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Clara Morris

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Clara Morris

"A born actress, genuine, admirable, spontaneous, and powerful in her tragic moments, tender and gentle in the touching scenes, and always true to nature."  Modjeska

Morris, Clara [née Morrison] (1846/48-1925) American actress born into poverty in Toronto, Ontario, Canada on March 17th as the eldest child of a bigamous marriage. When she was three, her father was exposed and she and her mother fled to Cleveland, OH, where they adopted her grandmother’s name of Morrison. She received very little formal schooling. About 1860, John Ellsler gave her a start when she became a dancer in the resident ballet company of the Cleveland Academy of Music. It was there that she shortened her named to Morris. Over the nine years training as an actress with Ellsler’s stock company,  she eventually graduated to larger roles, often playing opposite many of the great actors of the day. She left in 1869 to play a season as leading lady at Wood’s Theatre in Cincinnati, OH. In 1870, she was hired by Augustin Daly for his stock company in New York, where she made her debut as the betrayed Anne Sylvester in Wilkie Collins’ Man and Wife. The role had come to her by chance but she made such an impression that she was featured in a series of highly emotional roles over the next three years, including No Name, Jezebel and Madeleine Morel. She gave an especially memorable performance in Daly’s Article 47 (1872) as the Creole, Cora, who gets revenge on the man who disfigured her. But ultimately she became dissatisfied with Daly’s ensemble system where she was required to play minor roles as well as the lead, and she left in 1873 to become a star in her own right. Over the next few years she had great successes in Camille (1874), The New Leah (1875), Miss Moulton (1876), an American version of a French translation of East Lynne and her most popular role Jane Eyre (1877). She was less well received when she attempted such classical roles as Lady Macbeth and Julia in The Hunchback. She toured extensively in the1880s. For years she sustained the reputation as one of America’s greatest emotionalistic actress, although her career is one of incongruities. In the 1870s she was praised as realistic, though by the 80s she was denounced by many as the "queen of spasms" and the "mistress of the tricks of the acting trade". Although neither a great beauty nor a great actress, Clara Morris had an instinctive genius for portraying the impassioned and often suffering heroine in melodrama which allowed her to use her ‘tearful’ voice and to loose a veritable flood of emotion on her audience. But with the passing vogue for that sort of theatre together with her failing health she was forced to appear less frequently after the 1890s. Thereafter she occasional tried new plays, revived old ones and played in vaudeville. Her last appearance was Washington, D.C. in 1906. In retirement in Riverdale, New York, Miss Morris contributed articles on acting to various magazines, wrote a daily newspaper column for 10 years and wrote several books. In 1901 she published a rather self-defensive autobiography, Life on the Stage as well as 54 volumes of reminiscences. She died in New Canaan, CT, on November 20, 1925.

(click on photo to enlarge)
Clara Morris headshot-postcard-Resized.jpg (36918 bytes) Clara Morris (1846-1925) in The Spinx (1874)-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (27271 bytes) Clara Morris (1846-1925) in head dress-Illustration-B&W-Resized.jpg (56762 bytes)
Portrait The Spinx
Clara Morris with bouquet of flowers and hat-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (41238 bytes) Clara Morris in white dress with hand to head-photo-B&W.jpg (11462 bytes) Clara Morris studio shot May 1902 sitting in chair-Photo-tinted-Resized.jpg (89704 bytes)
Clara Morris-headshot-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (86182 bytes) Clara Morris-early portrait-Photo-B&W-Cropped & Resized.jpg (56827 bytes) Clara Morris with tiera and veil-Photo-B&W-Cropped & Resized.jpg (52743 bytes)
Portrait Portrait unidentified character
Clara Morris studio shot in white dress-postcard-Cropped & Resized.jpg (84226 bytes) Clara Morris praying-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (93952 bytes) Clara Morris in Miss Mouton-Photo-B&W-Cropped & Resized.jpg (62353 bytes)
Portrait unidentified character as Miss Moulton
Clara Morris Bijon Heron-postcard-Cropped & Resized.jpg (105864 bytes) Clara Morris as Jane Eyre-Photo-B&W-Cropped & Resized.jpg (52423 bytes) Clara Morris as Camille-Photo-B&W-Cropped & Resized.jpg (50259 bytes)
Portrait as Jane Eyre as Camille
Clara Morris Testimonial Performance Program Cover-Resized.jpg (193320 bytes) Clara Morris Testimonial Performance Program Page with Joseph Haworth in A Man of the World-Resized.jpg (183281 bytes)
Testimonial Performance Program cover Testimonial Performance Program page with Joseph Haworth in
A Man of the World
Joseph Haworth & Clara Morris

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