Julia Marlowe – Shakespearean Actress


By Bob Boldman - Contributing Columnist



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Julia Marlowe was an English-born American actress known for her performances in plays of William Shakespeare.

Born Sarah Frances Frost near Keswick, Cumberland, England on August 17, 1865, to John Frost and Sarah (Strong) Hodgson, she, at the age of 4, and her family migrated to the U.S. Her father, an enthusiastic fan of local sports, “made off to America in 1870 under the mistaken impression that he had damaged a fellow citizens’ eye by flipping a whip at him during a race.” He changed his name to Brough and after first settling in Kansas – he moved his family east to Portsmouth, Ohio. The childhood home of actress Julia Marlowe, can still be seen at 425 Front Street.

Marlowe lived there for about three years around 1872 before moving to Cincinnati where she made her stage debut at age 11. The building was acquired several years ago and restored by Thomas Russell Glass Company. As a young girl, – Julia lived on the upper floor’(s) – over the now Russell Company’s business. Julia Marlowe is commemorated with a panel on the Dafford floodwall murals.

“Marlowe, known as “Fanny” in her early teens began her career in the chorus of a juvenile opera company. While touring with the company for nearly a year performing Gilbert and Sullivan’s H.M.S. Pinafore, under the direction of Colonel Robert E. J. Miles (manager of the Cincinnati Opera House.) She later played in W. S. Gilbert’s Pygmalion and Galatea.”

“Her training and initial success was due primarily to Miles’s sister-in-law Ada Dow. Still in Cincinnati, “Fanny” played her first Shakespearean roles as Balthazar in Romeo and Juliet and as Maria in Twelfth Night she was billed as Fanny Brough. She then went to New York, for voice training and she changed her name to Julia Marlowe. On 20 Oct 1887, her mother hired the Bijou for a matinee of Ingomar, in which Marlowe received acclaim which served as a stepping stone to Broadway.”

“In early 1891, Marlowe came down with a severe case of typhoid fever while on tour in Philadelphia. The owner of the Philadelphia Times newspaper and his wife took Julia in and oversaw her return to health. By 1895 she established herself as the leading American actress of Shakespeare in her day alongside actor E. H. Sothern. She made her Broadway debut in 1895 and went on to appear in more than seventy Broadway productions.”

“Her first husband was Broadway actor Robert Taber. Their marriage from 1894–1900 produced no children. Marlowe sacrificed her own self-interests many times in order to promote Taber’s career. In 1904, she began an extremely successful partnership with actor E. H. Sothern, beginning with their appearances in the title roles in Romeo and Juliet, Beatrice and Benedick in Much Ado About Nothing, and the leads in Hamlet. Marlowe and Sothern dissolved their company and formed separate companies for a time. She played in J. B. Fagan’s Gloria, in Romeo and Juliet and in As You Like It. In 1908, she played Yvette in Mary Johnston’s verse play The Goddess of Reason.”

“At the end of 1909, Sothern and Marlowe reunited in Antony and Cleopatra. In 1910 they toured in Macbeth, receiving enthusiastic notices and bringing the production to New York where it was a hit. Marlowe and Sothern married in 1911. Marlowe and Sothern made eleven phonograph recordings for the Victor Company in 1920 and 1921. These recordings are presumably the only recorded evidence of Marlowe’s voice today. After more touring with Sothern in Shakespeare, the two brought their production of The Merchant of Venice to New York in 1921.”

“Soon afterwards, Marlowe’s health was failing, and she retired in 1924. After Sothern’s death in 1933, Marlowe became somewhat of a recluse. White haired and still beautiful she’d occasionally visit close friends. Her health failed seriously in 1947; she died at the Plaza three years later, at 84, following a series of strokes. Her ashes were buried beside those of her husband, in Brompton Cemetery, London.” Julia Marlowe died in 1950 in New York City at the age of 84. She had no children.”

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By Bob Boldman

Contributing Columnist

Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: g.boldman5@gmail.com

Bob Boldman is a local historian. He can be reached by email: g.boldman5@gmail.com