Laura Keene Haiku

Financial advice

That’s worked but once: “Husband gone?

Consider acting.”

Nuts to it all; I’m declaring this Actor Week. The subject of our second installment is Laura Keene, who also had a connection to Lincoln’s bad night out.

Mary Frances Moss was born in England in 1826. She married young, to Wellington’s nephew, and they had two lovely daughters and opened up a tavern together. And they lived happily ever after. Haha, no, hubby got arrested and transported to Australia. Damn. She followed him and either couldn’t find him, or found him only for him to refuse her request for a divorce. Double damn. For a lot of women in those days, this would irreparably screw them and their kids over.

But Mary had a handy aunt in the form of actress Elizabeth Yates. “Acting?” she suggested. “Sure,” said Mary. To avoid scandal, she left the girls with her mum, and changed her name to… (drumroll) Laura Keene! She debuted in London, but soon accepted an invitation to act in America.

From there, she branched out, even as she became an increasingly popular actress. This included directing, producing, managing and owning. She became the first female theatre owner in New York. She also toured!

Including to California, where she got cast with Edwin Booth. They clicked and fell into each other’s beds /careers. As besotted actors do, they went on tour to Australia together, but then Edwin’s drinking came out in force. Laura broke it off with him. (You may recall from yesterday’s post that Edwin did clean up after his wife died.)

Laura returned to NYC, starting up the Laura Keene’s Varieties, at which ‘Our American Cousin’ premiered. She starred.

This was the play showing when Lincoln was shot, Laura there playing her part. When she found out what was going down, she went and held Lincoln’s head in her lap, getting blood all over her dress. Yep, she kept the dress.

Her career wound down after that, due to a slumping economy and her iffy health. She kept herself busy by writing and editing. Laura died in 1873 of tuberculosis, a disease from which seemingly every other person died of in the Victorian era.

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