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Frank Benson (actor)

Francis Robert Benson, knighted by King George V for his productions of Shakespeare

Sir Francis Robert Benson (4 November 1858 – 31 December 1939), commonly known as Frank Benson or F. R. Benson, was an English actor-manager. He founded his own company in 1883 and produced all but three of Shakespeare's plays.

BiographyEdit

Born in Tunbridge Wells, Benson was educated at Winchester and New College, Oxford, and at the university was distinguished both as an athlete (winning the Inter-university three miles) and as an amateur actor. In the latter respect he was notable for producing at Oxford the first performance of a Greek play, the Agamemnon, in which many Oxford men who afterwards became famous in other fields took part.[1] A year later, at the invitation of Herbert Branston Gray, he staged a Greek language production of Alcestis at Bradfield College, himself playing Apollo.[2][3]

On leaving Oxford, Benson took to the professional stage, and made his first appearance at the Lyceum, under Henry Irving, in Romeo and Juliet, as Paris, in 1882. In the next year he went into managership with a company of his own, taken over from Walter Bentley, and from this time he became gradually more and more prominent, both as an actor of leading parts himself and as the organizer of practically the only modern repertory company touring through the provinces.[1]

 
A photograph of Frank Robert Benson as Petruchio from a 1901 performance of The Taming of the Shrew

Benson's chief successes were gained out of London for some years, but in 1890 he had a season in London at the Globe and in 1900 at the Lyceum, and in later years he was seen with his repertoire at the Coronet.[1]

His company included from time to time many actors and actresses who, having trained under him, became prominent on their own account, and both by his organization of this regular company and by his foundation of a dramatic school of acting in 1901, Benson exercised a most important influence on the contemporary stage.[1]

From the first he devoted himself largely to the production of Shakespeare's plays, reviving many which had not been acted for generations, and his services to the cause of Shakespeare can hardly be overestimated. Over time, Benson's companies performed all but three of Shakespeare's plays (neglecting All's Well That Ends Well, Titus Andronicus and its "bloody villainy," and Troilus and Cressida).[4] From 1886 to 1916 (with a few gaps) he managed the Stratford-on-Avon Shakespearean Festival.[1]

His romantic and intellectual powers as an actor, combined with his athletic and picturesque bearing and fine elocution, were conspicuously shown in his own impersonations, most remarkable among which were his Hamlet (in 1900 he produced this play without cuts in London), his Coriolanus, his Richard II, his Lear and his Petruchio.[1]

Richard III (1911) is one of his only surviving film performances. He both starred in the lead role and directed the production, made by the Co-operative Cinematograph Co.

Benson was knighted following a performance of Julius Caesar at Drury Lane Theatre in 1916.

FamilyEdit

He was the son of William Benson of Alresford, Hants, and was born at Tunbridge Wells. He came of a talented family. His elder brother, W. A. S. Benson, became well known in the world of art as one of the pioneers in the revival of English industrial craftsmanship, especially in the field of the metallic arts; and his younger brother, Godfrey Benson, was a Liberal politician who was raised to the peerage as Baron Charnwood. He was also the cousin of actor Basil Rathbone, to whom he bore a strong resemblance.

In 1886, Benson married Constance Featherstonhaugh, an actress in his company who continued to play leading parts with him. They had two children, Eric William, born in 1887, who was killed at the battle of the Somme in 1916,[5] and Brynhild Lucy, born in 1888, who lived until 1974.[6][7] In 1917 she married firstly Charles Chalmers,[8] in 1931 secondly Harold G. Janion,[9] and in 1951 thirdly Richard C. Kelly.[10] At the time of her death she was living at Poynatts Manor, Skirmett, near Henley on Thames, and left an estate valued at £38,419.[11]

FilmographyEdit

Year Title Role Notes
1911 Julius Caesar Mark Anthony Short
1911 The Taming of the Shrew Petruchio Short
1911 MacBeth MacBeth Short
1911 Richard III Richard III Short, not feature
1923 Becket Thomas a Becket (final film role)

NotesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f Chisholm 1911.
  2. ^ G. S. Freeman, revised by M. C. Curthoys, Gray, Herbert Branston (1851–1929) in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography online, (subscription required)
  3. ^ Michael Dobson, Shakespeare and Amateur Performance: A Cultural History, p. 166
  4. ^ Stratton, Clarence (April 1916). "A preserver of the Shakespeare tradition". Theatre Magazine. XXIII (182): 221. Retrieved 21 October 2015.
  5. ^ "Benson, Eric William : Winchester College at War" at Winchestercollegeatwar.com, accessed 15 December 2018
  6. ^ "BENSON Brynhild Lucy" in Register of Births for Brentford Registration District, vol. 3a (1888), p. 71
  7. ^ "Kelly, Brynhilde Lucy born 30 AUG 1888" in Register of Deaths for Wycombe Registration District, vol. 19 (1974), p. 1154
  8. ^ "Benson Brynhild L & Chalmers Charles H L H" in Register of Marriages for Paddington Registration District vol. 1a (1917), p. 64
  9. ^ "Chalmers Brynhild L & Janion Harold G" in Register of Marriages for Cuckfield Registration District, vol. 2b (1931), p. 391
  10. ^ "JANION Brynhild L & KELLY Richard C" in Register of Marriages for Westminster Registration District, vol. 5c (1951), p. 543
  11. ^ "KELLY Brynhild Lucy of Poynatts Manor Skirmett Henley on Thames Oxon" in Probate Index for 1974 online at probatesearch.service.gov.uk, accessed 1 April 2019

ReferencesEdit

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