Celebrity for the week ending
Saturday, 22 July 2006

William Faversham (1868-1940)
English-born American stage and film actor

William Faversham
William Faversham

(photo: Falk, New York, circa 1895)

'William Faversham is what is called, in the "gush" columns of the Sunday newspapers, "a matinee girl's ideal," but in addition to that he is a very good actor. For three seasons Mr. Faversham has held the position of leading man in Charles Frohman's Empire Theatre Company, certainly as good an organisation as we have in the country, and his work during that time has always been excellent and occasionally more than that. Still, while recognising the adequacy of his technique and the general sufficiency of his art, one might wish for more spontaneity, more frankness, and more positiveness in his acting. A little less artificiality and a little more nature would add wonderfully to the effectiveness of Mr. Faversham's work on the stage.
'Physically, he is a handsome fellow, tall, broad-shouldered, and manly-looking. He suggests the masculine; he looks muscular, vigorous and healthy. He is a modern young man, under all circumstances, with an indescribably up-to-dateness even when arrayed as Romeo in sixteenth century garments. Mr.Faversham is at his best in characters requiring buoyancy and vivacity of spirits and rapid and energetic action, - action, moreover, that is open, and above board without subtilty or ingenuousness. For this reason, while he makes a splendid lover during heroic moments, when there is danger to be overcome or enemies to be conquered, he is not so successful in the rôle of the sentimental lover. He does not propose well. This may seem a trivial and foolish point, but it really is not to the actor who holds the position of leading man in a prominent company. He may act ten or a dozen different characters in a season, yet always he is in love, and nine times out of ten he has to propos. Some players seem to have the knack of "popping the question" prettily born in them and apparently make love by instinct. John Mason, who used to be leading man at the Boston Museum Stock Company, was such a one, and his wooing set every susceptible heart in the theatre to fluttering. Others acquire the art, and still others seem never to be able to act the part of the lover. It was so with Edwin Booth.
'Mr. Faversham apparently is not a natural lover, but there surely is no reason why he should not be educated into one. Judging, not by the sad and sorrowful expression of his countenance when he folds in his arms a young woman who warrants a smile at least, but by the sympathetic atmosphere which he unquestionably does create at such a moment, Mr. Faversham is not altogether in ignorance of the emotion that he is trying to convey. If the theory be true that he has the conception all right, but fails fully to express it, his should be able without much difficulty to remedy this fault.

William Faversham

William Faversham
as Eric Von Rodeck in The Conquerors,
Empire Theatre, New York, 4 January 1898

(photo: unknown, New York, 1898)

'In Eric Von Rosdeck, the Babe in The Conquerors, - Paul Potter's audacious drama, whose immorality was not half so startling as one might think after reading what the critics said about it, - Mr. Faversham had a character very much in his line. There was action, plenty of it, and often brutally pointed. There were to be portrayed the masculine vices and one or two - possibly only one - of the masculine virtues. There were military uniforms to be worn, and there was no love-making - of the nice, genteel sort I mean. Mr. Faversham's Lord Wheatley, in Proso, was another capital impersonation, attractive as a personality, full of life and virility, and interested as a characterisation. Unfortunately, the play itself was a melodrama in which coherency had been sacrificed to make room for situations. Phroso made no great impression in either Boston or New York, the only two cities in which it was represented, and did not last any length of time. Mr. Faversham's impersonation of Romeo at the end of last season was on the whole a successful one. He was very modern, to be sure, but that was a fault which he shared with nearly every young actor of the present time who has tried Shakespearian rôles. The early scenes of the tragedy he played with admirable lightness and deftness, though without the touch of melancholy and largely without the reserve that the text indicates. There was evidence of passion in the balcony scene. The dignity of the first part of the scene with Tybalt was marked, and the duel was fought with realistic ferocity. The showing of grief when the decree of banishment was learned was not weakened by overacting, and the death scene was really tragic.
'William Faversham is an Englishman. He was born in 1868 and wad educated for the army. He attend3d the grammar school of Chigwell, one of the preparatory schools for Harrow. Charles Dickens's Barnaby Rudge is placed in Chigwell, and it was in the midst of the scenes depicted in that novel that Mr. Faversham passed his boyhood. He went next to harrow, and when he finished his schooling there, the opportunity came to send a number of youngsters to India to join the English forces in that country. Mr. Faversham had two brothers in the Fifteenth Hussars, and when he was sixteen years old he went to Bombay to join that regiment as a petty office.
'Marie de Grey and actress, was touring India at the time, and with her was an actor named Piffard, with whom Mr. Faversham became acquainted. The soldier soon grew to feel more interest in the stage than he did in the barracks. "I enjoyed the military schools, especially the riding school, but I did not care for army life," said Mr. Faversham. It was his friend Piffard that finally advised him to quit soldiering and turn player.
'The Afghan war broke out while the question was under consideration, and the Fifteenth Hussars were ordered to the front. Mr. Faversham's brothers succeeded in getting him invalided home just in time to escape the fighting. Mr. Faversham lost his two brothers and a cousin in that war. "Of course my going home was a farce," he remarked. "I was perfectly well, but I was glad enough to get back to England, just the same. By ending me this way I got my passage, and simply had to report to headquarters in London and get my discharge papers."
'No sooner was he free from the army than he began to prepare himself for the stage. He studied first with Charlotte Le Clerq [i.e. Carlotta Le Clercq], and made his début at one of her matinees, on February 12, 1886, at the Vaudeville theatre, London, with a number of others who were her pupils. Mr. Faversham appeared that afternoon in The Swiss Cottage, Blanche Horlock, and The Loan of a Lover, besides a little comic opera. His work attracted enough attention to secure him an engagement in the provinces. At first he played old men, making a tray at Sir Peter Teazle when he was nineteen years old, but the leading man of the company was taken sick after a few weeks, and Mr. Faversham succeeded to his characters, among them Charles Surface and Hamlet.
'He next joined a joint stock company at Ramsgate, where he remained seven months. The bill was changed several times weekly, and the young actor fell heir to all sorts of characters, among them Claude Melnotte, Lord Bertie Cecil in Moths, Correze in Under Two Flags, and Dick Swiveller. "Many a night," said Mr. Faversham, "I lay out on the jetty in my topcoat and studied my part by the flare of the lighthouse - and fell asleep there. One of my greatest successes was Quilp, which I played when Horace Barry, the manager, who was the husband of Maude Elliston, the star of the troupe, fell ill. I was very proud of that performance and enjoyed it, for I always thought old Quilp a great character."
'Mr. Faversham came to the United States in 1887 in the company that was brought to this country to support the beautiful English barmaid, Helen Hastings, whom somebody wanted to make over into an actress. She appeared at the Union Square Theatre in New York, in a play called Pen and Ink, and failed. Two others in her company, who remained in the United States, where they made positions for themselves, were Ida Vernon and W.J. Ferguson.
'After the Helen Hastings fiasco Mr. Faversham was engaged by Daniel Frohman to join his forces in the fall and to remain with him for five years. In the spring he acted from a few weeks with E.H. Sothern in The Highest Bidder, and then came summer, and with it an experience, regarding which Mr. Faversham tells the following story:
'"That summer was one of the most interest of my whole career to me. At that time I was almost a stranger here. I had no money. I had possibly earned something like twenty dollars a week, and the long vacation was before me. I gave up my modest room at the hotel, and for a few weeks lived as best I could, selling what few things I had that could be sold. I finally had nothing left by my dog Sambo, a famous bull. Every one knows Sambo.
'"Finally I made up my mind that I must get work. One day I took my dog and walked up Harlem way, until I reached High Bridge. I stood watching the men at work until it occurred to me that I might get something like that to do. I went up to a man who seemed to be an overseer, and asked him if there was any work around that a fellow might get to do. I suppose I had a very British accent, for the man laughed outright and mimicked me as he replied that there was work to be had, but he doubted if I was the man to do it. I explained that the truth of the matter was, I had never done anything of that sort before, but that I was broke and wanted to get through the summer.
'"He sent for a fellow named Tom Pilgrim. I'll never forget him. He was the plumber-pipe layer. Pilgrim took me home with him and taught me his trade. In four days I could 'wipe a joint' like an old hand. I worked all that summer. I used to get up at half-past four, get to work at five, put in my ten hours a day, earn my nine or ten dollars a week, sleep as I had never slept in my life, and eat my bread and cheese with an appetite and a relish that I have vainly sought to duplicate ever since. I might never have abandoned that life, and returned to acting, but for an accident.
'"I had friends living not far away - Tremont Avenue. One day I was lying out on the grass, looking up in the sky, with Sambo by my side, when this family drove by. Sambo was too well known. I heard a voice I knew call out my name. I took to my heels as a natural impulse, and dodged behind a house. My pursuer went the other way. We met.
'"There was nothing for it them but to make a clean breast of the whole thing. Such a weeping and wailing you never heard. Why didn't I tell them my fix? How could I do such a thing? No one seemed to understand at all, except the old gentleman, who said, 'No, by Jove, it's the proper spirit. It won't hurt him a bit.' It didn't, it did me good. But of course, now I was discovered, I had to go back to civilisation."
'Mr. Faversham's first appearance that fall was as Leo in She. He next played Robert Grey in The Wife, after which Mr Frohman loaned him to Minnie Maddern, and he acted with her Jacob Henderson in Caprice, Carrol Glendenning in In Spite of All, Valentine and Don Stephano in Featherbrain, and Helmer in A Doll's House. When Miss Maddern retired from the stage in 1890, Mr. Faversham returned to the Lyceum Company, and appeared there as Clement Hale in Sweet Lavender. His next engagement was with Elsie Leslie in The Prince and the Pauper, in which he played Lord Seymour. The next season Mr. Faversham acted the leading rôle, Alfred Hastings, in the New York run of Gillette's farce, All the Comforts of Home.
'Mr. Faversham became connected with the Empire Theatre Company in 1893, being selected after his hit in Bronson Howard's Aristocracy, at Palmer's Theatre. He played seconds to Henry Miller, his most vivid impersonations being Ned Annesley, in Sowing the Wind, Hubert Garlinge in John-a-Dreams, and Lord Skene in The Masqueraders. In August, 1896, at the Baldwin Theatre in San Francisco, he made his first appearance as the leading man of the Empire Company, acting in Bohemia, The Councillor's Wife, The Benefit of the Doubt, and The Masqueraders. The next year he was seen as Gil de Berault in Under the Red Robe. Mr. Faversham's greatest success last season was as Lord Algy in [R.C. Carton's play] Lord and Lady Algy, which was produced at the Empire Theatre in New York on February 14, 1899. Regarding the production of the play in New York, and Mr. Faversham's part in it, Norman Hapgood wrote:
'"This new comedy is far from subtle or profound, but it is assuredly smart and inspiring. It is superficial, but the surface is amusing. Neat, compact, progressive in construction, it is sharp and tart in dialogue, and clear and dramatic in its situations. The author knows his business, an excellent thing for an author to know. It belongs to the brassy Oscar Wilde type of comedy, but it is good after its kind, which is all we need to ask. There is no character creation, and none is needed. The only jars are, perhaps, due to its British origin. We Americans do not understand how anybody by chumps can have all their thoughts concentrated in horses, or make such a fuss, even in fun, over cigarettes and drinks. Women smoke or they don't, which seems to end the matter. This foreign stress on matters, which seem to be deemed half sinful and wholly smart, doesn’t need to be condemned, for it is always intelligent to give the unknown the benefit of the doubt. Only fools are so terribly horsey in America, but nobody accuses Lord Rosebery of being a fool.
'"William Faversham made easily the hit of the evening, the largest number of recalls after the second act being intended wholly for him. In the first act his lack of smart comedy manner was noticeable, and his inability to stand still or keep his face from working violently, but in the more active requirements of the second act he was admirable, and deserved all the applause he got. In the third act his seriousness came in properly. He is the best actor in the cast, and he ought to be able to learn a great deal about the smart comedy manner in the next few weeks. A good beginning would be to drop twenty or thirty of his 'Eh! What?' exclamations and turns of the face to the audience, and practise on a half blasé immobility."'
(Lewis C. Strang, Famous Actors of the Day, L.C. Page & Co, Boston, 1899, fifth impression 1906, pp.94-109)

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For details of William Faversham's film career, see the Internet Movie Database.

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© John Culme, 2006