Dame Madge Kendal, GBE

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Margaret Shafto Robertson, GBE

Birthdate: (87)
Birthplace: Cleethorpes, North East Lincolnshire, UK
Death: September 14, 1935 (87)
Immediate Family:

Daughter of William Robertson and Margharetta Elisabetta Robertson
Wife of William Hunter Kendal
Sister of Thomas William Robertson

Managed by: Michael Lawrence Rhodes
Last Updated:

About Dame Madge Kendal, GBE

<unknown source, dated September 16, 1935>


<Famous Victorian actress>

DAME Madge Kendal, the veteran actress died on Saturday at the age of 86 at her home at Chorley Wood, Hertfordshire, after a long illness.

The death of Dame Madge Kendal removes one of the few remaining links with the stage of mid-Victorian days. She was bred in the atmosphere of theatre; her father and mother, her grand-parents and great-grandparents, her brothers and sister, even her uncles and aunts were all connected with the stage. Her brother, Tom Robertson, was the author of the famous play, "Caste."

Madge Robertson was born at Cleethorpes, Lincolnshire, in March, 1848, the twenty-second child of William and Margaretta Robertson. Of this large family, twelve children survived.

She was introduced to the public early. Her father was joint contoller of the old Marylebone Theatre, and before Madge was six years old she had made her stage debut as the child Marie in "The Struggle for Gold" and in "The Orphan of the Frozen Sea". A year later at the same theatre she played Jeannie in "The Seven Poor Travellers" soon after which she made a notable success as Eva in a Bristol production of "Uncle Tom's Cabin."

Her introduction to London playgoers came in 1865 when she appeared at the Haymarket as Ophelia. At the same theatre she was also successful in other Shakespearean roles - Blanche in "King John", Desdemona in "Othello" and Jessica in "The Merchant of Venice."

The following year she visited Hull to play Julie in "Richelieu". Though she was very young for the part, she undertook, in an emergency, the part of Lady Macbeth, playing opposite Samuel Phelps. The great tragedian was so pleased with her performance that he asked her to play Lady Teazle with him in London. Back at the Haymarket she appeared in a long succession of parts including Viola, Rosalind, Kate Hardcastle and Lydia Languish, and in her seven years there under the management of Buckrose, she steadily laid the foundations of her great reputation.

In 1869 she married W.H. Kendal and after her association with the Haymarket came the triumph of the Kendals with the Bancrofts and Sir John Hare, in which Dame Madge more than upheld the tradition of her family. The Kendals were together in many of the most attractive plays of the period, amd Mrs. Kendal - as she then was - became not only a great favourite, but almost a legendary figure. Her performances enchanted thousands of theatre-goers all over the country. She loved to play the women of Shakespeare, yet she was equally happy as Susan Hartley in "A Scrap of Paper" or as Dorothy in "The Elder Miss Blossom."

Though she had retired from the stage in 1908 the summer of 1911 saw her at a Gala performance at His Majesty's Theatre in the part of Mistress Ford in "The Merry Wives of Windsor", and the occasion was one of great public enthusiasm for her. For many years Dame Madge lived at Filey, and from the peace of retirement in her Yorkshire coast home, she watched with keen interest the fortunes of the theatre.

When she was married she and her husband anticipated a three days' honeymoon, but on the evening of the wedding day they were called upon to play Orlando and Rosalind in "As You Like It". They never afterwards played apart. She was often asked why she and her husband always acted together.

"My father (she once said) believed that the greatest amount of domestic happiness in a life devoted to art could exist upon the stage provided husbands and wives were never parted. If on the contrary, becauser he could earn £10 a week more the man went to one theatre whilst his wife for a similar reason went to another, their interests tended to divide, their feelings to run in separate grooves, and gradually a shadow would grow up at home which divided them for ever."

Her husband died in 1917.

In 1926 she received the honour of Dame Commander of the British Empire, and in 1927 the Grand Cross of the Order. The following year her friends and admirers presented her with her portrait painted by Sir William Orpen.

The following tributes were paid to Dame Madge Kendal during the week-end:-

Lady Tree: "The death of Dame Madge Kendal, is an irreparable loss. I considered her to be one of the world's greatest actresses and we shall never see her like again. I played with her on my third engagement in Pinero's "Hobby Horse", and from that moment I revered and admired one of the most outstanding Englishwomen of all time."

Sir Seymour Hicks: "Dame Madge Kendal, I believe,knew more about the theatre than anyone living. I cannot say how much I owe to her. She was, in my opinion, the greatest all-round actress there has ever been. Certainly she taught me all I know about the theatre. I first met her about 1887 and two years later we were in America together. Since then I have never lost touch with her."

Dame May Whitty (herself 70 years of age and is playing a leading part as "an old woman" in "Night Must Fall" at the Duchess Theatre): "She was a great woman - brilliantly witty and possessed of a remarkable memory. I am very proud indeed of the memories I have of my first days on the stage.

"I had small parts in her husband's company. I used to watch Madge's every movement, and I knew her parts backwards. I have always looked to her work as a standard to maintain, and one reason why we often hear that the old school are easier to hear than the moderns is largely because of those giants of the past.

"She was very devoted to the memory of her husband, and 30 years after her last tour with him to America she recounted to me the names of every place and person she had visited and met. I met my husband while with her company, and I suppose I owe my dear friendship with her largely because of my happily married life; Dame Madge could never tolerate separations of any kind and had a horror of impropriety."

Miss Marie Lohr: "Dame Madge Kendal was the greaest artiste I have ever seen. She was a very great friend of my mother's. They were the same age and were staunch companions until my mother's death 12 years ago. I have known and admired Dame Madge since I was six years of age, when I first came to England. "I studied under her from 1904-06. I don't think anybody could have had a greater mistress of the arts than I had."

Mr. A. Denville (M.P. for Newcastle-on-Tyne) expressed his deep sorrow at the passing of Dame Madge Kendal, whose friendship, he said, he had enjoyed for many years. Her death was a great blow to her brother and sister artistes at Denville Hall, Northwood, Middlesex. As President of this home she had done incalcuable good among her fellow professionals and also for the poorer members of the great public who loved her."


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Dame Madge Kendal, GBE's Timeline

March 15, 1848
Cleethorpes, North East Lincolnshire, UK
September 14, 1935
Age 87