Celeste, Madame (DNB00)

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CELESTE, Madame, whose proper name was Celeste-Elliott (1814?–1882), actress, was born, according to statements presumably supplied by herself, on 6 Aug. 1814. The true date of her birth, which took place in Paris, may safely be accepted as three or four years earlier. Her parentage was humble and obscure. At an early age she displayed histrionic capacity, which led to her acceptance at the Conservatoire, where during her probation she played with Talma in ‘Le Vieux Célibataire’ of Collin d'Harleville the character of Armand, and with Madame Pasta in ‘Medea.’ She distinguished herself as a dancer, and it was in this capacity that her first engagement, which was for America, took place. At the Bowery Theatre, New York, she made, October 1827, her first professional appearance. In March of the following year she danced two pas seuls at the Chestnut Street Theatre, Philadelphia. The first speaking character assigned her was Myrtillo in the ‘Broken Sword,’ a drama which failed to win public approval. During her residence in the United States she married a young man named Elliott, by whom, before his death, she had a daughter. In 1830 she quitted New Orleans for England, and landed at Liverpool, where she played Fenella, a mute part, in ‘Masaniello.’ Her ignorance of English at this period was all but complete, and the representations she gave in various country towns were confined to ballet or pantomime. At Easter 1831, at the Queen's Theatre, Tottenham Street, London, so named after Queen Adelaide, then under the management of George Macfarren, the father of the musical composer, she appeared as an Arab boy in the ‘French Spy,’ a piece written especially to show her talent. In August 1832 she made a favourable impression in a piece called the ‘Poetry of Motion’ at the Surrey. After a tour through Italy, Germany, and Spain, she was engaged by Bunn for Dublin, and afterwards by Murray for Edinburgh. Bunn, at that time manager of both Covent Garden and Drury Lane, then brought her to London, and she appeared in March 1833 with Duvernay in the ‘Maid of Cashmere,’ and on 23 Oct. of the same year as Fenella in ‘Masaniello.’ The following November she led at Covent Garden the famous danse des folies in ‘Gustavus the Third.’ She also appeared at Drury Lane in ‘Prince Le Boo’ and the ‘Revolt of the Harem.’ A second visit to America, extending over three years, 1834–7, was so successful, that the actress returned with a fortune that has been estimated at 40,000l. On 7 Oct. 1837 she reappeared at Drury Lane, still in a non-speaking part, in Planché's drama the ‘Child of the Wreck,’ written expressly for her, and in 1841 she played in Bayle Bernard's ‘Marie Ducange,’ also written for her. Christmas 1843 saw her associated with Benjamin Webster in the management of the Theatre Royal, Liverpool. The following year she undertook the management of the Adelphi, at which house her first speaking character was in Bayle Bernard's drama ‘St. Mary's Eve.’ On 27 Jan. 1845 she was seen for the first time in what became her most famous character, Miami in the ‘Green Bushes.’ Elmire in ‘Tartuffe’ and Harlequin à la Watteau followed, and the Gipsy Queen in the ‘Flowers of the Forest,’ and other performances in the ‘Willow Copse,’ the ‘Cabin Boy,’ &c., established her in public favour. In November 1859 Madame Celeste began her management of the Lyceum with ‘Paris and Pleasure,’ an adaptation of ‘Les Enfers de Paris.’ With the loss of her youth her attractions diminished, and the disadvantage of a singularly foreign pronunciation became more evident. In October 1874, at the Adelphi, in her favourite character of Miami, which she played for twelve nights, Madame Celeste took her farewell of the stage, to which no inducement could persuade her to return. She died of cancer at half-past five a.m. on Sunday, 12 Feb. 1882, at her residence, 18 Rue de Chapeyron, Paris. In grace of movement and in picturesqueness Madame Celeste was surpassed by few actresses of her day. She had, moreover, histrionic gifts, including command of pathos.

[Tallis's Dramatic Magazine; Era newspaper for 25 Feb. 1882.]

J. K.