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Starring Madame Modjeska: On Tour in Poland and America
Poland's greatest actress of all time was Helena Modjeska (1840-1909).  Only Helena Modjeska played her roles in English and became an American citizen. She was the first theatre celebrity to choose southern California as her permanent home.

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by Beth Holmgren

In 1876, Poland's leading actress, Helena Modrzejewska, accompanied by family and friends, emigrated to southern California to establish a utopian commune that soon failed. Within a year Modrzejewska made her debut in the title role of Adrienne Lecouvreur at San Francisco's California Theatre. She changed her name to Modjeska and quickly became a leading star on the American stage, where she reigned for the next 30 years. During this time, she established herself as America's most esteemed Shakespearean actress, playing opposite such celebrated actors as Edwin Booth and Maurice Barrymore. Starring Madame Modjeska traces Modjeska's fabulous life and career from her illegitimate birth in Krakow, to her successive reinventions of herself as a star in both Poland and America, and finally to her enduring legacy.

Table of Contents:

Timeline of Modjeska's Life and Career
1. Debut
2. The Making of a Polish Actress
3. Warsaw's State of the Stars
4. A Colonial Party and the California Dream
5. On the American Road
6. The Roles of Madame Modjeska
7. The Polish Modjeska
8. Farewell Tour
Epilogue: Finding Modjeska Today

"Through extensive research on two continents, Holmgren offers a richly contextualized account of how the Polish Modrzejewska successfully negotiated late nineteenth century ethnic, class, and gender hierarchies to become the American Modjeska, luminous star and self-styled aristocrat. This beautifully written biography contributes to the histories of both theatre and immigration with nuanced insight into a compelling case of binational cultural arbitration." —Kim Marra, author of Strange Duets: Impresarios and Actresses in the American Theatre, 1865–1914

"A fine piece of scholarship on Helena Modjeska, a major figure in American theatre in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. . . . The breadth of Holmgren’s research is impressive, as is the creativity of her approach. . . . I loved the book and learned a great deal from it." —Catherine Schuler, editor, Theatre Journal

"Starring Madame Modjeska is a tour de force . . . Modjeska's story is conveyed in clear, vivid, witty prose." —Bożena Shallcross, University of Chicago

"Starring Madame Modjeska . . . makes an important contribution to our understanding of Western theatre history. Scholars as well as theatre enthusiasts will surely benefit from this well-organized and meticulously researched study of a true international star of the nineteenth century." —

"While theater enthusiasts will enjoy the care and detail that Beth Holmgren took with Starring Madame Modjeska, readers of history will appreciate the role this woman played on the world's stage. It makes for great drama." —
  • size: 6 "x 9" - 15.25cm x 23cm
  • Hardcover
  • 432 pages
  • 47 b&w illus.

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DVD: Modjeska - Woman Triumphant
Our Price: $19.95

The film is about conquest; “attaining the unattainable;” about the life of an artist missionary. The American journey of the nineteenth century iconic Polish actress Helena Modjeska as she builds her own persona one step at a time to later become an icon

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