Guide to the Collection of Helena Modjeska Theater Memorabilia MS.R.148

Finding aid prepared by Joanna Lamb
Special Collections and Archives, University of California, Irvine Libraries
The UCI Libraries
P.O. Box 19557
University of California, Irvine
Irvine, California, 92623-9557
© 2010

Descriptive Summary

Title: Collection of Helena Modjeska theater memorabilia
Collection Number: MS-R148
Contributing Institution: Special Collections and Archives, University of California, Irvine Libraries
Irvine, California 92623-9557
Languages: The collection is in English.
Physical Description: 1.0 Linear feet (1 box)
Date (inclusive): circa 1880s-1890s
Abstract: This collection comprises promotional materials documenting the career of Helena Modjeska, a 19th century stage actress with a successful career in the United States.


The collection is open for research.

Publication Rights

Property rights reside with the University of California. For permissions to reproduce or to publish, please contact the Head of Special Collections and Archives.

Preferred Citation

Collection of Helena Modjeska Theater Memorabilia. MS-R148. Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California. Date accessed.
For the benefit of current and future researchers, please cite any additional information about sources consulted in this collection, including permanent URLs, item or folder descriptions, and box/folder locations.

Acquisition Information

Acquired from a dealer in 2009 with funds from the Elizabeth and Verle Annis Library Endowment Fund.

Processing History

Processed by Joanna Lamb, 2010.

Historical Background

Helena Modjeska, born Helena Opid on October 12, 1840 in Krakow, Poland, began acting at a young age. She made her theatrical debut as Helena Modrzejewska in Bochina, Poland in 1861. During this period she was involved in a romantic relationship with her manager, Gustave Sinnmayer Modrzejewski, which produced a daughter and son. After the death of her three-year old daughter, Modjeska returned, unmarried, to Krakow where she became a professional member of a theater company.
While touring with the theater company she met Bozenta Chlapowski, a revolutionary Polish aristocrat, who would later use the name Count Bozenta. The couple married in September 1868 and Chlapowski became her business manager. Modjeska's popularity and fame grew quickly in Poland, allowing her to have a successful career as an actress. Although successful professionally, the heavy workload soon caused serious health problems and Bozenta and Modjeska relocated to the United States, forming a small Polish colony on a rented farm in Santa Ana in October 1876 where Modjeska could recover her health.
Helena Modrzejewska anglicized her name to Helena Modjeska and studied English only four months before auditioning for her first English speaking role in San Francisco. She made a successful American debut at San Francisco's California Theater in August 1877 and for the next thirty years toured the United States and Europe, establishing a reputation as one of the greatest dramatic actresses of the late nineteenth century. Lauded on both continents for her performances in plays such as Macbeth, As You Like It, Mary Stuart, and Camille, Modjeska's leading men included both Edwin Booth and Maurice Barrymore, and her circle of friends grew to include such notables as Oscar Wilde, Henry James, and the pianist Ignace Jan Paderewski.
In 1888 Modjeska and Chlapowski purchased property in Santiago Canyon and commissioned architect Stanford White to remodel and add to an existing cottage. Soon after its completion, Modjeska named it "Arden" after the Forest of Arden in Shakespeare's As You Like It. Despite frequent absences from Arden while touring, Modjeska played an active role in Orange County life. She enjoyed close friendships with Orange County pioneers such as the Rice, McCoy, Yoch, and Pleasant families.
In the spring of 1906, Modjeska and her husband sold Arden and its surrounding property (totaling 1,341 acres) to a Long Beach investment company which planned to develop it into a country club. In 1908 the couple purchased a small beach cottage on Bay Island in Newport Bay. On April 8, 1909, Modjeska died at her Bay Island home. After funeral services at St. Vibiana's Cathedral in Los Angeles, Modjeska was buried in Krakow, Poland.
Arden and its surrounding acreage went through a number of owners until it was finally sold (with the original property size greatly reduced because of a number of subdivisions) to the Charles S. Walker family of Long Beach in 1923. In 1986, descendants of the Walker family sold the Modjeska house and 14.4 acres of land to Orange County so that it might be preserved and developed as a historic park. Today it appears on the National Register of Historic Places and is California State Landmark #205. In addition, the two-mile stretch of Santiago Canyon once owned by Orange County's most famous actress is now known as Modjeska Canyon.
Historical note about Modjeska from: Helena Modjeska Collection. MS-R37. Special Collections and Archives, The UC Irvine Libraries, Irvine, California.

Collection Scope and Content Summary

This collection comprises promotional materials documenting the career of Helena Modjeska, a 19th century stage actress with a successful career in the United States. The collection consists of 26 items including cabinet photographs, theatre programs, a poster, brochure, and postcard. Of particular interest is a large publicity poster from 1877 or 1878, a rare January 11, 1877 program billing Modjeska's performance as her English speaking Shakespeare debut, and two autographed cabinet photographs.

Collection Arrangement

This collection is arranged in alphabetical order.

Related Materials

1. Special Collections and Archives has cataloged separately a small collection of books about Modjeska and a number of volumes from her personal library.
2. Materials relating to Modjeska's life in Orange County can be found in Special Collections and Archives in the Helena Modjeska Collection (MS-R37), the Ellen K. Lee Collection on Helena Modjeska and Orange County (MS-R143) the Don Meadows Papers (MS-R01), and the Rice Family Papers (MS-R45).
3. Modjeska's drop-leaf writing desk, which belonged for many years to the Yoch family of Santa Ana, is housed in the Reading Room of Special Collections and Archives.

Subjects and Indexing Terms

Modjeska, Helena, 1840-1909 -- Archives
Cabinet photographs--19th century.
Photographic prints -- 19th century.
Polish Americans--California--Archives.
Theater programs.
Theater--United States--History--19th century--Archives.

Box 1, Folder 1

Cabinet photographs, 1880s

Box 1, Folder 2

Forest of Arden brochure and postcard, 1920s and 1902

Box 1, Folder 3

Photographs, circa 1880s-1890s

Box 1, Folder 4

Publicity poster, circa 1877 to 1878

Box 1, Folder 5

Theater programs, 1880s and 1890s