Minnie Maddern Fiske Biography

Minnie Maddern Fiske (December 19, 1865 - February 15, 1932), born as Marie Augusta Davey, but often billed simply as Mrs. Fiske, was one of the leading American actresses of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. She also spearheaded the fight against the Theatrical Syndicate for the sake of artistic freedom. She was widely considered the most important actress on the American stage in the first quarter of the 20th century. Her performances in several Henrik Ibsen plays widely introduced American audiences to the Norwegian playwright.

Born in New Orleans, Louisiana, she was the daughter of Thomas Davey and actress Lizzie Maddern and was a professional actress from the age of five. Fiske is perhaps most famous for starring as Becky Sharp in the original 1899 production of Langdon Mitchell's Becky Sharp, a play based on William Makepeace Thackeray's Vanity Fair. She wrote several plays and collaborated with her husband Harrison Grey Fiske in writing Fontenelle. Mr. Fiske directed virtually all of his wife's plays after their marriage. According to the New York Times article "Ibsen or Shakespeare?" (March 18, 1928), Harrison Fiske was 12 years old when he first set eyes on the future Mrs. Fiske — she was but 8, performing in a Shakespearean role. Her pay was in lollipops. She was married twice. In 1882 at age 16 she married a musician named LeGrande White but divorced after a short time. She married Harrison Grey Fiske in March 1890, and took three years off from the stage. She had no children with either White or Fiske.

Among Mrs. Fiske's many triumphs on the Broadway stage were Becky Sharp (1899, revivals 1904, 1911), Tess of the d'Urbervilles (1897, revival 1902), A Doll's House (1902), Hedda Gabler (1903, revival 1904), Leah Kleschna (1904–05), Salvation Nell (1908–09), The High Road (1912–13), Madame Sand (1917–18), a play about George Sand; Mis' Nelly of N'Orleans (1919), Helena's Boys (1924), Ghosts (1927), Ladies of the Jury (1929–30), as well as her self-written plays The Rose (1905), The Eyes of the Heart (1905), A Light from St. Agnes (1906). Mrs. Fiske starred in everything from farce to tragedy and even appeared in a comedy with puppets Wake Up, Jonathan! (1921). Her final appearance on Broadway was in 1930 in an acclaimed production of The Rivals cast as Mrs. Malaprop.

In the mid 1910s, Mrs. Fiske starred in two feature film adaptions of two of her greatest stage triumphs, Tess Of The D'Urbervilles in 1913 and Vanity Fair in 1915, both of which were surprisingly successful with moviegoers, although she herself felt she was not at her best in the medium and declined further film work.