Google Doodle celebrates the 181st birthday of prestigious Polish actress Helena Modrzejewska, referred to professionally as Helena Modjeska, who specialized in Shakespearean and tragic roles, on October 12, 2021.
Who was Helena Modrzejewska?
Helena Modjeska was born in Kraków, Poland, on 12 October 1840. Her name was recorded at birth as Jadwiga Benda, however, she was subsequently baptized Helena Opid, being given her godfather’s surname.
Helena Modrzejewska was the illegitimate child of Józefa Bendowa (née Misel), widow of a wealthy trader, and an unidentified father. Even though she called her mom’s friend, Michał Opid, her father, the rumor at the time was that she was the daughter of Duke Eustachy Sanguszko. Her half brothers, Feliks and Jozef, were actors. ‘Modrzejewska’ is a pen name took on at the beginning of her acting career.
Helena Modrzejewska was first sent to study at a girls boarding school, and afterward to a school run by the Presentation Sisters. She started her acting career on provincial stages with the strong support of her life partner, Gustaw Zimajer. It was because of him that she first showed up on stage in Bochnia in 1861 and right away subsequently in Nowy Sącz, Przemyśl, Rzeszów, and Brzezany.
The daughter of a musician, Helena Modjeska married an actor, Gustav Modrzejewski, and they joined an organization of walking players. In 1868 she married Count Bozenta Chlapowski, a politician and critic, and started to act in Warsaw, where she stayed for various years.
Helena Modjeska’s chief tragic roles were Shakespeare’s Ophelia, Juliet, Desdemona, and Queen Anne in Richard III, Schiller’s Princess Eboli, Victor Hugo’s Tisbé, and Juliusz Słowacki’s Mazeppa. In comedy, her favorite roles included Beatrice for Much Ado About Nothing. Modjeska likewise played in modern pieces by Gabriel Legouvé, Dumas (father and child), Guillaume Augier, Alfred de Musset, Octave Feuillet, and Victorien Sardou.
In 1876, Helena Modrzejewska went with her husband to California, where they settled on a farm. This enterprise was a failure, and Modjeska got back to the stage. She showed up in San Francisco in 1877, in an English version of Adrienne Lecouvreur, where she was exceptionally successful regardless of her poor English.
Helena Modrzejewska kept on acting principally in the United States but at the same time was seen occasionally in London, wherein in 1881 she satisfied her aspiration to play Shakespeare on an English stage, and somewhere else in the United Kingdom. Her autobiographical Memories and Impressions of Helena Modjeska was published in 1910.
Helena Modrzejewska’s most significant roles at the time included that of Anna Oswiecimowna for a play by Mikołaj Boloz Antoniewicz (1865), Princess Eboli in Don Carlos (1866), Amalia in Schiller’s The Robbers (1866) and, that same year, Portia in The Merchant of Venice – her first Shakespearian role. The next year she played the role of Ophelia in Hamlet and of Doñe Sol in Victor Hugo’s Hernani. Her performance in the title role of Eugene Scribe and Ernest Legouve’s Adrianna Lecouvreur was hailed as a victory.
Helena Modjeska went through her four years in Kraków working hard, rivaling the actress Antonina Hoffman and enjoying incredible accomplishments with both the public and pundits the same. The latter considered her to be deserving of Vienna’s renowned Burgtheater.
An intelligent and delicate individualist, Helena Modjeska used her time at the Cracow theater well, learning a new, more downplayed style of acting and disposing of some of her more provincial theatre habits.
By 1868, Helena Modrzejewska’s popularity had arrived at Warsaw, and on October 4th she made her first appearance in front of audiences in the capital in the role of Adrianna Lecouvreur. This presentation was made conceivable with the help of Sergiusz Muchanow, managing director of the Warsaw Government Theaters, and his wife, Maria Kalergis-Muchanow.
Helena Modrzejewska died in the United States in 1909 and was buried in Los Angeles. As per her will, her remaining parts were subsequently localized to Poland and set out to settle close to her mom’s grave at the Rakowicki Cemetery in Cracow, joined by a funeral ceremony that transformed into a showing of national pride.
Generally viewed as one of the best actors in Polish history and one of the late-19th century’s most prominent Shakespearean stage performers in America, Helena Modrzejewska (referred to professionally as Helena Modjeska) depicted almost 300 different roles in more than 6,000 plays—both in Polish and English. Helena Modjeska’s theatrical career took center stage in more than 300 cities worldwide spanning 46 years and presently can’t seem to be eclipsed by some other Polish artist.
On October 12, 2021, Google featured a Doodle on its homepage for celebrating Helena Modrzejewskaz’s 181st Birthday.