Stars of the Photoplay, 1916
October 8, 1874
Oakland, California, U.S.
|Died||February 7, 1965 (aged 90)|
Englewood, New Jersey, U.S.
|Other names||Nancy O'Neil|
(m. 1916; his death 1931)
Gertrude Lamson (October 8, 1874 – February 7, 1965), known professionally as Nance O'Neil or Nancy O'Neil, was an American stage and film actress who performed in plays in various theatres around the world but worked predominantly in the United States between the 1890s and 1930s. At the height of her career, she was promoted on theatre bills and in period trade publications and newspapers as the "American Bernhardt".
O'Neil was born in Oakland, California to George Lamson and Arre Findley. When she decided to become an actress, her religious father, an auctioneer, denounced his daughter in church for going on the stage and asked the congregation to pray for her.
O'Neil's first performance in a professional production was in the role of a nun in Sarah at the Alcazar Theatre in San Francisco on October 16, 1893. Before returning to San Francisco in 1898 and 1899 as a star, headlining in the plays The Jewess and The Shadow, she spent the preceding years honing her acting skills by playing in every type of venue, "from barns to first-class theatres", in towns throughout the country's West and Northwest. O'Neil later described that early period of her career as a time when she appeared "in fully a hundred characters, varying from soubrettes to heavies."
As her celebrity grew, after her success in San Francisco, O'Neil embarked on an around-the-world tour, performing in Hawaii, Australia, Egypt, and in many other locations overseas. Those extensive travels and stage appearances were managed by McKee Rankin—an actor, manager, and producer—who was instrumental in also making her a star in Australia and in overseeing her London debut at the Adelphi Theatre on September 1, 1902 in the play Magda. The next day, back in the United States, The New York Times reported on that important performance in England, noting that in the early acts of the play O'Neil "gave an intense, imperious and unequal rendering of the part." The newspaper, however, then added that the actress's "nervousness" later eased on stage and she "aroused the big audience to enthusiasm in the climax of the third act, and obtained a good reception." Unfortunately, two other plays in which O'Neil also starred in London that same month—Camille and Elizabeth, Queen of England—were poorly received by English critics and forced her to terminate early her plans for additional engagements there in October 1902. The London Times wholly dismissed her company's presentation of Camille as "flauntingly, overwhelming provincial" and criticised her performance in Elizabeth, Queen of England as "lacking tenderness".
In 1906, in her role as the title character in an adaptation of Leah, the Forsaken, O'Neil recreated the role made famous by Italian actress Adelaide Ristori. Her performances in Leah (an adaptation of a translation of Salomon Hermann von Mosenthal's Deborah) were described as "genius" by Fremont Older. She also appeared in Trilby, Camille, The Common Standard, The Wanderer, Macbeth, Agnes, Sappho, The Passion Flower, Hedda Gabler, and many other productions in the United States and Europe. In 1908 a theatre critic for The New York Times shared his opinions regarding O'Neil's acting talents, providing what he viewed as both the strengths and weaknesses of her performances:
There is no actress on the stage at present who has a more remarkable gift for emotional expression, nor is there a single one who has been more lavishly endowed by nature with the physical gifts which enter into the equipment of great actresses....Miss O'Neil has a kind of massive beauty, and she is not without much natural grace. Her voice is a splendid organ, rich and deep, with plenty of color and sweetness. There are moments when it is expressive of deep feeling. But there are more extended periods when it is pitched in monotonous cadences, during which the actress speaks seem to be delivered without a hint of genuine feeling or understanding, when, in short, she is simply an actress giving voice to words that she has conned and learned by rote and delivered in a sort of phonographic manner without a suggestion of the thought behind them.
The statuesque O'Neil performed in Louisville, Kentucky, opposite such actors as Wilton Lackaye, Edmund Breese, William Faversham, Tom Wise and Harriet E. MacGibbon. There were regular productions, including Ned McCobb's Daughter, The Front Page, The Big Fight. A "transcontinental tour" of The Big Fight began in Boston, took in New Haven and Hartford, and ended at Caine's storehouse.[clarification needed] She also acted in plays by Shakespeare and Ibsen in Boston in the late 1920s. On November 29, 1922, she was featured at the opening night of the Columbia Theatre in Sharon, Pennsylvania. For a period in the early 1900s, O'Neil owned her own acting company, in which Lionel Barrymore came to early public notice.
For over four decades, O'Neil also performed in a wide variety of Broadway productions. She appeared early in her career in True to Life at the Murray Hill Theatre in Manhattan in 1896 and then, late in her career, in Night in the House at the Booth Theatre in 1935.
O'Neil began acting in silent films with studios in New York and New Jersey before moving to California to work in Hollywood productions. Among her early films are the 1915 drama The Kreutzer Sonata and the 1916 five-reeler The Witch. Both of those motion pictures were filmed at Fox Film Corporation's facilities in Fort Lee, New Jersey. More than a decade later, she made a successful transition to the sound era, although she retired from films after working a few years in the new medium. Some of O'Neil's screen appearances in that period include performances in the 1930 features Ladies of Leisure, The Royal Bed, and The Rogue Song; in the 1931 releases Cimarron and Transgression; and in the 1932 medical drama False Faces, her final film.
Relationship with Lizzie Borden
O'Neil was referenced as a character in the musical Lizzie Borden: A Musical Tragedy in Two Axe, where she was played by Suellen Vance. The women's implied romantic relationship was explored as well in the 2010 play Nance O'Neil by David Foley and the 2006 novel Miss Lizzie by Walter Satterthwait.
O'Neil was also cited as a character in a play by William Norfolk, The Lights are Warm and Colored. Set in 1905, it uses Lizzie's friendship with O'Neil and other theatrical players as a vehicle for a play within a play. The actors recreate scenes from the murder trial in an improv-like setting, coached or criticized by Lizzie and Emma. The play implies that Lizzie was innocent, and the real perpetrator was the maid, who makes a surprise visit at the end.
Marriage and death
O'Neil in 1916 married Alfred Hickman (né Alfred Scott Devereaux-Hickman), a British-born film actor who was previously married to actress Blanche Walsh. The same year that Hickman and O'Neil married, they costarred in the Fox film The Witch. Then they costarred on screen again in 1917, portraying Emperor Nicholas II of Russia and Empress Alexandra in The Fall of the Romanovs. O'Neil's marriage to Hickman continued for another 14 years, until Alfred's death in 1931.
In her final years, O'Neil resided at the Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey. She died there, at age 90, on February 7, 1965. A cinerary urn containing her ashes was transported to Forest Lawn Memorial Park in Glendale, California. There her remains were placed in the park's columbarium, inside the niche that also holds her husband Alfred's cinerary urn.
- The Count of Monte Cristo (1913) - Mercedes
- The Kreutzer Sonata (1915) - Miriam Friedlander
- Princess Romanoff (1915) - Princess Fedora Romanoff
- A Woman's Past (1915) - Jane Hawley
- Souls in Bondage (1916) - Rosa Brenner
- The Witch (1916) - Zora Fernandez
- The Flames of Johannis (1916) - Zirah / Marika
- The Toilers (1916) - Jane Brett
- The Iron Woman (1916) - Sarah Maitland
- Greed (1917) - Alma
- The Seventh Sin (1917) - Alma
- Mrs. Balfame (1917) - Mrs. Balfame
- Hedda Gabler (1917) - Hedda Gabler
- The Final Payment (1917) - Nina
- The Fall of the Romanoffs (1917) - Czarina Alexandra
- Seven Deadly Sins (1917) - Alma (Greed) & (Seventh Sin)
- Resurrection (1927)
- His Glorious Night (1929) - Eugenie
- Ladies of Leisure (1930) - Mrs.John Strong
- The Rogue Song (1930) - Princess Alexandra
- The Lady of Scandal (1930) - Lady Trench
- The Florodora Girl (1930) - Mrs. Vibart
- Call of the Flesh (1930) - Mother Superior
- The Eyes of the World (1930) - Myra Willard
- The Royal Bed (1931) - Queen Martha
- Cimarron (1931) - Felice Venable
- Resurrection (1931) - Princess Marya
- The Good Bad Girl (1931) - Mrs. J.P. Henderson
- Transgression (1931) - Honora 'Nora' Maury
- A Woman of Experience (1931) - Countess Runyi
- Their Mad Moment (1931) - Grand Mere
- Secret Service (1931) - Mrs. Varney
- Westward Passage (1932) - Mrs. von Stael (uncredited)
- False Faces (1932) - Mrs. Finn
References and notes
- Young, William C. "Nance O'Neil", Famous Actors and Actresses on the American Stage: Documents of American Theater History (volume 2, K-Z), New York: R.R. Bowker Company, 1975, pp. 887-893. Internet Archive, San Francisco. Retrieved and borrowed on line December 26, 2019.
- GREAT STARS OF THE AMERICAN STAGE" by Daniel Blum c. 1952 Profile #36
- Young, p. 890.
- "HUNTING 'LOCAL COLOR': Adventures of an American Dramatist in the Gold-Mining Country", The New York Times, November 26, 1899, p. 18. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
- Young, p.891.
- NANCE O'NEIL IN 'MAGDA': American Actress's London Debut--The Papers Critical but Friendly", The New York Times, September 2, 1902, page 9. ProQuest Historical Newspapers.
- In 1899, McKee Rankin and O'Neil were rumored to have married but the announcement was subsequently declared incorrect. Also, the cited September 2, 1902 news report in The New York Times confirms that Rankin was still traveling with O'Neil in 1902 on her world tour. The newspaper states that Rankin was among the cast in Magda, performing in London in the role of Colonel Schwartze.
- "AMERICAN ACTRESS FAILS.: Shortage of Cash Forced Nance O'Neil to Terminate London Engagement", The New York Times, September 24, 1902, p. 9; ProQuest.
- "NANCE O'NEIL CRITICISED.: London Times Says Her Performance in 'Camille' Is Flauntingly, Overwhelmingly Provincial", The New York Times, September 9, 1902, p. 9; "NANCE O'NEIL'S PLAY.: The London Times Criticises Her Revival of 'Elizabeth, Queen of England'", The New York Times, September 17, 1902, p. 9. ProQuest.
- "The Passion Flower". The Drama. 11 (1): 22. October 1920.
- "Nance O'Neil's Acting and What It Represents", The New York Times, 11 October 1908.
- Lehr, Dick (2017-01-11). The Birth of a Movement: How Birth of a Nation Ignited the Battle for Civil Rights. Hachette UK. p. 67. ISBN 978-1610398244. Retrieved 2017-12-27.
- "Nance O'Neil", Internet Broadway Database (IBDB), The Broadway League, New York, N.Y. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
- "Sisters Estranged Over Nance O'Neill". The San Francisco Call. June 7, 1905. Retrieved June 13, 2008 – via WikiMedia Commons.
- Adams, Cecil (March 13, 2001). "Did Lizzie Borden kill her parents with an ax because she was discovered having a lesbian affair?". The Straight Dope. Retrieved November 21, 2008.
- Rooney, David (September 20, 2010). "Lizzie Borden Finds Love (Perhaps) After the Ax". The New York Times.
- Pierce, J. Kingston. "Jazz-Age Justice: Lizzie Borden Takes a Swing at Old Boston". Kirkus Review. Kirkus Media LLC. Retrieved 6 January 2020.
- Bay, Sherman (November 24, 2012). "The Lights are Warm and Colored". play.
- "Nance O'Neil, 90, Tragedienne Of Stage in Early 1900s, Dead". New York Times. February 8, 1965. Retrieved 2015-01-06.
Nance O'Neil, an actress who starred in dozens of tragic roles in the early part of the century, died yesterday in Englewood, N.J. She was 90 years old. ...
- "Nance O'Neil", Columbarium of the Sanctuaries, niche #10022, Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Glendale, California. Find a Grave, Lehi, Utah. Retrieved January 11, 2020.
- "Those Who Toil (1916)", catalog, AFI. Retrieved December 27, 2019.
- Johnson Briscoe (1908). The Actors' Birthday Book: 2d Series. An Authoritative Insight Into the Lives of the Men and Women of the Stage Born Between January First and December Thirty-first. Moffat, Yard. p. 229.
- John Herbert Gill – Detecting Gertrude Stein And Other Suspects on the Shadow Side of Modernism (ISBN 0-9727091-0-X)
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Nance O'Neil.|
- Nance O'Neil on IMDb
- Nance O'Neil filmography at the American Film Institute
- Nance O'Neil biography on famousandgay.com
- Nance O'Neil gallery on lizzieandrewborden.com
- How Lizzie Borden Got Away With Murder on http://crimemagazine.com
- Straight Dope staff report by John Corrado
- on YouTube performed by the St. Louis City Players, 1969
- Nance O'Neil at Find a Grave
- Nance O'Neil page at Corbis
- Nance O'Neil and Elsie Ferguson in "The House of Women"(1927)
- Nance O'Neil, gallery ; University of Washington, Sayre collection (*upgraded to new url)