Mrs. Patrick Campbell

Mrs. Patrick Campbell (9 February 1865 – 9 April 1940), born Beatrice Stella Tanner and known informally as "Mrs Pat", was an English stage actress.

    Early life and marriages

    Campbell was born Beatrice Stella Tanner in Kensington, London, to John Tanner and Maria Luigia Giovanna, daughter of Count Angelo Romanini. She studied for a short time at the Guildhall School of Music. During her first marriage, from which she took the name by which she is generally known, she gave birth to two children, Alan "Beo" Urquhart and Stella, and ended with the death of her first husband in the Boer War in 1900.

    Fourteen years later, Campbell became the second wife of George Cornwallis-West, a writer and soldier previously married to Jennie Jerome, the mother of Sir Winston Churchill. Notwithstanding her second marriage she continued to use the stage name "Mrs Patrick Campbell".

    Stage career

    Mrs Patrick Campbell

    Beatrice Tanner made her professional stage debut in 1888 at the Alexandra Theatre, Liverpool, four years after her marriage to Patrick Campbell. In March 1890, she appeared in London at the Adelphi, where she afterward played again in 1891–93. She became successful after starring in Sir Arthur Wing Pinero's play, The Second Mrs Tanqueray, in 1893, at St. James's Theatre where she also appeared in 1894 in The Masqueraders. As Kate Cloud in John-a-Dreams, produced by Beerbohm Tree at the Haymarket in 1894, she had another success, and again as Agnes in The Notorious Mrs. Ebbsmith at the Garrick (1895).

    Among her other performances were those in Fédora (1895), Little Eyolf (1896), and her notable performances with Forbes-Robertson at the Lyceum in the rôles of Juliet in Romeo and Juliet, Ophelia in Hamlet, and Lady Macbeth (1895–98) in Macbeth. Once established as a major star, Campbell assisted in the early careers of some noted actors, such as Gerald Du Maurier and George Arliss.

    In 1900, "Mrs Pat", having become her own Manager/Director, made her debut performance on Broadway in New York City in Heimat by Hermann Sudermann, a marked success. Subsequent appearances in New York and on tour in the United States established her as a major theatrical presence in America. Campbell would regularly perform on the New York stage until 1933. Other performances included roles in The Joy of Living (1902), Pelléas et Mélisande (1904; as Melisande to the Pelleas of her friend Sarah Bernhardt), Hedda Gabler (1907), Electra (1908), The Thunderbolt (1908), and Bella Donna (1911).

    Illustration for Pygmalion, depicting Mrs Campbell as Eliza

    In 1914, she played Eliza Doolittle in the original West End production of Pygmalion which George Bernard Shaw had expressly written for her. Although forty-nine years old when she originated the role opposite the Henry Higgins of Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree, she triumphed and took the play to New York and on tour in 1915 with the much younger Philip Merivale playing Higgins. She successfully played Eliza again in a 1920 London revival of the play.

    A couple of "Mrs Pat"'s later significant performances were as the title role in the 1922 West End production of Henrik Ibsen's play Hedda Gabler and Mrs. Alving in the "Ibsen Centennial" (1928) staging of Ghosts (with John Gielgud as her son Oswald). Her last major stage role was in the Broadway production of Ivor Novello's play A Party where she portrayed the cigar-smoking, pekinese wielding actress "Mrs. MacDonald" — a clear takeoff on her own well known persona — and made off with the best reviews. In her later years, Campbell made notable appearances in films, including One More River (1934), Riptide (1934), and Crime and Punishment (1935). Her tendency, however, to reject roles that could have vitally helped her career in later years caused Alexander Woollcott to declare "...she was like a sinking ship firing on the rescuers".

    Relationship with George Bernard Shaw

    From a portrait by Hugh de T. Glazebrook

    In the late 1890s Campbell first became aware of George Bernard Shaw — the famous and feared dramatic critic for The Saturday Review — who lavishly praised her better performances and thoroughly criticised her lesser efforts. Shaw had already used her as inspiration for some of his plays before their first meeting in 1897 when he unsuccessfully tried to persuade "Mrs Pat" to play the role of Judith Anderson in the first production of his play The Devil's Disciple. Not until 1912, when they began negotiations for the London production of Pygmalion, did Shaw develop an infatuation for "Mrs Pat" that resulted in a passionate, yet unconsummated, love affair of mutual fascination and a legendary exchange of letters. It was Campbell who broke off the relationship although Shaw was about to direct her in Pygmalion. They remained friends in spite of the breakup and her subsequent marriage to George Cornwallis-West, but Shaw never again allowed her to originate any of the roles he had written with her in mind (e.g. Hesione Hushabye (Heartbreak House), the Serpent (Back to Methuselah), etc.). When Anthony Asquith was preparing to produce the 1938 film of Pygmalion, Shaw suggested Campbell for the role of Mrs Higgins but she declined.

    In later years, Shaw refused to allow the impoverished Campbell to publish or sell any of their letters except in heavily edited form, for fear of upsetting his wife Charlotte Payne-Townshend and the possible harm that the letters might cause to his public image. Most of the letters were not published until 1952, two years after Shaw's death.

    Famous quote

    Campbell was infamous for her sharp wit. Her best-known remark, uttered upon hearing about a male homosexual relationship, was "My dear, I don't care what they do, so long as they don't do it in the street and frighten the horses," although this remark has been attributed to others as well.


    She died on 9 April 1940 in Pau, France, aged 75 of pneumonia. Her death was one of the few deaths of a personal nature that George Bernard Shaw ever noted in his personal diaries.


    A note book belonging to Campbell is housed at the University of Birmingham Special Collections Department. Several collections of Campbell's correspondence, including her letters to Shaw (MS Thr 372.1), are part of the Harvard Theatre Collection at Houghton Library, Harvard University.



    Further reading

    • My Life And Some Letters by Mrs Patrick Campbell.
    • Walkley, Drama and Life (London, 1907)
    • Shaw, Dramatic Opinions (London, 1907)
    • Archer, The Theatrical World (London, 1897)
    • Bernard Shaw and Mrs. Patrick Campbell: Their Correspondence edited by Alan Dent (Alfred A Knopf, 1952)
    •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainGilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "article name needed". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead. 

    External links