By 1812Blockhouse

In the last few years of the 19th century, Mansfield was a place where several noted performers of the era, including those with international reputations, performed.

Often, an appearance was due to Richland County’s geographical proximity to both Columbus and Cleveland. Touring acts could easily stop over for a night for an additional play or concert to add to tour process. Mansfielders’ money, of course, spent the same as those in large cities.

One such performer was an actor by the name of Robert Mantell.

Robert Bruce Mantell, born in Scotland, initially took the stage name Robert Hudson to circumvent his mother’s strong objections to his acting career. The name change was symbolic of Mantell’s determination to pursue his passion for the arts, even if it meant defying family expectations. This early act of rebellion set the stage—quite literally—for a career that would span decades and mediums, from Shakespearean theater to silent films.

In the last five years of the 19th century, Mantell became a veritable one-man Shakespearean festival. He toured extensively across states, captivating audiences with his performances in plays like “Monbars,” “Othello,” “Hamlet,” and “The Corsican Brothers.” His first local appearance likely took place in 1891 in the play “Monbars,” a drama about the famed French buccaneer Daniel Monbars. The actor’s frequent appearances in Mansfield, often at the Memorial Opera House, became a local cultural staple of the time.

Mantell’s touring schedule was nothing short of grueling. At one point, he was starring in “Richard III” one week, “Richelieu” the second week, “Othello” the third week, and “Hamlet” the fourth week—in rotation! This relentless commitment to his craft made him a household name, especially among fans of high-class drama and Shakespearean works.

Mantell’s transition to film came relatively late in his career. At the age of 61, he began acting in films in 1915, specifically at Fox Studios. Despite the late start, his theatrical background provided a rich tapestry of skills that translated well into the world of silent films. His Shakespearean gravitas lent itself to the silent medium, where facial expressions and body language were paramount. While many actors of his era struggled to adapt to the new medium, Mantell’s extensive stage experience made him a natural fit for the silver screen.

Described as handsome and romantic, Mantell was as captivating off-stage as he was on it. Known for having had several marriages, he often performed alongside his wives in Shakespearean productions. This blending of personal and professional lives added an extra layer of intrigue to his public persona. His romantic escapades and multiple marriages became as much a part of his legacy as his artistic contributions.

According to a 1903 article in the Mansfield News Journal, Mansfield audiences always had a “fond regard” for Mantell, and the paper continued to follow his career – and personal life – for many years. Mantell died in 1928 at the age of 74. He was also the great uncle of recently deceased actress Angela Lansbury.

Photo: Public Domain, Library of Congress

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