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ally created a new school, a distinct type of ingénue — frosty, sagacious, piquant, dewy, with girlish pathos and fateful youth.” UNLUCKY IN LOVE While on tour in Albany in 1884, Russell married Eugene Wiley Presbrey, a successful playwright and stage manager. But her groom was physically abusive, and after six years of marriage, her health collapsed. “At the moment when fortune seemed smiling upon me, and when all that I had missed of youth and happiness in my childhood seemed about to be granted to my hungry heart, the storm clouds of physical and soul disaster broke over my girlish head,” she wrote. “My health was wrecked, my career cast asunder.” 74 LIVING IN WINTER PARK Three prominent theater companies staged a testimonial that raised $3,000 to help defray Russell’s medical expenses. By 1891, she had recovered sufficiently to leave Presbrey and sail for Italy. She would divorce him in 1897, and rarely spoke of the marriage again. However, the physical and emotional hardships helped her to define her acting style. “My ideals,” she explained, “were simplified, and I learned to know what I want — to be natural, and feelingly to express the truth, generally sad, of life.” Russell returned to the New York stage, drawing rave reviews. “She is the same insubstantial, delicate, exquisite Annie Russell,” wrote one critic. Another noted: “Miss Russell is half celestial. She looks out from somewhere beyond, and always there is in her presence a suggestion of a tread that scarcely touches earth.” In Sue, a successful Wild West romance, Russell played a young girl who marries a man she doesn’t love in a desperate attempt to escape her father’s brutality. Rueful and sad-eyed, she was clearly credible as a tragic heroine. Again, it was Leslie’s florid prose that most vividly described Russell’s ability to wring pathos from every line: “Miss Russell’s genius is as delicate, pliable and responsive as the sensitive strings of a harp. She is all force and emotion, all tears and fierceness, if called upon to reveal the intimations of misery; she is tender, timid, cool, innocent and arch if necessary.” Plaintive looks and fragile sighs were, without a doubt, Russell’s forte. Yet, when called upon to play comedy, she rose to the occasion. In The Mysterious Mr. Bugle, she was “a daring flirt, all delicious abandon and mischief, saucy dash and quick wit.” Russell’s ability to master a range of roles, and her visceral connection with audiences and critics, helped to make her one of the most sought after and highest-paid actresses of the Gilded Age. One of her signature roles was that of Puck in a 1906 production of Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Dressed in animal furs and flying across the stage, Russell “rose and floated about in the air with all the grace and ease of a veritable fairy elf in the woods,” wrote a critic. Although Russell loved playing Puck, her favorite role was as Viola in another Shakespeare production, Twelfth Night. In 1902, at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York, Russell discussed her craft with students, presaging her work at Rollins more than 25 years later. “Keep steadily at work with a high purpose; get at the soul of the thing you are interpreting; keep it well in mind while you are on the stage that you typify an individual; never drop character because you are not speaking lines nor immediately concerned in the action. Work, work, work! Creatively, if you can; intelligently, always. An actor is born, then made.” In 1904, while touring in England with Of Mice and Men, Russell married British actor Oswald Yorke. That marriage, too, was an unhappy one. Yorke proved to be a philanderer, although the couple didn’t divorce until 1929. Following another health-related hiatus, Russell returned to the stage in The Stronger Sex, which debuted in New York and then toured the country. But her mind was on creating her own production company. In 1910, she joined The New Theatre Company, which was financed by J. Pierpont Morgan and other wealthy New Yorkers to present plays “which might not be afforded if the field were left solely to be occupied by those who were compelled purely by commercial considerations,” according to Gov. Charles Evans Hughes, who spoke at the dedication ceremony for the company’s new auditorium. The New Theatre Company had alternating performing and producing units, so Russell was able to act and hone her production skills. In 1912, she organized the Olde English Comedy Company and served as its director as well as a featured performer. Her company, which occupied the intimate 299-seat Princess Theatre in New York, attracted a variety of patrons, but none more important in Russell’s life than Mary Louise Curtis, daughter of publishing magnate Cyrus H. K. Curtis, founder of Curtis Publishing Company. Russell and her students, treasured the informal discussion groups the actress would host in the theater’s green room. “I think of you in that ex quisite room of yours, looking up to greet me and putting out your hand the way you always did,” wrote one student. “Nobody ever used her hands the way you do!” PHOTO COURTESY OF THE ROLLINS COLLEGE DEPARTMENT OF ARCHIVES AND SPECIAL COLLECTIONS


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