February 15, 1932(1932-02-15) (aged 66) Hollis, Long Island, New York
Minnie Maddern Fiske
LeGrand White (m. 1882 - June 25, 1888) Harrison Grey Fiske (m. March 19, 1890 - 1932; her death)
Minnie Maddern Fiske (December 19, 1865 - February 15, 1932), born as Marie Augusta Davey with some sources quoting December 19 1864 as her date of birth, 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'sBecky 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 puppetsWake 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.
Her love for performing Ibsen over Shakespeare, and her posture that Ibsen is the better study for actors, can not be overstated. She told The New York Times in January 1908:
"Ibsen is of interest to the actor because properly to understand a role you must study the character from its earliest childhood. Most Ibsen men and women have lived their lives before the curtain rises. Shakespeare has often been pronounced tedious by actors because his characters require a great deal of study. But even Shakespeare seems easy when compared with the thought that must be bestowed upon Ibsen. The beautiful verse, the wonderful character drawing of Shakespeare furnish solutions of perplexing problems, but Ibsen is so elusive. He fascinates by his aloofness. He is the Wagner of the drama. Wagner struggled for understanding just as Ibsen has struggled."
Fiske was also one of the most prominent animal welfare advocates of her era. Mark Twain wrote the story "A Horse's Tale" for her.
She died from congestive heart failure, at the age of 66, in Queens, New York. She and Harrison had no children. Around 1915 the couple did adopt an infant boy who would've been a teen at Mrs. Fiske's death in 1932. The actress Emily Stevens (1882–1928) was her cousin, as was Elizabeth Maddern, the first wife of author Jack London; she was also related to stage actress Merle Maddern (1887-1984). Robert Stevens, for 23 years the Director of the Rochester Community Players, and brother to Emily Stevens, was also a cousin.
In 1961, her papers (23,000 items, weighing in at 1,400 pounds) were donated to the United States Library of Congress.