Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Modjeska, Helena

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MODJESKA, Helena (mod-yes'-ka), actress, b. in Cracow, Poland, 12 Oct., 1844. She is the daughter of Michael Opido, a man of fine musical culture, who gave instruction in that branch in Cracow, where his home was the meeting-place of all musicians and artists that came to the old capital. Her early aspirations were toward the stage, but that career seemed impossible on account of family opposition. Finally, after her marriage with Modrzejewski (abbreviated in English to Modjeska), she made her first appearance in September, 1861, in an amateur performance in the little town of Bochnia, Austrian Poland. Her success was such that her husband organized a small company with which she travelled through all the towns of Galicia, and during the latter part of 1862 she was engaged at the government theatre in Lemberg for three months. She then managed a theatre of her own in Czernowice, playing prominent parts herself and assisted by her two half-brothers and her younger sister. In 1865 she returned to Cracow and there became the leading lady in the local theatre. Her fame soon extended throughout Poland and into France and Germany. She received proposals to act from European managers, and the younger Dumas invited her to come to Paris and play Marguerite Gautier in his “Dame aux Camélias.” These offers she steadily refused, determining to remain true to the Polish stage. After her first husband's death she married, in September, 1868, Charles Bozenta Chlapowski, now (1888) a naturalized citizen of the United States, and a year later settled in Warsaw, where she played the principal female parts in the standard pieces of Shakespeare, Goethe, Schiller, and Molière, and also new plays of Polish origin. For seven years she continued in Warsaw, and her repertory in her native language includes 284 parts. Failing health, worry over the Russian censorship, and other difficulties induced her to leave the stage in 1876 and come to the United States, where she settled on a ranch near Los Angeles, Cal., hoping to found a Polish colony there. In the spring of 1877 she went to San Francisco, and, after studying English for a little more than four months, made her first appearance in the California theatre as Adrienne Lecouvreur. Her success was immediate, and thenceforth her record as an American actress has been one of continual triumph. She has made six tours through the country, and has acted for several seasons in London and the English provinces, with three short tours in Poland. Madame Modjeska has acted in twenty-five parts since she first appeared on the American stage, principally in the Shakesperian roles of Beatrice, Imogen, Juliet, and Rosalind, also Mary Stuart and Camille. She has also made adaptations for the Polish stage of Shakespeare's “As You Like It” and “Twelfth Night.”