Cult of celebrity and Cumbria’s claim on the acting aristocracy
Last updated at 20:38, Thursday, 16 August 2012
Famous Cumbrians – or even infamous ones – have always been a source of fascination for local history fans.
It can get a trifle obsessional for those enthusiasts who are forever trying to “claim” various historical personalities for our county.
If the historical personages in question lived back in the distant past – in the Celtic twilight perhaps – it’s a pretty harmless obsession.
And it can even be good for tourism.
I can never understand why those charged with plugging our area haven’t done more of it.
Of course King Arthur was based in Carlisle.
Practically every other part of the country has, in some way or another, laid claim to him and other knights of the Round Table.
And then there’s St Patrick. Why couldn’t he have been born in Maryport?
Or perhaps it was from that town that he was snatched by the raiding Irish – his family villa being located not too far away. And why not? Just think what that could do for local tourism. Forget the academic and hobbyist angle – there’s money in local heritage and genealogy.
The popularity of such programmes as Who Do You Think You Are? is proof of that.
So when do Cumbrians stop being Cumbrians? I ask this because, over the years, Cumbria’s major export has been people – some to other parts of Britain and others to wherever in the world offered them a secure living. They might have been born in the county, but they achieved success – and reputation – elsewhere.
This is a problem which occurred to me when I came across the fact that Sarah Frances Frost, the internationally-renowned Shakespearean actress, was born in Caldbeck on August 17 1866. She was the daughter of John and Sarah Frost.
She was not to spend many years in Caldbeck as her father decided to take his family to America in 1870.
It seems that he was due in court after being involved in some unspecified unpleasantness at a race track.
That’s how Sarah Frances found herself in America at the age of four.
She was in a new country and with a change of name.
Her father had, according to some writers, changed the family name from Frost to Brough – reputedly his mother’s maiden name.
Precise details of the family’s early years in America are a bit vague. They must have moved around a bit as she was educated at schools in Cincinnati and Kansas City.
She was only 12, reportedly, when she first appeared on stage. She was then known as Fanny Brough. She appeared in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta – HMS Pinafore – playing the part of a young sailor. At the time juvenile companies often put on Gilbert and Sullivan productions.
But how did a young girl of 12, who had no theatrical experience, as far as we know, decide to tread the boards? She was then living with her mother and sister in New York, but this first stage appearance took place in Vincennes, Indiana.
Some writers have claimed that it was her pushy mother’s influence that caused her to go on the stage.
She paid her dues – appearing in bit parts in various touring productions.
No space here to go into much detail, but she ended up as probably the finest Shakespearean actress of her day, but you will search in vain for any mention of Fanny Brough playing these major roles. She changed her name once more – to Julia Marlowe – a much more appropriate name for a serious actress.
In 1904, she appeared in Hamlet with Edward Hugh Sothern, who was an established Shakespearean actor. They worked together over the following years, eventually getting married in 1911.
She retired from acting, due to ill health, in 1916 – officially. But she still appeared on special occasions, finally retiring as the result of an accident – either in 1924 or 1926. Reports of this mishap differ.
Edward Sothern died in 1933. Julia spent the rest of her life living in their apartment in the Hotel Plaza, New York. She was a wealthy woman. When she died in 1950, she left £273,000. In today’s money, using RPI, this would be over £7 million.
Her younger sister, by two years, also trod the boards. She was called Anna Brough, but reputedly used the name Marion Broughton as her stage name. I have very little information about her or her career, except that she married a man called Charles Lord and for many years was referred to, as was the custom of the day, as Mrs Charles Lord.
And this is where I make my usual plea for help. Any theatrical or film enthusiast know anything about Marion Broughton – America’s other Caldbeck born stage actress?
First published at 19:22, Thursday, 16 August 2012
Published by http://www.timesandstar.co.uk