WHAT MORMON-BORN, WIDELY-ASSUMED LESBIAN WAS THE MOST LOVED AND RICHEST PERFORMER IN AMERICA IN THE EARLY NINETEEN HUNDREDS?

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Being a student of theatre at BYU, where I received my M.A., I was, of course, very much aware of the name Maude Adams. I knew that her Mormon mother performed on the stage of the famous Salt Lake Theatre in Brigham Young’s stock company. I knew that Maude left Utah and her Mormon roots and became successful in the East. I knew that she originated the role of Peter Pan, which was written specifically for her by her friend James M. Barrie.

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But I had no idea that, according to Wikipedia, she became “the most successful and highest-paid performer of her day, with a yearly income of more than one million dollars during her peak.” And I certainly did not know that she is widely believed to have been a woman who loved women and that she shares a tombstone with her companion of 40 years.  Until, that is, I received the email below from a man who wanted to share her story and that of the long-lost painting of her as Peter Pan that is owned by him and his wife, both Philadelphia Quakers.

 

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I have loved scouring the Internet to find out more about this remarkable woman. The gender bending delight of a highly closeted lesbian being the first to play the now iconic role of the boy who flew makes me smile. And, though she might not call herself a “Mormon lesbian,” I am thrilled to invite Maude Adams to take her place in the Tribe of her birth. And I believe she herself would be thrilled to know that now, so many years later, other women who love women can now do so openly and need not burn all the letters to and from their love before their death as she did.

Flickr_-_…trialsanderrors_-_Miss_Maude_Adams,_performing_arts_poster,_1899tumblr_lbqoa55Sal1qzn0deo1_500as Juliet in 189976011-004-ED54A700

 

See a great visual tribute to her at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HhN6-ptr2D8

See Wikipedia on her at ” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maude_Adams

A colorful biography, written by a Mormon woman in 1907, can be found at http://www.ldsfilm.com/actors/MaudeAdamsBio.html

Info on her shared gravestone is at

http://broadwayworld.com/article/Maude-Adams-The-First-Peter-Pan-20111213-page2

Here is the email sent to me (with permission to share it) by Todd Kimmell. Please follow the links he gives to fascinating information about this woman who said, “If I have smashed the traditions, it was because I knew no traditions.”

Dear Carol Lynn

We own a painting of Maude Adams introducing the role of Peter Pan on stage at the Empire Theatre in New York at the beginning of the 20th century. The story behind the painting, who created it and why, how we came to own it, all our comical nightmares with it some years back, all of that is a great story. Woven throughout are all the characters that made up the absolute cream of the world of art and theater and popular culture during the peak of The Gilded Age. There is still much mystery surrounding the painting, wild yet grounded theories concerning those mysteries, all in the name of great story telling and yarn spinning. Maude Adams was America’s most famous, most beloved lesbian for 25 years. She was, bar none, the most beloved woman in America during that period, and by far the wealthiest actress America had ever known up until that time and for many years after. She was, because of the times, not just deep in the closet, but created her own world of iron clad reclusion, crafting impenetrable walls to live within.

She was also a Mormon, so unbelievably famous in her time that her original crib was on display in the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City for many years as a tourist attraction. It would be interesting to find out where it is now, how it is displayed and what descriptions are attached. The story includes John Drew, scion of the whole Barrymore family. Homer and Augustus Saint-Gaudens, George de Forest Brush, John White Alexander and the whole Cornish Colony. J. M. Barrie and Peter Pan, the first Golden Age of Broadway, Charles and Daniel Frohman, the Lusitania, and more.

The painting we own is likely the only truly important relic of the original Peter Pan / J. M. Barrie era still in private hands, here in our crazy 1890s home along Philadelphia’s Main Line. Here is a link to a website about the painting. https://sites.google.com/a/thegrandreview.com/peterpanpainting/

A work in progress, some of the sidebar links are full of info, some are yet to be filled. Time and the realities of getting kids to school and running an historic arts business, etc, keep pushing back its completion and delaying further research trips to the NYPL Theater Collection at Lincoln Center and the Frohman papers in the archives at the Museum of the City of New York, but there is plenty enough therein to get a solid sense of it all.

We are now considering the best home for the painting. There are those within the LDS community who would love to see it in Salt Lake City, and I would imagine there are those who are still trapped by the walls of the past and would deny her place in history and what it means to so many people today.

All the best, Todd B. Kimmell

THE GRAND REVIEW
todd@thegrandreview.com

https://sites.google.com/a/thegrandreview.com/peterpanpainting/

[Be sure to click on the link on that page to “Maude Adams” for great photos and a bit of Mormon Theatre information. https://sites.google.com/a/thegrandreview.com/peterpanpainting/maude-adams]

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THANKS, TODD!

4 comments for “WHAT MORMON-BORN, WIDELY-ASSUMED LESBIAN WAS THE MOST LOVED AND RICHEST PERFORMER IN AMERICA IN THE EARLY NINETEEN HUNDREDS?

  1. Daniel Parkinson
    June 2, 2013 at 4:33 pm

    The owner of the painting Todd B. Kimmell has added the following response:

    Dear Carol Lynn

    Thank you for including our research so far and our painting in your enthusiastic article. I hope it stirs up a little light to help us solve some of the mysteries surrounding the origins of this great portrait of an inexplicably obscure superstar, and helps bolster those fighting the good fight among the LGBT community within the LDS.

    It was Maude Adams’ unique place in American history and Mormon history that compelled me to share this story with you all, figuring it was and is a very hand in glove match.

    We have finally moved my art studios into our delightful 1890s carriage house here in the Overbrook Farms neighborhood of Philadelphia, and I have some time in my crazy schedule to return to the website devoted to the mystery of the Maude Adams painting and breath some fresh life into it. There is a great deal of information and a great many images waiting to be loaded up into it. Any of your readers who would like to know more about how we approach and rethink historic imagery, the falling in love, the vision and the work to bring them to new life and make them available to the public are invited to visit our Facebook page… https://www.facebook.com/TheGrandReview

    Thanks!

    Todd

  2. steph
    June 2, 2013 at 10:54 pm

    This was so exciting to read!!! Thank you so much for sharing this.

    • val
      June 28, 2013 at 7:43 pm

      is this the steph that is my niece???

  3. Steve Western
    June 3, 2013 at 12:18 pm

    Two of my favorite actors in the 40’s-50’s, area where so many memorable films were produced was Patsy Kelly and good ole Ma Kettle, Marjorie Main. They gave me so much joy, and now that I have thousands of films from that era, I get to share these two very talented ladies with friends, my kids and maybe some grand kids. It’s sad that one can be a wonderful and talented comedienne, but a “lesbian” actor and comedienne in today’s world. A great story on Maude Adams. I can only wonder how much greater a person would need to be to be, in order to get beyond being slotted as a Gay or Lesbian actor and dismissed.

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