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Lawrance D’Orsay, English actor

February 1, 2013

Lawrance D’Orsay (1853-1931)
English actor
(photo: unknown, circa 1900)

D’ORSAY, Lawrence [sic]:
‘Actor, was born in Peterborough, England. He comes of an old family of lawyers, and was himself educated for the law, but threw up Blackstone for the stage. After considerable experience in stock companies and the provinces with the usual ups and downs, Mr. D’Orsay eventually made a position for himself in London in “swell” parts principally of the military order, until of late years these special parts began to be designated by authors and managers as D’Orsay parts. In 1886 he played a sort of Dundreary character with Minnie Palmer in My Sweetheart at the Strand Theatre, London, and subsequently made his first visit to American with Miss Palmer under the management of John R. Rogers. Then followed a long series of engagements in the principal theatres in London with such well-known stars and managers as John Hare, Edward Terry, Thomas Thorne, George Edwardes, etc. During a three years’ engagement with George Edwardes at Daly’s Theatre, London, he created parts written for him in A Gaiety Girl, An Artist’s Model, and The Geisha. He came to America with An Artist’s Model. Mr. Charles Frohman brought Mr. D’Orsay to America again six years ago to support Annie Russell and to play the King in A Royal Family, and Mr. D’Orsay has stayed here ever since. After two seasons with A Royal Family Mr. Frohman cast him for a part in The Wilderness at the Empire Theatre, New York, and it was his performance in this play that influenced Augustus Thomas to write The Earl of Pawtucket for Mr. D’Orsay, the success of which made him a star. The production was made by the late Kirke La Shelle at the Madison Square Theatre and it ran just a year in New York. Augustus Thomas next wrote The Embassy Ball for Mr. D’Orsay, which Mr. Frohman accepted and produced. The winter of 1907 he co-starred with Cecilia Loftus in The Lancers. Mr. D’Orsay married Miss Marie Dagman, from whom he obtained a divorce. On August 18, 1907, he married Miss Susie Rushholme, an English actress, in England.’
(Who’s Who on the Stage, Walter Browne and E. De Roy Koch, editors, B.W. Dodge & Co, New York, 1908, p.136)

* * * * * * * *

‘LAWRANCE D’ORSAY.
‘It is an old story that those who know stage favourites with the footlights as barrier to a more intimate acquaintance believe the characteristics displayed on the stage are natural in private life. The audience en masse does not stop to analyze the assumption of mannerisms, the transformation of the player into some one else. May Irwin has often bewailed the fact that those she met socially expected to find her constantly saying funny things and singing coon songs. Naturally Miss Irwin possesses a keen sense of humor, but off the stage she tries to get as much rest from hilarity as possible. If an actress depicts characters of gentle disposition, she is immediately supposed to be like them. Annie Russell has always regretted that her managers allowed her to fall into this sort of rut. Because of this peculiar like of roles with which she has so long been associated the public has an idea that Miss Russell is a sad little creature. “Why won’t they let me be merry and vivacious?” she said, in speaking of this to me. Louis James, whom we all know as the greatest living exponent of the old school of heavy tragedy, is welcomed among his friends as a “jolly fellow.” He drops his dignified and somber air and delights in telling funny stories. Even when acting, his love of the ridiculous is so powerful that he with difficulty restrains himself from playing pranks upon his fellow-actors during tragic moments.
‘We have all heard so much about the Englishman, his heaviness, and his failure to understand jokes until some time after they have been told: therefore, when Mr. Lawrance D’Orsay appeared as the Earl of Pawtucket we were delighted to make his acquaintance, because he was exactly as we supposed he would be. Again Mr. D’Dorsay gives us the same type of Englishman in The Embassy Ball, and he plays these rules so naturally that it is to be expected that the public will believe he is treating it to a display of his own private characteristics. In these days when there are so many types it is a genuine relief to find one that is not hackneyed. The Embassy Ball would never take place if Mr. D’Orsay were not among the invited guests. Mr. Augustus Thomas was clever enough to offer us our pet conception of the Englishman, and it is difficult to imagine that he is not real.
‘Mr. D’Orsay off the stage is not what he seems on. He is the same tall, handsome man, for his figure is all his own, whether in the British uniform or in plain clothes. His face bears close inspection, for in meeting him minus the grease paint and powder, one sees how little he employs in his make-up. He walks in much the same manner as he does on the stage, and talks with a delightful accent which is most pronounced, but not exaggerated. Naturally he must lengthen his oral syllables when playing. It makes the character more laughable. Wherein then is the difference?
‘Mr. D’Orsay was a revelation in the cleverness of his conversation. He possesses more wit and appreciation of humor than any American actor of my acquaintance. Nothing escapes him, and this, too, without unusual endeavour, on his part to catch points. He has forever vanquished, in my opinion, the old belief of the dullness of Englishmen. He is as keen as the steel blades of the table knives with which he tells me his countrymen cut their daily meat. We use plated affairs. He laughs heartily and frequently. We all know what a jolly laugh Admiral Schley has. Well, D’Orsay’s is just as jolly, although purely British. His manner is the perfection of good breeding and courtesy. He does not have to be advertised as coming of a good family.
‘“Let us sit ovah heah by the winow,” said Mr. D’Orsay, “wheah at least we can see the aiah, even if we can’t feel it. You Americahns are so dreadfully afraid of the cold, aren’t you? I love it. This is a very strange country, you know. You overhead youahselves so awfully in wintah, and then you swallow large quantites of ice watah in ordah to keep cool. In England we live in cool places, and so we don’t find it necessary to drink ice watah. We nevah drink it in summah weathah, eithah. The watah is cool, certainly, but not iced. Americahns in England must have their iced watah, and so it is that recently, I may say, the restaurants are compelled to keep ice for the Americahns, who become dreadfully angry, really, if they cahn’t get what they want. I have heard youah countrymen make disagreeable remarks when warm beeah was served them. Now, in England, believe me, we nevah drink our beeah any othah way. I think there must be something in the climate which causes this. When I am in England I nevah think of ice, but the moment I return to this country I call for iced drinks.
‘Americahns laugh heartily as us and we laugh heartily at them about toast. You don’t know toast. You haven’t the faintest idea of it. In Americah, you call for toast and they bring you something which is warmed on each side and putty in the middle. Americahns call it hot toast. In England we each ouah dry toast cold and without buttah. Our hot toast is buttahed, but all of it is very crisp through and through. Youah toast and yoah iced watah are the causes, in my opinion, of so much nervous indigestion. Then youah roast beef. It isn’t the same as ouahs. I dare say the meat is originally almost as good as ouahs, but you spoil it in the cooling, reahly. You won’t baste youah roast beef. Why don’t you? Youah roast has no seasoning. You cook all the goodness out of it. It is tasteless. Life is too short in Americah to baste anything, isn’t it? Then, you eat it in such huge slices. I shall nevah become accustomed to youah carving. We cut our beef in slices as thin as wafers. When I first came to this country I used to say, ‘Bring me a very thin slice of beef.’ When what you call a ‘chunk’ was place befoah me I would say, ‘If this is thin, what is a thick one like?’ Hah, hah!
‘“Another thing – why will you eat youah eggs in so sloppy a fashion?”
‘“Oh, do we?” I asked, eager to learn more of ourselves as “othahs” see us.
‘“In what way are they sloppy?”
‘“What you call ‘soft eggs’ are slopped into a glass and they you put in salt and peppah and enjoy then horrible mixture. It takes one’s appetite, reahly.
‘“How should we eat tem?” I asked.
‘“Why, how else but in the shell, of course,” answered Mr. D’Orsay. “You eat them in a glass or a saucah or anything you choose. We eat them in egg cups. They are so much moah appetizing.
‘“Why are Americahns so fond of oystahs?” he inquired. “I cahn’t understand why you take the trouble to eat them, because you consume so much time in eliminating the taste of the oystah with catsup, lemon juice, the mixture you call horseradish, and tabasco. By the time salt and peppah is added, what becomes of the original flavour of the oystah? A beautiful woman does not need to be smothahed in perfume; and an oystah needs nothing but itself to make it delicious. Anothah thing I have noticed is that the men in Americah prefers [sic] damp cigar to dry ones. In England we nevah think of smoking a damp cigar. We hang our boxes up to get the dampness out and you use wet sponges to keep it in. Most curious custom, because a dry cigar is so much easier to smoke than a damp one. It does not requiah as much breath, and there you are!
‘“I enjoy youah American salng. It is most amusing. I roah with laughtah when I heah one fellow say to his friends: ‘Well, old chap, I’m awfully sorry, but I’ll have to go now.’ He doesn’t go, but talks a while longah, and then makes the same remark again. He does this several times, until one of his companions says, ‘Well, deah boy, theahs no string tied to you, you know,’ which I have learned to understand as a polite way of saying, ‘Why the deuce don’t you go?’ It’s awfully funny, you know.”
‘“Do you find that our language differs widely from yours?” I asked.
‘“The difference is in the meaning and pronunciation of words. It is rather troublesome at first for an Englishman to understand a strange use of a familiar word. Youah pronunciation if quite different. Befoah coming to this country I had been told that the Boston people speak more like the English than any othah people in the Sates. How could any one evah believe this? The Boston people are not a bit English. They are not American, either. They are something in between. Their accent is most affected. ‘Why chan’t you be natural?’ I feel like saying to them. When evah I heah an Americahn say ‘fawcey,’ it makes me laugh, because originally he must have said ‘fancy.’ In English we nevah say ‘fawncy.’ We always say ‘fancy.’ We also say ‘dance’ quite as much as we say ‘dahnce.’ ‘Dawnce’ is a favorite with many in this country. This is true of many words which Boston people say with the idea that they are speaking like us.
‘“It was so very silly of the Boston people to throw the tea overboard, wasn’t it? It was such a waste, for now they have tea every aftahnoon. From my observation I would say that the Southern people speak more as we do.
‘“It is remarkable how my friends at home expect to hear me speak with an Americahn accent. I become quite indignant at times, realhy, because there is no reason why a few months heah should cause one to forget his original pronunciation. At a dinner given in London during my last visit home a woman who sat next me remarked, ‘You’ah not an Americahn, are you?’
‘“Rather not,” I answered. How could any one suppose such a thing. It was too absurd.
‘“I’m an Americahn,’ she said.
‘“Oh” said I. Imagine how beastly rude I had been.
‘“I heard that the British military attache was out from the othah evening and was very much amused. I sinceahly hope that he was amused in the propah way.
‘“I believe that The Embassy Ball will be as successful in New York as The Earl of Pawtukat. Gus Thomas and I are very deah friends, and I should like so much to see the deah boy’s play succeed. I had made my reputation in England long before I evah thought of coming to America. I started at the bottom and worked my way up as I think every actah should do. Gradually, the parts I played became known as individual special parts. They were written to suit me. My first engagement heah was in the Edwardes production, The Artist’s Model [sic], in which Marie Studholm [sic] appeared. My role was that of an English offisah. Aftah that I played with Annie Russell in The Royal Family [sic], and look back upon that season as one of the happiest and most delightful of my entiah careeah. Mrs. Gilbert, the deah old lady, played my mothah, and it is a singular thing that her age was the same as that of my mothah. I have played with John Hare, Charles Wyndham, Edwin Terry [i.e. Edward Terry] – in fact, with all of them except Alexander and Irving. Of course, you wouldn’t have expected me to play with [sic] such plays as Hamlet, would you? I never did, because I thought that Hamlet shouldn’t have too many laughs. Forbes Robertson is a deah friend of mine. ‘“I played in the Gaiety Girl, which was my first engagement with Edwardes, and a most amusing thing occurred. There was a charactah in the piece which had been modeled on the chaplain of the Household Brigade Guards. In the play he was a doctah. Now, the real chaplain was a deah friend of the King [then Prince of Wales], who, when he heard about the play, ordered the character changed. In the meantime, the chaplain himself learned about his caricature and came to see himself on the stage. He had not heard about the change, and if you will believe it, came behind the stage and the deah old boy was so disappointed because he could not see himself doing the can-can with his daughtah. In that piece I had to say some curious lines. A young woman asked me ‘Don’t you long for war?’
‘“‘I cahn’t say that I do,’ I replied.
‘“‘How unmartial. Why on earth do people support an army?’ she continued; to which I answeredL ‘I don’t know, unless it is to heah the bands play.’
‘“On heahs so much about the artistic and the commercial struggles. As a mattah of fact, the two are very necessary to each other. It is seldom you find the combination of business manajah and actah. It amuses me most heartily that the box office thinks it draws the money. The press agent goes about telling how he does it all; and the poah actah – wheah does he come in? They think he has nothing to do with it. Let him stay away from the theatah one performance, and the question would be very easily settled, would it not?” asked Mr. D’Orsay, stroking his long mustache thoughtfully.
‘“As an illustration of this belief of managers and press agents, I must tell you about the man I met who had just completed a million dollah theatah. When it was all finished he discovered that there were no dressing-rooms for the actachs. He laughed heartily, for he thought it was a good joke. When I played at his theatah I found the dressing-rooms to consist of a few boahds stuck up between two boilahs. The grease paint on our faces ran down in streams into our boots. This man came to me and boasted of his theatah and told that he had put up those dressing-rooms at twelve houahs’ notice.
‘“I said to him: ‘I deah sir, I am very pleased to meet you, and if you will accept a bit of advice from me, the next time you build a theatah make four walls and see that the decorations are beautiful. Charge two dollahs a seat and you will find that you can do without the actahs and the people will fill youah theatah just the same.’
‘“Do you know he didn’t see the meaning of my remark? It was plain enough, wasn’t it? And the man is an Americahn. Of course, I didn’t take the trouble to explain it.
‘“I like Washington so much. The city is so beautiful. It is more like home than any othah place in yoah country. Then you have such distinguished persons heah. The quiet is delightful aftah the noise and bustle of othah cities. I should nevah suffah from insomnia heah.”
‘Knowing Washington’s reputation as a quiet place, I looked keenly at the Britisher to see if he were poking fun at us. But he was imperturbable.
‘“If The Embassy Ball is as great a success as Pawtucket, I shall play it next season,” said Mr. D’Orsay in conclusion. “A few days ago I received a splendid offah from Mrs. Fiske to appeah with her in a new play which is to be put on in the fall. On account of The Embassy Ball I was obliged to decline the honah of appearing with this actress, whom I admiah. She is a charming woman and a great artist. I had the pleasuah of playing The Earl of Pawtucket for six consecutive months in Harrison Grey Fiske’s theatah, in New York, the Manhattan.”’
(Marie B. Schrader, ‘Stage Favorites,’ The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., Sunday, 28 January 1906, Third Part, p.6d-f)

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Lawrance D’Orsay also appeared in a number of films, for which see the Internet Movie Database

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