Eva Le Gallienne

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Eva Le Gallienne
Eva Le Gallienne 275003v crop.jpg
Born (1899-01-11)January 11, 1899
London, England, UK
Died June 3, 1991(1991-06-03) (aged 92)
Weston, Connecticut, US
Occupation Actress, producer and director
Years active 1914-1984

Eva Le Gallienne (January 11, 1899 – June 3, 1991) was an English-born American stage actress, producer and director. She founded the Civic Repertory Theatre in Manhattan in the 1920’s, where she appeared to great acclaim as Peter Pan and Hedda Gabler.

Le Gallienne conducted open relationships with high-profile lesbians such as Tallulah Bankhead, Alla Nazimova and Mercedes de Acosta, though she regarded the latter’s candid memoirs as a betrayal. Some claimed that she was uncomfortable with her sexuality, though others reported that she proudly championed love between women.

Early life and early career

Le Gallienne was born in London to an English poet of French descent, Richard Le Gallienne, and a Danish journalist, Julie Norregard.1 After Eva's parents separated when she was four years old, she and her mother moved to Paris, and Eva spent her childhood shuttling back and forth between there and Britain. While in Paris, she was taken backstage to meet Sarah Bernhardt, which, she said "made an enormous impresssion on me." She made her stage debut at the age of 15 with a walk-on role in a 1914 production of Maurice Maeterlinck's Monna Vanna, then spent several months in a drama school. She left to perform in a minor comedy as a cockney servant, and "brought down the house", receiving excellent reviews.2

Fame and relationships

The next year Le Gallienne and her mother sailed for New York City, where he first several productions wwere not successful, and he was released from another while it was performing in out of town tryouts.2 She then did spent a season performing on the road and in summer stock. After travelling in Europe for a period of time, she returned to New York and became a Broadway star in several plays including Arthur Richman's Not So Long Ago (1920) and Ferenc Molnár's Liliom (1921) for the Theatre Guild.2

Disillusioned by the state of commercial theatre in the 1920s, Le Gallienne founded the Civic Repertory Theatre in the former Fourteenth Street Theatre in Manhattan. She was backed by the financial support of one of her lovers, Alice DeLamar, a wealthy Colorado gold mine heiress, whose support was instrumental in the success of the repertory theatre movement in the U.S. In 1928 she earned a great success with her performance in Henrik Ibsen's Hedda Gabler. As head of the Civic Repertory Theatre, she is known to have rejected the admission of Bette Davis, whose attitude she described as "insincere" and "frivolous". The Civic Rep disbanded at the height of the Depression in 1934, having mounted 34 productions.34

Open lesbianism and her close friends

Le Gallienne never hid her lesbianism inside the acting community, but reportedly was never comfortable with her sexuality, struggling privately with it. She reportedly briefly considered arranging for a "front" marriage with actor Basil Rathbone.5

During the early days of her career she often was in the company of witty, libertine actresses Tallulah Bankhead (a bisexual), Estelle Winwood and Blyth Daly, with the four being dubbed "The Four Horsemen of the Algonquin", referring to the Algonquin Round Table.5

Alla Nazimova

In 1918, while in Hollywood, she began an affair with the great actress Alla Nazimova, who was at her height of fame, and who at that time wielded much power in the acting community. The affair ended reportedly due to Nazimova's jealousy. Nonetheless, Nazimova liked Le Gallienne greatly, and assisted in her being introduced to many influential people of the day. It was Nazimova who coined the phrase "sewing circles", to describe the intricate and secret lesbian relationships lived by many actresses of the day. Le Gallienne was also involved for some time with actresses Tallulah Bankhead, Beatrice Lillie and Laurette Taylor during that time.5

Mercedes de Acosta

In 1920, she became involved with poet, novelist and playwright Mercedes de Acosta about whom she was passionate for several years.6 She and de Acosta began their romance shortly after de Acosta's marriage to Abram Poole which strained their relationship. Still, they vacationed and travelled together often, at times visiting the salon of famed writer and socialite Natalie Barney.5 De Acosta wrote two plays for Le Gallienne during that time, Sandro Botticelli and Jehanne de Arc. Neither was successful. They ended their relationship after five years.7

In 1960, when de Acosta was seriously ill with a brain tumour and in need of money, she published her memoir, Here Lies the Heart. The reviews were positive and many close friends praised the book.8 Le Gallienne was furious, denouncing de Acosta as a liar and claiming she invented the stories for fame. But many of de Acosta's affairs, including that with Le Gallienne, are confirmed in personal correspondence.9

Josephine Hutchinson

By early 1927, Le Gallienne was involved with married actress Josephine Hutchinson. Hutchinson's husband started divorce proceedings and named Le Gallienne in the divorce proceedings as "co-respondent". The press began accusations that named Josephine Hutchinson as a "shadow actress", which at the time meant lesbian. Five months later, Le Gallienne performed in a play about Emily Dickinson, titled Alison's House. The play won a Pulitzer Prize.5

For a time after the Hutchinson scandal, Le Gallienne drank heavily. According to biographer Robert Schanke, the actress's anxiety over being lesbian haunted her terribly during this time. One cold winter's night, drunk, she wandered over to a female neighbour's house. During the conversation that followed, she told her neighbour "If you have any thoughts about being a lesbian, don't do it. Your life will be nothing but tragedy."5

Another biographer, Helen Sheehy, has rejected Schanke's portrait of the actress as a self-hating lesbian. Sheehy quotes Le Gallienne's words of advice to her close friend May Sarton, who was also a lesbian: "People hate what they don't understand and try to destroy it. Only try to keep yourself clear and don't allow that destructive force to spoil something that to you is simple, natural, and beautiful." Similarly, Le Gallienne told her heterosexual friend, Eloise Armen, that love between women was "the most beautiful thing in the world."citation needed

Le Gallienne starred as Peter Pan in a revival that opened on November 6, 1928, and presented the lead character full of elan and boyish charm. The flying effects were superbly designed, and for the first time Peter flew out over the heads of the audience. The critics loved "LeG", as she became known, and more than a few compared her favourably with the great actress Maude Adams, who had originated the role. The Civic Repertory Theatre presented Peter Pan 129 times.citation needed

In late 1929, just after the great stock market crash, Le Gallienne was on the cover of TIME. During the Great Depression that followed, she was offered directorship of the National Theatre Division of the Works Progress Administration by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. She declined on the grounds that she preferred working with "true talent" rather than nurturing jobs for struggling actors and actresses. She was instrumental in the early career of Uta Hagen, whom she cast as Ophelia opposite her own portrayal of Shakespeare's Prince Hamlet.5

Margaret Webster

In the late 1930s Le Gallienne became involved in a relationship with theatre director Margaret Webster. She, Webster, and producer Cheryl Crawford co-founded The American Repertory Theater – no relation to the institution in Cambridge, Massachusetts later founded by Robert Brustein – which operated from 1946 to 1948.10 In the following years she lived with her companion Marion Evensen. In the late 1950s she enjoyed great success playing the role of Queen Elizabeth in Mary Stuart, an off-Broadway production.2

Later life

In 1964, Le Gallienne was presented with a special Tony Award in recognition of her 50th year as an actress and in honour of her work with the National Repertory Theatre.11 The National Endowment for the Arts also recognised her with the National Medal of Arts in 1986. Le Gallienne become a naturalized United States citizen in 1927.12

Although known primarily for her theatre work, she has also appeared in films and television productions. She earned an Oscar nomination for her work in Resurrection, for which she gained the honour of being the oldest Oscar nominee up to that time (1980) until Gloria Stuart in 1997; and won an Emmy Award for a televised version of The Royal Family after having starred in a Broadway theatre revival of that play in 1976. She made a rare guest appearance in a 1984 episode of St. Elsewhere, appearing with Brenda Vaccaro and Blythe Danner as three women sharing a hospital room.citation needed

On June 3, 1991, Le Gallienne died at her home in Weston, Connecticut of natural causes, at the age of 92.



Year Title Role Notes
1955 Prince of Players Gertrude in "Hamlet"
1959 The Devil's Disciple Mrs. Dudgeon
1980 Resurrection Grandma Pearl National Board of Review Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress
Nominated—Saturn Award for Best Supporting Actress


Year Title Role Notes
1948 The Ford Theatre Hour Annie Jones episode: Years Ago
1950 The Ford Theatre Hour Lettie episode: Uncle Harry
1955 Alice in Wonderland White Queen (TV movie)
1956 The Corn is Green Miss Moffat (TV movie)
1958 The DuPont Show of the Month Abbess episode: The Bridge of San Luis Rey
Studio One in Hollywood Martha Koering episode: The Shadow of a Genius
Playhouse 90 Grandma James episode: Bitter Heritage
1960 Play of the Week Queen Elizabeth episode: Mary Stuart
1977 The Royal Family Fanny Cavendish (TV movie)
Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Performance by a Supporting Actress in a Drama or Comedy Special
1984 St. Elsewhere Evelyn Milbourne episode: The Women

Source: "Eva Le Gallienne". IMDb. Retrieved March 29, 2014. 



  1. ^ Sheehy, Helen (December 28, 1998) "The Legacy of Eva Le Gallienne" Playbill
  2. ^ a b c d Staff. (June 5, 1991) "Eva Le Gallienne, Actress, Is Dead at 92" The New York Times. Accessed: September 30, 2015.
  3. ^ Staff (May 30, 1942). "Producer of Play Found Dead in Hotel", The New York Times. Accessed: September 30, 2015.
  4. ^ Brockett, Oscar G. (1974) History of the Theatre (2nd edition). Boston, Allyn and Bacon. p. 553
  5. ^ a b c d e f g Retter, Yolanda. "Le Gallienne, Eva (1899-1991)", GLBTQ. Accessed: September 30, 2015.
  6. ^ Schanke (2003), pp. 56-77
  7. ^ Schanke (2003), pp.77-78
  8. ^ Schanke (2003), pp. 2, 166
  9. ^ Schanke (2003), pp. xiii-xiii
  10. ^ "The American Repertory Theatre" Internet Broadway Database
  11. ^ 1964 Tony Award Winners Tony Awards website. Accessed: September 30, 2015.
  12. ^ "Le Gallienne, Eva › Oath of Allegiance (1927)" (image)


  • Schanke, Robert (2003). The Story of Mercedes de Acosta. Southern Illinois University Press. ISBN 0-8093-2511-X. 

External links