Before the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, the gleam of studio lights, and wall-sized screens, there was the stage. And just as with movies, the stage brought out the stars. Elsie Leslie Lyde (known as Elsie Leslie) was just one of these, but her youth made her special. She first stepped into the spotlight at only four years old, and within years had gained such celebrity that she’s now considered to be America’s first child star. Elsie Leslie . . . first child star Sat, Jan 20, 1979 – 10 · The Boston Globe (Boston, Suffolk, Massachusetts, United States of America) · Newspapers.com
Elsie may have had her start in 1885, but it was her charming performance as Little Lord Fauntleroy in 1889 that caught the public eye. She then went on to star in Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper,” as stated in the article above.
With Leslie’s fame came notable friends: the young Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, and even Mark Twain himself, to name a few. She kept many correspondences with her friends throughout her young acting career and beyond.
Taking a Break
In the mid-1890s, Leslie took a break from acting. No one believed it would be a permanent retirement, however, and the public awaited her return with curiosity. Would the young starlet who captured hearts in her youth retain any talent as a mature actress? It’s a question that hangs over the heads of most child actors, even today.
Return to the Stage
In 1898, newspapers announced Leslie’s return to acting. The young “Lord Fauntleroy” was now a lovely young woman, starring in roles like Lydia Languish of “The Rivals,” Glory Quayle in “The Christian,” and later as Katherine in “The Taming of the Shrew,” which she played opposite her then-husband Jefferson Winter.
However, though her performances earned mostly favorable reviews, Leslie never quite recaptured the success of her earlier years. Not that she needed it—her childhood fame was said to have set her up nicely.
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Charlotte Cushman—another famous actress of the 1800s