Many kids in Orange County will probably learn of Helena Modjeska, a polish born actress who found success in America.
The stage was always her life going back to her childhood. Political pressures in Poland forced her and her husband to immigrate to America, settling in Anaheim working in a farming co-operative. The farming venture was a failure, and Helena managed to learn to speak English and resurrected her skills as an actress. She went on to become the top celebrity of her day, giving performances all over the world. She built a home along the Santa Ana Mountains in the place where the community of Modjeska Canyon lies today, and stayed there until 1906.
I've found some old newspaper articles that date from the period she was alive, and thought to transcribe them here for anyone who was doing research on her.
From the Woodland Daily Democrat, Woodland, CA, January 29, 1890...
The loveliness of Modjeska's character no one questions. Her wonderful talent as an actress is illustrated by the following anecdote, which was originall published in The Rochest (N.Y.) Democrat and Chronicle:From the Mountain Democrat, Placerville, CA, June 16, 1894...
It was in Poland, and on the occasion of one of many hunting parties. At such times, according to custom, the ladies joined the gentlemen at noonday at a settled rendezvous. While all were waiting for Mme. Modjeska, who had been delayed, an old peasant woman, in clumsy sabots and with her hands rolled up timidly in her apron, came to the party and in a mournful tone related the story of her woes. Her only pig had been put in the pound for trespass on another's property. She was so persistent in her demands for aid that the count's brother became angry and ordered the coachman to drag her away. Just as the man was about to carry out the order the old woman threw herself into her brother-in-law's arms and laughingly disclosed her identity. She had completely fooled everyone in the party except her husband, who was in the secret, and he himself isn't sure but that he would have been taken in had he been ignorant of the scheme.
A pretty story is told in connection with one of Modjeska's appearances in Washington. It was during Mr. Cleveland's adminstration. It is a custom among actors and actresses who appear at the capital to send cards to the president and his wife offering the compliments of the season, which means a box at the theatre whenever they feel like seeing the play. Mme. Modjeska carried out this idea, and Mrs. Cleveland in reply wrote a pretty note the madame inviting her to call at the executive mansion, which she did. Mrs. Cleveland received her in her private apartment, kissed her affectionately and told her she never so glad to meet any one in her life. She said that about Modjeska had always been her favorite actress; that she had always gone to see her when was a school girl, and had saved up pocket money for weeks so as to do so, that when she was in New York shopping she went twice to the matinee at the theatre, where Modjeska was playing, alone, keeping veil over her face most of the time for fear some one would recognize her. At the conclusion of the call Mrs. Cleveland filled the carriage of the actress with flowers from the White House conservatory and asked her to call again.
Woman's Suffrage seems to be the order of the hour, and in all of the large cities steps are being taken by the fair sex to push the constantly growing sentiment until they have carried the day and are allowed to vote. The actress Modjeska says she would rather be the mother of one good, true, affectionate son or one faithful, loving daughter than to start the greatest political reform of the age. She thinks women ought to think more of their homes and babies and less of politics, and the world would be better for it.Oakland Tribune, Oakland, CA, March 27, 1905...
New York, March 27 - Ignace Paderewski, the pianist, now filling an engagement here, is planning a benefit for Helena Modjeska, the actress, who has been living in retirement for the last year. It was not known that the actress was in need, and the announcement of Paderewski's intention has created a great astonishment. Modjeska has, during her career, made a fortune, and only recently she has received enormous offers for appearances in vaudeville. She has steadily refused these, however. Paderewski has telegraphed to Chicago asking Mme. Sembrich to take part in the entertainment. Paderewski's idea is to give a beneft on May 4th at the Metropolitan opera house. Sembrich has telegraphed that her summer plan is to sail on May 2d. but that it will be changed is possible. Both Sembrich and Paderewski are compatriots of Mme. Modjeska, in addition to being her personal friends. Paderewski, who was in the West at the time of the Christmas holidays, spent a week a Modjeska's ranch in California.From the Mountain Democrat, Placerville, CA, May 29, 1909...
Note: The event described above raised $10,000.00 for Modjeska. Mme. Sembrich did not appear at the event, and Paderewski himself did not appear either, due to exhaustion. (Oakland Tribune, May 13, 1905)
Mme. Modjeska, the famous actress, who died recently at her home near Los Angeles, Cal., was born Helena Marie Benda, at Cracow, Poland, Oct. 12, 1844. Her father was a musician of high standing, and two of her brothers have distinguished themselves on the stage. She was married at 16 and went on the stage a year later. Her success was marked.
In 1862 she became manager of a theater in Czernowce. Her next removal was to Warsaw, where her husband died, and where, a year afterward, she married Count Charles Bozenta Chiapowski, a young Polish patriot of noble family. In 1875 they came to America, escaping the ignoble censorship of Russia. At San Francisco, in 1879, Modjeska made her debut on the American stage and gave her first performance in the English tongue. In 1879 Modjeska returned to Europe and played in the principal cities of Poland, going thence to play over a year's continuous engagement in London. She delighted cosmopolitan audiences with her Marie Stuart, Rosalind, Helen, Thora, Magda, (???) and Adrienne.
About twenty-five years ago Modjeska and her literary husband, Count Bozenta were with a colony of (???), musical and artistic young men and women to live on a co-operative ranch at Anaheim, in the vicinity of Los Angeles. In two years the colony broke up. The countess then resolved to go on the American stage and retrieve her heavy losses in the colony. By extraordinary work and study almost day and night for ten months the countess was able to play in English the roles she had formerly played in Polish and French. She adapted the name of Mme. Modjeska. The second year of her American success she built an architectural gem of a home for herself and husband among the mountains overlooking the scene of the colony that she and the count had worked and planned for. Mme. Modjeska had one son, Ralph Modjeska, a civil engineer of Chicago.
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