Theatrical Ancestors


I grew up hearing that my maternal grandmother was a cousin of the famous Edwardian actress Constance Collier.  Naturally, I had my doubts ... long before I knew precisely who Miss Collier was.  It seemed too improbable that our family might actually have famous persons nesting in its branches!  But the family stories are true.  My maternal great grandfather (a Royal Marine) was first cousin to the larger-than-life thespian.

Constance Collier

Constance Collier's career is sufficiently documented elsewhere.  Her first appearance on the stage was at the age of three, when she played the Fairy Peasblossom in "A Midsummer's Night's Dream".  In 1901 she was engaged by Beerbohm Tree and appeared at His Majesty's Theatre for nearly six years, playing the female lead in a number of productions.  She was married in 1905 to actor Julian BOYLE (whose stage name was Julian L'Estrange); he died in 1918.  In 1908 Miss Collier made her debut on the American stage--at the Garrick Theatre in New York.  Her film career commenced in 1915, and she also produced several plays and was dramatic coach to actresses such as Katharine Hepburn, Gene Tierney, Jennifer Jones, and Marilyn Monroe.

 Miss Collier (1878-1955) was born Laura Constance HARDIE, the only child of Eliza Georgina COLLIER (1854-1914) and Auguste Cheetham HARDIE (1853-1939).  While Eliza came from a long line of theatrical types, Cheet broke away from his wealthy merchant family to 'tread the boards'.  He was billed as A.C. Hardie in the 1870s-90s, before alcohol impaired whatever talent he possessed.  According to J.P. Wearing's The London Stage 1890-1899, he appeared in just three plays in those nine years (his wife acted in just two).  However, I learned of a program for The Whip, performed in 1909-10 at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane - and A. C. Hardie is on the stage!

A.C. Hardie
Archibald Hardie

Auguste's older brother Archibald Alfred HARDIE (1848-1920) also took up acting for a while but I've yet to research his brief career.

When he married in 1883, he described himself as a 'gentleman' so it's likely he had given up the stage by then.  Or was he simply out of work?

I was astonished to learn that my paternal grandmother's family was also involved in the theatre.

Her beloved mother Nell TAYLOR (Mrs Frederick POPE) had performed, in her youth, with the Carl Rosa Opera.  And my father's twin cousins, Joan and Peggy EVERSHED, danced with a London troupe called Terry's Juveniles.  Their joint, pre-WWII career included Christmas pantomimes as well as summer shows on Blackpool's North Pier.  A third member of my father's family, Philip Alexander WILLIAMSON (1922-1989, s. Mary HAMLYN and Alexander WILLIAMSON), began studying dance at an early age and was enrolled at The Italia Conti Academy of Theatre Arts.  During his pre-WWII career, he used the stage name Sandy Williamson.

A visit to the Theatre Museum in London turned up a file on the Carl Rosa Opera, with a photocopy of a handwritten history and numerous clippings.  There were mentions of individual performers but no cast lists of any productions.  Should anyone have information on the Carl Rosa Opera, or on Terry's Juveniles, I would be interested in hearing it.

Nell Taylor
Nell Taylor

The two photographs above of Nell Taylor (did she have a stage name?) are undated.  They were probably taken before the summer of 1895, when Nell married.  I've no clue as to the roles she is, presumably, dressed for.  Any assistance would be appreciated. 

There are an increasing number of Internet sites related to the theatre and its history.  A few of my favourites are:

 

It's an unusual family that hath neither a lady of the evening or thief

Please contact the site owner with comments or questions:

Lesley Gent, Ontario, Canada
email: 
lmgmay1955@gmail.com     

Copyright ©2000, Lesley Gent

Page last modified -- Saturday, 30 June 2012

 

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