George Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion and introducing the real Eliza Doolittle
Mrs. Patrick Campbell, born Beatrice Stella Tanner (1865-1940) was a famous British actress who went by the name of her first husband, even after his death in the Boer War and her subsequent remarriage years later. Affectionately known as Mrs. Pat, she is probably best known as the actress who first portrayed Eliza Doolittle in George Bernard Shaw’s Pygmalion although she was wildly popular for other roles as well. She and Shaw maintained a very close relationship from that first appearance in Pygmalion that continued for the rest of their lives.
Beatrice Rose Stella Tanner Campbell (1865-1940) was a prominent British actress. She made her debut as Mrs. Patrick Campbell in 1888 playing in a string of minor successes until an 1893 role as Paula in The second Mrs. Tanqueray launched her career and garnered high praise in the press. Mrs. Patrick is particularly remembered for her role as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion, a part written for her by George Bernard Shaw, who began correspondence with her in 1899. Though begun at the close of the previous century, the correspondence between Shaw and Mrs. Patrick did not truly bloom until 1912. At that time, Shaw, the noted playwright, Fabian socialist, journalist, dramatic and literary critic, who had been married to fellow Fabian suffragist Charlotte Frances Payne-Townshend Shaw since 1898, pronounced himself to be "head over ears in love" with ‘Mrs. Pat’ as she was affectionately called. In 1914, when Mrs. Pat, a widow of almost 15 years, was to marry George Cornwallis-West, Shaw implored her not to marry "that George." However, after her second marriage, their correspondence seemed to lessen in frequency until the 1920s when Mrs. Pat introduced the idea of publishing their collected letters in her autobiographical work, My life and some letters.
The correspondence, though less frequent through the years, continued to the end of Mrs. Pat's life. Her will, written in 1934, stated her long-held desire that their correspondence be published in full. Shaw's will, dated the year of his death in 1950, granted long-withheld permission for the correspondence to be published to the financial benefit of Mrs. Pat's great-grandchildren.
The letters between Shaw and Mrs. Pat range widely, delving into the subjects of their active careers, family, health, emotions, travel, and their many significant theatrical and society acquaintances and friends including: James Barrie, W.B. Yeats, Dame Ellen Terry are mentioned with casual frequency. Politics is a notably absent theme; Mrs. Pat was not particularly interested.
The loveliest dedication on the inside page written by Mrs. Patrick Campbell reads as follows,
NOTE: Mrs. Patrick Campbell called Shaw 'Joey'
Mrs. Patrick Campbell in a scene from Pygmalion as Eliza Doolittle selling flowers as Professor Higgins looks on!
NEW YORK, NEW YORK A HELL OF A TOWN THE BRONX IS UP AND THE BATTERY’S DOWN
Mrs. Patrick Campbell and her dog Pinky
New York was a different story. She arrived there in January, 1902 with two servants and her constant companion, a little dog she called Pinky Panky Poo. Pinky was described by a reporter for The Evening Journal as a “strange, inbred wild little creature” with a “wild, crazy, big-eyed snub-nosed face”.
In her memoir, My Life and Some Letters, Mrs. Patrick Campbell speaks of her impressions of New York,
“As everyone knows, New York is built upon a rock. During this visit of mine they were constructing the subway, and every inch of the tunnel had to blasted with dynamite. The din of New York-the rush, the tall buildings, and the strange-coloured people; Italians, Russians, Chinese–all sorts everywhere–the noise of the elevators, the nasal twang–black boys, bell boys, and the noise of the street cars–I do not want to be unkind, but to me it was demoniacal.”
Tanbark? Ever heard of it…Me neither and apparently neither had Mrs. Pat! She explains here in an excerpt from her memoir, ‘My Life and Some Letters,’
“There is a very fearsome person in America called the “Press agent.” It is his business to see that the newspapers talk about the “star”. His power of invention, contrivance, and ingenuity is beyond conception to the normal mind. One night at the theatre, just before I was going on the stage in Beyond Human Power, the press agent (this particular man was German and his name was “Worms!”) put his head in my dressing room door and said: “If anyone says ‘tanbark’, you know nothing.” I called him back and asked him what “tanbark” was. He looked delighted and answered:” I guess you’d better not know. That night the noise outside the theatre ceased. The street cars have one kind of bell that jangles when they start, and another when they stop; and I think there were three sets of tram trails outside this theatre, but on this particular evening all was silent.
The next morning on January 25, 1902, an article appeared in the Evening Journal discussing the reasons why Tanbark would be necessary,
Mrs. Patrick Campbell, the famous English actress, was going to play Beyond Human Power to-night at the Theatre Republic, and it was necessary that she had absolute quiet.
So it was that the streets were tanbarked, and various warnings were issued to various employees of the city and corporation, that quiet must be the order of day and night. And, ‘Pinky Panky Poo’ was as happy as ever a genteel doggy could be.
It all began from a request from Mrs. Campbell’s manager to President Cantor, of the Borough of Manhattan, that the city spread tanbark in front of the theatre. The manager explained there was so much noise because of the rumbling of wagon wheels and other vehicles that the beauties of the actress’s acting were partly lost upon the audience. (As a result)
Three carloads of Tanbark were dumped in front of the Theatre Republic on West Forty-second Street, just off Broadway, this morning. An army of ‘White Wings’* were soon busy spreading it in even layers over the granite-blocked pavement. As the street cars approached, the motor men jammed down the brakes and slowed up, and refrained from ringing the gongs. The ill-mannered little boys who eke out an existence crying ‘Wuxtra!’ ’Wuxtra!’ were gagged. The Italian organ-grinders were warned not to go further north than West Twenty-ninth Street. The cries of babies on the block were stifled with paregoric. Even the detectives from the Tenderloin Police Station wore gum shoes. The patrol men conversed in whispers. The bar-keepers over at the Metropole and Rossmore Cafe’s shook up the cocktails and gin fizzes with muffled ice. All was still. All was silent. The man from Sullivan County, who came down to town in a straw hat and a fur-trimmed duster, asked if the Mayor was dead. The peanut vendor at the corner, who had been cautioned to plug up the whistle of his roaster, or suffer banishment to ‘Little Italy,’ leaned over the kerbstone and whispered gently in the off ear of the man from Sullivan County.
* White Wings are the name of street cleaner and sweeper, who wear white linen coats.
There are some actors and actresses in America who say that my success was entirely due to “tanbark.”, Mrs. Patrick Campbell
January 25, 1902, the Evening Journal newspaper article
My Life and Some Letters, Mrs. Patrick Campbell
Mrs. Patrick Campbell Correspondence and Other Papers, 1901-1940 (MS Thr 372.1). Houghton Library, Harvard University.