THEATER ACTRESS LILLIAN CONWAY (PHOTOGRAPH BY JOSE MORA)

LILLIAN CONWAY_0007This cabinet card features a portrait of theater actress Lillian Conway. The image was produced by Jose Mora, the famous New York celebrity photographer. To view other images by Mora, click on the category “Photographer: Mora”. Lillian Conway was Brooklyn born and grew up in a theatrical family. Both her parents were appeared on the stage and her mother was also a theater manager. Lillian’s sister, Minnie, also was an actress. Lillian made her theater debut at the Brooklyn Theater playing a minor role in the burlesque “Evangeline”. She next appeared as the lead in “Virginius”. After her parents died, Lillian moved to Boston where she appeared in Globe Theater productions and next moved to Philadelphia to continue her theatrical career. While in Philadelphia, she met and married a local banker, left the stage, and had two children. The marriage had multiple problems including allegations that her husband was an alcoholic. She divorced her husband, who later died in 1887. Miss Conway returned to the stage and organized the Lillian Conway Opera Company. She took the “show on the road” but her theatrical group failed, partially due to scandal. It seems Lillian Conway was guilty of sharing a hotel room with the troupe’s unmarried business manager. Conway later fell ill, and with the help of the Actor’s Guild was able to finance a trip to London for treatment. Unfortunately, she died there in 1891 from rheumatic fever.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I am probably asking for trouble with this; but, so be it. In my experience, the penciled IDs written by the photo studio staff usually are correct, allowing for creative spelling and often being hard to read. But, I am having a problem with this picture. To me, it does not look like Lilian (as she spelled it) Conway. It is closer to her actress sister, Minnie, but not enough to suit me either. I believe it is someone else.
    The last third of Lilian’s short life knew much misery. Her marriage to the young Philadelphia banker was destroyed when he lost everything they had gambling on stocks and reportedly became an abusive drunk. Her attempt to revive her acting career failed. The slim, fetching girl the audiences of a decade before had known was no longer evident. She put on weight and her health became a factor. She died at age 33 in England, where her sister, Minnie, lived.
    The long family (Crocker, Conway, Tearle) theatrical tradition was carried on by Lilian’s two nephews (Minnie’s sons). Conway Tearle , a fine actor, became arguably the first of the ‘big name’ movie stars. Sir Godfrey Tearle was knighted for his career on stage and screen. Godfrey Tearle enjoyed several marriages but, by choice, had no children. He reportedly said that he would not impose his childhood experiences (as the son of actors) on others. This tells us much, I believe, about those earlier times.
    So, what about the picture … if not LIlian? I do have an alternate possibility to suggest which I will pass along shortly.

    • I look forward to hearing your opinion as to who the person is that is the actual subject of this photograph. The woman in the photograph looks like other images of Lilian Conway that I have seen. However, I must admit that on second observation, I was a little less certain that it was Miss Conway. Thanks for your comment and interesting description of Lilian’s life.

      • I’ve looked at this a lot and do have trouble recognizing it as Lilian. It keeps nagging at me. But one needs a viable alternative. It does look a lot to me like a young Kate Claxton. In 1875 and 1876 both Kate Claxton and Lilian Conway played the part of the blind girl, Louise, in ‘The Two Orphans’ at The Brooklyn Theater, although not with the same company. Both were well received, it seems, and had good runs. Kate was a few years older than teenager Lilian but it seemed to work for both … who each were ‘Louise’ to many theater fans. I can be wrong, for sure, but that’s part of the fun of these wonderful old photographs. Kate was on stage (as Louise) the December night when The Brooklyn Theater burned down, with horrendous loss of life. She was aware of a private hallway that went from the star’s dressing room to the box office, which had been installed by Lilian’s mother, Sarah Conway, when they had built the theater a few years before. Leading fellow actress Maud Harrison on this possible escape route they emerged alive, though not unscathed. Male actors, also trapped on stage, elected to get street clothes from their dressing room first and were not seen alive again. Nothing is proven. The costume does not look like the ‘Orphans’ but they both did other things. The penciled ID’s are hard to refute but I have seen errors. Thanks so much for the good work in posting these.

  2. Images of Kate Claxton can be seen in the Cabinet Card Gallery collection by placing her name in the search box. The second image of the actress, by Sarony, shows a countenance similar to the woman in the photograph above.Thanks for sharing the interesting stage story and your speculation.


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