Catherine Proctor, Canadian Actress

GERTRUDE E. S. PRINGLE September 15 1922

Catherine Proctor, Canadian Actress

GERTRUDE E. S. PRINGLE September 15 1922

Catherine Proctor, Canadian Actress



THERE is not a particle of affectation about Catherine Proctor— that is the first thing that strikes one about her. Decidedly good to look at, and having achieved a considerable reputation as an actress, she yet never poses. In her gentle manner and quiet, well-modulated voice there is no suggestion of her calling, but the expressive face lighted by a glow from within, the bright eyes that look out with such frank friendliness on the world, the graceful movements and symmetrical figure, all help to explain her success on the stage. Still I believe that her sincerity, and the fact that she has taken her work seriously, have had more to do with her getting on than her talent and good looks. She has been true to herself and to her art.

One cannot chat with this graceful, brown-eyed young woman with the chestnut tresses without becoming aware of her straight-forward, open-hearted nature and real interest in others. Because she is broad in sympathy and responsive to human nature is no doubt one reason for her versatility as an actress, and being able to play a wide range of parts, from Shakespeare’s heroines to modern character rôles in which are intermingled comedy and pathos.

On the subject of her work Catherine Proctor is enthusiastic, and frankly says that it comes first in her life. Her profession is not to hera money-making,timefilling occupation, but a serious, arduous pursuit in which artistic achievement is her goal.

I asked her to tell me as to the chances for a young girl getting on the stage, and what she would advise such a one to do. Our country is brimful of artistic talent, and many do not find out their real vocation sometimes fot lack of knowing how to go about it.

Catherine considered what to reply to this. The Irish in her urged her to be enthusiastically optimistic, but prudent Scotch ancestry made her remember many a story of failure in those who went aseeking and did not find. Finally she said:— “The theatre has a great place in life, and it offers a real vocation to the girl who has imagination and the ability to act. But it must not be overlooked that the field is a crowded one, and therefore it is not easy to find a foothold. Thousands fail, but there always will be plenty of room at the top. I would emphasize that no girl should ever turn her face stagewards unless she is willing to work tremendously hard, put up with discomforts and endure discouragements.

“The first step to the stage is a strong desire to act. Of course most girls go through a temporary phase of being stage-struck, dressing up and enacting in the quiet of their own rooms such tragic rôles as Ophelia or Juliet. In the majority of eases, however, this hectic desire to act burns itself out. But supposing a girl becomes more and more in earnest about going on the stage, how can she find out if she has real ability? The only answer to this is she must put herself to the test, and this test calls for endless courage and persistence. The road to the stage is not a rose-bordered path but a trail through a jungle. A girl must be prepared to face bitter disappointments and disillusions. Unless willing to undergo all these trials she had better give up the idea of being an actress. But if she sticks to it there is this consolation for her,—that the repeated disappointments and heartbreaks all help her to express emotion even while they have imposed a discipline hard to endure. Only those who

have felt strongly can put real feeling in their acting. However, imagination has to be there too, as one cannot undergo all the experiences that the heroines in plays are called upon to bear, so a girl devoid of imagination would not get very far on the stage. Then too, she must have a genuine interest in people, for without this human sympathy no one can reach the heart of an audience.”

A Splendid Career

IN HER even, low-pitched voice that falls so pleasantly on the ear, Catherine continued her summing up of stage life:—

“However, to girls of real talent, the stage offers a splendid career. It is almost the only work in which women have better chances of success than men. Have you ever thought,” she asked, “how wo-

men outshine men in the dramatic field, and how many more prominent actresses there are than leading actors? The average leading actress draws a larger salary than the average leading man.”

“That is so,” I conceded. “But before a girl goes so far as to cal] on a manager and ask for a part, do you recommend her taking a course in dramatic art?”

“I would say,” replied Miss Proctor, “that some tuition in the use of the speaking voice and physical training are necessary. After that taking part in a stock company will furnish the beginning of the practical training, and also give a girl the opportunity of finding out the line of work she is best suited for.

“All actresses who take their vocation seriously,” continued Catherine, “are continuing their studies, especially voice training and physical work such as dancing, fencing or exercises, also spending' much time in studying parts they don’t play and in serious reading. There is no resting on the laurels gained, for this would mean reaching one’s limitations very soon. That is why the career of many a pretty girl who got a good start on account of her appearance comes to a rapid end. She is too much satisfied with herself and therefore fails to progress.”

“But tell about your own early start, and if you met with any difficulties,” I suggested.

Miss Proctor smiled. She has a frank, friendly smile that isn’t just a facial move-

ment for social purposes. With her prettily shaped hand supporting her chin she mused a moment. Then she said:—

“When I started I was held back by supersensitiveness and a certain amount of shyness. If I found myself in an unfriendly or critical atmosphere I used to go into my shell and make no effort to change the prevailing attitude. Although a manager once told me the sensitive temperament is the best as it is capable of finer work and more responsive to stage direction, I was happier after I had schooled myself to overcome this decided drawback. Young girls on starting a stage career may find themselves woefully lacking in self-confidence, but let them not be depressed by this, for this quality can be cultivated, and indeed self-belief is the foundation of personality, and an actress to succeed must have personality.

“People usually associate personality with beauty of face and form, but we have seen those who have all the external requisites who yet are forbidding and repellent. Because the force within is limited. Personality is a radiating force of kindliness, cheerfulness, sincerity and enthusiasm. Be interested in the welfare of others as well as yourself. Crush selfishness. It usually defeats its own ends. Don’t think I advocate a servile spirit. Let independence be your middle name. Be willing to do more than is expected of you. Have a good opinion of yourself, but don’t talk about it.”

A Safe Place for the Right Girl

“ DEOPLE often speak of the tempta-

•T tions of the stage,” declared Catherine Proctor. “That is absurd. The right kind of girl is just as safe on the stage as in any other occupation. Did you ever hear of the two gold balls sent in the same box to California. One was made of solid gold, the other was plated. ‘Oh dear,’ said the plated ball to the solidgold one,‘Aren’t you afraid your gold will be rubbed off with all this jolting?’ ‘Why, no,’ said the solid gold ball, ‘Why should I be afraid? I’m gold right through.’

“Some of the finest characters I’ve ever known aro on the stage,” continued Catherine. “Maude Adams, for instance, is perfectly splendid, always doing good, yet never speaking of her many kind deeds. Just to show you her practical sympathy, I will tell you of a little incident which is only one of many. It was when Miss Adams was playing Peter Pan in Buffalo, and as in every city, several little girls had been engaged during the length of our stay there to take the part of the baby wolves, for which they had to don skins. Miss Adams was resting in her dressingroom between acts (it was an understood thing that no one would dream of disturbing her) when her door was flung open and a small girl dashed in, exclaiming, ‘Here’s a trick I’ll show you how to; do.’ The child then rapidly executed ai number of handsprings, after which she: earnestly endeavored to persuade Misi* Adams to substitute this turn for heij flying in as Peter Pan suspended on wires. Miss Adams was much amused at the child’s naïveté, and made enquiries about her. It developed that the little girl: handed her scant earnings to her mother, as she was one of several children, and the) father was in the last stages of consump-, tion. Miss Adams visited them, made arrangements for their financial relief and for the little girl to be sent to school.”

“When did the idea of being an actress first come to you?” I enquired.

“My first idea was to be an elocutionist really,” replied Catherine. “When six years old I started to recite—my mother, convinced of my ability decided I should be educated for the concert platform. Meanwhile she undertook to teach me some recitations. You know,” confided Miss Proctor, “I’ve always thought my mother has the makings of an actress in her. My father died when I was a small child.

“At nine years of age tragedy appealed strongly to me, and I recited such poems as ‘Edinburgh After Flodden.’ When I was about ten, there was a competition open to all the school children in Toronto. I was then attending Dufferin School and was sent as its representative to engage in the contest. My piece was the ‘Circle Scene’ from Richelieu, and Dr. James L. Hughes announced I was the winner by saying to me, ‘You’ve won by walking.’ The prize was a scholarship that gave one summer’s tuition in dramatic art.

“While attendingthe Toronto Collegiate Institute, Jarvis Street, I took the dramatic course at the Toronto College of Music. My first teacher from whom I only had a few lessons was a fine English actor, Dr. Carlyle. He took the trouble to call on my mother to try and persuade her to let me go on the stage instead of becoming a reader. Mother is Scotch, so she did not come to an immediate decision

but gave careful thought to the suggestion and this bore fruit later on. Soon after Mr. Harold Nelson Shaw became director of Dramatic work, and he was an excellent teacher. I never had to unlearn a single thing he taught me, and this is far from being the case with the majority of teachers who claim to turn out elocutionists and actresses. But really my education for the stage cost my mother almost nothing, as I won scholarship after scholarship. My mother however has been a wonderful help to me, as she has always been deeply interested in my work, and stood loyally behind me in every way.

“Mrs. Fisk and Julia Arthur came to Toronto in succession, and after seeing them act I knew I had to be an actress. I succeeded in persuading my mother to let me try, so she decided to take me to New York. It was a great event in my life, I can assure you. After Mother had settled me comfortably there she returned to Toronto.

“By enquiry I found out the different agencies and managers and made my application, as all stage aspirants do. One day not long after my arrival in New York, I was offered a small part in the Maude Adams’ company in ‘The Pretty Sister of José.’ It was only a tiny part, but I was elated and thought it wonderful luck to get in such a good company to start with. I was even luckier than I realized, for Miss Adams was so kind to me, as she was to all her company, that the atmosphere was thoroughly happy and congenial.

“With Maude Adams I remained several seasons, playing small parts, but gaining varied experience. Then, oh thrilling joy, came my first big chance in ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ given in New York, with that sterling actress, Annie Russe'l. I played Hermia. My mother came down specially for the opening night, as she has made a practice of doing on such occa-

sions, and as we were having an early meal before the première she amused me immensely by saying ‘I’m so nervous.’ I laughingly assured her that she need not be nervous, as I thought if anyone was entitled to be nervous it was I, just on the verge of my first important part which spelled either failure or success. It was certainly a critical time for me; I was fully aware of it and tensely keyed up. Never shall I forget that opening night, the sea of faces, the breathless hush, and when I had to enact tantrums in the quarrel scene, I was really terrified at the applause—the house rocked with it,— for it was altogether new to me to have a principal part, and a tremendous experience altogether. The next morning the papers gave splendid notices, and I was specially commended for my excellent work, much to my joy you may be sure.

A Story of Hard Work

IT MIGHT be imagined that after such glowing press notices and so much space devoted to my particular efforts that my dramatic path would be an easy one. But it was not. As this is a true and candid recital of my experiences in getting a foothold on the stage, I must confess that I had the keen disappointment of seeing fine parts that I knew were exactly suited to me given to others. Time and again I felt good chances were passing me up. But after all it turned out for the best, for instead of having leading rôles I played with famous stars, and this was excellent training for me.

“After this my work varied. For four seasons I was with Belasco. In one play ‘The Concert’ I originated a character part, and at the same time understudied two leading rôles in that play and two in another. It was hard, hard work.

“The next season Belasco sent me on tour in ‘The Easiest Way,’ replacing Frances Starr,—a play I loved. It had been a mere touch and go as to whether they would feature me in this or give me a lead in a New York production. I was glad they chose the tour. Next season I returned' to ‘The Concert’ to play the ingénue part, a comedy rôle. A year later came another tour, this time the play being ‘The Governor’s Lady,’ in which I played the Emma Dunn part,—that of a middle-aged woman whose husband had risen in the world while she remained at her wash tub and kitchen sink. There were great possibilities in the part for pathos and comedy both, and sometimes when I would gaze out at the house I would see nothing but handkerchiefs, and the next minute hear ripples of laughter. Alice Bradley wrote the play, and did it so well that Belasco, contrary to his usual practice, didn’t change one word in it.

“My success in that rôle resulted in managers offering to star me in elderly women parts, but I did not want to be identified with one type of character. Why limit oneself, anyway? Then there is plenty of time yet for me to play these older characters.” reasoned Catherine sensibly. “Alice Bradley,” she continued, “always says she would like to see me play a young governor’s lady.

“My next engagement was with Leo Dietrichstein in the ‘Matinée Hero’ in which I enacted the leading feminine rôle. Since then I have played only in New York, and of course it is the player’s ambition to appear in metropolitan productions and so avoid the discomforts and upsets of touring, as well as reaping the great advantage of being in the hub of the dramatic wheel. It also gives one the opportunity of having a circle of friends, and I have many outside of the profession as well as in it.”

This brings Catherine’s story up to date. She has been spending the summer in Toronto with her mother, sisters and brothers, taking various trips and spending week-ends visiting friends. Early in the summer Toronto had the opportunity of seeing this capable young actress play leading rôles in 'Déclassée', ‘Bunty Pulls the Strings’ and ‘The Great Divide’ at the Uptown Theatre. Her plans for the coming season are under way, and before long she will be speeding back to the metropolis that has always a welcome for her. Catherine Proctor wishes Canada had its own theatrical centre, and thinks it regrettable there should be no national drama, although she realizes the various Little Theatres are doing excellent work to encourage native production.

The full-face picture of Miss Proctor accompanying this article is a photographic reproduction of a very much admired portrait in oils by Austin Shaw of Toronto. . ,

The profile picture, so simple and natural with nothing of a studied pose about it, as in the case of most theatrical photographs, would reveal to a student of character the qualities of idealism, thoughtfulness, courage, optimism and kindness.

To complete this sketch, here is a pen picture of our Canadian actress: Her face is prettily shaped and modelled by nature

with extreme care, Her expressive eyes! are brown, her features clear-cut, she hasj: a short upper lip, wavy chestnut hair and): a finely-textured skin. Then her head is well set on her shoulders, her arms an dihands are nicely shaped and her figure is gracefully proportioned. So much for appearance. But Catherine Proctorji would not have made the progress she has -if she had not possessed that which is far above mere good looks. She is fortunate in being endowed with character as wellj as with talent and a fair face.