theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…
This an original book-plate of the actress Dorothea Baird [1875-1933] from 1899, which I bought from collectors Vintage Views.
Miss Baird first appeared on stage in 1894 for the Oxford University Dramatic Society or OUDS as Iris in The Tempest. She performed in several Shakespeare productions in the following years, often with her husband, H. B. Irving, Sir Henry’s son. She also originated the part of Mrs Darling in Peter Pan at the Duke of York’s in 1904. It was a short but notable career, ending in 1913 when she retired and concentrated on charitable causes.
The text below is what is printed on the reverse of the book-plate and is an effusive, to say the least, appraisal of Miss Baird and her trumpeted performance in the title role of George du Maurier’s Trilby, produced at the Haymarket Theatre in 1895.
‘MISS DOROTHEA BAIRD made her first appearance on the stage in 1894, when she played Iris in “The Tempest,” and Galatea in “Pygmalion and Galatea,” at the performances of the Oxford University Dramatic Society. After that, Miss Baird went a-touring with Mr. Ben Greet’s company—whence we have derived so many stage recruits—and in her time played many parts. But to Londoners, Miss Dorothea Baird is Trilby; Trilby, in spite of her appearance as the heroine of Mr. Louis Parker’s play, “The Happy Life,” at the Duke of York’s Theatre; in spite of her Phoebe in “As You Like It,” at the St. James’s; in spite of her charming Diane in “A Court Scandal,” at the Court Theatre. And, whatever may be the success in store for her, it is probable that it is of her Trilby we shall tell our grandchildren when we inform them in the usual way that acting was acting in our young days.’
To an “interviewer,” Miss Baird told of the lucky chance which led to her engagement for the part of the heroine of Mr. Du Maurier’s play, produced at the Haymarket Theatre in 1895—the play which had already become the rage in America. “They published a picture of me as Rosalind in The Sketch,” she said, “and Mr. Du Maurier saw it, and said that I was what he wanted for ‘Trilby.’ I happened to be staying with my sister in town, and I remember I had just had influenza, and was lying on the sofa when Mr. Du Maurier and Mr. Tree called. I didn’t know Mr. Tree, and hadn’t an idea what they had come about.” Of her appearance at the Haymarket as Trilby, the present writer said in print the next morning:-
“Trilby has come, and seen, and conquered. Miss Dorothea Baird has all at once arrived unto her kingdom. Cheers and shouts of welcome at the outset greeted the young actress, cheers and shouts of gratification at the end told her that she had accomplished her task. And what a task! To bring to each of us his conception of Trilby—the strange, ethereal, eerie Trilby that Du Maurier drew, the gossamer Trilby of the studio, La Svengali of the opera house. Each of us went to the Haymarket last night with his own ideal—the Trilby of his our imagination, of his own temperament. Du Maurier had drawn for us his Trilby, but each reader of his work had filled in outlines of his own—had given her the attributes and the charm which were to him the requisites of his ideal of a woman he would love. To present to the hundreds of the audience last night—each with his own intangible ideal in his mind—a Trilby who should bring to life this Galatea of our thoughts, carved by the chisel of our imagination, to present to each of us a Trilby who should not offend the half-unconscious standard we had set up of that Trilby should be, to show us this wonderful Trilby so that she should not jar against the preconceived picture that Du Maurier had painted—but to which we had added the finishing touches—to fa1l short in none of the many perfections with which each one of us had clothed her according to his fancy-that was the task this young actress, Dorothea Baird, had to carry out in making her appearance in the first comedy theatre of the English-speaking world. In justice to Miss Baird we must recognise the magnitude of her undertaking. . . . Her Trilby was joyous, it seemed to us, as her creator meant her to be joyous; she was sad as he pictured her sadness; she showed us the love as Du Maurier meant it to be shown. . . . Her adoration of Little Billee, her self-abasement when she learns that her mode of life is abhorrent to him, her sacrifice to his mother when she relinquishes this passion that is her very soul, her gay abandon when all seems bright, her gentle grief when the clouds gather, the softened gladness of the reunion—all were expressed with a truth, an artlessness so close akin to nature that it might have been Trilby herself whose life was being lived before us. . . . According to the outward manifestations of last night, Miss Dorothea Baird proved herself to have bounded at once the realms of high art. But the circumstances were unique; it is yet too soon finally to judge.”
From the above will be learned the impressions of the moment of a remarkable “first night.”‘
Sarah Vernon © 31-07-15
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