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Charlotte Saunders Cushman
Born July 23, 1816(1816-07-23)
Boston, Massachusetts
Died February 18, 1876 (aged 59)
Boston, Massachusetts

Charlotte Saunders Cushman (July 23, 1816 – February 18, 1876) was an American stage actress.

Contents

Early life

She was a descendant in the eighth generation from Pilgrim Robert Cushman. Her father rose from poverty to be a successful West India merchant, but lost his fortune, and died, leaving his family in straitened circumstances. Charlotte was a remarkably bright, sportive child, excelling her schoolmates and developing a voice of remarkable compass and richness, with a full contralto register. Two friends of her father, one of them John Mackay (Mackey?), in whose piano factory Jonas Chickering was then foreman, provided her with the best musical instruction. She sang in choirs, and aided in the support of the family from the age of twelve.[1]

When Mrs. Joseph Wood visited Boston in 1834, Capt. Mackay introduced Cushman, who sang with her in two of her concerts. Through Mrs. Wood's influence she became a pupil of James G. Maeder, a lady's musical director, and under his instruction made her first appearance in opera in the Tremont Theatre as the Countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro with great success, and her second as Lucy Bertram in Guy Mannering. She went with his company to New Orleans, where her voice, which had been strained by the soprano parts assigned to her, suddenly failed. Seeking the counsel of James H. Caldwell, manager of the principal theatre of New Orleans, she was advised by him and by Barton, the tragedian, to become an actress, and given the part of Lady Macbeth to study, in which she made her appearance with complete success in 1835.[1]

Stage/theater career

Charlotte Cushman as Meg Merrilees

After a successful season in New Orleans, she returned to New York City under contract with the Bowery Theatre. She scored a success to rave reviews in Albany, New York, again playing Lady Macbeth.[2]

By 1839, her younger sister Susan Webb Cushman became an actress, and at the age of 14 had married Nelson Merriman. Her husband abandoned her when she was pregnant and Charlotte cared for her sister. The two sisters became famous for playing Romeo and Juliet together, with Charlotte playing Romeo and Susan playing Juliet. [2]

In 1843, Cushman became involved romantically with Rosalie Sully, a daughter of artist Thomas Sully. By 1844, the romance had ended. She began travelling abroad acting in theater, and Sully died shortly thereafter.

The Cushman sisters, Charlotte and Susan, as Romeo and Juliet in 1846

In 1848, Cushman met journalist, writer and part time actress Matilda Hays. The two women became close friends, and after a short amount of time and some correspondence, they became involved in a lesbian affair. For the next ten years the two would be together almost entirely. They became known for dressing alike, and in Europe were publicly known as a couple.[2]

In 1849, Cushman returned to the United States and by 1852 had decided to retire from the stage. She took up residence with Hays in Rome, Italy. They began living in an American expatriate community there, made up mostly of many lesbian artists and sculptors of the time. Cushman used her notoriety to promote the works of African American/Native American sculptor Edmonia Lewis, who had become a close friend, and whom Cushman greatly admired.

In 1854, Hays left Cushman for lesbian sculptor Harriet Hosmer, which launched a series of jealous interactions between the three women. Hays eventually returned to live with Cushman, but the tensions between her and Cushman would never be repaired. By late 1857, Cushman was secretly involved with lesbian sculptor Emma Stebbins. One night while Cushman was writing a note, Hays walked in on her. Suspecting that the note was to Stebbins, Hays demanded to see it. Although Cushman maintained that the note was not to Stebbins, she refused to show it to Hays. The altercation that followed was implosive. Hays became enraged, and began chasing Cushman around the house pounding her at every opportunity with her fists. The relationship ended immediately, and Hays moved out. She then sued Cushman stating in her claim that she had sacrificed her own career to support Cushman's career, and therefore was due a certain payment. Cushman paid her an unknown sum, and the two women parted company forever.[2]

Poster advertising Cushman's appearance as Hamlet in February, 1861.

Emma Stebbins moved in with Cushman shortly after the break-up. Cushman traveled to America for a short tour a couple of months later. Although Cushman maintained that she was devoted to Stebbins, she became involved with another woman not long after her relationship with Stebbins began. Cushman met an 18 year old actress, Emma Crow, the daughter of Wayman Crow, and fell for her. The two women began an affair, and Cushman often called her "my little lover".

Before her departure to Italy, Cushman offered a farewell performance at the Washington Theater in the title role of Hamlet. The poster advertising her appearance describes her as "a lady universally acknowledged as the greatest living tragic actress".[3]

When Cushman returned to Italy, Crow followed. Not long after arriving in Italy, Crow attracted the attention of Cushman's nephew, Ned Cushman. In April 1861, Ned Cushman and Emma Crow married.[2]

In 1860 she again acted in New York, and appeared on several occasions for the benefit of the Sanitary Commission. During the last six year's of her life Cushman developed a remarkable ability as a dramatic reader, giving scenes from Shakespeare, ballad poetry, dialect poems, and humorous pieces with a success not less decided than her earlier dramatic triumphs. In 1871, after a residence in Europe, she resumed her career in the United States as a reader, besides fulfilling several dramatic engagements.[1]

Her farewell appearance was announced at least seven times in as many different years. Her final performance in New York was at Booth's theatre, where she played the part of Lady Macbeth. She took a similar demonstrative farewell in the same character in Philadelphia and other cities, and her career closed in Boston, at the Globe Theatre, on 15 May 1875. After a reading-tour to Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse, she retired with a large fortune to her villa at Newport, where she was seized with her final illness, and in October went to Boston and placed herself under medical treatment.[1]

Breast cancer

In 1869, Cushman underwent treatment for breast cancer. Stebbins ignored her own sculpting career and devoted all of her time to caring for Cushman.[4]

Death

Charlotte Cushman died of pneumonia[4] in Boston in 1876, aged 59, and was interred in Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.[1]

In 1915 she was elected to the New York University Hall of Fame.

Legacy

She made England her home for several years, becoming friends with the author Geraldine Jewsbury, who is said to have based a character on Cushman in her 1848 novel The Half Sisters.

Notes and references

  1. ^ a b c d e Wikisource-logo.svg " Cushman, Charlotte Saunders". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. 1900.  
  2. ^ a b c d e Charlotte Cushman biography on glbtq.com. Accessed online 9 November 2006
  3. ^ See the poster Image:Cushman in Hamlet poster.jpg.
  4. ^ a b Emma Stebbins biography on glbtq.com. Accessed online 29 December 2009

External links


1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

CHARLOTTE SAUNDERS CUSHMAN (1816-1876), American actress, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on the 23rd of July 1816. Her father, a West India merchant, left his family in straitened circumstances, and Charlotte, who had a fine contralto voice, went on the operatic stage. In 1835 she successfully appeared at the Tremont theatre as the countess Almaviva in The Marriage of Figaro. But her singing voice failing her she entered the drama, and played Lady Macbeth in the same year. She then engaged herself as a stock actress, but was soon given leading parts. In 1842 she managed and played in the Walnut Street theatre in Philadelphia. She accompanied Macready on an American tour, winning a great reputation in tragedy, and in 1845 and in 1854-1855 she fulfilled successful engagements in London. She was a keen student, and acquired a large range of classic roles. Her best parts were perhaps Lady Macbeth and Queen Katherine, her most popular Meg Merrilies, in a dramatization of Scott's Guy Mannering. Her figure was commanding and her face expressive, and she was animated by a temperament full of vigour and fire. These qualities enabled her to play with success such male parts as Romeo and Cardinal Wolsey. During her later years Miss Cushman worked hard as a dramatic reader, in which capacity she was much appreciated. Her last appearance on the stage took place on the 15th of May 1875, at the Globe theatre, Boston, in which city she died on the 18th of February 1876.

See Emma Stebbins's Charlotte Cushman, her Letters and Memories of her Life (Boston, 1878); H. A. Clapp's Reminiscences of a Dramatic Critic (Boston, 1902); and W. T. Price, A Life of Charlotte Cushman (New York, 1894).


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