Life and career
Tempest was born Mary Susan Etherington in London and was educated in Belgium. Later, she studied music in Paris and at the Royal Academy of Music in London, as a singing pupil (a soprano) of Manuel García, the tutor of Jenny Lind. At nineteen years of age, she married to Alfred Edward Izard. That marriage subsequently ended in divorce.
Read an amusing anecdote from the long acting career of Dame Marie Tempest, free from anecdotage.com.
Early musicals career
Tempest debuted in 1885 as Fiametta in the operetta Boccaccio and worked steadily for the next two years. She became internationally famous, however, for her performance in the title role in Dorothy (1887), which ran for 931 performances (Tempest took over for the ailing Marion Hood). Rumours of an affair with her producer only enhanced her appeal to her audiences. In 1890 she created the role of Kitty Carol in The Red Hussar in London and then New York City. She then toured the United States and Canada with the J.C. Duff Comic Opera Company in such operettas as Carmen, The Bohemian Girl, and The Pirates of Penzance. She returned to Broadway for the next three years in numerous productions including The Tyrolean, The Fencing Master, and The Algerian. During this period she was considered one of the few rivals of Lillian Russell.
In 1895, George Edwardes bought her back to London to star in his Daly's Theatre productions, beginning with An Artist's Model, which ran for over 400 performances. This was followed by the even more successful The Geisha (1896), which ran for 760 performances, A Greek Slave (1898) and the smash hit San Toy (1899). Tempest was a difficult star, and her arguments with Edwardes and some of her colleagues were well known. She finally left San Toy in 1900.
 1899 through World War I years
In 1899, Tempest married again, this time to the playwright Cosmo Stuart (Cosmo Charles Gordon-Lennox) who was the son of Lord Alexander Gordon-Lennox. On his advice, Tempest forsook operettas for straight comedy. In 1900 she created the role of Nell Gwynne in English Nell, followed by The Marriage of Kitty (1902), penned by her husband, which firmly established her as a leading comedy actress, particularly when playing the sharp-tongued lady in drawing room comedies. She toured America in 1904 in The Marriage of Kitty and in The Freedom of Suzanne. In 1908 Somerset Maugham's Mrs. Dot provided her with arguably her finest role. She returned to America for an extended tour in 1909 and remained there for the next two years.
Returning to England in 1911, Tempest began to manage the theatres in which she starred. She leased The Duke of York's Theatre and staged a revival of The Marriage of Kitty. This followed in 1913 by the revival of London Assurance, given in aid of the King George's Actors Pension Fund. She spent World War I touring in America, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, Singapore, China, Japan and the Philippines.
Tempest finally returned to England via America in 1922. Tempest's second husband had died in 1921, and she soon married again, this time to the actor W. Graham Browne, who had accompanied her throughout her tour. By the 1920s, Tempest had outgrown her troublesome temperament and moved into playing charming and elegant middle-aged women.
In 1924 she took a singing part again in Midsummer Madness. Nöel Coward wrote the role of Judith Bliss in Hay Fever (1925) especially for her, and her popularity continued in such shows as Passing Brompton Road and The Cat's Cradle. She also had one more singing role in 1927 in The Marquise, which had been written for her by Coward. She later starred in Mr. Pim Passes By (1928), The First Mrs Fraser by St. John Ervine (1929, giving 632 performances at the Haymarket Theatre), and Theatre Royal (1934). She toured Great Britain in The First Mrs. Fraser with A. E. Matthews and Barry Morse just one year prior to her death. She continued to act, with less frequency, until her death, at age 78 in London.
In later years, Tempest became active in working for the good of the members of her profession. In 1934, she was instrumental in the founding of the actors union Actors' Equity, when she hosted a dinner at the Savoy for eighty-five leading entertainers. She was created a Dame Commander of the British Empire (DBE) in 1937, the same year in which her third husband died. A year before her death, Tempest lost most of her possessions when her home was bombed in London. She commented, "Hitler has taken nearly everything from me but my life, but you can't live on regret."
On Tuesday May 28, 1935 Tempest's stage jubilee was celebrated with a benefit performance at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane that was attended by the Queen and King. The programme has tributes from amongst others, J. M. Barrie, Noel Coward, Sir Edward German, and Somerset Maugham. Tempest appeared in one act each from The Marriage of Kitty and Little Catherine, two of her most popular roles. The proceeds from the event were donated to St. George's Hospital for use by members of the theatrical profession.
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