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Kitty Blanchard


Known for much of her life as Mrs. McKee Rankin, and part of the most amiable husband and wife acting team on the North American stage in the wake of the Civil War, Kitty Blanchard began her stage career as a dancer in Philadelphia and the sole support of her widowed mother at age thirteen. Employed in a melodeon parlor, a variety venue, she developed her voice to supplement her dancing, performed in a New York melodeon in 1860 before graduating to Music Hall as a variety performer with Tony Pastor in Philadelphia. She was sixteen before her first job in a legitimate troupe at the Duffield Theatre in Nashville and she did not manage a leading role until the end of the war, playing "Fanchon the Cricket" in Louisville.

Her early successes took place in Louisville, Columbus, and New Albany playing the usual roles of a mid-century ingenue, "Little Barefoot" and "Nan, the Good for Nothing." The charm she exerted in the Midwest worked well in the East also, for in 1866 Blanchard became the toast of Boston in "Cinderella." Her insouciant singing distinguished her from the other young beauties of the stage, and hearing of her success, Augustin Daly secured her services for Broadway. There she found herself playing opposite McKee Rankin in "A Flash of Lightning," and romance bloomed.

Blanchard became a fixture in the Selwyn company while Rankin managed Pike's Company in Chicago. When Blanchard's mother contracted a fatal disease in 1869, she indicated she wished her daughter married to Rankin before she died. The wedding took place on December 11, 1869. Selwyn secured Rankin's services in winter of 1870 and the Blanchard/Rankin team was formed.

NOTES: David R. Beasley, McKee Rankin and the Heyday of the American Theater, David S. Shields/ALS