28 January 2014

George Alexander

Sir George Alexander (1858-1918) was an English actor and theatre manager. One of his most famous stage roles was in The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope, which premiered in 1896.

George Alexander
British postcard by J. Beagles & Co., Ltd., Printers & Publishers, no. 516 B. Photo: Ellis & Walery. Publicity photo for a stage production of The Prisoner of Zenda.

Lady Windermere's Fan

George Alexander was born in 1858 as George Alexander Gibb Samson in Reading, Berkshire, England.

He began acting in amateur theatricals in 1875. Four years later he embarked on a professional acting career, making his London debut in 1881.

He played many roles in the leading companies, including Sir Henry Irving's Lyceum. In 1890, he produced his first play at the Avenue Theatre and in 1891 he became the actor manager of St. James's Theatre, where he produced several major plays of the day such as Lady Windermere's Fan by Oscar Wilde in 189).

Alexander also appeared in The Second Mrs Tanqueray by Sir Arthur Wing Pinero in which he played Aubrey Tanqueray. The play made Mrs. Patrick Campbell into a theatrical star.

George Alexander
British postcard by J. Beagles & Co., E.G., no. 515.M (matt), no. G 515 (glossy). Photo: Langfier Ltd London.

George Alexander
British postcard by Davidson Bros.´Real Photo` series, no. 1090. Sent by mail in 1907. Photo: Lizzie Caswall Smith.

The Importance of Being Earnest

One of the most famous first nights in Victorian Theatre occurred on 14 February 1895 when The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde hit the stage.

The Prince of Wales was in attendance and a good dozen policemen could be seen patrolling the streets outside. A tip-off had warned both the author and the actor/manager that Lord Alfred Douglas's father, the Marquess of Queensbury was hoping to get into the theatre and create havoc during the play.

Fortunately the Marquess was ushered from the premises and in disgust threw his grotesque bouquet of vegetables that he was carrying into the gutter. Queensbury then set into motion the events that led to Wilde's downfall and disgrace.

Upon his release from prison in 1897, Wilde moved to the continent.

In 1900, Alexander, who had acquired the acting rights for The Importance of Being Earnest and Lady Windermere's Fan, visited Wilde in Paris and offered the poverty-stricken former writer some voluntary payments on the plays and to bequeath the rights to Wilde's estranged sons.

George Alexander
British postcard by J. Beagles & Co, Kondon, no. 515 S. Photo: Ellis & Walery.

George Alexander
British postcard by Rotary Photos E.C., no. 103c.

The Second Mrs. Tanqueray

Later, George Alexander threw himself into the development of the modern drawing room comedy.

It was here his true talent shone. With a light comic air and a delicate grace Alec, as he was affectionately known, brought many care-free parts to life.

He remained at the St. James's Theatre to the end of his life. In 1911 he was knighted by King George V for his services to the theatre.

He appeared in two silent films. He repeated his stage role of Aubrey Tanqueray in the film adaptation The Second Mrs. Tanqueray (Fred Paul, 1916).

The following year he appeared as himself in Masks and Faces (Fred Paul, 1917). In this silent curiosity were also appearing the legendary stage actors Henry Irving and Gerald DuMaurier as well as the famous authors George Bernard Shaw and J.M. Barrie.

George Alexander later appeared as a character in David Lodge's novel about the life of Henry James, Author, Author.

George Alexander died in 1918. He was the great, great uncle of actor/comedian Hugh Laurie.

George Alexander
British postcard in the Wrench series, no. 1002. Sent by mail in 1902. Photo: Langfier Ltd London.

George Alexander
British postcard by Rotary, no. 4225 F. Photo: Foulsham and Banfield.

Sources: IMDb and Wikipedia.

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