Noted actress performed with local children

EDITOR’S NOTE: The following is another article on Findlay area history adapted from a series written from 1959 to 1974 by the late R.L. Heminger, publisher and editor of The Courier.

 

There are those within the local community who have good reason to remember and recall the visit which Minnie Maddern Fiske, the famous actress of some years ago, made to Findlay not so long after the turn of the century seven decades ago.

The reason is that they appeared on the stage of the old Marvin Theater with her on the night she was here to star in “Leah Kleschna” at the local playhouse. They were members of the children’s choir of the Trinity Episcopal Church in Findlay and their services were needed to provide a musical background for one portion of the drama. Apparently in every city Mrs. Fiske appeared, such an arrangement was made with a local church or school.

Miss Charlotte Fields, who was director of music in the Findlay public schools at the time, was the director of the Episcopal Church youth choir and had charge of the children’s appearance at the theater. Miss Fields was the first music director to serve the local schools and is well remembered by all pupils of those early days in attendance at Findlay schools.

The children were given 50 cents each for their “work” and allowed to sit in the theater’s gallery to see the rest of the play.

Mrs. Fiske was one of the greatest of American actresses and her appearance here made stage history, locally. She was one of a number of theatrical luminaries to tread the boards of the Marvin Theater, which opened in the mid 1890s and continued as a local playhouse into the late 1920s when it burned down in a spectacular night fire.

When Mrs. Fiske was here in “Leah Kleschna” not long after the century’s turn in the early 1900s, it was her second visit to Findlay in her brilliant career on the stage. She had come to Findlay 20 years earlier to appear at the old Davis Opera House in a play named “Caprice.” But she was not so well known nor so famous then.

The Davis Opera House was located on South Main Street on the west side between West Front Street and the first alley to the south. It was Findlay’s first playhouse and was opened on Thanksgiving night, November 1876. It was built by William L. Davis, John W. Davis and Martin L. Detwiler. The Davis continued to serve the local community until early in the 1900s, when the competition with the Marvin, then only a few years old, forced it to close. The theater section was transformed into apartments.

Mrs. Fiske came to Findlay in the midst of a theatrical “war” in the United States. She had opened an independent theater, “The Manhattan” in New York, in opposition to the theatrical trust, and this resulted in a number of theaters across the country being closed to her. She had difficulty in getting bookings in some cities including Toledo. The Marvin was able to book her under these circumstances. She also was able to get a booking in nearby Piqua, since Dayton was closed to her. She had also appeared in Piqua when playing in “Caprice” two decades before.

With Mrs. Fiske here was a cast of supporting actors and actresses, many of whom were to later become famous in their own right. One of them was George Arliss, the British actor, who was to become a famous movie performer of first magnitude, starring in many well known cinema attractions later on. In Mrs. Fiske’s play here, he portrayed the role of a wastrel. He performed many times with Mrs. Fiske in her many stage appearances.

Mrs. Fiske was born in 1865 in New Orleans. She made her first stage appearance at 3 and was a star by the time she was 15. She married Harrison Grey Fiske, a theatrical figure and author. He became her manager and also handled the Manhattan Theater in New York, where Mrs. Fiske appeared often.

During her career, Mrs. Fiske appeared in many productions including a number of characterizations of Ibsen’s heroines, various Shakespearean roles and a dramatization of Thackery’s “Becky Sharp,” which was one of her greatest successes.

She was an author herself and collaborated with her husband in writing several plays, including the one in which she appeared in Findlay.

Mrs. Fiske died in 1932.

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