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John Martin Harvey Poster

Biography

Jump to: Overview (2)  | Mini Bio (1)  | Spouse (1)  | Trivia (3)

Overview (2)

Born in Wivenhoe, Essex, England, UK
Died in London, England, UK

Mini Bio (1)

When one thinks of the great English actors who have been knighted, one thinks of Henry Irving, the greatest actor of the middle-to-late Victorian period who became the first thespian to have a sovereign's sword patted on both shoulders in 1895, or the likes of

Laurence Olivier(acclaimed as the greatest actor of his generation), John Gielgud (considered by many critics to be the greatest Shakespearean actor of his generation and possessor of what Olivier called "The voice that wooed the world"), or Alec Guinness (a unique and versatile talent), or even movie stars like Sean Connery (the only Brit to be #1 at the box office in the United States) or Michael Caine (a delightful old warhorse who, like the Energizer bunny, keeps going and going well past a prudent time for retirement). Seldom does one think of the name of John Martin Harvey (1863-1944) when one thinks of the great actors of the English stage, but in 1921, he became the seventh actor to be knighted.

John Martin Harvey, or as he styled himself after obtaining his knighthood, Sir John Martin-Harvey, is known to history now, if at all, for playing Sydney Carton in an adaption of Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities (1935), a part more associated with Ronald Colman. But Martin Harvey, who had done his apprenticeship in Irving's company, claimed to have played the part of Carton 3,000 times on stage in his own production called The Only Way (1925), which was filmed in 1927. Directed by Herbert Wilcox, it reportedly was the first film of its length (10,000 feet) made in Britain.

Martin Harvey had been born in Wivenhoe, Essex, England in 1863, the son of a yacht-maker and was apprenticed at his father's boatwright business to learn the family trade. He wanted to become an actor, and one of his father's clients was the playwright and lyricist W.S. Gilbert, who helped him get acting lessons. In 1881, he manged go win the part of a boy at London's Court Theatre. The following year, a friend of his father gave him the 19-year-old tyro a letter of introduction to Bram Stoker, the general manager of Henry Irving's company at the Lyceum Theatre. Martin Harvey would spend 14 years toiling in minor roles in Irving's company, though eventually, when he was 25 years old, Irving allowed him and others to form the Lyceum Vacation Company.

The Lyceum Vacation Company toured during the summer "By permission of Mr. Henry Irving" (an endorsement as good as royal letters patent) equipped with the parent Lyceum company's sets, props, costumes and prompt books for free. For six years, he acted with the Lyceum Vaction Company for six weeks each summer, including tours of the United States and Canada, which enabled him to play leading man roles. Martin Harvey proved to be far more popular in Canada than in the U.S., as he would be far more popular in the provinces than in London when he set out on his own as an actor-manager in the 20th Century.

He married Nina de Silva, a fellow member of the company. While participating in Irving's North American tour of 1897-98, Nina decided to make Dickens's "A Tale of Two Cities" the property on which they would strike out on their own. They began writing their own adaptation in Chicago, and when they got back to London, they hired the playwright Freeman Wills's to continue the adaptation of the classic novel into a dramatic property.

In 1898, he was acclaimed playing Pelleas in Maurice Maeterlinck's "Pelleas and Melisande" opposite Mrs. Patrick Campbell. Meanwhile, the Martin Harveys managed to obtain financing for their production of Dickens's novel, called "The Only Way", and were able to rent the Lyceum itself, which was vacant.

"The Only Way" opened to good reviews and good business in February of 1899 and made the couple's reputations, but business soon fell off. The Martin Harvey company's 1900-01 London season was poor, likely as they were using plays and and acting techniques that were seen as old-fashioned at the dawn of the 20th Century by sophisticated Londoners. Martin Harvey aped Henry Irving and styled himself as a Romantic actor, relying on plays of suspect literary merit that afforded him leading roles in which he could shine. This type of theater relied heavily on costumes and spectacle. The play was not the thing, but the actor; everything, including the lighting, was focused on the star performer.

Reeling from poor houses in London, a friend advised Harvey Martin to go on a provincial tour with "The Only Way". He did and made a great success of it, so much so that he became known as "The King of the Provinces." By 1921, he had notched the 2,000 performance of "The Only Way" in Liverpool and would continue touring with the vehicle for nearly another decade, playing to audiences of up to 3,000 people a night.

He proved to the "The King of the Provinces" in North America, too, literally. His 1903 tour of The States was a disaster and it was re-routed to Canada where he again was a great success in the Provinces of the Dominion. He returned to Canada in the fall of 1919 and often toured there for the following 15 years.

After Irving died in 1905, Martin Harvey revived plays that Irving had thrived in, often using Irving's own props, further burnishing his reputation as the last of the great Romantic actors. Aside from Irving's repertoire, he won acclaim as Oedipus in a 1912 production staged by Max Reinhardt at Covent Garden. The year before, Reinhardt had designed his stage production of Hamlet using a cyclorama in order to reduce the need for time-consuming set changes. At the time, it was a radical idea, but Martin Harvey's portrayal of the Gloomy Dane had no one forgetting Johnston Forbes-Robertson's masterful performance, which was considered definitive at the time.

He also had great success in Maeterlinck's The Burgomaster of Stilemonde (1929) and in A Cigarette-Maker's Romance (1913), both of which were filmed. (He only appeared in six movies during his career.) Though his production of George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple (1959) was a success, neither he nor Shaw was satisfied with it. Martin Harvey would never be successful in Shavian drama (unlike Forbes-Robertson, for whom Shaw wrote the part of Julius Caesar in Caesar and Cleopatra (1945)) or other modern parts. He would continue to rely on "The Only Way" and other old Victorian chestnuts, which was alright in the provinces, but was frowned upon by more sophisticated London and American audiences and critics.

During the Great War, Martin Harvey toured the country giving military recruitment lectures and raising money for the Red Cross and other charities, most notably the Nation's Fund for Nurses. Established in 1917 by the British Women's Hospital Committee, the Fund financially support the newly created College of Nursing with the aim of providing relief for sick or disabled nurses. Martin Harvey and his wife raised enough money to buy a building for the College of Nursing in 1920 which became a rest home for nurses.

He was knighted on the New Year's Honour's List in 1921, most likely due to his charitable work as his London reviews at that time of his career were lacking. Some of it may have been snobbish London critics deriding the "King of the Provinces".

After being knighted, he hyphenated his name. He continued to tour the provinces, including Canada, with diminishing success. By the time of his last Canadian tour in 1934, he was appearing to small houses and little acclaim.

Sir John Martin-Harvey died in 1944 at five weeks shy of his 81st birthday.

- IMDb Mini Biography By: Jon C. Hopwood

Spouse (1)

Nell de Silva (2 January 1889 - 14 May 1944) ( his death) ( 2 children)

Trivia (3)

Father of actress Muriel Martin-Harvey and actor Michael Martin Harvey.
Ex-father-in-law of Ronald Squire and Garry Marsh.
He was awarded Knight Bachelor of the Order of the British Empire in 1921 for his services to drama.

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