Mrs. Leslie Carter
The Trilby to Broadway impresario David Belasco's Svengali, Mrs. Leslie Carter (born Caroline Louise Dudley) skyrocketed to theatrical fame as the lead character in The Heart of Maryland (1895), a huge hit that was followed by the even more sensational Zaza (1898) and Madame Du Barry (1901). A real-life socialite who had retained her married name to spite her former husband, Carter became her generation's greatest dramatic actress, with an acting style probably best described as heightened reality mixed with hysterical abandonment. By 1906, when she broke with Belasco, she was already considered something of a relic and abandoned Broadway in favor of vaudeville. Then in 1915, pioneer producer George Kleine hired her to recreate Madame Du Barry for the motion picture cameras. She was already in her fifties and really too old for the part, but it was nevertheless followed by a screen version of her first success, the civil war melodrama The Heart of Maryland. Both films flopped. Returning to vaudeville, Carter's career finally collapsed in 1926 when she was fired during a Newark, NJ, tryout of The Shanghai Gesture, in which she had been cast as Mother Goddam. She retired to California with her second husband, actor Louis Payne, but returned to the screen a final time in 1935 as George F. Marion's wife in the Zane Grey Western The Rocky Mountain Mystery (aka The Fighting Westerner). After her death, Carter's amazing ascendancy in the theatrical world of the Belle Époque was fictionalized in The Lady With Red Hair (1940), in which she was portrayed by a successor of sorts, the equally tempestuous Miriam Hopkins.