Monday, October 09, 2006

Helena Modjeska

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:

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.
From the Mountain Democrat, Placerville, CA, June 16, 1894...
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.

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)
From the Mountain Democrat, Placerville, CA, May 29, 1909...
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.

Helena Modjeska

If you have anything to contribute about the life of Helena Modjeska, particularly about her life in Orange County, and her home, please click on "Post a Comment" below and share it with us.


  1. There is a statue of Modjeska in pearson Park in Anaheim.

  2. In addition, everyone should check out her house in the Modjeska Canyons. It's quite a beautiful drive there

  3. Madam Modjeska's house is still in Modjeska Canyon, located on the right, up a bit on the hillside, as one drives into Modjeska Canyon. I think I recall it as being a white, two story house. The Bird Sanctuary at the end of the canyon was one of my favorite places to go to get away from the city when I lived in Orange County.

  4. I grew up in Newport, 1964 ~ 1980, and remember someone saying that Modjeska once lived on Bay Island, in the end house. Can't remember who told me this or I would get in contact and confirm. Does anyone remember this?

    Jamie Schultz Tucker

  5. Watching from afar the recent disasterous fires in OC, I worried about the safety of places such as Madam Modjeska's estate, and the bird sanctuary....has anyone hear how they are, after the fires?

  6. If she lived in orange county, how come in milwaukee wisconsin there's a theater named "the modjeska theater" and kids have been known to see her from time to time up in the balcony?

  7. I have photos of Madame Modjeska with my great-great uncle William Owen and his wife Emma. He met her through a common friend and they spent a summer together. I have trying to find out if there is a Modjeska museum that would like the photos of her. There is one particularly good one of her in a horse drawn buggy.

  8. I remember many trips to Modjeska Park, I believe it was called.

  9. I am working on documentary movie about Helena Modjeska, please contact me at:

  10. my email adress is

  11. tidbits about her life in Arden can be found in "Theodore Payne in His Own Words, A Voice for California Native Plants". Theodore Payne worked on her estate during his formative years.

  12. I would like "Anonymous" who enter the comment on March 16th, 2009 at 1:44 P/M to get in contact with me, please.

    John Howard

  13. I would like Anonymous who enter the comment on March 16th to get in contact we me. My name is Yvonne Beohm and I am a Board Member of the Helena Modjeska Foundation and I am also a docent at Modjeska's former home Arden.

    1. My uncle, who died years ago, told me about my dad (age 10) visiting the Arden estate every day in 1903 on his bicycle to deliver a pail of Jersey cow cream. (Wonder if she bathed in cream?) According to my uncle my dad was a show-off and he said something about "dance and dance". I am reading the MEMORIES AND IMPRESSIONS MODJESKA and think of my dad on the estate and perhaps a visitor in her home.

  14. New book about Helena Modjeska

  15. Anonymous' question "if she lived in O.C., why is there a theater elsewhere bearing her name? is like asking why there are so many places named Washington when the founding father never lived there either --there doesn't have to be a reason. The Theater's own website (a 1920s successor to the original of 1916) suggests simply that it was so named to honor her.

  16. Everything gas conveyor oven you desire, it is necessary that gear is
    extremely versatile may befits most of the growth demand for your store or maybe a
    financial needs and wants. Most of these gear regularly hold recognized to home house protected special setting up tradings
    enjoy the most important perks. Our own electrical related cable does have a
    seated hook that will require by having a 3 prong grounded retail outlet.

    My web-site; krups toaster convection oven


Custom Search