A Woman who Earned Half a Million of Money and Died Poor.
The recent death of this noted actress recalls her last appearance in this city, last October, in the emotional play of East Lynne. She died of pneumonia. The World, of New York, describes with great interest her sickness, closing with the following touching paragraphs:
All day Thursday she grew worse, and at a few minutes before 7 in the evening, while she was lying on a sofa so that her bed might be remade, she called to her agent, Mr. A.G. Cambridge, and said in absent-minded manner:
“It is time to go to the theatre.”
“Miss Tiffany plays for you to-night, you know,” replied Mr. Cambridge.
“Oh yes. I remember,” she gasped; “I remember.”
A few minutes later, being in bed, she called to the nurse who was with her and said, “Where’s Arthur?” Mr. Cambridge came up to her, and, clasping him around the neck, she looked full into his face and said, “Arthur, I am going to die. You have been very good to me. But I am going to rest at last.” So saying she fell back—dead. “Poor girl,” said Mr. Cambridge, yesterday with tears running down his cheeks, “she died like a little child. As good a woman as ever lived, and as kind hearted as she could be; a better never walked the boards.”
Of her professional life The World says: the career of Lucille Western was an extraordinary one, even for a strolling actress. The daughter of Geo Western, one of the best comedians the American stage has ever known, and of Jane Western, an actress of considerable fame in her day, she and her sister Helen were familiar with the life of the coulisses from earliest childhood. They were both bright children, and endowed with more than ordinary personal charms. They were both famous some years ago for their graceful and elegant figures. While the girls were still young their father dies, and Mrs. Western married James B. English, manager of the National Theatre in Boston, who seems to have been anything but a model father from a moral point of view. It was at his theatre that they made their debuts in a piece, which they afterwards produced at the Old Bowery in this city, entitles “Three Fast Men.” In this they were supports by a fair company including Tom Hampton, a famous low comedian in his day, and made a great hit. Lucille played the “hot-corn girl”—at that time a much more familiar personage than she is now—and the young actress created a genuine sensation. But the tone of the play was too immoral, even for those times and the piece was withdrawn. The sisters remained together for some timer after, Helen playing her pet character of Jack Sheppard, in which she several times broke her leg while escaping from the stage prison, and Lucille doing soubrette business. After Helen’s death in Washington Lucille Western’s star began to rise. She had played in Philadelphia, Baltimore and elsewhere, and had already interested John Brougham, Lester Wallack and others in her career, when Clitton W. Tayleure dramatized Mrs. Wood’s novel of “East Lynne” for her. She made her first appearance in this piece in Baltimore in 1861, and awoke to find herself famous. Her Mme Vine and Lady Isabel were the wonder of the town, and her triumph was permanent. Indeed it is estimated that she cleared $300, 000 by this piece alone. Miss Western appeared in her great play of “The Child-Stealer” to immense houses in Philadelphia and all over the country. Her Margaret Rookly was a performance more terribly realistic than almost anything of the same class ever seen. The scene wherin she impersonated a drunken woman of the lowest and vilest kind was so natural as to arouse genuine feelings of disgust and horror in her audience. Her other great performance, that of Nancy Sikes in “Oliver Twist,” was as truthful and as ghastly a piece of acting as has ever been done on the American stage. Miss Western in this part was exactly the counterpart of Dickens’s Nancy as one sees her on Saturday nights in the alleyways of Marylebone or the lanes of St. Giles. In her fight with Bill Sikes (Jos. Herne) she was often terribly in earnest; she would so identify herself with the part as to fight as if she were really in danger, and Herne has not infrequently had as much as he could do to overcome her. In everything she did Miss Western was thoroughly conscientious and often truly inspired. Unfortunately her limited education was a bar to her advancement beyond the line of melodrama, but in such plays as we have mentioned, and in such others as “Lucrezia Borgia,” “Eyadne, Duchess of Malfi” and “Leah,” she reached a very high standard of excellence in emotional acting.
Personally Miss Western was one of the kindest and most charitable of women. Many an actress, and actor too, has had reason to thank her for timely loans, oftentimes gifts, in the hour of their needs. Her charity was proverbial on the profession; she acted at more benefits, perhaps, and gave a larger share of her earnings to needy members of her profession than any other actress in the country. She had as little refinement off the stage as she had on it; but her roughness was the roughness of the unpolished diamond, and covered as good and as womanly a heart as ever beat. Like many of her profession, she married, unhappily, one James B. Meade, half gambler, half theatrical “hanger-on,” from whom she was afterwards separated. Owing partly to the drain upon her purse by domestic infelicities and partly owing to her lavish liberality, she died in moderate circumstances instead of in affluence.
It may be said that Lucille Western’s death deprives the American stage of that last conspicuous example of that Democratic race of players to which our New civilization gave birth, and of whom it may be said they were content to move the multitude without caring to improve the theatre. She probably played to more people and elicited more tears than any other woman of whom our theatrical record has knowledge. We may not question the quality of the tears. “East Lynne” and Nancy Sikes do not evoke the trembling—
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—drop by gentle strokes of art; they command the flood as Moses commanded it—from stony places, where indeed water is generally most plenteous if one has but the right divining rod. Miss Western was in many respects as phenomenal actress. She both inherited and imbided the ardent, impulsive and somewhat defiant character which in her profession made her disregard with a fine contempt most of the graces and accomplishments which art confers upon nature, there are few theatre-goers who cannot recall the two sisters, whose superb stage beauty and whose vital intensity made such a marked effect early in their careers, when they played together. Both of them were largely gifted with the mimetic talent, and they overflowed with animal spirits. It was not until Clifton W. Tayleure opened the way out of the Soubrette business for Lucille that she made herself known to the country as an actress of extraordinary emotional power and realistic force. That play of “East Lynne,” which has lately reappeared in the metempsychosis of dramaturgy as “Miss Multon,” has been played in the States oftener than any others, excepting “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.” And it never failed in Miss Western’s hands to produce the most genuine luxury of distress. She represented in her voluptuous and often tigerish way the fibrous old school of natural ability. She belonged with Mr. Eddy and Mr. Neafe and a score of others now resting, to a distinct historical epoch, represented in another phase of our civilization by the Peter Cartwrights and Paul Dentons. Lucille Western was industrious but uncertain in her moods. She made two or three characters live luridly with the transfusion of her own blood. It cannot be said that she advanced her art a single step. She afforded entertainment of the intense and somewhat unwholesome kind to millions, but it may well be doubted that she ever did more. She will abide in the record as one of the gifted uncultivated and originally beautiful women who gave their personalities to the drama, and when death removed them there was little left but a sorrowful recollection.
The Tribune, of New York, says:
One of her most successful engagements, it is stated, was played under Col. Sinn’s management in Philadelphia, extending from Oct. 30 to Dec. 16 1875, when she played every night and Wednesday and Saturday matinees, and making on an average $1,500 a week. During this engagement she played in “Eleanor’s Victory,” “Oliver Twist,” “East Lynne,” “Lucretia Borgia,” “Jane Eyre,” “The Child Stealer,” “Mary Tudor,” and “Cynthia.” During her professional career it is estimated that she received nearly $500,000, but she had little money when she died. She has been very charitable, and gave away large amounts. During her last few years she has suffered much from ill health and has not been considered a “sure star.”
The daily Argus, January 22, 1877. Print.
(Rock Island, IL)