Considered one of the best actresses in history, Helena Modrzejewska (1840-1909) was born in Krakow, Poland, baptized Jadwiga Benda, and later renamed Helena. Her origins and early life are shrouded in contradictions between her autobiography and other scholars about her. She is the talented daughter of musician aristocrat Prince Władysław Sanguszko who has been her huge supporter in her entire life.
She started the journey by stepping into strolling players. She is a Polish-American actress who is not only talented but also hardworking. Modrzejewska has spent her best four years competing and working hard with the actress known as Antonina Hoffman. It is the time, when she enjoyed her incredible success with both critics and public. She is one of the sensitive and intelligent individualists.
The era of her theatre was wider than any other actor which mainly includes tragic roles, comic and romantic. With the passage of time, her acting skill polish but the minus point is that her acting can’t touch the highness of realism. She marries Gustave Sinnmayer (known in Poland as Gustaw Zimajer). He was an actor and director of a local theatre company, with whom she had two children.
Professional Life of Helena Modrzejewska:
Her beginnings as an actress were playing roles in plays by Polish authors. Then in 1865, her husband contacted theatres in Vienna and proposed that his wife joins in a production that did not materialize because the actress did not master the German language. Upon her return to Poland, she accepted a period of work in Warsaw, where her fame was consolidated as a great performer of tragic roles.
Once separated from her first husband, Helena Modrzejewska marries a Polish nobleman named Karol Bożenta Chłapowski, later known in the US as ‘Count Bozenta,’ even though he was not a count. Their house in Warsaw became a meeting place for poets, artists, and musicians, in the manner of a true aristocratic salon, where the actress was hailed as a true diva.
In 1876, due to political and personal problems, the couple moved to the United States, where they rented a ranch near Anaheim, California, with the intention of reorienting their lives towards quiet activity in the middle of nature exploiting the property’s land.
The utopian plans are frustrated not only by a lack of knowledge of both agricultural works and how to run a business but also by their lack of fluency in English. This is how the couple separates, and Helena Modrzejewska returns to the same stage where she was a few years ago, taking up the characters from Shakespeare, which earned her so much fame in Poland.
In August 1877, Modjeska made her debut at San Francisco’s California Theater in an English version of Ernest Legouvé’s ‘Adrienne Lecouvreur.’ After her premiere of Ella in New York, the actress spends some time in London in order to improve her command of the language.
In 1882, she returned to the US, and although her English continued to be imperfect, she achieved great success with her interpretations. In 1880, she moved to England, where she improved her English. Her way of interpreting was so realistic and, at the same time, emotionally captivated the spectators, as well as the peculiar accent which she no longer tried to hide.
She continued to work as a star in Shakespeare’s plays, but she also played Margueritte Gautier in ‘Camille’ and Mary Stuart in Schiller’s play. In the year 1883, she obtained her US citizenship. She performs in Ibsen’s ‘A Doll’s House,’ the first work by this modern author to be presented in the US.
Helena Modrzejewska has faced major health issues in her life. She got a heart attack that left her partially paralyzed. Later on, Modjeska recovered and returned to the stage in 1897, where she continued to perform for a few more years. In 1902 she moved to Poland for a year, where she completed a theatrical season both in Warsaw and in her hometown, Krakow.
In 1905 she made her last season in New York. Her retirement from work was only interrupted by acts of charity. Modjeska died in Newport Beach, California, in April 1909 at the age of 68. Her remains were sent to Poland for final funeral activities.
The autobiography of Helena Modrzejewska was published in 1910 and translated into Poland language on the same date. Considered by many as the best of all the actresses of her time, the truth is that she has also been an example of an independent woman and a fighter to demonstrate her talent. It is not wrong to say that she is an Alpha lady in her own life.