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Fanny Lily Gypsy DAVENPORT

Davenport, Fanny (1850–1898)
American actress-manager, one of the most successful of the late-19th century. Born Fanny Lily Gypsy Davenport in London, England, on April 10, 1850; died in South Duxbury, Massachusetts, on September 26, 1898; eldest daughter and one of seven children of Edward L. (an actor) and Fanny Elizabeth (Vining) Gill Davenport (an English actress); attended Boston public schools; married Edwin H. Price (an actor and later her business manager), on July 30, 1879 (divorced 1888); married William Melbourne MacDowell, on May 19, 1889.

Fanny Davenport, the most popular and successful actress-manager of the late-19th century, was born in London in 1850. Brought to Boston as a child, she followed her famous parents into the theater there, often appearing with her father's company. She made her New York debut at age 11 as King Charles in Faint Heart Never Won Fair Lady, a play produced by her father and J.W. Wallack, Jr. Her first adult role came in Still Waters Run Deep (1865), another Davenport-Wallack production. She then joined a Louisville stock company, where among other roles she portrayed Carline in The Black Crook, a play considered by some theater scholars to be the first musical comedy. In 1869, while playing in Philadelphia's Arch Street Theater under the management of Louisa Lane Drew , she attracted the attention of Augustin Daly, who engaged her for the Fifth Avenue Theater. Davenport appeared there in leading roles from 1869 to 1877, enjoying particular success in W.S. Gilbert'sCharity (1874), which showcased her powerful dramatic ability. Daly then starred her in his own Pique (1876), a production which ran for 238 consecutive performances and secured her reputation as a fine actress.

Davenport acquired a keen business sense along the way and started her own touring company in 1877, becoming both actress and manager. She toured the principle theaters in cities across the United States, surrounding herself with superb supporting players while always retaining her star status. She undertook a wide range of roles, including Shakespeare's heroines as well as more contemporary women like Polly Eccles in Caste and Lady Gay Spanker in London Assurance. While in London in 1882, she purchased rights to Victorien Sardou's Fedora (at the time a great hit for Sarah Bernhardt in Paris). After premiering the play in New York in 1883, Davenport toured it with great success for four years. She later played in four additional Sardou plays: Tosca, Cleopatra, and Gismonda, all melodramas that lent themselves to her declamatory and somewhat uncontrolled style. Her final undertaking, a lavish production of A Soldier of France in 1897, was a failure, and Davenport lost the large investment she had made from her own funds. In March 1898, physically exhausted and broken in spirit, she retired to her vacation home in Duxbury, Massachusetts. She died there on September 26, 1898, at age 48, and was buried in Forest Hills Cemetery, Boston.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts

House of Fanny Davenport

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