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WSG to The Era, March 29, 1884 (Issue 2375), p. 8.


To the Editor of The Era

Sir, – The tone you have adopted in criticising the circumstances under which Miss Fortescue accepted an engagement to play Dorothy Druce can only be accounted for on the theory, incredible in itself, that you write under a complete misapprehension of the facts of the case.  As Miss Fortescue was cast by me for the part she is now playing, I may take upon myself to expiate away the erroneous and highly injurious impression that is likely to be conveyed by your leading article of last week.

You say Miss Fortescue was suddenly called upon to assume a character which had been "originally created by an actress who held a high rank in her profession."  As a matter of fact, when I selected Miss Marion Terry for the part of Dorothy – to the consternation of the then Haymarket management, who thought it madness on my part to allow an all but unknown actress to play so important a rôle – Miss Terry was fulfilling an engagement as "walking lady" at the Strand Theatre, at a much smaller salary than Miss Fortescue was receiving when she left the Savoy.  That Miss Marion Terry has since attained a high rank in her profession is not to be denied, and at the same time is not the point.  Who shall say that Miss Fortescue will not, some day, do as much?

You say that Miss Fortescue "was no ambitious artist who had been working away at her profession, acting in minor parts, and waiting in eager expectation for an opportunity of distinguishing herself."  If she was not this, what was she?  Miss Fortescue was engaged by Mr. D’Oyly Carte on the production of Patience at the Opera Comique, three years ago, at the salary of £3 per week.  This was soon raised to £4, then to £5, and finally to £6, and this was the salary that she was receiving when Mr. Carte released her from her engagement in July last.  That Miss Fortescue was restricted to subordinate parts at the Savoy was simply owing to the fact that her singing voice was not strong enough for leading parts in comic opera, and she was only prevented from resigning her permanent engagement at the Savoy in order to take a temporary engagement in a theatre devoted to comedy by the fact that she had a mother and sister who were entirely dependent upon her exertions for their support.

You compare Miss Fortescue’s action in accepting an engagement at the Court Theatre with Mrs. Langtry’s action in adopting the stage as a profession.  Allow me to point out to you that the cases are not parallel.  Mrs. Langtry is a lady who made a world-wide reputation as a "society beauty," and who adopted the stage as a profession after that reputation was made.  Miss Fortescue was an actress by profession for two and a half years before the circumstances occurred which brought her prominently before the public.  She left the stage on her engagement to Lord Garmoyle, and when that engagement was broken off Miss Fortescue, having no means whatever of her own, and having, as I have said, a mother and sister entirely dependent upon her exertions for their support, reverted to the exercise of a profession by which, for two and a half years, she had earned an honourable competence.  And I may add that, at her own desire and suggestion, she returned to the stage at a salary which was, as nearly as possible, an equivalent for the salary she was receiving when she left the Savoy.  Her salary at the Savoy was equivalent to £300 per annum.  She is engaged at the Court at a salary of £8 per week for three months only.

One word as to the part she is now playing.  The part of Dorothy, important as it is, is nevertheless an extremely easy part to play.  It requires a young lady with a sympathetic voice, an attractive appearance, and a quiet, gentle, graceful manner.  Given these indispensable attributes, and with very little dramatic experience, the part can be adequately played.  You think that Miss Fortescue does not play it adequately; but that is, of course, a mere matter of opinion.  When the piece was originally cast at the Court Theatre Mrs. Beerbohm Tree was named for Dorothy.  It subsequently appeared that this lady would not be available for the part, and it was then, and then only, that Miss Fortescue was thought of.  You are intimately acquainted with the artistic abilities and resources of all the recognised actresses on the stage.  May I ask which of the recognised actresses who were available a month ago you would have selected for the part in preference to Miss Fortescue?

  Your obedient servant
    W. S. GILBERT.
Savoy Theatre, March 24th, 1884.

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