An article from the May, 1905 issue of “The Twentieth Century Home”, by Emily Hope Westfield
English Home of Mrs. Potter
MRS. POTTER is preeminently an actress by temperament and endowment. Her method is by means of the imagination, rather than the study of a part from a distance. The part she is to play takes possession of her, while many other actresses—the majority, perhaps, of the really great ones— take possession of the part, through study. Edmund Kean sat up all night opposite the Debtors' Door of the Old Bailey to see the Cato Street conspirators put to death. "I mean to die like Thistlewood—I'll imitate every muscle of that man's countenance," he exclaimed. Rachel tells an anecdote of herself which illustrates this method of self-study, too. She learned suddenly of the death of a dear friend, and sank into a chair with a cry, but at the same instant she was struck with the idea that that was the very tone and action needed for her cry of "Alas!" in Corneille's "Horace." Clara Morris tells of copying her best bit of stage-business in "Camille" from an entire stranger in a Broadway street-car.
Mrs. Potter's method is more spontaneous, and probably more wearing in a play which runs a whole season. It was admirably illustrated in her languorous, sensuous Calypso in Stephen Phillips "Ulysses." Study could hardly have sufficed to produce the splendid interpretation of that part. But the imagination—that can supply a world of emotions. And so the woman, afraid that her lover, her hero, would leave her for greater things, almost gifted with prescience that it must be so, wrung the hearts of the audience. For when primal passion is depicted on the stage, the settings make little difference. Let it be in the ancient days before Christ or today—we understand. The tragedy of renouncing a lover because to cling to him would mean the ultimate ruin of his career has often been portrayed admirably. But rarely if ever has the savage determination to cling to him whatever the result been better interpreted than in Mrs. Potter's Calypso.
Mrs. Potter's career has been full of interest from the time she made her debut in Baltimore—not a professional one, but that of the average young society woman. As the daughter of Col. David Urquhart, of Louisiana, and later the wife of James Brown Potter, a nephew of the Episcopal bishop of New York, society welcomed her partly because of her inherited position, but more largely because of her beauty and brilliance. Amateur theatricals soon attracted her as a relief from the ennui of social life in which there was no struggle. The social climber who meets rebuffs at every run of the ladder finds such a life of absorbing interest. But for one who can open all doors, boredom inevitably follows.