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Helena Modjeska
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Actress
    (October 12, 1840-April 8, 1909)
    Born in Krakow, Poland
    Birth name was Jadwiga Benda
    Stage actress who specialized in Shakespearean and dramatic roles
    Notable roles include Ophelia in 'Hamlet,' Lady Macbeth in 'Macbeth,' Juliet in 'Romeo and Juliet,' 'Desdemona in 'Othello,' Beatrice in 'Much Ado About Nothing,' Queen Anne in 'Richard III,' Nora in Ibsen's 'A Doll House,' Marguerite Gautier in Dumas' 'Camille' and Mary, Queen of Scots, in Schiller's 'Maria Stuart'
    Became a US citizen (1883)
    Godmother of Ethel Barrymore
    Her first marriage, to a Polish actor, was not legal because he was still married to another woman.
    From him, she adopted her initial stage name, 'Modrzejewska'; later,she took pity on her new English-speaking audiences and shortened her name to the comparatively simple 'Modjeska.'
    Her second husband called himself Count Bozenta, but was not really a count.
    She, her second husband, and several other Poles immigrated to the US to establish a utopian farming commune (1876) that soon failed, partly because of a drought but mostly because the settlers were intellectuals who had no experience as farmers.
    After the failure of the commune, she took a crash course in English and mastered the language well enough to relaunch her stage career in America after only six months.
    Edwin Booth said, 'She is a genius. I learn something new from her every day.'
    She was the manager of her acting company, and did everything from selecting and training the supporting cast to helping design the costumes.
    Only a few weeks before her death, she appeared in a benefit organized by William Randolph Hearst for Sicilian earthquake victims.
    A biographer noted that hers was 'the first really big celebrity funeral that Los Angeles had ever had.'

Credit: C. Fishel


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