Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Farren, Ellen

FARREN, ELLEN, known as Nellie Farren (1848–1904), actress, born at Liverpool on 16 April 1848, was daughter of Henry Farren [q. v.] by his wife Ellen Smithson, and was grand-daughter of William Farren (1786-1861) [q. v.]. Her first appearance is stated to have been made at the Theatre Royal, Exeter, on 12 Dec. 1853, when she appeared as the young duke of York in 'Richard III.' At nine she was at the old Victoria Theatre in Waterloo Road, London, singing a song which caught the popular ear, entitled 'In ninety-five.' At eleven she undertook juvenile parts in the provinces.

Her first regular appearance was made on the London stage at Sadler's Wells Theatre on 26 Dec. 1862, as the Fairy Star in 'The Rose of Blarney,' a Christmas extravaganza, in which she sang and acted very prettily. At the Victoria Theatre, Waterloo Road, then under the management of Frampton and Fenton, she played, 2 Nov. 1863, the Begum in 'Nana Sahib,' and on 26 Dec. Hymen in another Christmas piece, 'Giselle, or the Midnight Dancers,' as well as such parts as Lucy in 'The Flying Dutchman,' and Ducie in Boucicault's 'Colleen Bawn.'

From the Victoria she migrated to the Olympic Theatre, under the management of Horace Wigan, first appearing there, on 2 Nov. 1864, as Fanny in J. M. Morton's farce 'My Wife's Bonnet,' and as Gwynnedd Vaughan in Tom Taylor's 'The Hidden Hand.' She remained at this theatre until June 1868, playing leading parts in the burlesques which formed a prominent feature of the entertainment and laying the foundation of her fame as a burlesque actress. At the same time she secured genuine success in comedy characters like Charlotte in 'High Life below Stairs,' Sam Willoughby in 'The Ticket of Leave Man,' the Clown in Shakespeare's 'Twelfth Night,' Nerissa in 'The Merchant of Venice,' and Mary in 'Used Up' with Charles Mathews. Her renderings of Robert Nettles in Tom Taylor's 'To Parents and Guardians' and Nan in Buckstone's 'Good for Nothing' placed her for comic capacity beside Mrs. Keeley [q. v.]. She was next seen at the Queen's Theatre in Long Acre, under the management of Henry Labouchere, where Henry Irving was stage-manager and where the company included John L. Toole, Charles Wyndham, Lionel Brough, Alfred Wigan, John Gayton, and Nelly Moore. Here, on 20 June 1868, she appeared as Nancy Rouse in Burnand's burlesque of 'Fowl Play.' On 21 Dec. 1868 she joined John Hollingshead's company for the opening of the Gaiety Theatre, appearing as Sprightley in 'On the Cards,' a comedy adapted from the French, and as Robert in W. S. Gilbert's burlesque 'Robert the Devil.' From that date until her retirement she was inseparably associated with the Gaiety Theatre, playing with success in every form of entertainment, from farce, burlesque, and comic opera to old English comedy and Shakespearean drama, under the management either of Hollingshead or of his successor, Mr. George Edwardes. As a boy 'Nellie Farren' proved at her brightest, and in that capacity became the idol of the Gaiety audiences. 'She could play anything,' wrote Hollingshead in 'My Lifetime,' 'dress in anything, say and do anything with any quantity of "go" and without a tinge of vulgarity. . . . She ought to go down to theatrical posterity as the best principal boy ever seen upon the stage since Sir William Davenant introduced ladies in the drama in the reign of Charles II. . . . She was essentially a boy-actress — the leading boy of her time — and for twenty years I tried to find her "double," and failed.'

She won immense popularity in roles like Sam Weller in 'Bardell v. Pickwick' (24 Jan. 1871) and in comic singing parts like Leporello in Robert Reece's 'Don Giovanni' (17 Feb. 1873), Don Cæsar in H. J. Byron's 'Little Don Cæsar de Bazan' (26 Aug. 1876), Thaddeus in Byron's 'The Bohemian G'Yurl' (31 Jan. 1877), Faust in his 'Little Dr. Faust' (13 Oct. 1877), Ganem in Reece's 'The Forty Thieves' (23 Dec. 1880), and Aladdin in Reece's burlesque of that name (24 Dec. 1881). Later, under Mr. George Edwardes's management, she played on 26 Dec. 1885 with enthusiastic acceptance Jack Sheppard in 'Little Jack Sheppard,' by Henry Pottinger Stephens and William Yardley, when she was first associated on the stage with Fred Leslie [q. v. Suppl. I]; she was Edmond Dantes in 'Monte Cristo, Jr.' by 'Richard Henry' (23 Dec. 1886), Frankenstein, by the same authors (24 Dec. 1887), and Ruy Bias in 'Ruy Blas, or the Blasé Roué,' by A. C. Torr (Fred Leslie) and F. Clarke (21 Sept. 1889).

In old comedy her best parts included Pert in 'London Assurance' (Drury Lane, 26 Feb. 1866), Miss Hoyden in 'The Man of Quality,' adapted from Vanbrugh's 'Relapse' (7 May 1870), Miss Prue in Congreve's 'Love for Love' (4 Nov. 1871), Charlotte in Bickerstaffe's 'Hypocrite,' with Phelps (15 Dec. 1873), Lydia Languish in 'The Rivals' (7 Fob. 1874), the chambermaid in 'The Clandestine Marriage,' with Phelps (6 Apr. 1874), Tilburina in Sheridan's 'The Critic' (13 May 1874), Lucy in 'The Rivals' (2 May 1877), and Betsy Baker (5 Dec. 1883). Slio well sustained her reputation by performances of Ursula in Shakespeare's 'Much Ado about Nothing' (Haymarket, 12 Dec. 1874) and Maria in 'Twelfth Night' (4 Mar. 1876). Pathos was combined with comic power in roles like Clemency Newcome in Dickens's 'Battle of Life' (26 Dec. 1873), Smike in 'Nicholas Nickleby' (23 May 1886), Sam Willoughby in 'The Ticket of Leave Man,' as well as in Nan in 'Good for Nothing.'

In 1888-9 she visited America and Australia with Fred Leshe and the Gaiety company. She made her last regular appearance at the Gaiety as Nan on 6 April 1891, for the 'benefit' of the musical director and composer, Wilhelm Meyer Lutz [q. v. Suppl. II]. Sailing soon afterwards for Australia again, she opened at the Princess's Theatre, Melbourne, on 22 Aug. 1891, as Cinder-Ellen in Fred Leslie's burlesque 'Cinder-Ellen up too Late'; but before the end of the tour she was stricken with cardiac gout, which ultimately compelled her withdrawal from her profession. After returning to England a partial recovery allowed her in 1895 to undertake on her own account the management of the Opera Comique Theatre. The results were disastrous, and in three months all her savings vanished. A 'benefit' performance on 17 March 1899, at Drury Lane Theatre, on an unprecedented scale, brought her the substantial sum of 7200l., which ensured her an adequate provision for life. By arrangement, she had the right to dispose of two-thirds of the capital sum by will, but 1000l. was reserved for the establishment at her death of a 'Nellie Farren' bed in a children's hospital, and 1000l. for division amongst theatrical charities.

Subsequently 'Nellie Farren' reappeared at other 'benefit' performances — for Lydia Thompson at the Lyceum Theatre, on 2 May 1899, as Justice Nell in a sketch of that name, specially written for her, and finally in the second scene of George Grossmith junior's revue 'The Linkman' on 8 April 1903, at the old Gaiety Theatre, which was then opened for the last time. She died from cardiac gout, at her residence in Sinclair Road, West Kensington, on 28 April 1904, and was buried in Brompton cemetery amid a concourse of admirers reckoned at 5000.

'Nellie Farren's' unbounded spirits and good humour, her ready stores of drollery, and genuine sympathy with human weakness or distress gave her omnipotence over the average theatre-goer. She was neither tall nor beautiful, nor gifted with a wholly agreeable speaking or singing voice, but the charm of her individually triumphed on the stage over all defects. An engraved portrait appears in John Hollingshead's 'Gaiety Chronicles.'

She married on 8 Dec. 1867 Robert Soutar (1827-1908), an actor and stage manager of the Gaiety Theatre, and left two sons, one of whom, Farren Soutar, has achieved success on the stage.

[Personal correspondence and recollections; Hollingshead's Gaiety Chronicles, 1898; The Times, 29 April 1904; Era, 5 May 1904; Farquharson's Short History of the Stage, 1909.]

J. P.