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Boston's Darling: Lillian Lawrence
by David for group historicalziegfeld Jan 26, 2011

Because of the historical dominance that Broadway exerted over 20th-century American theater, we forget that other metropolitan areas had robust traditions of performance and particular dramatic tastes. Boston registers in memory almost exclusively for its penchant for censorship, not the quality of its musical theater troupes, or the expertise of its resident stock companies. The Castle Square theatre was one of the great institutions of the turn of the century and its leading woman since 1897, Lillian Lawrence, was the city's idol. A Virginian born just after the Civil War, she moved with her family to the West Coast. A love of theater infected her as a child. She learned her craft doing ingenue parts in an Oakland stock Company. She gradually worked her way eastward, affiliating with groups in Dayton, Oh, and New York. By the time she arrived in Boston, she had a decade's experience in major speaking parts, had trained her memory so she had over 100 roles at her command, and had bloomed into a handsome, fully mature woman. She was immediately embraced by the theater-going public. Distrusting the rather unimaginative set-ups of photographer Elmer Chickering, she chose the city's other celebrity photographer, James E. Purdy, who installed her as his muse. During the first decade of the 20th century she appeared on Broadway regularly. Her daughter Ethel Grey Terry became a movie star. From 1919 until her death in 1926, Lillian Lawrence played in numbers of film roles as power matrons for Universal, Joseph Schenck, and the Talmadge Film Companies. David S. Shields


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