Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Actress Wasn’t From Esperanto-Land, Nor from America

That Katherine Mulkins was a Broadway actress is beyond dispute. She appeared on Broadway at least four times, in the plays A Stranger in a Strange Land (1899), On the Quiet (1901), The Luck of MacGregor (1908), and A Lucky Star (1910). She appeared in several other plays, with her appearance in Bohemia in 1896 possibly her first noted role (it seems possible from the contemporary accounts that Ms. Mulkins may have performed his role on Broadway, as she was part of the Empire Theater Company, which produced plays both on Broadway at the Empire Theater and with touring companies outside New York).

She appeared in two plays by William Collier The Man from Mexico (1897) and (aforementioned) On the Quiet (1902). Other plays included The Bonnie Brier Bush (1902), and Checkers (1903). During her time in Checkers two stories were told about her, both of doubtful authenticity: that she was English, and that James MacNeill Whistler had begun a portrait of her before his death. Checkers was a Broadway show, but the entry at the Internet Broadway Database doesn’t list her among the cast, though newspaper accounts state that only the actor in the title role wasn’t in the Broadway production. She went on from there to good reviews for Brown of Harvard (1906). In 1907, she was in The Powers that Be by Avery Hopwood.

On December 16, 1906, while she was in Brown of Harvard, the Washington Herald had an item on her. In addition to being a celebrated beauty (even if we disbelieve the tale that she posed for Whistler), Ms. Mulkins was also something of an Esperanto speaker.
All local differences of speech will be done away with, I suppose, when everybody takes to speaking Esperanto. It seems to me that half the people I know are engaged in studying that universal language. One woman assures me that she can recite Poe’s “Raven” in it, and for all I know, she actually did it before my very ears. She says it is an amazingly easy language to learn ; and that reminds me of a story Miss Katherine Mulkins of the “Brown of Harvard” Company, told me the other day. I came upon her as she was engaged in writing to the editor a magazine which is about to publish a sketch of her, to ask him kindly to refrain from saying that she is European by birth.

“I’ve been called Austrian or French for nearly a year now,” she said, “and all because I assumed on one occasion that a certain press agent might possibly be able to see a joke with the naked eye. He was sent to get some data about myself for the inevitable advance notices a management always sends out at the beginning of the season, and, seeing some Esperanto lesson leaves lying on my desk, he asked me what they were. I told him, and then I had to go on to explain to him what Esperanto is. I was immensely interested in it, just then, and I grew very enthusiastic over it.

’It’s’ so wonderfully easy to learn,’ I said. ‘Why, I’ve been studying it only a month and I can read and write it fluently. It’s so much easier than English. I was in America nearly a year before I could speak a word of English.’
That’s why he has been calling me sometimes Austrian and sometimes French ever since, and it’s why managers always ask me if I am perfectly sure I won’t have a foreign accent in emotional scenes. My poor wee joke didn’t penetrate. After this I’m going to have printed on my cards, ‘Born in America.’”
Except Ms. Mulkins wasn’t born in America. On August 31, 1909, Ms. Mulkins married Frederick L. Hawthorne, a journalist (like his father Julian), and grandson of the Nathaniel Hawthorne. This seems to been the harbinger of the end of her theatrical career. She is listed in the 1910 Census as an actress, but there doesn’t seem to be any information on her theatrical ventures after 1910. It also notes that she was born in Canada. As does the announcement in the September 2, 1909 New York Times, which also adds that she was from Simcoe, Canada. So, not English, not American, but Canadian. On the other hand, she did trim some years off her age in the 1910 Census. According to the 1900 Census, she was born in 1881, but in 1910, her birthdate had shifted five years to 1886. Right.

There’s no indication that this passion for Esperanto persisted past the run of Brown of Harvard. Neither as Miss Mulkins nor as Mrs. Hawthorne did she make a mark on Esperanto-land.
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