Past events

Author's evening with Beth Holmgren

Thursday, February 2, 2012, at 7:00pm




Beth Holmgren


This cultural biography of Helena Modjeska (1840-1909) tells the story of how a 19th-century actress, born illegitimate in Poland, first conquered the Warsaw stage in the 1860s and early 1870s as a star and an impresario, and then departed for America in 1876, where she learned English and won renown as the greatest "American"

Shakespearean actress of her day.  Unlike her contemporary Sarah Bernhardt, who toured the world and played in French everywhere, Modjeska maintained a stardom in two languages and two cultures until her death.  Both Polish and American audiences were awed by her refined, intellectual interpretation of her characters, finely honed stage technique, gorgeous costumes, and enduring beauty.


STARRING MADAME MODJESKA also explores the actress's offstage feats.

Despite her illegitimacy and early liaison with a married man, the actress established herself as an esteemed first citizen in both Poland and America.  In Poland she was embraced as a civic-minded "aristocrat" and a promoter of Polish culture overseas.  In America she was honored as a paragon of virtue and high culture and "a first settler."  Modjeska and her husband built their only permanent home in the wilds of Orange County, California, and were active in cultivating local talent and contributing to local causes. This extraordinary artist and public figure left enduring legacies on both sides of the ocean, including name traces on natural landmarks and institutions, brand-name goods (including a caramel "Modjeska" candy still marketed as "A Taste of Kentucky" and sold at Cracker Barrel and Williams Sonoma stores), and her home in Southern California, which has been designated one of two national heritage sites in Orange County, the other being Richard Nixon's home in San Clemente.

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