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Mary Anderson, Stage Actress

A star by any standard, 19th-century stage actress Mary Anderson accomplished more by the age of 30 than many people do in a lifetime.

Mary Anderson and her family moved to Louisville from Sacramento, CA within a year of her birth. Her father was later killed in the Civil War when she was only 4 years old.

When Mary was 8, her mother married Dr. Hamilton Griffin of Louisville. Her new stepfather introduced Mary to the works of Shakespeare, which she learned and performed at home to the delight of her family. Thus began Mary’s love and pursuit of theater, with Dr. Griffin as her main supporter.

Mary got her theatrical big break at age 16. On November 27, 1875, she was allowed to fill the role of Juliet at Louisville’s original Macauley’s Theatre on a trial basis. She was a wild success.

The next 14 years saw Mary traveling and performing at home and abroad. She retired from the stage in 1889 after falling ill and collapsing during a performance. She was just shy of 30.

In 1890, she married lawyer Antonio de Navarro. The couple settled in England and had two children.

But Mary did keep close ties to Louisville for the rest of her life, donating land she owned near Floyds Knobs, IN to the Franciscan Order for the Mount St. Francis Seminary. Today the Mary Anderson Center for the Arts is located on the property.

More facts about Mary Anderson:

  • Mary graced the stage in England for the first time in 1883.
  • Her memoir, A Few Memories, was written in 1896.
  • According to "Two Hundred Years at the Falls of the Ohio", Mary sent a letter of congratulations to J. Graham Brown during her retirement upon the opening of the Brown Theatre in 1925. The Brown had replaced the original Macauley’s Theatre, which was razed for the expansion of the Starks Building. It had been nearly half a century since Mary had performed there.
  • Though living abroad, Mary was an honorary member of Louisville’s Art Club. She sent the club Christmas greetings every year until her death in 1940.
  • Louisville’s Mary Anderson Theater was named in her honor. The building, which stands on the west side of Fourth Street between Broadway and Chestnut, now functions as office space.

Learn more about the Mary Anderson Center for the Arts from KET’s "Mixed Media".

Program 207
Meet Louisvillian Terry Boyd, an embedded reporter who was sent on assignment to Iraq, Afghanistan, and Kosovo; a retrospective of the work of Stratton Hammon, one of Kentucky's most famous architects; a visit with retired broadcaster Liz Everman; and the facts about Mary Anderson, a late 19th century actress who grew up in Louisville. (#207)