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In 1873, Maude Adams (née Kiskadden) made her first stage appearance in a fast-paced, theatrical farce held at the Brigham Young Playhouse in Salt Lake City. Called "The Lost Child," the plot included a distraught father, a busy restaurant and a harried waiter. Maude was 9 months old.
As it happened, the original star (an infant) was colicky. Its parent had called it quits. Maude, with her nanny, was at the stage door. Her mother Annie Adams, the stock company's leading actress, was watching in the wings. The second act was fast approaching. The theater manager was frantic until he espied Maude. In one fell swoop, he picked her up and placed her on the waiter's platter; enter stage right.
The timing was perfect. Maude's wide-eyed, guileless performance charmed the audience. Her stage presence foretold a stunning future.
Theatrical producer Charles Frohman would manage Maude's rise to stardom. Playwright J.M Barrie, enamored by her "piquant" grace and waiflike qualities, would make Maude his eternal Peter in "Peter Pan." And Czech artist Alphonse Mucha would capture in oils her ethereal role as Joan of Arc.
Winsome, lithe and unfailingly talented, Maude became America's premier actress and an international sensation. An intensely private person who donned so many personalities, she alluded to her own as being "the one I knew least."
Maude was born in Salt Lake City in 1872. Her mother, Annie, was of pioneer Mormon stock. Her father, James H. Kiskadden, was an Irish gentile. The only living child of the well-known actress and "dashing" horseman in the mercantile trade, Maude's theatrical roots were in her genes.
Moving to San Francisco with her family in 1877, the 4-year-old took to the stage in earnest. Wiithin a decade she had performed children's roles in 26 plays.
In 1883, Kiskadden died unexpectedly from pneumonia. Constant companions Annie was often away on tour the father and child shared a light-hearted, protective relationship. He was her "faithful" ally. She grieved for years.
When Maude was 12, Annie sent her back to Salt Lake City to live with her liberal Republican grandmother and attend the Presbyterian-based Collegiate Institute that later became Westminster College. But Maude lived and breathed theater, and at 14 left for an apprenticeship with a theatrical company. Touring with her mother in 1890, the two women joined Frohman's stock company at New York's Empire Theatre. Under the producer's tutelage, Maude performed numerous plays with matinee idol John Drew, including the smash hit, "The Masked Ball."
For J.M. Barrie's "The Little Minister," Maude played the revised role of Lady Babbie in more than 360 performances. In Edmond Rostand's play, "L'Aigion," she received 22 curtain calls for her lead role as Napoleon II. The first American woman cast as Peter, she acted in more than 1,500 stage performances of "Peter Pan," and made $20,000 a month.
A seasoned actress of immense wealth, Maude purchased a 400-acre farm and estate on Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y., with a summer home in Tannersville. Once suffering a nervous breakdown, she found solace and comfort among the sisters of Our Lady of the Cenacle and bequeathed her land to them.
Semi-retired in 1916, she worked on perfecting stage lighting with General Electric. She then played Portia in "The Merchant of Venice" (1931) and Maria in "Twelfth Night"(1934). Maude died shy of her 80th birthday and was buried on the convent grounds.
Maude Adams sightings in Utah are rare. Although, James Nelson recollected in "Legends, Lore & True Tales in Mormon Country," the Daughters of Utah Pioneers Museum in Salt Lake City displays a "framed poster of the actress and faded show tickets" possible memories of 1910, when Utah greeted Adams as its "most illustrious daughter" and she performed "What Every Woman Knows."
Eileen Hallet Stone is the author of "Hidden History of Utah," a compilation of her Salt Lake Tribune columns. She may be reached at email@example.com. Additional sources: Ada Patterson's 1907 biography of Maude Adams, the Utah History Encyclopedia, and the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts.