22 Vintage Portraits of Maude Adams as Napoleon II in Edmond Rostand’s “L’Aiglon” (1900)

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L’Aiglon is a French play in six acts by Edmond Rostand based on the life of Napoleon II, in which Maude Adams played the leading role, foreshadowing her portrayal of another male (Peter Pan) five years later. The play had starred Sarah Bernhardt in Paris with enthusiastic reviews, but Adams’ L’Aiglon received mixed reviews in New York.

It was in 1900 that Maude Adams first played the part of a boy, a type of character that, before many years would past, was to give her a great success. Her debut as a lad, however, was under the most brilliantly artistic circumstances, because it was in Edmond Rostand’s L’Aiglon, adapted in English by Louis Parker. As the young eaglet, son of the great Napoleon, she had fresh opportunity to display her versatility. It was a character in which romance, pathos, and tragedy were curiously entwined.

Bernhardt had done it successfully in Paris, but Miss Adams brought to it the fidelity and brilliance of youth. In L’Aiglon she was supported by Edwin Arden, Oswald Yorke, Eugene Jepson, J.H. Gilmour, and R. Peyton Carter.

A New York Sun writer wrote:

“Pride in an American actress makes it pleasant as well as just to say that her representation of the ill-fated young duke is better than Sarah Bernhardt’s. It is more adherent to Rostand’s clear purpose; more plaintive; more boyishly fragile in aspect. Moreover, it is quite as fully responsive to all the dramatic demands of the role. This last award of merit was not deserved by Miss Adams at the close of her first performance at the Knickerbocker. It was thought, naturally, that she had not the required strength. It is sure now that what she lacked was self-assurance. Observation of her acting last week discovered that she had supplied the deficiencies and that praise, which at first had been qualified, might at last be given with no reserve. Her achievement has become a great one.”

“So much interest has arisen in regard to Maude Adam’s appearance as Bonaparte’s son… all the seats for the opening at the Knickerbocker would have been eagerly bought if the house had been ten times bigger than it is.” – Sun, Oct. 21, 1900.

“There may be good reason why she should not hesitate to attempt Bernhardt’s role. This American actress has gifts of her own quite as important as the portrayal of high keyed vehemence and passion. The influence of an unknown something wrapped up in her personality and temperament permits her to touch forcibly and surely, and almost at will, the chords of sympathy and pity. She has a subtle way of making others feel the pathetic side of the characters which she portrays… There is no reason why any person should compare Bernhardt and Miss Adams. The very idea of the thing is ridiculous. But while the Frenchwoman possesses the inspiration and genius to stir the soul, the little American girl commands the gentle and subtle gift of moving the heart. Here lies the reason of Miss Adam’s great success and her justification for attempting to play the Eaglet.” – The World, Oct. 21, 1900.

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