Over the course of more than four decades, late-19th century Polish American actress Helena Modrzejewska portrayed nearly 300 roles, but she’s mostly known for her Shakespearean repertory, which she performed in both English and Polish.
To honor one of Poland’s greatest actors, Google dedicated its Doodle on Tuesday to Modrzejewska on her 181st birthday.
Born to complicated parentage as Jadwiga Benda on Oct. 12, 1840, in Krakow, Poland, she was baptized as Helena Opid. She made her stage debut in 1861 under the stage name Modrzejewska, beginning a career that would span some 46 years in Europe and America.
Her performances in tragic Shakespearean roles such as Hamlet’s Ophelia, Othello’s Desdemona and Juliet, Romeo’s love, were well received by critics. But after a decade headlining Polish theater, she and her husband immigrated to the US in 1876, settling on a ranch near Anaheim, California, with the intention of leaving acting behind.
But, because they knew little about farming and English, this endeavor proved unfruitful, and Modrzejewska returned to the stage, acting principally in the US but also occasionally in England, fulfilling a dream of performing Shakespeare in London and elsewhere in the UK.
In addition to a grueling schedule that includes eight to nine performances each week for several months on end, Modrzejewska also a director, producer and publicist.
She died Newport Beach, California, in 1909 at age 68 and buried in her family plot in Krakow.