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Whitlock, Elizabeth

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Born at Warrington, Lancashire, on 2 April 1761, She was the daughter of the provincial actors Roger and Sarah Kemble and the sister of Charles and John Philip Kemble and Sarah Siddons. Like her siblings, Elizabeth began her acting career by playing children’s roles in her parent’s touring company. She was an experienced stroller by nineteen and on 22 February 1783 made her London debut at Drury Lane as Portia in “The Merchant of Venice”. She was accounted by the critics as a ‘tolerable’ actress but no threat to the merits of her sister Sarah. Tate Wilkinson, for whom she acted at York, wrote that although she had talent she was in the fullness of her youth ‘wild as a colt untamed.’ During two more seasons at Drury Lane she acted Imogen in “Cymbeline”, Lucia in “Cato”, Lady Touchwood in “The Double Dealer” and Marwood in “The Way of the World”, among other roles. But the influence of her sister and brothers could not keep her at Drury Lane and in 1785 she joined the circuits at Chester and Newcastle, then under the management of Charles Edward Whitlock. She had married Whitlock in June of that year. For some nine years the Whitlocks acted in various venues in the north, including York and Edinburgh. In the latter city, at the Theatre Royal in Shakespeare Square, in 1793 Mrs Whitlock acted nineteen capital roles, among them Alicia in “Jane Shore”, Juliet, Belvidera in “Venice Preserv’d”, Lady Macbeth and Lady Randolph in “Douglas”. While at Edinburgh they were engaged by Thomas Wignell for his Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. Mrs Whitlock first acted in America at Annapolis and then made her Philadelphia debut on 19 February 1794 as Isabella in “Isabella; or the Fatal Marriage”, with her husband as Count Baldwin. Playing at the major eastern cities in America, including New York, Boston and Charleston, Elizabeth became a major star and was called ‘the American Siddons.’ With her husband she returned to London about 1807, returned to America in 1812, and after several more years went once more back to England, where her husband died at Addlestone, Surrey, on 3 March 1822. Having given up the stage, Elizabeth lived in comfort another 14 years and died at Addlestone on 27 February 1836. Her sister Sarah described her as ‘a noble, glorious creature, very wild and eccentric.’ Sarah’s biographer, Thomas Campbell, wrote that Elizabeth was ‘just what Mrs Siddons would have been if she had swallowed a bottle of champagne.’ The portrait attributed to Downman (G0374) was inventoried by Mathews as of Frances Kemble, later Mrs Francis Twiss (1759-1822), and is tentatively shown as of her in “Pictures in the Garrick Club”. But we believe it to be of Mrs Whitlock. For Frances Kemble, see the BDA 8: 329-332.
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