Madame Modjeska was part of the social scene in early 1900s
Columnist Juanita Lovret: Madame Modjeska was part of the social scene in early 1900s
September 11, 2007|By ocregister
Known as Jadwiga Modrzejewsica Chlopowski, she was a premier actress in Poland until she decided to retire in 1875. After leaving the stage, she came to the Anaheim colony in 1876 with her husband, Karol Bozenta Chlopowski (Count Bozenta), and her son, Ralph.
Supposedly leaving Poland to visit the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, they were really part of a small group of artists and writers who hoped to establish a utopian commune in the United States where they would be free of the restraints imposed in their homeland by Russian authorities.
They tried raising grapes in Anaheim, but failed, leaving Count Bozenta in dire financial straits. In desperation Madame Modjeska went to San Francisco to learn English so she could return to the stage. Within six months she was auditioning and soon made her American debut as Madame Modjeska, a name suggested by the manager of the California Theater.
After an enthusiastic welcome, she toured the United States and England for a number of years, appearing in productions such as “Camille,” “Henry VIII,” “As You Like It,” and “Romeo and Juliet.” Theater greats such as Maurice Barrymore and Otis Skinner played opposite her. Despite her worldwide success as a Shakespearean actress, she still considered Orange County her home and returned as often as she could.
In 1883, while spending the summer here with her husband and son, she purchased 400 acres from J.E. Pleasants in Santiago Canyon. She commissioned Stanford While, a well-known architect who designed Madison Square Garden in New York, to design a ranch home for them. Today the house, which is called Arden, is part of the Orange County Park system and is open to the public.
House guests such as Cornelia Otis Skinner and Ignace Jan Paderewski as well as local residents enjoyed her hospitality. Part of an elite group, including Tustin socialites such as Mrs. James Rice, Madam Modjeska often attended parties in Tustin and took part in amateur theatricals in addition to appearing in benefit performances at French’s Opera House in Santa Ana. She was loved by all who knew her, including James Irvine II who named his daughter Helena in her honor.
In 1903 after she had retired from the stage for the second time, she performed for the Ebell Society of the Santa Ana Valley, presenting a program titled “Loved Once” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The ladies made her an honorary member of the organization the next year.
Madame Modjeska sold Arden in 1906 and moved to Tustin where she rented a home on West Main near Tustin Avenue. Called Los Alisos, it had been built for Roy “Cap” Ozmun and his wife and was said to be the largest one-story home in the county.
During her stay in Tustin, Madame Modjeska completed her memoirs with the help of author Constance Skinner. As her health began to fail, she decided that sea air would help her and she purchased a small cottage on Bay Island in Newport Harbor from Sam Tustin. She lived there until her death April 8, 1909. Her funeral was held at St. Vibiana’s Cathedral in Los Angeles and she was buried in Krakow, Poland.