Deborah Cornell Colwell collection on Katharine Cornell
- Colwell, Deborah Cornell (Person)
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Katharine Cornell was a respected theater actor, writer and producer. Cornell established a rich and respected career and remains one of the most well-known performers exclusive to theater work.
Cornell was born February 16, 1893 in Berlin. Raised in Buffalo, she developed an avid interest in performance from an early age, staging plays for her family and friends. Throughout her adolescence, the city of Buffalo provided an outlet for acting ambitions. At the age of 23 she began performing in theater companies in New York City and Detroit, and established herself as up-and-coming actor with favorable reviews. Cornell’s Broadway debut occurred shortly after meeting director Guthrie McClintic, with whom she would act, produce, and collaborate for her entire career. In 1921, Cornell and McClintic were married, though it was widely understood that this was a marriage of convenience. That year marked the beginning of her ascent to fame on the stage, a period of time that lasted 40 years.
Cornell’s career experiences showed a wide range of genres, with both comedy and drama in her repertoire. Noteworthy roles included the eponymous Candida in George Bernard Shaw’s play of the same title, a role she revisited four times; Countess Ellen Olenska in a stage adaptation of Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence (1928); and Juliet in Romeo and Juliet (1933). Though Shaw and Shakespeare were considered unfashionable by early 20th century American theater standards, Cornell demonstrated a formidable sense of independence as an actor and in turn persuaded audiences to embrace these authors again. Arguably her most famed and praised role was as poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning in The Barretts of Wimpole Street; Cornell played this role to critical acclaim in Cleveland, Buffalo, and finally New York for a total of 370 shows. She also played this role for American soldiers stationed overseas during World War II.
Cornell’s last role was in Jermone Kilty’s Dear Liar. Though she avoided film work, Cornell was briefly featured in the 1954 film Stage Door Canteen and narrated The Unconquered, a documentary about friend Helen Keller. She retired at the age of 68 in 1961, shortly after husband McClintic passed away. Katharine Cornell passed away on June 9, 1974 at the age of 81.
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- Finding Aid for the Deborah Cornell Colwell collection on Katharine Cornell
- Finding aid prepared by Elizabeth Stengel.
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