A longer answer, illustrated with 80 slides of her photographs, costumes, letters, memorabilia, and gardens at Arden, is given in my lecture as Modjeska Club President, entitled "Who was Helena Modjeska?" This lecture accompanied a unique exhibition of Modjeska's 1896 handwritten bilingual morality tale written and illustrated for her grandson Felix Modjeski (son of Ralph Modjeski the famous engineer). The Lecture took place on Thursday, 28 March 2019 at 6 pm. at Laguna Art Museum, 307 Cliff Dr, Laguna Beach, CA 92651; tel. (949) 494-8971. https://lagunaartmuseum.org/events/who-was-helena-modjeska/
As it turns out Modjeska was not only actress, writer, illustrator, but also theater director, producer, costume designer, costume maker, star-maker (Ignacy Jan Paderewski, Wladyslaw Benda), artist and artists' muse (writer Henryk Sienkiewicz, painters, poets Richard Watson Gilder and John Steven McGroarty), interior designer, icon of style, businesswoman, and marketer.
Then, she also was farmer, landowner, gardener and the boss of one of the most famous gardeners of the 29th century, Theodore Payne (of Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants). She was even a rosarian!
Of course, she was a devoted daughter, sister, mother, favorite great aunt and grandma... and a legend during her lifetime and after her death... A lot of roles for 68 years of life!
Let us start the review of the multitude of roles she played in her life, not only on the stage, from that of a POET'S MUSE - here is a poem "Modjeska" by 19th-century American poet Celia Thaxter (1835-1894), and depicting the actress while she listens to a Chopin recital at the home of journalist Eugene Field in Boston:
Deft hands called Chopin's music from the keys.
Silent, she sat, her slender figure's poise
Flower-like and fine and full of lofty ease;
She heard her Poland's most consummate voice
From power to pathos falter, sink and change;
The music of her land, the wondrous high,
Utmost expression of its genius strange, -
Incarnate sadness breathed in melody.
Silent and thrilled she sat, her lovely face
Flushing and paling like a delicate rose
Shaken by summer winds from its repose
Softly this way and that, with tender grace
Now touched by sun, now into shadow turned, -
While bright with kindred fire her eyes burned.
Jadwiga Helena Misel (b. 12 Oct. 1840 in Kraków). Mother – Józefa Benda (1803-1887), baptized as Jadwiga Opid with the last name of her godfather Michał Opid; father – unknown. Some speculated that she was illegitimately fathered by Prince Eustachy Sanguszko, and later people looked for similarities between his daughter Helena and Modjeska. She remained in close contact with her half-brothers Benda – actors Józef and Feliks, and the Opid family: Adolf+Kazimiera, their children Ludwik and Maria, and granddaughters Felicia and Helena, that she treated as her own.
- First tour 1878 – 5 months, 17 cities
- Second tour 1878/9 – 35 weeks, 240 shows, 50 cities, first one by train – her own car “Poland”
- Third tour 1882/3 – 38 weeks, 20+ cities (“farewell”)
- Fourth tour 1883/4 – 40 weeks, second “farewell” with Chlapowski as manager, hired Stinson
- Fifth tour 1885/6 – 80 cities, 245 shows
- TOTAL: 26 tours to 1907, with Sargent, Stinson and then “Helena Modjeska Company
- 18 roles and 15 of them in English, 11 in both languages.
- Of all 4,300 performances she gave, 2,250 were in Shakespeare
- Of all 3,800 American performances, over 2,000 in Shakespeare
- Lady Macbeth – 520
- Rosalind – 440
- Beatrice – 200
- Julia, Viola, Portia – 160 times each
- Ophelia and Cleopatra – 100 times
While her career blossomed after the fall of the January Uprising (1863-4), Modjeska performed Polish repertoire wherever she could, starting from Slowacki's plays, and including those by Stanislaw Wyspianski and less known writers. In the 1870s, some of her Warsaw performances were turned into patriotic manifestations by audiences, including students, still thinking of independence for the country that so recently fought for over a year against the Russian and Prussian occupiers.
Often expressed patriotic sentiments in interviews and sometimes on the stage, as during the tour of Ireland, where she compared the fate of Ireland under the British rule to the fate of Poland ruled by Russia.
In 1893 at the World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, she made a 45-minutes speech about women in Poland, including in her speech not only an overview of famous Polish women, from the 17th century onwards, but also very strong patriotic and anti-Russian accents. She complained about the powers that "endeavor to obliterate from the annals of humanity the history of Poland, to restrict if not entirely prohibit the use of our language, to hinder the development of every progress; be it economic, intellectual or social." And named this hostile power the Russian government
Among her protegees were Ignacy Jan Paderewski, pianist composer, Wladyslaw Benda, artist (and her nephew), and pianist prodigy Jozef Hoffman.
RETIREE IN NEWPORT BEACH, 1906-1909
Sold Arden in 1906 and moved to Bay Island in Newport Beach. Benefit organized by Paderewski, star-studded benefit performance, New York, 1905.
Memoirs, written in English, published in 1910 “Memories and Impressions.” Polish translation, “Wspomnienia i wrażenia”, in 1957. Heavily edited by her husband.
Despite official “retirement” continued making appearances at special events in Los Angeles where the Opid family of her “step-father” lived with two grand-nieces, Felcia and Helcia.
She was celebrated in life and death, by poetic tributes, biographies, newspaper profiles, interviews.
By Richard Watson Gilder (1844-1909)
Here are four sisters known to mortals well,
Whose names are Joy and Sorrow, Death, and Love:
This last it was who did my footsteps move
To where the other deep-eyed sisters dwell.
To-night, or ere yon painted curtain fell,
These, one by one, before my eyes did rove
Through the brave mimic world that Shakspere wove.
Lady! thy art, thy passion were the spell
That held me, and still holds; for thou dost show,
With those most high each in his sovereign art,--
Shakspere supreme, Beethoven and Angelo,--
Great art and passion are one. Thine too the part
To prove that still for him the laurels grow
Who reaches through the mind to pluck the heart.
Gilder was an American writer and editor of The Century Magazine, and Member of American Academy of Arts and Letters. He published many volumes of poetry including "How Paderewski Plays..." Modjeska introduced Paderewski to Gilder, thus starting another helpful artistic friendship.
Another notable American poet wrote an eulogy for her funeral, published in Los Angeles in 1909.
by John Steven McGroarty (1862-1944)
The curtain falls, and hushed the sighing
Of violet strings; the crowds depart.
The Queen is dead, her white hands lying
At peace upon her quiet heart.
She hears no more the shout and clamor
Of mimic armies, hurrying fast
To shield her throne in war's wild glamor;
Their swords are rust, their splendor past.
The play is done, told is the story
Of life and strife, or love and trust.
Scattered the hosts, and gone their glory,
Their trumpets still, their banners dust.
She was the Queen, that laughed at danger.
Who, far from the native hills had flown
To bind the heart-stings of the stranger
In alien lands, around her own.
Bright was the throne her feet ascended -
Her soul was fair, and fair her face;
Nor yet, though now her reign be ended
Another comes to take her place.
No more the salvos madly leaping
To greet her ears in triumphs wan-
The Queen, her last long sleep is sleeping:
The lights are out, the plays is done.
- Opid-Modjeska Family Papers, Huntigton Library (archival documents)
- University of Irvine Library Special Collections - Modjeska Papers, Ellen K. Lee Papers
- Helena Modjeska Collection - California Digital Library cdn.calisphere.org/data/13030/gt/tf0489n6gt/files/tf0489n6gt.pdf
- BOOKS BY MODJESKA
- Helena Modjeska, Memories and Impressions, McMillan and Company, 1910; PDF https://ia800706.us.archive.org/17/items/memoriesandimpre017092mbp/memoriesandimpre017092mbp.pdf
- Helena Modjeska, ed. Seven plays : as performed by Madame Helena Modjeska (Countess Bozena). Helena Modjeska; William Shakespeare; Henri Meilhac; Ludovic Halévy; Alexandre Dumas; Indianapolis : Hasselman-Journal, 1883.
- Jozef Szczublewski, Zywot Modrzejewskiej (1975).
- Mabel Collins, The Story of Helena Modjeska, London, 1883.
- Marion Moore Coleman, Fair Rosalind: the American career of Helena Modjeska. Cheshire, Conn., Cherry Hill Books, 1969.
- Beth Holmgren, Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and America (2011)
- OTHER WRITINGS
- Theodore Payne, Life on the Modjeska Ranch in the Gay Nineties Los Angeles: Kruckenberg Press, 1962.
- Maja Trochimczyk, "An Archangel at the Piano: Paderewski and his Female Audiences" (Polish American Studies, 2011)
- Wikipedia - Hero's Journey illustration