Collection Scope and Content Summary
Special Collections and Archives, University of California, Irvine
Title: Helena Modjeska collection
UCI Libraries. Department of Special Collections and
Identifier/Call Number: MS.R.037
3.1 Linear Feet
(5 boxes and 5 oversize folders) and 0.2 unprocessed linear
Date (inclusive): circa 1876-1989 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, including a hand-written book of fairy tales. Secondary sources include
biographical information on Modjeska in newspaper clippings, manuscripts typescripts, and
published journal articles written by a number of authors.
Language of Material:
Processed components of the collection are open for research. Unprocessed additions may
contain restricted materials. Please contact the Department of Special Collections and
Archives in advance to request access.
Researchers must use preservation photocopies of restricted fragile items in Box 3.
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.
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.
Acquired, 1984, 2009, 2013, and 2017. Gifts of Ellen K. Lee in 1986 and Santa Ana College
(Ernest Phillips material) in circa 1965. The book of fairy tales is a Gift of the Museum of
the City of New York in 2017. Source is unknown for some materials.
Materials originally from MS-R148 (Collection of Helena Modjeska theater memorabilia) were
acquired from a dealer in 2009 with funds from the Elizabeth and Verle Annis Library
Processed by Su Kim Chung, 1998. Additions made by Sara Seltzer, 2013-2014.
Materials originally housed in MS-R148, Collection of Helena Modjeska theater memorabilia
(1 linear foot; 1 box), have been incorporated into this collection. The collection
identifier MS-R148 has been reassigned.
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
As You Like It,
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
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
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
. 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
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
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
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,
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
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
||Born Helena Opid in Krakow, Poland on October 12th.
||Gave birth to son Ralph by her stage manager Gustave Sinnmayer
||The White Camellia
||Established the New Sandec Company (included her sister and several brothers)
with Modrzejewski and successfully toured neighboring Polish towns.
||Left Modrzejewski after the death of her three-year old daughter Marylka and
moved back to Krakow with her son.
||Married Charles Bozenta Chlapowski.
||Became the leading lady of the Russian-controlled Imperial Theater in Warsaw for
||Modrzejewska and Chlapowski sailed to America with a small group of friends in
order to establish a Polish immigrant colony in Southern California.
||Chlapowski took the name of Count Charles Bozenta Chlapowski upon arrival in the
United States, but would be more commonly known as Count Bozenta.
||Members of Polish colony took up residence at a small rented farm near
||Left to study English in San Francisco in January.
||Her success continued with appearances in New York, Philadelphia, Boston, and
||The Polish colony experiment ended in March, and Bozenta joined Modjeska and her
son in New York to serve as her personal representative.
||After her second year on the American stage, Modjeska returned to her native
Poland for a winter of theatrical appearances.
||Heartsease, an adaptation of Camille
||Spent the next two seasons acting in London.
||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
||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.
||Bozenta purchased a half-interest in the ranch in the hopes of starting a joint
cattle-raising venture with Joseph E. Pleasants.
||Modjeska and her husband returned to Europe in the early summer.
||On a visit to Poland, the couple befriended pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski and
helped him to further his musical studies in Vienna.
||After a series of theatrical engagements in Europe, the couple returned home and
began another American tour.
||With Barrymore as her leading man, Modjeska played in Los Angeles for the first
||At the end of the year, Bozenta purchased additional property next to the acreage
he already owned jointly with Pleasants.
||After the death of Pleasants' wife, the couple purchased the remaining
half-interest in the ranch (160 acres) and 134 acres of an adjoining
||Modjeska and her husband commissioned New York architect Stanford White to
remodel and add to the existing cottage on the Pleasants' property.
||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.
||On tour in both Europe and on the East coast of the United States.
||Returned to Arden.
||Modjeska scandalized by the murder of Arden ranch manager William McKelvery by
farmhand Francisco Torres, who was later hanged by an angry mob.
||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
||Russian edict of banishment issued against Modjeska forbidding her entry into
Russian-controlled Poland. She was never again allowed to act in Warsaw.
||Returned to Arden in March for convalescence after suffering a slight stroke two
months earlier while on tour in Cincinnati.
||Modjeska ill much of the year.
||Modjeska and her husband purchased an additional 320 acres of land in nearby
Harding Canyon, bringing their Orange County holdings to 1341.14 acres.
||Antony and Cleopatra
||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.
||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.
||Modjeska unable to obtain a contract for the coming American theatrical season.
||Former protégé Ignace Jan Paderewski arranged testimonial concert honoring
Modjeska and her devotion to the American theater and raised $10,000.
||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
||Arden and its surrounding acreage sold to a Long Beach investment company which
planned to open a country club on the property.
||Departed for final theatrical tour of cities in the Eastern United States in
||Modjeska and her husband took up residence in a furnished house in
||The couple moved to a small beach cottage they had purchased on Bay Island in
||Modjeska completed her memoirs.
||Modjeska appeared at a Los Angeles benefit performance for the victims of the
Messina, Italy earthquake. It was her last stage appearance.
||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.
||Bozenta died in Poland and was buried next to his wife.
||Arden sold to the Charles S. Walker family of Long Beach.
||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, including a hand-written book of fairy
tales. Secondary sources include biographical information on Modjeska in newspaper
clippings, manuscripts typescripts, and published journal articles written by a number of
The collection is organized into six 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
- Series 6. Helena Modjeska book of fairy tales, 1896.
- Accession 2018.035. Photographs and programs unprocessed addition, 1876-1907. 0.2
Special Collections and Archives has cataloged separately a small collection of books about
Modjeska and a number of volumes from her personal library.
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:
Don Meadows papers (MS-R001) Rice Family papers (MS-R045) Ellen K. Lee collection on Helena
Modjeska and Orange County (MS-R143)
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
Cabinet photographs -- 19th century.
Polish Americans -- California - -Archives
Actresses -- Poland -- History -- Sources.
Theater -- United States -- History -- 19th century --
Actresses -- United States
Photographic prints -- 20th century.
Photographic prints -- 19th century.
Lee, Ellen K.
Phillips, Ernest C. (Ernest Crozier)