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Stage Actors and Actresses  
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During her years as a strolling actor, Charke lived with another woman known only as Mrs. Brown. The couple apparently did not attempt to marry legally; nevertheless, Charke was running the risk of prosecution merely for impersonating a man. It may be that her status as the daughter--albeit estranged--of the socially prominent Colley Cibber afforded her some immunity.

Charlotte Cushman

Preeminent among actresses who played breeches part was American Charlotte Cushman, who enacted over forty male roles during her career in the mid-nineteenth century. Her greatest fame owed to her portrayal of Romeo. Critics in both the United States and Britain praised her passionate performances, one writing that "as a lover, the ardor of her devotion exceeded that of any male actor I have ever seen in the part."

Cushman's sister Susan also took to the stage, and the Misses Cushman starred together as Romeo and Juliet. Charlotte Cushman had already won plaudits in cross-dressed parts, but the sister act gave critics a way to praise her without seeming to condone unconventional behavior.

One felt that "sisterly affection" led Charlotte Cushman to choose Romeo and Juliet as the vehicle for her sibling's London debut. Another pointed to the lack of plays with two female leads as the reason for one sister's having to play a man.

Offstage, Cushman had romantic attachments to a number of women, including Matilda Hays, a novelist and journalist whom Cushman coached to be her new Juliet when Susan Cushman retired. Hays quickly gave up acting, but the couple remained together in what Elizabeth Barrett Browning called "a female marriage."

In 1852 Cushman set up a household of "jolly bachelor" women artists in Rome. It was there that she met sculptor Emma Stebbins, who became her partner for the rest of her life.

Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse

Two of the most famous actresses of the nineteenth century were bisexuals, Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse. Both shocked and titillated the public with their affairs with men, but were more circumspect about their lesbian liaisons.

The most flamboyant and accomplished actress of her time, Sarah Bernhardt was almost as famous for her style as for her acting. She scandalized Paris and the world by wearing pants, having numerous conspicuous love affairs, some with women, and by having a child out of wedlock. She frequently performed male roles, including Shylock and Napoleon.

Acclaimed for her interpretations of Shakespearean roles and the heroines of nineteenth-century French drama, as well as for introducing the new drama of Ibsen and d'Annunzio, Eleonora Duse was one of Bernhardt's chief rivals as the greatest actress of her age. Like Bernhardt, she was also famous for her tempestuous love affairs, primarily with men, but also with women.

Although the great love of Duse's life may have been the playwright and poet Gabriele d'Annunzio, she had several relationships with women, including Lina Poletti, a rebellious young feminist who dressed as a man, and the dancer Isadora Duncan.

Male Impersonators

Male impersonators have never been as numerous on the stage as female impersonators, but a few came into vogue beginning in the 1860s.

One such was Annie Hindle, who took to the stage at age five, singing in shows in Staffordshire, England. Later, appearing in London, she wore a male costume as a humorous touch for one of the songs in her repertoire. When an astute manager suggested that she specialize in such performances, her career was launched.

In 1867, at around the age of twenty, she went to New York, where she enjoyed considerable success in her role as a fashionably-dressed "high-living sport." To make the impression of masculinity more convincing, she began to shave in order to grow a moustache and beard. She received numerous "mash notes" from women in her audiences.

Hindle took her act on tour in the United States. In June, 1886, after a performance in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Hindle married Annie Ryan, her dresser. The actress gave her name as Charles Hindle and wore masculine attire at the ceremony.

Hindle soon left the stage, and the couple moved to a cottage in Jersey City, New Jersey. In retirement Hindle dressed as a woman.

Edwin Forrest

The handsome and muscular Edwin Forrest was a popular figure on the New York stage in the nineteenth century. In addition to the plays of Shakespeare, his repertoire included works in which he portrayed noble and heroic male characters such as Spartacus in Robert Montgomery Bird's The Gladiator and Damon in John Bannim's Damon and Pythias.

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