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Stage star's appearance in Lansford one of her last

Published May 14. 2011 09:02AM


It's not clear how local promoters were able to swing it, but on May 13, 1911, the Lansford Opera House landed Mary Mannering, one of the biggest stars of the stage world, for a one-night showing.

When it came to the big stage, there was no bigger name during the first decade of the 20th century than Mannering. The British-born round-faced, dark-haired performer appeared to be at the top of her acting career in 1911.

The Tamaqua Courier hinted that her local appearance did not come without a hefty cost. Mannering and the "brilliant aggregation of 34 celebrities accompanying her was secured by a big guarantee," the writer stated.

Still, the writer was amazed that the Lansford Opera House was able to land such a big-name performer.

"That the queen of the theatrical world, Miss Mannering, with all her gorgeous gowns, splendid scenic effects, and superb support is to be transplanted from a New York theater to the Lansford Opera House reads like a fairy tale," he noted. "Seems like a dream but fortunately, it is an entrancing reality."

Mannering had been starring in the production "A Man's World" for two years and now local theater patrons had the opportunity to see "a real star in a real play."

"Here is the best production that can be seen on any stage in the world," the writer boasted, "and from the rush now on for seats, the indications are that the house will be simply packed."

Tickets, priced at $2, $1.50, $1.75 and 25 cents, were available through Sharp's Cigar Star in Lansford.

Mannering's appearance in Lansford came on the day before Mother's Day. The 32-year-old actress was the mother of a young son herself, but like many celebrities, her personal life, including a failed marriage, became an open book for hungry gossip columnists.

Born Florence Friend, she took the name "Mary Mannering" (the maiden name of her father's mother) after coming to New York in 1896.

Mannering once told a New York reporter that it was her illness with chickenpox and measles as a schoolgirl that brought her to a stage career. After getting over the illness she remained home from school since it was near the end of the school term. Instead of going back for the few remaining weeks of school, she began to sit for an artist who had begun her portrait before she became ill.

One day, a person from an acting company visited the studio and seeing her portrait on the easel said that it was "exactly the head" the company had been looking for.

"I found later that it was only the head that was needed, but two lines went with it," she said. "Still, I saw glittering visions of greatness already within my grasp, when, after seeing first my picture and then me, they offered me the part."

Shortly after coming to America she married actor James K. Hackett, leading man of a touring company. The marriage was kept a secret until January 1898.

Her first star billing came at Buffalo, N.Y. in 1900 and for the next 10 years she continued to play leading roles in similar romantic comedies and dramas. For much of the decade she was a joint star with her husband. She then starred at the head of her own company under her husband's management.

Her involvement with Frederick E. Wadsworth, a founding member of the Detroit Aero Club, created a small scandal in 1911. Mannering and Hackett divorced in April 1910 while Wadsworth had divorced his wife, Luella Peck Wadsworth, a year earlier.

Just as today, the high-profile divorces provided plenty of copy for the gossip columnists.

It was during this time of uncertainty in her personal life that Mannering appeared in Lansford. In less than a month, she and Wadsworth would be married in Detroit.

Shortly afterward, Mannering surprised everyone by retiring from the stage. That meant that Mannering's appearance in Lansford was one of her last on the public stage.

After retirement from show business, Mannering devoted her life to assisting her husband in civic and business affairs. She became vice-president of the Michigan Boat Works and, in 1912.

In 1911 Wadsworth, built a hydro-aeroplane named the Flying Fish which debuted at the New York Boat Show. The unusual vehicle was designed to skim on top of the water at speeds up to 65 mph, with the "skipper-pilot" seated in a wicker chair at the rear of its canoe-like hull.

In a few years, Wadsworth Manufacturing also turned out a very successful lined and insulated "full vision sedan top" for Model T touring cars.

Later in life, Mannering was interviewed by Good Housekeeping, who published her interview in an article titled The Home, The Stage and the Woman.

The former stage star who thrilled stage audiences around the world, including the one in Lansford that one night in May 1911, died on Jan. 21, 1953.

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