanny Kemble and I were up in the mountains in Massachusetts. Let’s see—we were building a bride, and I was a young, honorable Catholic girl, and Beech-he-he-he-he-well, I don’t really remember how it was,” and the once beautiful impersonator of Camille played her hands on her brow as if trying to follow bread of a broken thought. In a moment she said:
“Bijou, tell his excellency about ‘Camille.’ Tell it nicely.
“Well,” commenced Bijou, with great deliberation, “Mr. Palmer, of the Union Square Theater, didn’t know that ‘Camille’ was mamma’s play, and that she had a right to keep any one from playing it, the same as Mr. Daly has the right to ‘Alphonso.’ So after Miss Clara Morris had played it at a benefit—mamma didn’t care anything about that, you know, but I mean after they got all the scenery for the play and Clara Morris was going to play in it again, mamma objected. Then Mr. Palmer and Mrs. Shook called on mamma and said they didn’t know ‘Camille’ was her play, and wanted mamma to let them play it and mamma consented to do it.”
“Is it in the paper by the kind permission of Matilda Heron? Asked Bijou’s mother.”
“It was well said, Bijou—thank you!
“You heard me, Bijou?” continued [Matilda Heron] the actress.
“Yes, mamma,” said Bijou,
“Then thank me.”
“Thank you, mamma,” said Bijou, curtseying to her mother.
I found that little Bijou had to make this courtesy a good many times a day, and the little thing was so young and inexperienced that she didn’t know but what is was the proper thing to do.
“How did you come to play in the theater?” I asked little Bijou, as she stood up by my chair, her hand on my shoulder.
“Well, I was going toward school, and one day little Gertrude Norwood, who used to play the child’s parts fell sick, and Mr. Hawkins came round for me to take her part. I went over to rehearsal, and I’ve been there ever since.”
“Don’t you sometimes get frightened on the stage—feel like crying”
“Yes, I felt frightened the first night, and the other night I felt strange when I didn’t get an encore. It was the first night I hadn’t had it, and I felt like crying. That night I forgot and started home from the theatre alone, and came all the way to Second avenue. I didn’t want anybody with me, I was too busy thinking about the encore.
Alas! This was the first disappointment in the sweet angel’s life. Bijou could live on cruste, sleep on a pallet of rags in the arms of her crazy mamma, and be happy, and here she was breaking her heart because she didn’t get her regular encore.
“How old are you, Bijou?” I asked, taking the hand of the little actress.
“I’m ten years old, and ain’t it real nice for me to make $25 a week for mamma?” and little Bijou looked as proud as a queen.
“Do you like acting in the theatre?”
“O, I guess I do! I’m always going to act. It’s lovely! You just try it once.”
“Can you do anything else as well as you do Adrienne in ‘Alphonse,’ Bijou?”
“Yes, they’re all alike to me. I will say Miss Bouncer’s part in ‘Box and Crox,’ if you want me to.”
“All right, Bijou, lets hear you.”
So the little thing got two chairs, put a pillow on each, fixed the keys in the doors and commenced. I was delighted—entranced. Why no one has seen little Bijou act yet. She has magnetism, power, gesture and eloquence enough to take the most difficult role in comedy or tragedy. And all so natural—so sweetly innocent.
“Who taught Bijou this?” I asked her mother who had been sleeping for a few moments.
“No one, sweetheart. It is the God Almighty in the child.” Then turning to the little wonder, she said, come here Bijou to your mother’s arms. In a moment little Bijou was kissing the dimmed face of her poor, unfortunate mother as if she had been an angel. Indeed, she is not yet old enough to know that anything is the matter with her mother. She has never seen her otherwise and she thinks it is her normal state. It was a queer sight to see this strange affection of the dainty little child actress for her mother—to see her put her arms around her neck and pat her cheeks, and to see her sometimes put her little hand over mamma’s mouth when she was saying some indiscreet thing which ought not to be said.
Last night I went to the Fifth Avenue Theatre to see Bijou in her last appearance in “Alphonse.” She showed the same natural sweetness as she does off the stage; but her power and genius are in subjection. Her genius will be more startling in a stronger part and they are now rehearsing “Oliver Twist,” so as to show the little prodigy in all her strength. Fanny Davenport will make a splendid Nancy Sykes, and the whole combination will make a theatrical novelty which the metropolis hasn’t seen for years.
Almost every actor and actress has some character in which they are infinitely good, but for years Fanny Davenport has been wasting her energies in fashionable characters—characters where she can flaunt a beautiful wardrobe across the stage. In “Nancy Sykes” she will find scope for the pent-up genius within her.
In speaking of the master-pieces of the actors, I might mention Matilda Heron as Camille; Jefferson as Rip Van Winkle; Bothers as Dundreary; Forrest as Spartacus; Clarke as Major de Boots; Lucille Western, as Lady Isabel, in “East Lyan;” Booth as Hamlet; Lewis as Lawyer Meddle, and so on through the catalogue. Each actor has a specification in which he is unapproachably great, but what untrodden paths, what unexplored by-way in the great dramatic life the feet of little Bijou are to tread, no one knows. Time alone will solve the mystery.
The Leavenworth Weekly Times 6/4/1874. Print.