Monday, August 30, 2010

Deathday: Richard Mansfield 1857-1907 "Dr. Jekyll & Mr. Hyde"

Richard Mansfield (24 May 1857 - 30 August 1907) was an Anglo-American actor best known for his performances in Shakespeare plays, Gilbert and Sullivan operas and for his portrayal of the dual title roles in Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde.

Life and career

Mansfield was born in Berlin and spent his early days on Helgoland, Germany, an island in the North Sea, then under British sovereignty. His mother was Madame Rudersdorff (1822-1882), the operatic soprano, and his father, Maurice Mansfield (died 1861), a British London-based wine merchant. He was educated at Derby School, England, and studied painting in London. He travelled to America with his mother, but returned to England at age 20 where his work as an artist would not support him. He was more successful as a drawing-room entertainer, and eventually drifted into acting.

Early career and D'Oyly Carte years

He first appeared on the stage at St. George's Hall, London, in the German Reed Entertainments and then turned to light opera, joining Richard D'Oyly Carte's Comedy Opera Company in 1879 to appear as Sir Joseph Porter in H.M.S. Pinafore on tour. He would play the leading Gilbert and Sullivan comic "patter" roles on tour in Britain until 1881. Mansfield created the role of Major General Stanley in the single copyright performance of The Pirates of Penzance in Paignton, England, in 1879. In addition to Sir Joseph and the Major General, he also played John Wellington Wells in The Sorcerer beginning in 1880.

He left the D'Oyly Carte company in 1881, returned to London, and soon made his London debut in Jacques Offenbach's La Boulange. After several further engagements in London and following the death of his mother in Boston, Mansfield travelled to America in 1882, where he made his New York stage debut as Dromez in a D'Oyly Carte production of Bucalossi's Les Manteaux Noirs. This was followed by the roles of Nick Vedder and Jan Vedder in Robert Planquette's Rip Van Winkle (1882), another D'Oyly Carte production.

Mansfield then appeared in Baltimore, Maryland as the Lord Chancellor in Gilbert and Sullivan's Iolanthe in December 1882. Two days later, however, he suffered a disabling ankle sprain and had to leave the cast. Returning to New York, Mansfield began to focus on the legitimate stage. In 1883 he joined A. M. Palmer's Union Square theatre company in New York, and made a hit as Baron Chevrial in A Parisian Romance. He returned to Gilbert and Sullivan again to play the role of Ko-Ko, the Lord High Executioner in The Mikado, in Boston in 1886.

Later career

Mansfield was also a theatrical manager, producing the comedy Prince Karl and A Parisian Romance in Boston and New York in 1886. He appeared successfully in several plays adapted from well-known stories, and his 1887 rendering of the title-characters in T. Russell Sullivan's Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, only a year after publication of Robert Lewis Stevenson's novella of the same name, created a profound impression. It was with this play that he made his London reputation during the 1888 season at the Lyceum Theatre, by invitation of Henry Irving.

Mansfield produced the play Richard III the next year, at the Globe Theatre. Among his other successes were Prince Karl, Cyrano de Bergerac and Monsieur Beaucaire. He was one of the earliest to produce George Bernard Shaw's plays in America, appearing in 1894 as Bluntschli in Arms and the Man, and as Dick Dudgeon in The Devil's Disciple in 1897. The latter production was the first Shaw production to turn a profit. As a manager and producer of plays, Mansfield was known for his lavish staging.

It is difficult to overstate Mansfield's popularity and the respect and admiration that he commanded as a Shakespearean actor. At the time of his death, The New York Times claimed that "As an interpreter of Shakespeare, he had no living equal in his later days, as witnessed by the princely grace, the tragic force of his Richard, his thrilling acting in the tent scene of "Caesar", the soldierly dignity and eloquence of his Prince Hal, and the pathos of the prayer in that play. He was the greatest actor of his hour, and one of the greatest of all times."

He continued to perform until his final year. One of his last performances, just a few months before his death, was the title role in a New York City production of Henrik Ibsen's Peer Gynt, the play's U.S. premiere.

Mansfield died in New London, Connecticut on August 30, 1907, from liver cancer.

Suspected in Jack the Ripper case

Mansfield was performing in the Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde in late summer – early autumn 1888 during the time that Jack the Ripper was murdering prostitutes in London. One frightened theatre-goer wrote to the police accusing Mansfield of the murders because he could not believe that any actor could make so convincing a stage transformation from a gentleman into a mad killer without being homicidal. Mansfield attempted to gain public favour and stem the criticism that he was receiving by offering a performance of Prince Karl for the benefit of the Suffragan Bishop of London's home and refuge fund.[1]

Mansfield was a character (and initial Ripper suspect) in the 1988 TV limited series Jack The Ripper. He was portrayed by Armand Assante.

Family life

Mansfield was married in 1892 to Beatrice Cameron (1868–1940),[2] an actress.[3] After their wedding, she was often referred to as Mrs Richard Mansfield by the press. In 1898 the couple had their only child, Richard Gibbs Mansfield (1898-1918). The younger Mansfield became an ambulance driver in France early during World War One. When America entered the war, he joined the U.S. Army and went to Texas to be part of an aviation unit. While in Texas, however, he contracted meningitis and died in 1918.[4]


1.^ Morley, Christopher J. Jack the Ripper: A Suspect Guide (2005)
2.^ Who's Who in New England by Albert Nelson Marquis, c. 1915, p. 719
3.^ Beatrice Cameron NYP Library
4.^ NY Times article announcing the death of Richard Gibbs Mansfield from meningitis at Army base Texas


Biography: Richard Mansfield: The Man and the Actor by Paul Wilstach (New York, Scribner's, 1908)
Biography: The Life and Art of Richard Mansfield in two volumes by William Winter (New York, Moffit, Yard and Co., 1910)

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