Kyrle Bellew (1857-1911)
This gentleman, whose full name was Harold Kyrle Money Bellew, had an exciting and romantic career -- actually a series of careers -- unfortunately cut short. The son of an Anglican clergyman and his wife, Bellew was an infant in India when war forced his family's return to London. At the age of 7 the boy ran away to sea, was returned to London before he got very far, and finally earned his father's permission to serve in the Royal Navy as a cabin boy. Surviving storms and shipwrecks, he landed a decade later in Australia, where he worked as a miner and journalist, also taking part in amateur theatricals. He made his acting debut at the age of 17.
He was gorgeous. Ah, that profile! Returning to England, he was given his first big break by the dramatist Dion Boucicault, and then began to appear steadily in London productions. Shakespeare and melodrama were his specialties, and he acted in a number of companies, including Henry Irving's. In 1885 he made his American debut in the role of Hubert in In His Power, at Wallack's Theater in New York. And in that city he met socialite Cora Brown Potter, who returned to England with him; for a decade, they toured England, India, Australia, and the United States. They had a repertoire of over 30 plays, and in one week they might performed the leading roles in six different dramas. Kyrle Bellew was especially known for his portrayals of Romeo, Cosmo in The Jest, Rafael in The Ghetto, Jacques in Civil War, and Pedro in Loyal Love.
Just before the end of the 19th century, Bellew left the stage briefly to return to prospecting for gold in Australia. He was more than an amateur, being a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and a member of the Royal Microscopical Society and the author of articles in professional mining journals. But the theatre was his real love, and he returned to it near the close of 1901. This time, he made his home in New York, where he soon became as popular as he had been in London. His first success was in a lavish production of A Gentleman of France -- it ran for over 100 performances, and its scene with a swordfight on a stairway became legendary. A film clip of this event remains one of the earliest moving images of the American theatre.
Bellew returned to England every summer to see Cora Brown Potter, but his professional life was now in America. He had an apartment on West 27th Street in Manhattan, near the theatre district, and was a member of the Lambs Club. He worked with producer Charles Frohmann, also a Lamb, starring in the title roles in The Thief and Raffles, the Amateur Cracksman. Bellew was phenomenally successful and had a wide following. Multi-talented, he also produced and wrote several plays, as well as a volume of short stories. There were always stories about him in the New York papers, either about his performances or his plans to bring theatrical excitement to new audiences, for instance in his plan for a floating theatre. Some thought his simultaneously courtly and flamboyant acting style a bit dated, but he continually dazzled and intrigued his audiences.
The luck that had saved him from war as an infant, shipwreck as a youth, and malaria as a miner in Australia ran out in the autumn of 1911. Bellew and his company were on a tour of the western United States. He took ill in Denver, and died of pneumonia a few days later in Salt Lake City. He is buried in the Bronx, NY.