William Courtenay


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(1875–1933), actor. Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, he made his stage debut with a traveling company that was playing Portland, Maine, in 1891. After seasons under the aegis of Richard Mansfield, Daniel, then Charles Frohman, Courtenay became leading man to Virginia Harned, whom he later married, and toured with in Iris, Camille, and The Light That Lies in a Woman's Eyes. He scored his first major success as Walter Corbin in Mrs. Leffingwell's Boots (1905), followed by the Duke of Charmerace in Arséne Lupin (1909), Stephen Baird in Ready Money (1912), and Bishop Armstron in Romance. He began another long run as Stephen Denby in Under Cover (1914), then turned to a wartime spy melodrama, Under Fire (1915). After playing the tramp in Pals First (1917) and Matt Peasley in Cappy Ricks (1919), a series of less successful plays followed until he enjoyed one final run as the vamped husband Tom Burton in David Belasco's controversial production of The Harem (1924). His last appearance was as Governor Hazleton in the gangster melodrama The Inside Story (1932). Courtenay was essentially a matinee idol, but one of the handsomest and most durable. Oliver Morosco felt “he had all the requisites of a star. His voice was perfectly modulated and his poise admirable. He knew how to reach a climax, how to put over comedy, and his intonations and transitions of speech were perfect.” Women who came to gape cared little if critics such as Walter Prichard Eaton considered him “sing-song and artificial,” capable only of “playing himself.”

From The Oxford Companion to American Theatre in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Theatre.

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