Campbell, Beatrice Stella 1865-1940, better known as Mrs. Patrick Campbell, actress, was born in Kensington 9 February 1865, the youngest daughter and child of John Tanner, the son of an army contractor to the British East India Company and a descendant of Thomas Tanner, bishop of St. Asaph [qv.]. Her mother was Maria Luigia Giovanna, daughter of Count Angelo Romanini, an Italian political exile. Beatrice Tanner was educated at Brighton and Hampstead, and in Paris, and studied for a short time at the Guildhall School of Music. In 1884, when she was nineteen, she eloped to marry Patrick Campbell, who had then a small post in the City: his father owned property at Stranraer.
In October 1888 Mrs. Patrick Campbell went upon the professional stage, making her first appearance in a play called Bachelors at the Alexandra Theatre, Liverpool. After touring in the company of (Sir) Phillip Ben Greet [qv.] (Rosalind and Viola were among her parts), she arrived in London in March 1890, playing Helen in The Hunchback at the Adelphi Theatre. During the following year the Gattis engaged her for the Adelphi where she acted between August 1891 and the spring of 1893 in such melodramas as The Trumpet Call and The Black Domino. Shortly after The Black Domino opened she received a fortnight's notice from the Gattis (who were paying her £8 a week) on the grounds that her voice and gestures were ineffective and that nothing she said or did got over the footlights. It was at this time that her performance was seen by Mrs. Alexander and Graham Robertson, the artist, who knew that (Sir) George Alexander [qv.] wanted an actress to play the part of Paula Tanqueray in the new drama, The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, by (Sir) A. W. Pinero [qv.] at the St. James's Theatre. Negotiations followed, made difficult by the attitude of the Gattis who wished to keep Mrs. Campbell when they heard that she was sought for the St. James's. At last she was released, and, thanks to the generosity of Elizabeth Robins, who had been cast meantime for Paula and withdrew in Mrs. Campbell's favour, this almost unknown player—the fragile creature of Italian origin, as Pinero called her—had her chance. From the moment that she walked upon the stage of the St. James's on the night of 27 May 1893, her success was astonishing. Mrs. Campbell had a dark Italian beauty and a rich and expressive voice: it was soon realized that none of her contemporaries had her gift for portraying passionate, complex women, the flash and gloom, the swirl and the eddy, of a soul torn by supposed intellectual emotion, as (Sir) Edmund Gosse put it in a letter to her written in 1895. She might fail in the simplicities, but properly cast she was unexampled. William Archer wrote of her Paula: Never was there a more uncompromisingly artistic piece of acting. It was incarnate reality, the haggard truth. John Davidson in a letter to her written in 1901 said: Paula is like an opal of many hues and lustres, with stains of life, and wounds of passion through which the disastrous fires glow that shatter it in the end. Although, as Mr. Hamilton Fyfe has noted, Davidson did not attribute this merit entirely to the actress, no other player of Paula has left the same impression or shown the same temperamental brilliance.
Later during the 'nineties, when her fame was at its height, Mrs. Campbell appeared in such parts as Dulcie Larondie in Henry Arthur Jones's strong, romantic play, The Masqueraders (St. James's, April 1894); Agnes Ebbsmith, who threw the Bible into the fire, in Pinero's The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith (Garrick Theatre, March 1895); Fédora, in the play of that name (Haymarket Theatre, May 1895); Juliet to the Romeo of (Sir) Johnston Forbes-Robertson [qv.] at the Lyceum Theatre (September 1895), a part to which she was less fitted; and Magda in Sudermann's drama of that name, also at the Lyceum (June 1896), in which she was superb in revolt and indignation. Although the play failed on its first production, she acted in it often during her later career. In November 1896 she appeared at the Avenue Theatre as the Rat Wife in Ibsen's Little Eyolf. She was generally considered to have been miscast as Ophelia to Forbes-Robertson's Hamlet at the Lyceum (September 1897), although Mr. Bernard Shaw defended her in the Saturday Review. Mrs. Patrick Campbell, he wrote, with that complacent audacity of hers which is so exasperating when she is doing the wrong thing, this time does the right thing by making Ophelia really mad. The resentment of the audience at this outrage is hardly to be described. — Playgoers naturally murmur when something that has always been pretty becomes painful; but the pain is good for them, good for the theatre, and for the play. Nine months after this, in June 1898, Mrs. Campbell had one of her most memorable successes as a Mélisande of haunting beauty in Maeterlinck's Pelléas and Mélisande (Prince of Wales's Theatre, June 1898), with (Sir) John Martin Harvey as Pelléas. Her Lady Macbeth (Lyceum, September 1898) was played with what A. B. Walkley [qv.] termed a mysterious sensuous charm.
In September 1899 Mrs. Campbell went into management at the Prince of Wales's, opening with a failure, Chester Bailey Fernald's Japanese play, The Moonlight Blossom. The financial loss was heavy. In April of the next year Mrs. Campbell had a deep personal grief when her husband was killed fighting in South Africa. Her management remained unfortunate financially, but she had a run of artistic successes in such parts as Mrs. Daventry (Royalty Theatre, October 1900) in the play Mr. and Mrs. Daventry, based by Frank Harris [qv.] on a scenario of Oscar Wilde; Mariana in a revival of José Echegaray's play of that name (Royalty, May 1901); and Mrs. Clara Sang, the bedridden wife in Björnstjerne Bjørnson's Beyond Human Power (Royalty, November 1901). During January 1902 she acted for the first time in New York, as Magda. When she returned to London she appeared in a series of unimportant productions interrupted by one famous revival: that in which she played Mélisande in French to the Pelléas of Sarah Bernhardt (Vaudeville Theatre, July 1904). According to W. L. Courtney [qv.] in the Daily Telegraph, Mrs. Campbell's Mélisande was in its French form more gracious and childlike and poetic than we have ever seen it before. After a nightmare, Mrs. Campbell's word for the melodrama The Bondman by (Sir) Hall Caine [qv.] (Drury Lane Theatre, September 1906) in which she appeared as Greeba, there came the triumph of a few Court Theatre matinées of Ibsen's Hedda Gabler (March 1907). Mrs. Campbell, physically nothing like Ibsen's description, was a mistress of heat and light and sound; she saw Hedda as a proud, intelligent woman, a well-bred woman in the highest sense. A vital creature, suffocated by the commonplace. Another visit to the United States of America followed, and then an English tour. Next Mrs. Campbell gave matinées at the New Theatre (November 1908) of Arthur Symons's version of Hugo von Hofmannsthal's Elektra and of Yeats's Deirdre. In January 1909 she played Olive in Rudolf Besier's Olive Latimer's Husband (Vaudeville), and in September of that year Mieris in the ill-fated False Gods by J. B. Fagan [qv.], with Sir H. Beerbohm Tree at His Majesty's Theatre.
Mrs. Campbell spent the year 1910 in America. Back in London she opened at the Haymarket (March 1911) in Besier's Lady Patricia. Here it was said of her that she burlesqued with much humour both herself as an actress and the kind of woman she had been impersonating for so long. At the St. James's (December 1911) she appeared with Sir George Alexander for the first time in seventeen years: the part—one she had refused more than once and never liked—was Mrs. Chepstow in the drama Bella Donna, by Fagan and Mr. Robert Hichens. After a revival at the St. James's (June 1913) of The Second Mrs. Tanqueray and her performance of Leonora in The Adored One by Sir J. M. Barrie [qv.] (Duke of York's Theatre, September 1913), Mrs. Campbell found one of her last major successes, Eliza Doolittle, the flower-girl Galatea of Mr. Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion. I invented a Cockney accent and created a human Eliza she wrote later of a part that she played first at His Majesty's (April 1914) and afterwards in the United States. Mr. Shaw was always a firm friend: his letters to her are the crown of the autobiography which she published in 1922.
During the rest of her career Mrs. Campbell's star slowly waned. She had such effective parts as Rosalie la Grange in The Thirteenth Chair (Duke of York's, October 1917), George Sand in Madame Sand (Duke of York's, June 1920), and Anastasia in The Matriarch (Royalty, May 1929). There were also revivals of Macbeth (Aldwych Theatre, November 1920, with the American actor James K. Hackett); Hedda Gabler (Everyman Theatre, May 1922); and Ibsen's Ghosts (in which she played Mrs. Alving, Wyndham's Theatre, March 1928). But much of her time was spent in touring and her new parts were few and unimportant. She never regained her full hold on the West End stage, and during the last years of her life she was engaged chiefly in minor film work in America. To the end she retained her sense of humour and cutting wit. Off the stage she was tempestuous, tactless, and good-hearted; upon it she was an actress in the grand manner. A modern critic, James Agate, said of her at her death: In my life I have seen six great actresses, and six only. These are Bernhardt, Réjane, Mrs. Kendal, Ellen Terry, Duse, and Mrs. Patrick Campbell. She died of pneumonia at Pau 9 April 1940. In 1914 she had married, as his second wife, (Major) George Frederick Myddleton Cornwallis-West. By her first husband she had a son, who was killed in action in France in 1917, and a daughter, Stella Patrick Campbell, an actress who appeared often with her mother.
A portrait of Mrs. Campbell as Paula Tanqueray was painted by Solomon J. Solomon in 1894, and another was painted by Prince Pierre Troubetzkoy.
The Times, 11 April 1940
Mrs. Patrick Campbell, My Life and Some Letters, 1922
H. Hamilton Fyfe, Sir Arthur Pinero's Plays and Players, 1930
G. Bernard Shaw, Our Theatres in the Nineties, vol. iii, 1932
A. E. W. Mason, Sir George Alexander and the St. James' Theatre, 1935
James Agate, Ego 4, 1940
Who's Who in the Theatre, 1939.
Contributor: J. C. Trewin.