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MENKEN, ADA ISAACS:

Anglo-American actress and writer; born June 15, 1835, at Milneburg, La.; died in Paris, France, Aug. 10, 1868. Her first appearance before the public was at the Opera-House, New Orleans, where she danced with her sister Josephine, the two being known as "The Theodore Sisters." From New Orleans Ada went to the Tacon Theater, Havana, as a dancer. Thence she went to Texas, where she had many thrilling experiences, among them being a capture by Indians. Next she tried her hand at literature, writing for various newspapers, and teaching languages.

In Aug., 1856, she was married to Alexander Isaacs Menken, publicly embracing Judaism; and she next played in Milman's "Fazio" at the Varieties, New Orleans, and at various theaters in the South and Middle West. While at Nashville (April 3, 1859) she was married to John C. Heenan, the prize-fighter, known also as the "Benicia Boy." With him she went to New York city, appearing at the National and the old Bowery theaters in "Soldiers' Danger" and "The French Spy." Next she joined the company of John E. Murdoch, with whom she went on tour, playing rôles entirely beyond her and even attempting Lady Macbeth.

She made her appearance in her best-known rôle, that of Mazeppa, at the Green Street Theater, Albany, N. Y., June 7, 1861. Her success was considerable, though the part was more acrobatic than histrionic. In Oct., 1861, she married R. H. Newell, better known as Orpheus C. Kerr. Her next step was to go to London, where on Oct. 3, 1864, she appeared at Astley's Theatre as Mazeppa. She failed to please, and went into temporary retirement, emerging Oct. 9, 1865, to play Leon in Brougham's "Child of the Sun." In the meantime she had divorced Newell and married James Barclay (Aug. 21, 1865). A year later she went to Paris, where she played at the Gaîté in Burgois and Dugué's "Les Pirates de la Savane" (Dec. 30).

Ada Menken published two books of poems: the first, "Memoirs" (1856), under the nom de plume "Indigena"; the second, "Infelicia," in 1868, dedicated "by permission" to Charles Dickens. She attracted considerable attention among English and French men of letters, e.g., in London, Charles Dickens, Charles Reade, and Algernon C. Swinburne, and in Paris the elder Dumas, Théophile Gautier, and Victor Hugo.

Bibliography:
  • Era Almanac, 1868;
  • Dict. National Biography, xxxvii. 252;
  • Appleton's Encyc. American Biography;
  • Memoirs accompanying the 1888 edition of Infelicia.
J. E. Ms.
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