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Guide to the Helena Modjeska Collection MS.R.037
MS.R.037  
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Collection Details
 
Table of contents What's This?
  • Access
  • Publication Rights
  • Preferred Citation
  • Acquisition Information
  • Processing History
  • Biography
  • Chronology
  • Collection Scope and Content Summary
  • Collection Arrangement
  • Separation Note
  • Related Collections

  • Title: Helena Modjeska collection
    Identifier/Call Number: MS.R.037
    Contributing Institution: Special Collections and Archives, University of California, Irvine Libraries
    Language of Material: English
    Physical Description: 2.1 Linear feet (4 boxes and 5 oversize folders)
    Date: circa 1877-1989 and undated
    Abstract: The artificial collection comprises primary and secondary source materials on Helena Modjeska, a nineteenth-century Polish stage actress who had a successful career in the United States. Most items pertain to her stage career, while others provide insight into Modjeska's life at her Santiago Canyon ranch, Arden, in Orange County, California. Primary sources include original and photocopied Modjeska correspondence, ephemera, programs and playbills, photographs, scrapbooks, and artifacts. Secondary sources include biographical information on Modjeska in newspaper clippings, manuscripts typescripts, and published journal articles written by a number of authors.
    Creator: UCI Libraries. Department of Special Collections and Archives.

    Access

    The collection is open for research.
    Researchers must use preservation photocopies of restricted fragile items in Box 3.

    Publication Rights

    Property rights reside with the University of California. Copyrights are retained by the creators of the records and their heirs. For permission to reproduce or to publish, please contact the Head of Special Collections and Archives.

    Preferred Citation

    Helena Modjeska collection. MS-R037. Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California. Date accessed.
    For the benefit of current and future researchers, please cite any additional information about sources consulted in this collection, including permanent URLs, item or folder descriptions, and box/folder locations.

    Acquisition Information

    Acquired, 1984, 2009, and 2013. Gifts of Ellen K. Lee in 1986 and Santa Ana College (Ernest Phillips material) in circa 1965. Source is unknown for some materials.

    Processing History

    Processed by Su Kim Chung, 1998. Additions made by Sara Seltzer, 2013-2014.

    Biography

    Helena Modjeska was born Helena Opid on October 12, 1840 in Krakow, Poland. Her interest in acting began at a young age, and she left school early to train with a local actor. Under the management of Gustave Sinnmayer Modrzejewski, she made her theatrical debut as Helena Modrzejewska in Bochnia, Poland in 1861. Although she had two children by Modrzejewski, they never married, and after the death of her three-year old daughter in 1865, she left him and returned to Krakow with her young son Ralph.
    As a member of a local theater company in Krakow, Modrzejewska's fame continued to grow as the company toured Poland. It was during one such tour that she met Karol Bozenta Chlapowski, a young Polish aristocrat who had recently spent a year in a Prussian prison for participating in revolutionary activities. They were married in September 1868, and with Chlapowski now managing her business affairs, the couple moved to Warsaw. As the leading actress of the Russian-controlled Imperial Theater in Warsaw, Modrzejewska played 284 roles over the course of six years.
    Although Modrzejewska's position brought professional success, the strenuous workload was detrimental to her health. It was at this time that Modrzejewska, at the urging of friends, decided to visit the United States in an effort to regain her strength, and possibly to seek a career on the American stage. Chlapowski, who hoped to establish a colony of Polish emigrants in California, eagerly embraced the plan.
    The members of Chlapowski's Polish colony (eight in all) settled in Santa Ana, on a small rented farm not far from Anaheim, in October 1876. In January 1877, Modrzejewska left for San Francisco in hopes of re-establishing her theatrical career. After studying English for only four months, she felt confident enough to audition for her first role. With her name anglicized to Helena Modjeska, she then made a highly successful American debut in Adrienne Lecouvreur at San Francisco's California Theater in August 1877. For the next thirty years (excepting intermittent periods of illness), Modjeska toured the United States and Europe, establishing a reputation as one of the greatest dramatic actresses of the late nineteenth century.
    By March 1878 Chlapowski's Polish colony, its members unsuited to pioneer life, had disbanded. Chlapowski (who had adopted the name of Count Charles Bozenta Chlapowski upon his arrival in the United States) resumed his personal management of Modjeska's career. Together they would make numerous successful tours of Europe and America from 1878 through 1907. Lauded on both continents for her performances in plays such as Macbeth, As You Like It, Mary Stuart, and Camille, Modjeska's leading men included both Edwin Booth and Maurice Barrymore. As a result of her European tours, Modjeska's circle of friends grew to include such notables as Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and the pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski.
    During the American theatrical season, Modjeska traveled from town to town in a private railway car with her company and her managers. Although they adopted the Clarendon Hotel in New York City as their headquarters, they were frequent visitors to Southern California as well, often staying at the Santiago Canyon ranch of their close friends, the Pleasants family.
    By 1887 Modjeska had declared in both newspaper interviews and letters that she wished to make Southern California her permanent home. The following year, she and Chlapowski purchased a large piece of property (adding to the property they had already purchased from the Pleasants in previous years) in Santiago Canyon and commissioned architect Stanford White to remodel and add to the existing cottage. Soon after its completion, Modjeska named it "Arden" after the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare's As You Like It. Between Modjeska's theatrical tours of Europe and the United States, they would spend a great deal of time at Arden entertaining friends and family from all over the world. Bozenta, determined that Arden be a working ranch, continued to purchase acreage surrounding their property in the hopes of raising successful groves of olive trees. Like the earlier farming ventures of the Polish colony, however, Bozenta's olive groves failed to prosper.
    Despite her frequent absences from Arden, Modjeska played an active part in Orange County life when she was in residence. She enjoyed close friendships with Orange County pioneers such as the Rice, McCoy, and Yoch families. On more than one occasion she appeared in benefit productions at French's Opera House in Santa Ana with local amateurs she had trained herself.
    In May 1903, after her last acting season in Poland, Modjeska's career appeared to be fading, and she was unable to find work for almost two years. In 1905, her old protégé Paderewski arranged a testimonial concert for Modjeska at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York as a tribute to her long-time devotion to the American theater. The testimonial raised $10,000 for Modjeska and enabled her to obtain a theatrical contract for the next two years.
    In the spring of 1906, Modjeska and her husband sold Arden and its surrounding property (totaling 1,341 acres) to a Long Beach investment company which planned to develop it into a country club. After their final theatrical tour in 1907, they rented a furnished house in Tustin where Modjeska began her memoirs. The following year, the couple purchased a small beach cottage on Bay Island in Newport Bay, and it was here that Modjeska completed her memoirs. On April 8, 1909, less than two months after her final stage appearance at a benefit performance in Los Angeles, Modjeska died at her Bay Island home. After funeral services at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in Los Angeles, Modjeska was buried in Krakow, Poland.
    Immediately after her death, a distraught Count Bozenta engaged Ernest Phillips, a Santa Ana actor who had performed with Modjeska during her final theatrical tour, to aid him in packing up Modjeska's things. Bozenta also gave him several mementos of Modjeska's career, and Phillips later created a scrapbook of the memorabilia from his stage work with Modjeska. Bozenta died in 1914, scarcely five years after his wife, and was buried next to her in Krakow.
    Arden and its surrounding acreage went through a number of owners until it was finally sold (with the original property size greatly reduced because of a number of subdivisions) to the Charles S. Walker family of Long Beach in 1923. In 1986, descendants of the Walker family sold the Modjeska house and 14.4 acres of land to the County of Orange so that it might be preserved and developed as a historic park. Today it appears on the National Register of Historic Places and is California State Landmark #205. In addition, the two-mile stretch of Santiago Canyon once owned by Orange County's most famous actress is now known as Modjeska Canyon.

    Chronology

    1840 Born Helena Opid in Krakow, Poland on October 12th.
    1861 Gave birth to son Ralph by her stage manager Gustave Sinnmayer Modrzejewski.
    1861 The White Camellia
    1861 Established the New Sandec Company (included her sister and several brothers) with Modrzejewski and successfully toured neighboring Polish towns.
    1865 Left Modrzejewski after the death of her three-year old daughter Marylka and moved back to Krakow with her son.
    1868 Married Charles Bozenta Chlapowski.
    1868 Became the leading lady of the Russian-controlled Imperial Theater in Warsaw for six years.
    1876 Modrzejewska and Chlapowski sailed to America with a small group of friends in order to establish a Polish immigrant colony in Southern California.
    1876 Chlapowski took the name of Count Charles Bozenta Chlapowski upon arrival in the United States, but would be more commonly known as Count Bozenta.
    1876 Members of Polish colony took up residence at a small rented farm near Anaheim.
    1877 Left to study English in San Francisco in January.
    1877 Adrienne Lecouvreur
    1878 Her success continued with appearances in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and Washington D.C.
    1878 The Polish colony experiment ended in March, and Bozenta joined Modjeska and her son in New York to serve as her personal representative.
    1879 After her second year on the American stage, Modjeska returned to her native Poland for a winter of theatrical appearances.
    1880
    1880 Spent the next two seasons acting in London.
    1882 Modjeska and her husband returned to America, and she began the first of several seasons with Maurice Barrymore (father of Lionel, Ethel, and John) as her leading man.
    1883 At the close of the theatrical season, Modjeska and her husband returned to Southern California for a vacation at the Santiago Canyon ranch of the Joseph E. Pleasants family.
    1883 Bozenta purchased a half-interest in the ranch in the hopes of starting a joint cattle-raising venture with Joseph E. Pleasants.
    1884 Modjeska and her husband returned to Europe in the early summer.
    1884 On a visit to Poland, the couple befriended pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski and helped him to further his musical studies in Vienna.
    1885 After a series of theatrical engagements in Europe, the couple returned home and began another American tour.
    1886 With Barrymore as her leading man, Modjeska played in Los Angeles for the first time.
    1887 At the end of the year, Bozenta purchased additional property next to the acreage he already owned jointly with Pleasants.
    1888 After the death of Pleasants' wife, the couple purchased the remaining half-interest in the ranch (160 acres) and 134 acres of an adjoining homestead.
    1888 Modjeska and her husband commissioned New York architect Stanford White to remodel and add to the existing cottage on the Pleasants' property.
    1889 Spent a large part of this year and the following year touring American theaters with Edwin Booth (brother of Lincoln's assassin John Wilkes Booth) considered at the time to be America's finest actor.
    1890-1891 On tour in both Europe and on the East coast of the United States.
    1892 Returned to Arden.
    1892 Modjeska scandalized by the murder of Arden ranch manager William McKelvery by farmhand Francisco Torres, who was later hanged by an angry mob.
    1894 Upon completion of their American tour, Modjeska and her company performed in Los Angeles, and Modjeska appeared in a benefit performance at French's Opera House in Santa Ana.
    1895 Russian edict of banishment issued against Modjeska forbidding her entry into Russian-controlled Poland. She was never again allowed to act in Warsaw.
    1896 Returned to Arden in March for convalescence after suffering a slight stroke two months earlier while on tour in Cincinnati.
    1897 Modjeska ill much of the year.
    1897 Mary Stuart
    1898 Modjeska and her husband purchased an additional 320 acres of land in nearby Harding Canyon, bringing their Orange County holdings to 1341.14 acres.
    1898 Antony and Cleopatra
    1899 Marie Antoinette
    1900 Construction began on a dam in Harding Canyon to conserve water and provide a source of irrigation for Bozenta's olive groves. Completed the following year, it failed to save Bozenta's olive trees.
    1902 Modjeska and her husband departed for Poland in the fall and remained there until the following spring. It was her last acting season in Poland.
    1903-1904 Modjeska unable to obtain a contract for the coming American theatrical season.
    1905 Former protégé Ignace Jan Paderewski arranged testimonial concert honoring Modjeska and her devotion to the American theater and raised $10,000.
    1905 Modjeska's appearance attracted the attention of stage managers who offered her a contract allowing her to extend her career for two more years beginning that fall.
    1906 Arden and its surrounding acreage sold to a Long Beach investment company which planned to open a country club on the property.
    1906 Departed for final theatrical tour of cities in the Eastern United States in September.
    1907 Modjeska and her husband took up residence in a furnished house in Tustin.
    1908 The couple moved to a small beach cottage they had purchased on Bay Island in East Newport.
    1908 Modjeska completed her memoirs.
    1909 Modjeska appeared at a Los Angeles benefit performance for the victims of the Messina, Italy earthquake. It was her last stage appearance.
    1909 Died April 8th at her home on Bay Island. Funeral services held at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in Los Angeles, and Modjeska was later buried in her native Krakow.
    1914 Bozenta died in Poland and was buried next to his wife.
    1923 Arden sold to the Charles S. Walker family of Long Beach.
    1986 Descendants of the Walker family sold Arden and 14.4 acres of land to the County of Orange for preservation and development as a historic park.

    Collection Scope and Content Summary

    The artificial collection comprises primary and secondary source materials on Helena Modjeska, a nineteenth-century Polish stage actress who had a successful career in the United States. Most items pertain to her stage career, while others provide insight into Modjeska's life at her Santiago Canyon ranch, Arden, in Orange County, California. Primary sources include original and photocopied Modjeska correspondence, ephemera, programs and playbills, photographs, scrapbooks, and artifacts. Secondary sources include biographical information on Modjeska in newspaper clippings, manuscripts typescripts, and published journal articles written by a number of authors.

    Collection Arrangement

    The collection is organized into five series. As portions of the collection were the result of significant donations, the collection has been organized to reflect that provenance:
    • Series 1. Ellen Lee material, 1881-1989 and undated. 0.3 linear feet
    • Series 2. Ernest Phillips material, 1881-1923 and undated. 0.6 linear feet
    • Series 3. Writings on Modjeska, 1907-1967 and undated. 0.1 linear feet
    • Series 4. Printed items, circa 1877-1986 and undated. 0.3 linear feet
    • Series 5. Photographs, 1883-1891, 1902, circa 1920s and undated. 0.8 linear feet

    Separation Note

    Special Collections and Archives has cataloged separately a small collection of books about Modjeska and a number of volumes from her personal library.

    Related Collections

    Related materials documenting Modjeska's life in Orange County can be found in in the following collections in the Department of Special Collections and Archives:
    Modjeska's drop-leaf writing desk, which belonged for many years to the Yoch family of Santa Ana, is also housed in Special Collections and Archives.

    Subjects and Indexing Terms

    Chlapowski, Karol
    Lee, Ellen K.
    Modjeska, Helena, 1840-1909
    Phillips, Ernest C. (Ernest Crozier)
    Actors.
    Actresses -- Poland -- History -- Sources.
    Actresses -- United States
    Artifacts
    Cabinet photographs -- 19th century.
    Ephemera
    Photographic prints -- 19th century.
    Photographic prints -- 20th century.
    Playbills
    Polish Americans -- California - -Archives
    Scrapbooks
    Theater -- United States -- History -- 19th century -- Sources.
    Theater programs