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Minnie Maddern Fiske (1865–1932)

Portrait of Mrs. Fiske by Ernest Haskel, in Mrs. Fiske. New York: The Century Co., 1917.
Portrait of Mrs. Fiske by Ernest Haskel, in
Mrs. Fiske. New York: The Century Co., 1917.

Minnie Maddern Fiske, often known simply as "Mrs. Fiske," was a leading actress of the turn of the 20th century. During a long and successful career, she was a major champion in the United States of the Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, producing and starring in several of his plays. Driven by the principles of artistic freedom, she also fought against the Theatrical Syndicate, which at the time held a near-monopoly on theaters throughout the country.

The only daughter of a stage manager and an actress, Fiske made her stage debut at the age of three as the Duke of York in Richard III. At 16 she moved on from mere children's roles, and in 1883 became a nationwide sensation when she toured in Fogg's Ferry and theatergoers witnessed her red hair, blue eyes, and delicate features. During that tour she married LeGrand White, the musician scion of a respectable family in Brooklyn. White served as her manager, but they separated and divorced in 1888. She married again in 1890, to Harrison Grey Fiske, the owner and editor of the New York Dramatic Mirror.

Fiske gave up acting briefly, but in 1893 she returned to the stage, and her 1894 success as Nora in Ibsen's A Doll's House cemented her position as a leading American actress. Over the next 20 years, Fiske and her husband mounted numerous plays to critical and commercial success. It was in this period that Mrs. Fiske fought the Theatrical Syndicate, performing in lower-class theatres, churches, and skating rinks for a dozen years.

Fiske crusaded against cruelty to animals, worked for Alfred Smith during the 1928 presidential election, and was a member of the Association Against the Prohibition Amendment. Her last professional performance was in the spring of 1930; she died at home on Long Island in February, 1932.

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