Ada C. Rehan (April 22,1857-January 8,1916) From Shakespeare to Lord Tennyson!

Ada C. Rehan, Cabinet Card

Shakespearean theatre actress Ada Rehan was born Delia Crehan on 22 April, 1857 in Shannon Street, County Limerick, Ireland, according to hospital records. Mistakenly, over time, her birth year has been recorded as 1860 and 1859. I am going with 1857. Her parents Thomas Crehan (1820-1890), a ship carpenter and his wife Harriet Crehan (nee Ryan) (1822-1901) were of the Church of Ireland faith. Little Delia had four siblings: William Crehan (1845-1903), Mary Kate Byron (1846-1920), Thomas Crehan (1850-1867) and Arthur Wesley Rehan (1860-1900). For reasons that are not recorded The Crehan’s left Ireland for the United States ending up in New York in the borough of Brooklyn when Delia was just five years old. According to: Ada Rehan: A Study by William Winter, printed privately in 1898; however, Limerick, Ireland Census records provide the year 1870 as the arrival of The Crehan’s to Brooklyn, New York, which would put little Delia at age thirteen. By this time her siblings were already acting when she decided to follow in their footsteps. It was her brother-in-law, Oliver Doud Byron who would help make her debut in 1873 as Clara in Across the Continent  in Newark, New Jersey. It was a small part and she stepped in for another performer who fell ill. It was around this time that a typographical error which dropped the first letter C from her surname, gave her the stage name Rehan or Ada C. Rehan. 

Ada Rehan and John Drew

It was in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania where she met fellow actor, John Drew at Arch Street Theatre. He would become her longest professional acting partner. During the years 1873-5, she spent two seasons with Drew before being spotted by John Augustin Daly, an American Playwright and Theatre Manager. Daly knew talent when he saw it and he immediately could tell Ada C. Rehan was a star! When he saw her performance as Mary Standish in his plays Pique and also L’Assommoir at Olympic Theatre in New York, he asked her to join his theatre company. Daly’s Theatre was located on the southwest corner of Thirtieth Street and Broadway in New York City. It officially opened on September 17, 1879. It was on that stage where Ada made her first performance as Nelly Beers in Love’s Young Dream. Between the years 1879-1898 Rehan, under his mentorship, became one of the finest and most beloved comediennes and leading lady of Daly’s theatre company. They travelled touring throughout Europe. It was mainly in London’s Stratford-Upon-Avon at Daly’s London Theatre where she portrayed some of her most well known and adored Shakespearean comedic roles: Mrs. Ford, Katherine, Helena, Rosalind, Viola, Beatrice, and Sheridan’s Lady Teazle. 

 Ada Rehan as Katherine in Taming of the Shrew

The Pall Mall Gazette said of Ada Rehan as Katherine:
There are certain theatrical performances, like certain faces, which once seen are never forgotten, and such a one is Miss Ada Rehan’s rendering of the part of Katherine in “The Taming of the Shrew.” Miss Rehan indulges in no undue violence of voice or gesture to produce her effects. For her the heroine’s passion is only the more dangerous, because she never quite allows it to explode itself. It is always simmering and smoldering never quite ablaze.

 Ada Rehan as Rosalind in As You Like It

The LondonTimes, Ada Rehan as Rosalind:
It is a merry, arch, playful Rosalind she shows us, unmarked by the smallest dash of the prose of everyday life. Rosalind’s laugh is as pretty as the sound of a silver bell; her bounty to the world at large is as boundless as her love for Orlando. No suggestion of cynicism or strong-mindedness mars her gentle pleasantries. Without any other claim to public regard, and it has many, Mr. Daly’s production of “As You Like It” would still be memorable for Miss Rehan’s delightful embodiment of Rosalind, the best of the century.

 Dated April, 1884, Augustin Daly seated right side reading script to Daly Theatre Cast including Ada Rehan left center seated on the floor. 

Ada Rehan as Maid Marian in The Foresters, 1892

When it comes to the subject of Alfred Tennyson, I’m not sure many people realize he was also a playwright. For instance, his good friend Henry Irving produced Tennyson’s play Queen Mary in 1876, The Falcon after that, The Promise of May and Ellen Terry created the part of Camma in The Cup at the Lyceum Theatre in 1881.It was in 1891 that Tennyson’s close friends Henry Irving and his wife Ellen Terry recommended that he should meet Augustin Daly and let him produce his play The Foresters. The leading actress of the day was Ada Rehan; also, suggested by Irving and later Daly himself. The production of The Foresters was to take place in New York. However, for that to happen the theatre company needed Lord Tennyson’s complete approval. Alfred Tennyson wanted to meet Ada Rehan have a cast reading at his home Aldworth in Surrey and if he liked what he heard, then she would be approved and cast as lead Maid Marian.  Correspondence began between Augustin Daly and Alfred Tennyson’s son Hallam discussing structural theatrical changes. Some letters remain including one where Daly writes, “My dear Hallam Tennyson: Whatever title Lord Tennyson finally selects I will abide by. I give you my preference here: The Foresters: Robin Hood and Maid Marian. This copy is simply my suggestion for the acting play; or for the work as it can be acted understandingly. I may have omitted too much. Restore again what you positively wish to go in, but I think the shaping of the piece should stand as I give it here.”  

 Daly's Theatre also called Fift Avenue Theatre in NYC Broadway 24th Street in 1895

Augustin Daly, Producer and Theatre Manager

On September 20, 1891, Hallam replied to Daly,
“By all means prepare yourself for a visit any day early in October, and will you tell Miss Rehan that my Father and Mother would like her to stay here any Sunday night that would be convenient to her. There is a 7 o’clock train from London on Sunday. He would like to talk to her about Maid Marian. Ought not the play to be called ‘Robin Hood and Maid Marian’?’

When Daly’s manuscript arrived at Aldworth, Tennyson read it. It contained questions of copyright being submitted to counsel and a formal agreement was drawn up by Tennyson’s lawyers. Tennyson’s reply to Daly upon reading of his changes and more serious matters was to reply with his usual humour in prose:

“If I have overwrit, and laid

  It may be here, it may be there,

 The fat too thickly on with care

 To cut it down be not afraid” (Punch)

               “Air ‘Patience.’

Lately, aye and Daily, I the poet T-

Worked at a play which seemed to suit A.Daly.

 I must say at once ‘tis a kind of comedee,

  Just the thing for Daly, O!

Plot I don’t much care for,

Only language, therefore

Thought I, that’s the thing for Daly, O!”

Alfred Tennyson also wrote the songs for The Foresters and wrote to friend, Sir Arthur Sullivan of Gilbert and Sullivan asking to write the melodies. They might have clashed creatively and professionally but personally they seemed to get on well enough. It was agreed. Tennyson wrote the song, “There Is No Land Like England,” when he was nineteen. It was a chorus against the French he said. Before Christmas he wrote a new scene and a new song for Miss Rehan, ‘Love Flew In At The Window’ which she sings in the opening number.
 Original NYC program for The Foresters, March 26, 1892
By the time The Foresters debuted on the New York Stage of Daly’s Theatre on Saturday, March 26, 1892, there was such a buzz about it that the American people appreciated the beauty of the songs, the wise sayings about life and the woodlands. The play had a long and successful run. Eventually, word got back to Alfred Tennyson on the Isle of Wight he cabled Augustin Daly, “Warmest thanks to yourself and Miss Rehan and all who have taken so much trouble. Our congratulations upon the splendid success.                           Tennyson.”
 I just had to include this beautiful illustration of the interior lobby of The Daly Theatre
as it looked during 1892 in NYC when The Foresters was performed.
Ada Rehan sent Tennyson the following cable, “Let me add my congratulations to the many on the success of “The Foresters.” I cannot tell how delighted I was when I felt and saw, from the first, the joy it was giving to our large audience. Its charm is felt by all. Let me thank you for myself for the honor of playing your Maid Marian which I have learned to love, for while I am playing the part I feel all its beauty and simplicity and sweetness, which make me feel for the time a happier and a better woman. I am indeed proud of its great success, for your sake as well as my own.”

Ada Rehand travelled the world as an actress visiting her family in Brooklyn, New York, her whole life. She survived a cancer scare in 1905 in retirement and lived in Manhattan for her remaining days in my neighborhood on the Upper West Side. She lived here at 64 W.93rd street, NYC, between 1905-1916. She is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

64 W.93rd Street, NYC, where Ada Rehan lived

Her grave Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn, NY.


Pamela Britley said…
Great article. I never heard Ada Rehan before. Loved the photos.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Pamela
I'm so glad you enjoyed reading about Ada Rehan. Thanks for stopping by!
Kevin Marsh said…
Wow, I must admit I had never heard of Ada Rehan before either, but what a life. she did very well for herself in a time when women found it almost impossible to get on in a 'Mans World'.
Lovely photographs.

Thank you for sharing Kimberly.
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi Kevin,
It was fun to learn about Ada Rehan. She did indeed do very well for herself.
Part of the fun is finding all those photographs!
Thanks for commenting!
WoofWoof said…
Very interesting! Am I right in thinking that Tennyson's plays were a commercial and critical failure? I've never heard of anyone putting them on in recent times
Kimberly Eve said…
Hi WoofWoof,
Yes, sadly his plays were failures. The Foresters failed miserably on all counts in London, small audiences, terrible reviews, etc. I was happy to see that it did very well in New York City. Its strange his plays had terrific casts but the audiences just weren't ready to see their Poet Laureate's work portrayed in that way, I believe. I would love it if there was a resurgence on Broadway and London's West End :)