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Modjeska, Helena

MODJESKA, HELENA (1844-1909), Polish actress, was born at Cracow on the 12th of October 1844. Her father, Michael Opido. was a musician, and her tastes soon declared themselves strongly in favour of a dramatic career; but it was not until after her marriage in 1861 that she first attempted to act, and then it was with a company of strolling players. Her husband (whose name, Modrzejewski, she simplified for stage purposes) died in 1865. In 1868 she married Count Bozenta Chlapowski, a Polish politician and critic, and almost immediately afterwards received an invitation to act at Warsaw. There she remained for seven or eight years, and won a high position in her art. Her chief tragic r61es were Ophelia, Juliet, Desdemona, Queen Anne in Richard III., Louisa Miller, Maria Stuart, Schiller's Princess Eboli, Marion Delorme, Victor Hugo's Tisbe and Slowacki's Mazeppa. In comedy her favourite r61es were Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing, and Donna Diana in the Polish translation of an old Spanish play of that name. Madame Modjeska was also the Polish interpretress of the most prominent plays of Legouvfi, Dumas, father and son, Augier, Alfred de Musset, Octave Feuillet and Sardou. In 1876 she went with her husband to California, where they settled on a ranch. This new career, however, proved a failure, and Madame Modjeska returned to the stage. She appeared in San Francisco in 1877, in an English version of Adrienne Lecouvreur, and, in spite of her imperfect command of the language, achieved a remarkable success. She continued to act principally in America, but was also seen from time to time in London and elsewhere in the United Kingdom, her repertory including several Shakespearian r61es and a variety of emotional parts in modern drama. She died on the gth of April 1909 at her home near Los Angeles, California.

See Mabel Collins, The Story of Helena Modjeska (London, 1 883) , and the (autobiographical) Memories and Impressions (New York, 1910).

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

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