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Rose Coghlan


Rose Coghlan (1851-1932)

Americans in the last decades of the nineteenth century became increasingly uncomfortable with the term tragedienne to designate performers who presented intense passion in their characters. There were certain performs who were equally capable of instilling strong feeling in comic characters as well as tragic, and had the range to perform the entire spectrum of feminine types. Critics began branding these virtuosi 'emotional actresses'. Rose Coghlan in the 1880s was recognized as an example of this type. Successor to Fanny Davenport as the great Lady Teazle ("School for Scandal") of her generation, Rose Coghlan had a gift for making a woman's life appear richer and more meaningful than scripts indicated. She specialized in women-centered plays: Arthur Wing Pinero's "The Second Mrs. Tanqueray," Charles Reade's "Peg Woffington," and Oscar Wilde's "A Woman of no Importance." English by birth, she first appeared on American stages in a touring production with the elder Sothern of "Our American Cousin" and "Brother Sam." In 1878 Lester Wallack enticed her with a contract to become the leading lady of his company at the 13th Street Theatre in Manhattan. She reigned there for eight years, performed a brief star tour of the United States in 1886, then returned for the final run of Wallack's organization. She appeared in most of the major hits of that famous company--"The Silver King," "Caste," "London Assurance," "Diplomacy" and "A Scrap of Paper" sometimes playing support to Maud Granger, sometimes playing the lead. Her comic turns in "Mlle Fi-Fi" and "The Duke of Killikrankie" were viewed as definitive examples of comic stage technique. She won raves for her work in "The White Heather," "Jack Straw" and "Ulysses" as well. After the dispersal of Wallack's company she toured as a star for a decade. Blessed with a approachable kind of beauty, extraordinary taste in costume, and a rich throaty voice, she could play a villainess as well as a society beauty or a country wife--until her expanding girth in the decade after the turn of the century caused managers to retain her only in comic roles. In 1912 her performance of "As you Like It" was filmed by Vitagraph. But her most notable screen performance was in Lubin's film, "The Sporting Duchess" in 1915. She would appear in supporting roles in a number of other films in 1916 and in 1922. Like most touring stars, her financial situation occasionally proved perilous. Her first bankruptcy occurred in 1897, but her name was sufficiently lustrous to revive and reassemble her troupes until 1904. After her film venture, she was relegated to marginal roles, and in 1922 reports of her poverty and solitude inspired a nationwide outpouring of support, the gift of a house, offers of work as a moving supporting actress, and enough cash contributions to enable her and her daughter to live their lives in retired comfort.