By Mark McConville
SCANDALS involving famous actors of the Victorian era have been revealed in a new book detailing the rise of celebrity culture.
Stunning pictures show portraits of some of the most well-known stage performers of that time, each with a story to tell.
William Terriss was stabbed to death by a deranged and disgruntled actor Richard Archer Prince outside the Adelphi Theatre on the Strand, in what was probably the only murder of an actor in Britain during the Victorian era.
Other images show Kate Rorke whose religion was the focus of newspaper gossip in the 1890s, William Horace Lingard in drag who was the subject of a bigamy case and Cornelie D’Anka who was the victim of a stalker in 1871 where she had a pistol pointed at her and a bullet delivered to her at a theatre.
The images and stories on each actor are showcased in a new book, Life on the Victorian Stage, by Dr Nell Darby and published by Pen and Sword.
“We can sometimes see our ancestors as living in an unrecognisable world to ours, being portrayed as dull and dusty, moralistic or prudish,” she said.
“Yet our theatrical ancestors were very much similar to us, with active love lives and worries about their finances.
“The Victorian era was very much the age of celebrity, and this book shows that actors and actresses had both fans and enemies.
“It highlights cases where actresses’ lives were put at risk by obsessive fans, the attempts to ruin individuals’ careers, and how the press became increasingly reliant on tales of gossip and intrigue from behind the theatre curtain.”
The book details the role of newspaper The Era in creating celebrities out of actors and ensuring their misdeeds were not ignored. The developments in transatlantic communications also played a part as tales of British actors’ behaviour in America or Australia would make it back to their home country.
Dr Darby recalled some of the more interesting tales including in the book.
“William Terriss’ murder is used as an example of how actors could be the focus of obsession by others, and how this obsession could turn into something more evil, when an individual felt rejected by the object of their obsession,” she said.
“The press and public reaction to Terriss’s shocking murder parallels with the extensive press coverage today when someone famous dies.
“Regarding bigamy cases, Edward Solomon’s was one of the most brazen. A popular theatrical composer, in his late teens had married a 15-year-old actress, Jane Isaacs.
“However, when he reached America, he married an American woman – not just any anonymous woman, though, but a famous actress herself – Lillian Russell.
“He was so confident that he gave interviews to the US press, and after rumours started that he had left a wife in England, he denied it in a rather splendidly confident way.
“The British press, however, publicised his relationship and marriage, and a bigamy case was brought against him in London.
“This collapsed due to a lack of American witnesses, and the situation wasn’t resolved until Lillian Russell finally asked for a divorce, several years later. By this time, Edward had moved on to another actress.”