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Eytinge, Rose (1838-1911)


Born in Philadelphia, PA in September 1835, Rose Eytinge made her first appearance as an amateur actress in Brooklyn at the age of seventeen (Wilson and Fiske 396). Her first professional appearance was as Melanie in "The Old Guard" in a dramatic stock company in Syracuse, NY under the management of Geary Hough. She soon became "the leading juvenile woman" in the company but quickly moved on to her second professional acting engagement as the leading lady at the Green Street Theatre in Albany, NY (Eytinge 8). While acting in Albany, Eytinge married her first husband, theater manager David Barnes (Wingate 173). In addition to her roles as leading lady, Eytinge also supported visiting actresses Charlotte Crampton and Ada Clare at the Green Street Theater (Eytinge 19). In her memoir, Eytinge describes the development of a rivalry and friendship with Clare when the other actress came to Albany. Warned by her fellow cast members that she "had better go at once and obtain a willow wreath to wear in place of the crown which [she] had just lost," Eytinge comments that she responded with "a saucy assumption of indifference" to Clare’s arrival (20). However, Eytinge also claims that later she gave Clare "my warmest admiration, my love and allegiance" (21).

After Eytinge’s marriage to Barnes ended, she moved to New York and made her first appearance on the stage there in 1862 at the Olympic Theatre, which was under the management of Laura Keene (Wilson and Fiske 396). Her friendship with Ada Clare, who had also moved to New York, continued and Eytinge frequented the Sunday evening parties Clare threw at her house on West 42nd Street. In her memoir, Eytinge describes how at these parties there "could be found a group of men and women, all of whom had distinguished themselves in various avenues,--in literature, art, music, drama, war, philanthropy. The women were beautiful and brilliant, the men clever and distinguished" (21). Eytinge notes that the visitors to Clare’s house included John Clancey, Stephen Fiske, William Winter and his wife Lizzie Campbell, Peter B. Sweeney, Mary Freeman Goldbeck, Fanny Brown, Walt Whitman, Henry Clapp, William Stuart, Ed H. House and others (Eytinge 21-2). She says of these gatherings:

This was Bohemia, and our fairy-like, beautiful young hostess was its queen. A veritable queen she was, receiving from her subjects their love and loyalty, which she won by her quiet sincere and unpretentious, unconscious dignity, and drawing from each member of her court, by her gracious presence, all that was best in them of brilliancy, kindliness, courtesy, and wit (22).

Rose Eytinge originally met Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth, while working in Albany, but it was later in New York that he offered her the part of Fiordilisa in "A Fool’s Revenge." She was impressed by "his gentleness, his sweet temper, his unvarying, simple kindliness" to her and felt great sympathy for his suffering after his brother assassinated President Abraham Lincoln (Eytinge 28). Eytinge eagerly accepted an offer by Edgar Davenport and John Wallack to join their acting company and tour the east coast from Maine to Washington, D.C. During an acclaimed stint at the Washington Theatre in Washington, D.C., Eytinge accompanied Davenport and Wallack to the White House and was commended by President Lincoln.

After touring with Davenport and Wallack’s company, Eytinge took the role as the leading lady at Wallack’s Theatre in New York from 1868-9. Here she became "the first leading woman in this country . . . on the English-speaking stage, who had ever commanded a three-figure salary" (Eytinge 40). Her roles as leading lady included Nancy Sykes, Lady Gay Spanker, Beatrice and others (Wilson and Fiske 396). Eytinge left the stage in 1869 to travel abroad with her second husband George H. Butler, the U.S. Consul-General to Egypt. While in Egypt, Eytinge prepared to play the role of Cleopatra upon her return to New York by purchasing fabrics for her costumes (Wingate 173). At the request of Lester Wallack and Augustin Daly, Eytinge resumed acting upon her return to New York, performing the "best dramatic work" of her stage career in parts such as Lady Macbeth, Cleopatra, Hermione, Rose Michel, Gabrielle Le Brun, Felicia, and Miss Multon (Eytinge 215). At the age of forty-two, Eytinge’s portrayal of Cleopatra at the Broadway Theatre was deemed "her finest impersonation" (Wingate 172). After her marriage to George H. Butler ended, Eytinge visited England in 1880 where she met her third husband, actor Cyril Searle. Upon her return to the United States in 1884, she embarked on a successful acting tour of the Western states, performing as the leading lady in California, Nevada and Utah theaters and accompanied by Searle. (Wilson and Fiske 396). Eytinge passed away at the age of seventy-six in Amityville, New York, where she had been living under the care of the Actor's Fund of America ("ROSE EYTINGE").