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Robert Loraine

February 17, 2013

Robert Loraine (1876-1935),
English actor manager and aviator,
as John Tanner in George Bernard Shaw’s play,
Man and Superman,
produced at the Criterion Theatre, London, on 28 September 1911
(photo: Daily Mirror Studios, London, 1911)

Mr. Robert Loraine – Actor and Producer
By John Wightman
‘It was the smoking-room of a country gentleman. The polished oak floor with its warm rugs, the low leather chairs made for comfort rather than show, the good old engravings on the walls, the rifle in the corner, the hunting crop flung carelessly down, all indicated the sportsman. The stage is the last profession you would associate with the owner, yet it is the “den” of Robert Loraine, one of the brainiest of our younger school of actors.
‘A typical Englishman, tall, clean-made, with a fresh complexion and clear eye, Mr. Loraine gives you the impression of a man who spends much of his time in the open, as indeed, he does. In his opinion, if an artiste desires to give the public of his best mentally, he must be at his best physically.
‘“I suppose you know,” he remarked during a recent chat, “that acting is in my blood, for both my parents were connected with the profession. They did not assist me, however, as when only fifteen I ran away to Liverpool. There I joined the stock company at a local theatre. It was real hard work, as we usually did six different plays in a week, with two performances nightly. The proprietor catered for popular audiences, and the prices could hardly be called prohibitive, as they ranged from a penny to threepence, the latter sum securing a private box.
‘“I look back with awe to those days, when I remember my rough attempts at making-up. The third week I had to appear as an old, hoary-headed man in the first piece and a sallow, saturnine villain in the second. Just imagine, my entire make-up consisted of a white wig and beard in one case and a black moustache in the other. Yes, I have studied and learnt a lot since then.
‘“For instance, it took me weeks to perfect my make-up as the Chinaman, Ah Ching, in A Tragedy at Tientsin, which I produced in New York. So complete was the disguise that on the opening night, Miss Grace George, who was in a box with her husband, turned round and said to him, ‘What’s wrong with Mr. Loraine? Why isn’t he playing? Surely he’s not ill?’ ‘Don’t talk like that,’ was the reply; ‘why he’s on the stage.’ ‘Now you’re just saying that to satisfy me,’ answered Miss George; and it was not until I cam forward to take my call that she recognised me. This was one of the greatest compliments I ever received. But I am wandering away from my early days.
‘“After the Liverpool apprenticeship I joined Ben Greet’s Woodland Players and appeared in a large Shakespearean repertoire all over the country, the performances taking place in the open air. Then I remembered a favourite saying of my father’s, that only London counts theatrically, so determined to put my fortune to the test.
‘“Arriving in town, I was engaged by Mr., now Sir, George Alexander, and only left him to go to Drury Lane. A part I enjoyed playing immensely was Dudley Keppel, the young Highland officer, in the old Princess’s [Theatre, Oxford Street] production of One of the Best [revival, 1 June 1899; the part was first played in this production by Harry B. Stanford]. Shortly after I had a taste of the real thing, for when war broke out in South Africa I joined the Yeomanry, and saw a good deal of fighting under General Hunter and Major Baden-Powell. Then followed my first appearance on the American stage. It was in 1901, at the Knickerbocker Theatre, New York, as Ralph Percy in To Have and to Hold. Although a failure, it started my theatrical connection with our cousins across the Atlantic, which culminated in my producing at the Hudson Theatre, in 1905, the play I am now appearing in – viz., Mr. G. Bernard Shaw’s brilliant Man and Superman. Needless to say it proved an instantaneous success, and for the next two years I toured it all over the Eastern States, where every city endorsed the verdict pronounced by New York. What led me to choose Man and Superman for my first managerial venture? Well, as a matter of fact, one day in New York I commenced reading the book. So struck was I with the sparkling dialogue, deep human interest and strong dramatic situations, that I immediately sailed for England, where arrangements were soon completed. The striking feature of Bernard Shaw’s work? Truth! With all its wit, audacity and vivacity, it has no characteristic so striking as truth.”
‘I have purposely avoided touching upon Mr. Loraine’s career as an aviator, and the magnificent work he has done to forward the development of flying in this country. Lest, however, my readers should imagine that his labours at the Criterion may interfere with his flying, let me assure them Mr. Loraine is sending to Paris shortly for his latest machine, a 70 h.p. Nieuport, on which he hopes to make some important flights this winter.’
(The Playgoer and Society Illustrated, ‘Man and Superman’ edition, London, 15 January 1912, p.25)

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