Keene, Laura

ACTOR, THEATRE MANAGER (ENGLAND)
BORN 20 Jul 1826, London: Westminster - DIED 4 Nov 1873, Montclair, New Jersey
REAL NAME Moss, Mary Frances
GRAVE LOCATION New York City, New York: Greenwood Cemetery, Brooklyn (Section 182, Lot 21444)

Laura Keene was the daughter of Jane Moss and Tomas King. She was probably born in Westminster, London. When she was eighteen she married Henry Taylor, the godson of the Duke of Wellington. They had two children, Emma Elija and Clara Stella, but after seven years they separated.

She immediately decided to go to the stage to earn a living. Her aunt Elizabeth Yates was an actress and encouraged her. She took lessons with Emma Brougham. Her appearance under the name of Laura Keene at Emma Brougham's theatre in Richmond in 1851 attracted the attention of Charles Matthews, who gave her a part in "The Chain of Events" next to Madame Vestris at the Lyceum in London.

She was good in melodrama and comedy and also a good businesswoman. In 1852 she went to the USA and on October 20th she appeared in New York at Wallack's Theatre. Her daughters now called her auntie because being a separated (but not divorced) woman was worse in America than in England at that time.

She toured in the USA and together with a local man called John Lutz she took over the Charles Street Theatre in Baltimore and became the first woman to manage a theatre in the USA.

During the time that John Lutz had to stay with his terminally ill wife she visited the USA with her daughters and acted there with Edwin Booth. She met her husband in Sydney who had now made a fortune and wanted her back. Instead she asked for a divorce, but he refused.

Back in the USA she took over the management of the Varieties Theatre in New York and after a while she started a new theatre which had her own name and was known as The Olympic in later years. At that theatre she produced the extremely succesful "Our America Cousin" in 1858. Edward Sothern would play Lord Dundreary for the rest of his life and eventually bought the play from Laura, who owned the copyright for the USA and Canada.

In 1860 "The Seven Sisters" was performed for 169 nights. Around that time she was finally able to live more openly with Lutz, allthough they probably never married since she was still legally bound herself. Her company was now well known in the USA and she was on the stage during a performance of "Our American Cousin" on 14 Apr 1865 at Ford's Theatre in Washington with president Lincoln in attendance when the president was shot in the head by John Wilkes Booth. She put his head in her lap when she gave him some water. Lincoln died the next day.

In 1868 she visited her native England. In 1868 John Lutz died and was buried with his first wife in Okak Hill Cemetery, Georgetown. Laura did some more acting and managing before she almost but retired from the stage to conduct the art journal "Fine Arts". However, she was on the stage in 1873 when she was hit by a hemorrhage. She had time to take care of some affairs, but she died soon afterwards.

She was buried at the cemetery of The Holy Angels in Mointclair, New Jersey on 11 Nov 1873 as Frances Lutz. When her daughter Clara died in 1876 Laura's remains were transferred to Greenwood Cemetery in New York and this time the name that was put on the grave was Laura Keene.

Related persons
• cooperated with Boucicault, Dion
• cooperated with Sothern, Edward Askew

Sources
• Henneke, Ben Graf, Laura Keene, Actress, Innovator and Impresario, Council Oak Books, Tulsa, Oklahoma, 1990
Laura Keene

Images

Laura Keene. [Source: Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division]
(c1855-1865)

 

The grave of Laura Keene at Greenwood Cemetery, New York City.
Picture by Androom (15 Apr 2010)

 


Kelly, Grace

Published: 25 Apr 2008
Last update: 19 Mar 2017