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
America’s first child star, Elsie Leslie Sun, Jan 15, 1978 – Page 36 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, 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.
Elsie Leslie Tue, Jan 8, 1889 – 9 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States of America) · Newspapers.com
Discovery of Elsie Leslie Tue, Jan 8, 1889 – 9 · Chicago Tribune (Chicago, Cook, Illinois, United States of America) · Newspapers.com
Elsie Leslie Sun, Jan 15, 1978 – Page 36 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America) · Newspapers.com
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.
Elsie’s Famous Friends Sun, Jan 15, 1978 – Page 36 · St. Louis Post-Dispatch (St. Louis, St. Louis, Missouri, United States of America) · Newspapers.com
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.
Elsie Leslie Sat, Feb 15, 1896 – Page 2 · The Chanute Daily Tribune (Chanute, Neosho, Kansas, United States of America) · Newspapers.com
Elsie Leslie rumored to soon return to the stage, 1896 Fri, Feb 28, 1896 – 6 · The Press (Kansas City, Kansas, United States of America) · Newspapers.com
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.
Elsie Leslie as Katherine, Taming of the Shrew Wed, May 13, 1903 – 6 · The Sun (New York, New York, New York, United States of America) · Newspapers.com
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.
Find out more about this child prodigy with a search on Newspapers.com.
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One thought on “Elsie Leslie: America’s First Child Star”
How relatively soon we forget. Soon, in a historical context. What about Cordelia Howard in Uncle Tom’s Cabin? That was 1852, she was six years old and playing the lead when the monstrously successful show opened on Broadway. The same decade in the nineteenth century saw The Infant Drummer, hugely famous at age five or six. There are others too.
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