Mary Anderson

Born: July 28, 1859

Died: May 29, 1940

Born in Sacramento, California, on July 28, 1859, Mary Anderson moved to Louisville, Kentucky as an infant. ("Four" 1887)

Mary Anderson began her stage career at the age of sixteen in Louisville. On Thursday, November 25, 1875, Mary and her stepfather visited Barney Macauley, the stage manager of Macauley's Theatre and received an unexpected offer. Macauley proposed that Mary perform in two days' time. Macauley would provide the theatre, actors, costumes and music and Mary would perform for free. She accepted the offer and performed her stage debut as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet. (Anderson 1896, p50) Her performance was met with accolades and Mary Anderson began acting in earnest. Her career took her to stages across the country from New York to San Francisco and then to Europe.

Mary Anderson published her autobiography titled A Few Memories in 1895. In it she described preparing for that first performance:

How dismal [the theatre] was with the noisy patter of the rain on its tin roof, a small gas-jet burning in the centre, throwing a dingy light on the men and women (they did not relish the extra rehearsal) gloomily standing in the wings! Could they be the brilliant, sparkling courtiers I had seen but a few nights before blazing in jewels and wreathed in smiles? On seeing me, all looked surprised. Some made remarks in whispers, which I felt to be unkind; others laughed audibly. Scarcely sixteen, my hair in a long braid, my frock reaching to my boot-tops, tall, shy, and awkward, I may have given them cause for merriment; but it was as cruel, I thought, as underbred, to make no effort to conceal their mirth at my expense. However, their rudeness was salutary in its effect, putting me on my mettle before the work began...

There had been so many humiliations, such cold, cruel treatment from nearly all the actors, that I dreaded the coming of Saturday when I should have to encounter their sneering faces again. Still, it did come, and my mother and I found ourselves walking to the theatre in the crisp air of a starry winter night. After the sad experience of the day before I was hardly hopeful enough to be nervous.

The borrowed robes were quickly donned. They fitted well, with the exception of the white satin train (the first I had ever worn), which threatened every moment to upset me. The art of make-up was unknown to me, and ornaments I had none. When Juliet was called to await her cue, what a transformation in the scene! The actors in velvets and brocades, were gay and excited, some of them even deigned to give me a condescending nod, while the gloomy stage of the day before was flooded with light, life, and animation. I became feverishly anxious to begin. It was hard to stand still while waiting for the word. At last it came: "What, ladybird! God forbid! where's this girl? what, Juliet!" And in a flash I was on the stage, conscious only of the wall of yellow light before me, and a burst of prolonged applause...

Flowers and recalls were the order of the evening. While things were so smiling before, they were less satisfactory behind the curtain. The artist who had acted in the play before my birth forgot his words, and I had to prompt him in two important scenes. In the last act the lamp that hangs above Juliet, as she lies in the tomb, fell, and burned my hands and dress badly, and, to make matters worse, Romeo forgot the dagger with which Juliet was to kill herself, and that unfortunate young person had, in desperation, to dispatch herself with a hair-pin. But in spite of much disillusion, a burned hand and arm, and several other accidents, the night was full of success, and I knew that my stage career had begun in earnest.(Anderson 1896, p54)

After her successful debut, Mary Anderson had her first regular engagement at the Macauley's Theatre. She later toured the United States and England. ("Rise" 1899) After her performances in New Orleans hundreds of her fans followed her carriage to the depot. ("Mary" 1940)

In 1888 she performed her last stage performance in the United States. At the end of A Winter's Tale, one line short of finishing the play, she collapsed. She retired from the stage soon after at the age of30.("Mary" 1940)


Anderson, Mary. A Few Memories. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1896.
"Four Noted Actresses." Courier - Journal January 23, 1887, 14.
"Macauley's Theatre." 1980_20_1372, Macauley's Theater Collection, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.
"Mary Anderson." 1979_27_0004, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky.
"Mary Anderson Theatre, 1933." CS 128840, Caufield & Shook Collection, Photographic Archives, University of Louisville, Louisville, Kentucky. August 24, 1933.
"Mary Anderson, Whose Stage Fame Began with 1875 Debut in Louisville, Dies in England." Courier - Journal, May 30, 1940.
"The Rise of Mary Anderson." Courier - Journal, September 3, 1899.