Eva Le Gallienne – Off-Broadway Icon

Day 249 of Colourisation Project – January 11

Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.

Born this day, January 11, 1899, Eva Le Gallienne, was awestruck as a young girl, when she was taken backstage to meet superstar actress, Sarah Bernhardt. The experience was to have a profound influence on the course of her own life.

Le Gallienne went on to become one of the grand dames of the American stage, and her pioneering work in the theatre helped shape American theatre in the 20th century.

Eva Le Galliene

Photographer: Edward Steichen – Eva Le Galliene  c 1923 – Coloured by Loredana Crupi

The daughter of Richard Le Gallienne, a then-famous poet and journalist and Julie Norregard, a Danish journalist, she was the consummate thespian; an actress, producer, director, translator, writer and teacher.

Backed by the financial support of one of her lovers, Alice DeLamar, a wealthy Colorado gold mine heiress, Le Gallienne established a nonprofit theater group known as the Civic Repertory Theatre in New York, which later became a major force and model for the thriving off-Broadway. DeLamar’s support was instrumental in the success of the repertory theatre movement in the U.S. and for Le Gallienne, the theatre was her life.

She wrote in a 1927 playbill,

“The theatre is important only in proportion to the need it fills in the lives of the people. It should be a source of mental and spiritual stimulation to the community….The theater should be an instrument for giving not a machinery for getting.”

Between 1926 and 1934 she produced 37 plays, directed all but two of them and acted in nearly all of them. She had made her mark and in 1929 Le Gallienne was on the cover of TIME.

Though she is best remembered as an actress, her contribution to the American theater as a translator was enormous.  She translated Chekov’s plays and for many years was the premier translator of Ibsen’s plays. Many of her translations became the English language standard translations and it was through her Civic Repertory that she was able to introduce American audiences to Chekhov and Ibsen. The company’s major productions included revivals of Chekhov’s Three Sisters (1926) and Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (1928).

She also translated some of Hans Christian Andersen’s most popular stories, wrote two autobiographies, several children’s books and a biography on theater great, Eleonora Duse.

Though Le Gallienne, defied convention by not hiding her sexuality, she was part of the sewing circles, a phrase coined by one of her lovers, the leading actress, Alla Nazimova to describe the intricate and secret lesbian relationships lived by many actresses of the day.

She was also involved with actress, Tallulah Bankhead and along with actresses, Estelle Winwood and Blyth Daly were dubbed “The Four Horsemen of the Algonquin”, referring to the Algonquin Round Table. She also had a five year relationship with poet and playwright, Mercedes de Acosta, who later took up with Greta Garbo.

Later in life Le Gallienne appeared in a few films and television productions. She earned an Oscar nomination for her work in Resurrection, and an Emmy Award for a TV production of The Royal Family after having starred in a Broadway theatre revival of that play in 1976.

Other awards include a Pulitzer Prize for her production of Alison’s House by Susan Glaspell and the Norwegian Grand Cross for her furthering the presentation of plays by Ibsen. In 1964, Le Gallienne was presented with a special Tony Award in recognition of her 50th year as an actress and in honour of her work with the National Repertory Theatre. In 1986 she was awarded the American National Medal of the Arts by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C.

Le Gallienne died of heart failure at her home in Connecticut. She was 92 years old.

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“People who are born even-tempered, placid and untroubled-secure from violent passions or temptations to evil-those who have never needed to struggle all night with the angel to emerge lame but victorious at dawn, never become great saints.”    – Eva Le Gallienne 

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