(August 27, 1884 - June 12, 1936)
"The Negro race's first lady"
Born Rosalie Virginia Scott in Greenville, South Carolina, her parents moved her and her brother to New York City when she was six years old.
She married Dr. Henry Pruden McClendon in 1904. Although a licensed chiropractor, he worked primarily as a Pullman porter for the Pennsylvania Railroad.
She became totally committed to the theatre after 1916 when she won a scholarship to the American Academy of Dramatic Arts. She studied with Franklin Sargent and her first professional role in Justice by John Galsworthy followed at the Davenport Theatre in New York. When she played Octavie in Lawrence Stallings's Deep River in Philadelphia, the noted director Arthur Hopkins urged
Ethel Barrymore to stay through the performance and "watch Rose McClendon come down those stairs. She can teach some of our most hoity-toity actresses distinction." After viewing her performance Ms. Barrymore remarked, "She can teach all of them distinction." After the show moved to New York, she received peer recognition and critical success.
After her success with Deep River, she was featured in Paul Green's 1926 Pulitzer-prize-winning play, In Abraham's Bosom. Two years later, she played Serena in Dorothy and DuBose Heyward's Porgy.
Dubose Heyward believed that "Rose McClendon was perfect as the Catfish Row aristocrat Serena."
Soon she became known on Broadway as "the Negro race's first lady." Still, she remained modest and often stated that her recognition was quite undeserved.
The House of Connelly, another play written by Paul Green. The following year she portrayed Mammy in Never No More, a play about lynching produced by the Group Theatre. During the 1933 season, she worked on radio in the "John Henry Sketches." All this time she remained deeply committed to promoting the needs of her fellow black actors and actresses. She fought with the actors' union for more opportunities for blacks and formed a small black theatre group.
When Hallie Flanagan began organizing the
Black Federal Theatre Project troupe in New York City in 1935, Rose McClendon played a significant part in the planning. The first meeting was held in her home.
In 1935 she starred as Cora in the Broadway production of Langston Hughes's Mulatto, the longest play on Broadway by a black author before Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun.
She received favorable reviews from the New York critics.
Unfortunately during the production of Mulatto, she became extremely ill with pleurisy and was forced to leave the cast. A year later she died of pneumonia.
Rose McClendon Players was organized in her memory.
|Rose McClendon sculpture by Richmond Barthe|
Resource: Notable Women in the American Theatre. Harry Elam