Dictionary of National Biography, 1927 supplement/Kendal, William Hunter

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KENDAL, WILLIAM HUNTER (1848–1917), actor-manager, whose real name was William Hunter Grimston, the eldest son of Edward Hunter Grim- ston, by his wife, Louisa Ryder, was born in London 16 December 1848. He made his first appearance on the stage at the old Soho (afterwards the Royalty) Theatre 6 April 1861, as Louis XIV in A Life's Revenge, assuming the name of Kendal for his debut. He remained at this theatre nearly a year. In 1862 he went to the Moor Street Theatre, Birmingham, and subsequently became a member of the stock company at the Theatre Royal, - Glasgow, where he remained four years, playing a great number of parts and acquiring much experience. He then returned to London and was engaged by John Baldwin Buckstone [q.v.] for the Haymarket Theatre, making his first appearance there 31 October 1866 as Angus Mandeville in A Dangerous Friend. He remained a member of this company for eight years, playing numerous leading parts. Among those of which he was the original exponent were Bob Levitt (Mary Warner, June 1869), Prince Philamir (The Palace of Truth, November 1870), Pygmalion (Pygmalion and Galatea, December 1871), Ethais (The Wicked World, January 1873), and Frederick Smailey (Charity, January 1874). In addition he played numerous parts in revivals of old comedy and standard plays, such as Master Wildrake (The Love Chase), Charles Surface, Orlando, Romeo, Captain Absolute, Young Marlow, and Dazzle (London Assurance). During 1874-1875, in conjunction with his wife Margaret (Madge) Robertson, sister of the dramatist Thomas William Robertson [q.v.], whom he had married in August 1869, he fulfilled engagements at the Opera Comique and Gaiety Theatre; and then in 1875 he entered into ‘silent’ partnership with (Sir) John Hare [q.v.] at the Court Theatre. Here he played Harry Armytage (Lady Flora, March 1875), Christian Douglas (A Nine Days' Wonder, June 1875), Prince Florian (Broken Hearts, December 1875), and Colonel Blake (in a revival of A Scrap of Paper, March 1876). Together with his wife he was then engaged by the Bancrofts for the Prince of Wales's Theatre, first appearing there in Peril (September 1876), in which he made a great success as Dr. Thornton. For two years he continued there successfully, as George Clarke (The Vicarage), Charles Courtly (London Assurance), and Julian Beauclere (Diplomacy), the last-mentioned part being one of his greatest successes. In 1879 he rejoined John Hare at the Court Theatre, and played in A Scrap of Paper, The Ladies' Battle, and The Queen's Shilling. In October 1879, at the St. James’s Theatre, he entered into an open partnership with Hare which lasted until July 1888. Many notable productions were made during this period, in most of which Kendal played leading parts. An early production (December 1879) was Lord Tennyson’s one-act play, The Falcon, in which Kendal played Count Alberighi. Subsequently he played John Mildmay (in a revival of Still Waters Run Deep), William (William and Susan, a new version of Black-Eye'd Susan), Lord Kingussie (The Moneyspinner), Lieutenant Thorndyke (The Squire), Captain Crichton (Impulse), Philippe Derblay (The Ironmaster, in which he was very successful), Orlando, Geoffrey Roydant (Mayfair), Lord Clancarty (Lady Clancarty), and Sir Walter Amyot (The Wife's Secret).

After July 1888 Kendal and his wife spent much time in touring the English provinces and the United States, though many London engagements under their own management intervened. At the Court Theatre (March 1889) he played Ira Lee in The Weaker Sex, which was followed by a fine performance of the part of Sir John Molyneux in A White Lie. In October 1889, on their first visit to America, they opened at the Fifth Avenue Theatre, New York, in A Scrap of Paper. Further tours followed and several new productions were made. A season at the Avenue Theatre, London, was begun in January 1893, but was not very successful. While on tour in 18938-1896 Kendal added to his repertory Aubrey Tanqueray (The Second Mrs. Tanqueray), Sir John Frosdyke (The Fall of the Leaf), Mr. Armitage (The Greatest of These). The last of these plays was performed with success at the Garrick Theatre in June 1896. In the course of a subsequent tour The Elder Miss Blossom was produced, and this proved so successful that it was staged for a season at the St. James’s in September 1898. Kendal played through two more London seasons at the St. James's, in 1901 and 1905, and he made several appearances at the King's Theatre, Hammersmith, and the Coronet Theatre, Notting Hill; but he produced no new play of striking importance, and in 1908 he retired from the stage.

Kendal was a ‘safe’ actor, but from 1869 he was more or less overshadowed by his more brilliant wife, with whom he acted constantly. He will be best remembered as an excellent comedian, although occasionally his serious work was sound. Probably his best parts were those in Peril, The Queen’s Shilling, Diplomacy, A White Lie, and The Elder Miss Blossom. In his younger days he was a handsome and attractive man, and he was an admirable manager, with fine business ability. He died in London 6 November 1917, leaving a fortune exceeding £66,000.

Kendal had five children by his marriage—two sons and three daughters.

[The Times, 8 November 1917; Who's Who in the Theatre; private correspondence; personal knowledge.]

J. P.