Maude Adams
a Latter-day Saint from Utah and
the most popular American actress
of the early 1900s

Related pages:
- Maude Adams: A Biography - 1907 biography written by Ada Patterson (complete text)
- Maude Adams: A Biography - complete 1907 biography by Patterson (images of every page, including 24 photographs)
- Maude Adams: the inspiration for the movie Somewhere in Time: - 1980 movie starring Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour as the famous actress he travels through time to be with

Excerpt from a biography of
Maude Adams

Source: Phyllis Robbins. Maude Adams: An Intimate Portrait. New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons (1956).

Pages 7 to 21:

I did not meet Miss Adams until 1900, so in turning back to tell her story before then, I must call upon what others have said, upon her papers, and upon what she has, most fortunately, written about herself.

In the autumn of 1898 she was just twenty-six years old, with a birthday on November 11th. Her company gave her a ring, and took a great deal of trouble over the odd sort of birthday card -- still among her papers -- which went with it: a thin, hard slab, big enough not only for the signatures of the fifteen members of the cast and some additional names, but for a highly colored painting of a vase of chrysanthemums and of the ring, by the Little Minister; and for a presentation verse as well: "Go little ring...," signed: Carter. (He knew his R. L. Stevenson.)

Miss Adams had come a long way in those twenty-six years, but her work in the theatre had made an early start.

It is not always easy to find out about the beginnings of famous people's lives, for they were not famous then, so who would trouble to remember? Later when an account is needed, some sort of story is patched up and may grow into a legend. But mothers have a way of believing their child is going to do great things. Did not Peter Pan fly away rather than grow up to be President, as he heard his parents planning? And the mother of Maude Adams, who was acting in a stock company in Salt Lake City, was right on hand at an important moment. She remembered it very well.

Young Maude must have often asked her mother to tell her the story of her first appearance on the stage, when she was rushed on, lying on a platter, as understudy for a child who was roaring her head off behind the scenes. The audience, too, roared -- with laughter -- for the child in the first act was a mere infant, and Maude, in the second, though no time should have elapsed, was nine months old.

It is a long way from New England to Salt Lake City, Utah, and a long way from the New England Adamses to Brigham Young's Mormon theatre. This is the story.

Miss Adams's grandfather, Barnabas Lothrop Adams, who was born in Canada, found his way to Iowa, where he married Julia Ann Banker. There they fell in with Brigham Young and his Mormons, became converts, and joined them in their long trek through the wilderness in search of a haven. That was in 1847, while the country in which they finally settled was still owned by Mexico. Asenath Ann Adams, Miss Adams's mother, was born about three weeks after the Mormons ended their wild and dangerous journey.

Brigham Young set his people to building a town, and to tilling the wastelands. Not the least of his concerns was to erect a theatre, for which he and his elders would choose the plays. Mr. Walter Prichard Eaton says it "was in its day the most remarkable playhouse in America. Remarkable first because it was built at all," long before any railroad reached Utah. It was fashioned after the Drury Lane in London and the Old Boston Theatre; and by rare good luck had absolutely perfect acoustics. Huge timbers for this adobe and wood building were hauled by mules from the mountains. Barnabas Adams helped in the hauling.

Miss Adams writes that her mother was chosen when she was eight years old by Brigham Young's favorite wife, Emmeline, to play children's parts. This would be in 1856, and must have been in some earlier building, probably the "Social Hall," as the theatre spoken of by Mr. Eaton was not opened till 1862. One account says that "Annie Adams" as she was billed, made her first appearance in the new theatre on July 25, 1862, when she was fourteen, after which she and David McKenzie played the leading roles for years. Another writer gives July 15, 1865, for her debut as Grace Otis in The People's Lawyer. The date is not now important, nor that she remembered Brigham Young watching the performances from a large armchair. What does matter is that a young man named James H. Kiskadden, coming to Salt Lake from Montana in the late 6o's, also used to watch Annie Adams playing in the stock company. He is said to have had a box seat at every performance, for Maude Adams's father fell in love with her mother then and there.

In contrast to her mother's English and Yankee descent, her father's family were Scotch. Her great-grandfather crossed over to Ireland, where he married before coming to this country in 1798, to settle in Ohio. There his son James married Rebecca Stuart Ewing, which gave Miss Adams the "E" in her initials: M. E. A. K; a name under which to hide when she wished to travel unrecognized; and the interesting family line described by her cousin. Harry S. Kiskadden:

The Ewings married into the Stuart family of Scotland, descended from a Norman Baron, Alan, a follower of William the Conqueror. Alan's second son went to Scotland about 1130 and was made a stewart of the public domain; the family then took the name of Stewart, generally written Stuart. In 1315, a son Robert became King. The last of the Stuarts to occupy the throne was Henry, The Old Pretender, along about 1788.

Miss Adams had a very soft spot for the Irish in her father. There was a goodly mixture of it in herself.

James had a brother William, seventeen years his senior, who founded the First National Bank in Salt Lake City, and when young James wandered west, William employed him. But James was not the banker type at all. He was "lovable, lighthearted, and gay," very handsome, the best billiard player anywhere in the neighborhood, and a dashing horseman. "He never let work stand in the way of his having a good time, and for that reason he was a most charming person." In a word, he was Irish.

William in a roundabout way was to do his brother a much better turn than giving him a position in the bank. Prospectors for gold brought in the dust they had panned to William's bank for safekeeping, and to be graded. The grading fell to William's wife, Mary, who took the gold home and used big bowls for the process; the bowl-and-pitcher kind from the bedroom washstands. Now James, before he saw Asenath Ann Adams, was interested in a very beautiful but rather gay young lady who found herself alone one day with a row of the enticing bowls. She grabbed a fistful of the gold^ but Mary saw her in a mirror, and James lost interest.

Annie Adams returned to Iowa to be married from her grandmother's house. Miss Adams explains why: "My father was a gentile; my mother had been brought up in Brigham Young's family, and was much loved by her Mormon friends. So it seemed more considerate and not flaunting her independence in marrying a gentile if she were married in Missouri at my great-grandmother's house." The Kiskaddens' wedding journey to San Francisco was aboard the first through train to the Coast. They saw the Northern Pacific and the Southern Pacific engines meet nose to nose at Promontory, Utah, May 10, 1869.

The Kiskaddens' first children were twin boys who lived only a short time. Their loss was still recent when James wrote to another brother from San Francisco. Marriage had matured him:Why do you not get your boys west to grow up with the country? There are so many chances to get good land now that would be valuable for the boys by the time they got old enough to attend to business. Both you and I can see the mistake we made in that years ago.... If I had boys this is the country I would get them into. It is solid and a sure road to independence and ease.

But he had no more boys. Maude was their only other child.

When she was two years old the family moved to Virginia City, Nevada. James eked out his small salary from the bank by traveling with mule trains back and forth between Denver and Pueblo, and "Annie Adams" kept up her stage work in Virginia City, and later in San Francisco. This was no hardship; it was what she knew and loved.

Miss Adams seems to have tired of the story about the platter by the time she writes of her childhood, for she takes up the tale no further back than she herself can remember. She mentions the often repeated story that her father did not want her to make a little goose of herself by going on the stage. However, he was not one to hold out long against the persuasions of his wife and daughter. He did stipulate that Maude was to use her mother's maiden name. So "Maude Adams," and occasionally "Little Maude Adams," began to be listed on playbills. And what a lot of plays needed children in those days; so many that it is hard to see how she had time for all of them before she grew too big and was sent away to school.

She was quite a singer, too; with an odd selection of songs for one so young. She must have been deliciously funny, at four years old, when she sang "Somebody's Coming When the Dew Drops Fall." Or at nine years when, because she was disappointed at a small part, she was given two songs to sing between the acts: "Pretty as a Picture," and "That Yaller Girl That Winked at Me." She was paid seven dollars and a half.

All this sounds very pleasant; and it was, too, when the play-acting took place in San Francisco where the Kiskaddens were then settled, in a house near the Golden Gate. It was all the more exciting when her father told her that the theatre, as well as other buildings, was made from the hulks of vessels stranded along the shore, left there by their crews, who were off for the golden gulches. Maude loved to hear the stories of the Gold Rush, when rascals rounding the Horn from every comer of the earth turned San Francisco into a wild and wicked city, until the Vigilantes took hold and drove them out.

Miss Adams was at work during the early summer of 1953 on a revision and enlargement of her story which appeared in 1936 and 1927 in The Ladies Home Journal, but she was unable to complete it. Her copy of the manuscript is interlined with her alterations. Most of these have been deciphered, but as her tiny script grew weaker, it is not always legible.

She heads her story with a quotation:

"No man knows another, and every man is ever another to himself.

"It is one of the many blessings of life in the theatre that we are always so delightfully busy being someone else, that we can scarcely spare a moment to know ourselves. That doubtful pleasure can always be deferred. And what a mercy! If we really knew ourselves, how could we endure it?"

No one looking at the photographs of "Little Maude Adams" can wonder that Miss Adams writes of this funny little girl in the third person, as The One I Knew Least of All. The best that can be said of these pictures is that they are quaint. The child certainly shows little sign of good looks, and bears no resemblance whatever to the Maude Adams she became.

"Indeed," she says, "to make our own acquaintance is difficult enough under ordinary circumstances, but if life is begun pretending to be Eva, the youthful heroine of Uncle Tom's Cabin, or little Paul in The Octoroon, or this or that other little boy or girl, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate whom from which. Yourself becomes more and more indistinct and nebulous, much more visionary than the very real children, all written out in black and white, that we spend conscious hours in learning. They are real children, not at all intangible like the mysterious thing inside us which is always asking questions that seem never to be answered.

"Children take to the stage as ducks to water, and surely there can be no kinder life than that which hedges in a child of the theatre, and never in all her life will she meet more gentle people. But, for the One I Knew Least, the theatre was still a tug of war with her father. To her it was rather in the nature of a 'dare.' Aged five, she wished to show him that she would not be a little goose.

"Just where it was or which one of her it was, I can't recall, but certainly it is in a theatre I see her first of all. The scene has all the hall-marks of a first rehearsal. Her mother's hands were busy with friendly greetings; a fold of her skirt was a support and mainstay in a great empty place with huge, dark spaces; and at the edge was a long hole where the orchestra played. There was a lighted gas jet, and a man sitting under it by a table. Even great actors approached that table with a certain deference, and lesser ones with trepidation. It was there that a part was handed to her. Then quietly at home the part was read aloud to her. In a short time she could repeat it all herself, and that was all there was to the matter, except that after a while she was allowed to put the pink and white powders on her face herself, and that was very interesting. Black on the eyes was much more difficult; it was a long time before she could manage that, and her mother remembered her anxious question one day: 'Have I put on too much? Do I look fast?'

"At six she liked to be consulted about the business arrangements with her managers -- her salary and how long the engagement was to last. I remember distinctly her disapproving a certain engagement because the offer fell below her accustomed salary."

In later life she did not always look after her interests so carefully. She sometimes said to me, "Anything that I have undertaken with money-making as its chief object has failed." The story was apt to be that she might start out with money as her object, but, before she knew it, her interest shifted, and she would be spending money faster than it was coming in, to perfect her undertaking.

Miss Adams remembers that "though she was much happier when she herself was playing, it was sufficiently interesting when she was allowed to stand in the wings and watch the actors on the stage. It was especially exciting when night after night Mazeppa was bound on a big white horse that trotted conscientiously up an inclined plane to the fly floor, that mysterious place sixty or seventy feet above the stage. It was a dangerous feat and thrilling." For Little Maude was afraid of horses, a fear Miss Adams says she never overcame. She was "never quite sure which end of a horse was the more terrifying. Both ends seemed equally unpredictable. On the whole, perhaps tails had it."

If she was always frightened of horses, she never showed it and became a fine horsewoman, whether driving her own pair of ponies or taking the reins through the Boston streets. I cannot count the pleasant country drives we have had together; and she always looked exhilarated and happy on our rides in Central Park.

She even took riding trips in the Rockies. On one of these she might well have been nervous, for her horse, which was out ahead, kept turning and looking backward, delaying the others. Finally the guide from behind yelled, "Maude, what the hell do you think you are doing?"

Horses have girls' names, too!

Miss Adams calls "the fancy in plays of this ten-year-old unpredictable: Antony and Cleopatra was the pinnacle of romance, while Romeo and Juliet was not a favorite. Strangely enough, Cleopatra was everything that was proper and queenly, and Juliet was certainly a little forward...."

The One I Knew Least was always going back and forth on visits to her grandmother in Salt Lake City, and home again to her father, a faithful ally. At Grandmother's there were vastly entertaining things: cows and sheep and horses and dogs. And trees to climb with cherries at the top. And oh, the sweet-smelling hay in the barn, and the swing tied to one of the rafters. There were fields to roam, whole fields of wild flowers -- freedom. She could go anywhere she chose, aided and abetted by a young uncle who was gifted with imagination.

"Then there was the railroad train, and the exciting journey back to Father across the prairies which never seemed lonely, they were so full of fairies dancing under sagebrush 'trees/ each bush a mighty oak. And there were such friendly prairie dogs watching the train go by. She wondered who lived at the end of the long road that stretched away and away till the train left it still groping toward the westland.

"The fly in the ointment of going home to her father was that it involved certain periods of school. She was used to older people and to the rather ceremonious manners of the people of the theatre. There was a fearful feud with her young uncle. They met in the city street; he waved his hand to her and didn't raise his hati She was seven, I think.

"School itself would not have been so dreadful, had it not been for geography. That was the ghastly thing in life. Those miserable rivers that were said to 'rise' here, there, and the other place. It was all foolish; the rivers didn't 'rise,' they went along quite flat, or if they did anything, they tell. She was always glad to escape from these fol-de-rols to the serious life of the theatre, and a glorious day came when it was decided that she should not go to school at all until she was ten. Her parts in the theatre had taught her lessons beyond those required of children her own age at school, and she was thought too young to attempt the work of the older children.

"Just at that time a foreign star was playing in San Francisco. Through some change of plans, she needed a larger company and there was a part for a child. The difficulty was that it meant a long engagement and a journey to New York. Her father didn't approve the venture, but to her mother the idea of seeing New York was irresistible.

"Unfortunately, her father was right. Traveling in the East was a very different matter from traveling in California. The company toiled through endless little towns; the trains were snails, the hotels primitive and meager, and for the grown-up members of the company it must have been a time of more than usual hardship.

"But New York was beckoning, and that gave fortitude to the wanderers. It was really very easy for the child, for always when things were too troublesome, her mother would remember some delightful story. They were leaving a tiny place early one morning and they heard a queer noise: some geese fussing under the window. And while they trotted down to the railway station, hand in hand in a world white with a waning moon, her mother told her the story of Rome, and how the cackling of geese had saved the ancient city from the invaders.

"The daily trials seemed very small when a real calamity came. The star decided to leave the company, and a capable but less known actress was to take her place. It was a real sadness to the company. Everyone liked the star, and their trials had been a bond. Something had to be done to show a friendly feeling. The question of expense was a serious one. 'Business' had not been very flourishing. But fate had been kinder for a few days, and everyone was sure of salary for that particular week. So, true to the tradition of the craft, when a penny was in sight a way was found to spend it. The entire company joyfully decided on a supper, and some silver trinket for remembrance, marked with appropriate sentiments of admiration.

"The star's last night was over; the supper was delightful, and the presentation speech was made by the youngest member standing on a chair. Even in that moment the youngest member was a little disappointed. She had been coached for many hours on the presentation speech. She had been very nervous, and it seemed a little inadequate when the star responded by reciting 'Twinkle, twinkle, little star' -- a ditty the youngest member had learned years before, a harmless ditty but frivolous, she thought. However, it passed pleasantly enough. 'Auld Lang Syne' was sung; they all said good night, and of course they'd be at the station in the morning to say good-by. And then -- the manager told them: that very night, at the end of the second act, the star had attached the entire box-office receipts, taken all the money there was, and not a penny was left for anyone.

"Her mother said it was a great surprise, but she was cross only with herself for not realizing that such a thing could happen. Ah, dear! She never learned that such a thing could happen. Selfishness and ungenerousness remained a surprise to her all her life. And she had no patience with criticism of others, deserved or undeserved. When the youngest member piped up dismally, her mother said it was useless to fuss. It was life: big fish ate little fish, especially when the little fishes were not alert and prepared for the emergency. The child could understand that dimly, but couldn't understand how the star, knowing the situation, had the heart to devour so many little fishes.

"There was another long journey, and then she was in New York, in 1882, and whisked off to a theatre called the Madison Square. This theatre had an embroidered curtain famous even in far-away San Francisco. The play was Esmeralda, and oh, the lovely lady who was Esmeraldal The child made three important decisions: she, too, would be a great actress, probably at twenty, and she would retire at twenty-five. Also, tragedy was the thing; comedy was too trifling a business."

The lovely lady was Miss Annie Russell. The play, an adaptation by Mrs. Frances Hodgson Bumett and William Gillette of Mrs. Burnett's story. (Years afterwards Miss Adams was to play in Mrs. Burnett's The Pretty Sister of Jose, and with Henry Miller in William Gilleue's All the Comforts of Home.)

Once the child was back in the West, neither tragedy nor comedy filled the horizon. She was packed off to live with her grandmother and attend the Salt Lake Collegiate Institute. At her grandmother's hands she received a liberal share of her education, for she writes of this time:

"It was Henry James, I believe, who complained that there was no American magazine like the English Punch to give small boys the sense of living with their public administrators. But as a young child I had lived in my grandmother's house. Punch was not needed in that household. She knew politics fore and aft. We lived the life of the Presidents and knew every day what was happening in Washington, though we were far out of' the world. She was a staunch Republican, though not a prejudiced one. A ruling by President Cleveland cost her half of her small income, but she stoutly maintained that he was a good President and a great man, despite her not being in sympathy with the policies of the Democratic party."

She continues: "The dreaded tenth year had come. School didn't help much as discipline. I suppose it was inevitable; because she had been in the theatre, she was a child apart. She was given certain privileges at this Salt Lake school, and also certain responsibilities. The children who were to recite at Commencement were put in her charge to be trained for their 'pieces,' though they were her own age, some of them older. She did not like to recite. Even her small experience had taught her to know poems that would not 'act'; and she thought any poem would be rather dull without footlights and a mysterious audience. She must have been eleven or so when a recitation came her way which she couldn't escape -- and she was rather good at escaping -- an old woman telling a story to her grandchild. Her teachers, who were kindness itself, allowed the minx to make conditions. She was given all the properties, rocking-chair, grandchild, knitting and the rest, and she was made up -- gray hair, cap and wrinkles -- this last a very difficult achievement with the ends of burnt matches. The more successful those attempts, the worse it was, for it made her too old, and gave her a sense of importance that was ridiculous. I am afraid she developed into a willful little piece, and school became a thing to be endured, but to escape from at a moment's notice."

The Principal of the Salt Lake Collegiate Institute, Professor Millspaugh, remembers in a different light the child registered there as Maude Kiskadden, that "picturesque name," as he calls it.

"An excellent scholar... brilliant in dramatic recitations, with a total ignorance of her power... a simple, beautiful, artless schoolgirl."

Then word reached her from home. She writes:

"The whole world was changed for the little family. News came of her father's death, a loss that grew with the years."

Looking back on the struggle it must have been, she finds it amazing that her mother was "always so courageous and so gay, never showing a moment of anxiety. She loved the theatre, but gave it up, it was so precarious, and went into some commercial business to be near the child at school; but commerce was found to be uncertain, too, and she returned alone to California and the theatre."

Chapter Two

Miss Mary Moore, Maude's teacher in Salt Lake, begged Mrs. Adams not to take the child from school, but to have her educated for an instructor in elocution: "I am sure," she urged, "that she eventually will reach a position in which she can command a salary of at least $1,800 or $2,000 a year"!

However, the suggestion was turned down. The separation proved too hard, and after a time the child was sent for and the doors of school were closed once and for all.

She was apprenticed to a theatrical company, playing the small towns of California and touring by stagecoach. It is then, in her story, that she recognizes the twelve-year-old as herself, and henceforth refers to her as "I." She had a chance then to see the gold regions she had heard about from her father: the deep canyons with rushing torrents, which were called wet diggings; and the dry diggings or ravines -- the golden gulches, where the first playhouses had been mere platforms set up in the barrooms in these very places. Gulches with unbelievable names: "Hangtown," "Hell's Delight," "Shirt-Tail Camp." Some of these had grown into flourishing towns; others had faded into ghosts, with empty streets and napping doors. Time had passed since the days when stagecoaches staggered under loads of bullion, and a flood of gold was flatboated down the Missouri River to the mint at St. Louis, a highwayman's paradise.

Page 138:

She returned from Ireland to begin a season in What Every Woman Knows, with New York at Christmas, and Boston in February, 1910, before a long tour turned toward the West. In Boston, "H. T. P." found "a new vitality, a new warmth, a vivid emotional life in Miss Adams's acting. Ii was of herself and no less of the character. Here seems the beginning of new fields and new achievements for her."

The year 1910 was to be full of interest for her. By spring she had reached Salt Lake City.

Maude Adams is being unusually honored in Salt Lake City, according to a telegram received at the Frohman offices last night. She was welcomed by the City Council as a guest of the city, and as "the State's most illustrious daughter." The telegram, coming from a representative of Mr. Frohman, reads:

"Salt Lake City Council tonight presented Miss Maude Adams with an embossed copy of resolutions welcoming her to the city as an honored guest. The highest type of modest womanhood; idol of the American stage, and the State's most illustrious daughter. Tomorrow Miss Adams gives a special matinee of What Every Woman Knows for the Orphans Home. Her welcome to the city of her birth eclipses everything witnessed here for enthusiasm."

Page 177:

Meanwhile Maude revived The Little Minister, taking it on tour during the autumn and back in time for Christmas for a New York season, a last sight there of Lady Babbie.

Then late that December, 1915, the grandmother of whom she was so fond, Mrs. Barnabas Lothrop Adams, died in Salt Lake City. Maude once wrote of her: "Henry James, though he did not know it, was drawing a faithful portrait of my grandmother when he said of someone else: 'A brave presence; her strong simplicity was that of an earlier, quieter world. She had the courage of her character; her traditions were all she needed, and she lived by them candidly and stoutly.' "

The blows did not cease with 1915. In March, 1916, while Maude was playing in New York, her mother became very ill in Salt Lake City. Maude closed her theatre, and went out to her. She wrote to my aunt from Chicago that she had had telephones and telegrams saying her mother was better: "But I am going just the same." Her mother lived only a few days.

Barrie wrote to Maude on July 5th, of that year:

Just a greeting to you across the seas. I often send them to you tho' they don't get on to paper. Life is so sombre in war time and so full of personal anxieties about individuals at the front that letters seem to lose their flavour, and whatever we are doing or saying we are listening to the guns across the channel. This must go on for a long time and the personal anxieties are no doubt the grimmest. There is no anxiety about what the result must be....

What a wonderful tour you are having with "Little Minister." When one considers everything I don't know that this is not the most astonishing thing you have done. What a lucky day for me when you and Babbie merged into one....

... I have never heard from you whether you like Cinderella and it makes me a little uneasy. You see it would be just like you to spare my feelings. In the second act I suggest to you your cutting out the little scene between Cinderella and Marion, the neglected wife, as not perhaps in keeping with the rest of the story. We cut it out here, but of course just as you feel. Originally I brought the children out of their boxes and they had supper at the table to quite a little scene playing at being the coach that