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Fechter, Charles Albert

FECHTER, CHARLES ALBERT (1824-1879), Anglo-French actor, was born, probably in London, on the 23rd of October 1824, of French parents, although his mother was of Piedmontese and his father of German extraction. The boy would probably have devoted himself to a sculptor's life but for the accident of a striking success made in some private theatricals. The result was an engagement in 1841 to play in a travelling company that was going to Italy. The tour was a failure, and the company broke up; whereupon Fechter returned home and worked assiduously at sculpture. At the same time he attended classes at the Conservatoire with the view of gaining admission to the Comédie Française. Late in 1844 he won the grand medal of the Académie des Beaux-Arts with a piece of sculpture, and was admitted to make his debut at the Comédie Française as Seide in Voltaire's Mahomet and Valère in Molière's Tartuffe. He acquitted himself with credit; but, tired of the small parts he found himself condemned to play, returned again to his sculptor's studio in 1846. In that year he accepted an engagement to play with a French company in Berlin, where he made his first decisive success as an actor. On his return to Paris in the following year he married the actress Eléonore Rabut (d. 1895). Previously he had appeared for some months in London, in a season of French classical plays given at the St James's theatre. In Paris for the next ten years he fulfilled a series of successful engagements at various theatres, his chief triumph being his creation at the Vaudeville on the 2nd of February 1852 of the part of Armand Duval in La Dame aux camélias. For nearly two years (1857-1858) Fechter was manager of the Odéon, where he produced Tartuffe and other classical plays. Having received tempting offers to act in English at the Princess's theatre, London, he made a diligent study of the language, and appeared there on the 27th of October 1860 in an English version of Victor Hugo's Ruy Blas. This was followed by The Corsican Brothers and Don César de Bazan; and on the 20th of March 1861 he first attempted Hamlet. The result was an extraordinary triumph, the play running for 115 nights. This was followed by Othello, in which he played alternately the Moor and Iago. In 1863 he became lessee of the Lyceum theatre, which he opened with The Duke's Motto; this was followed by The King's Butterfly, The Mountebank (in which his son Paul, a boy of seven, appeared), The Roadside Inn, The Master of Ravenswood, The Corsican Brothers (in the original French version, in which he had created the parts of Louis and Fabian dei Franchi) and The Lady of Lyons. After this he appeared at the Adelphi (1868) as Obenreizer in No Thoroughfare, by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins, as Edmond Dantes in Monte Cristo, and as Count de Leyrac in Black and White, a play in which the actor himself collaborated with Wilkie Collins. In 1870 he visited the United States, where (with the exception of a visit to London in 1872) he remained till his death. His first appearance in New York was at Niblo's Garden in the title rôle of Ruy Blas. He played in the United States between 1870 and 1876 in most of the parts in which he had won his chief triumphs in England, making at various times attempts at management, rarely successful, owing to his ungovernable temper. The last three years of his life were spent in seclusion on a farm which he had bought at Rockland Centre, near Quakertown, Pennsylvania, where he died on the 5th of August 1879. A bust of the actor by himself is in the Garrick Club, London.

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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