Helen Sheehy

New York Times Notable Book

Eva Le Gallienne

Eva Le Gallienne. A Biography

"A splendid biography...Compelling...sensitive to both the times and Le Gallienne's nature...A rich testament to the life of a remarkable woman and a remarkable force in the history of American theater." Steven Winn, San Francisco Chronicle

"An enthralling story" Richard Dyer, Boston Globe

"An extraordinary, deeply felt portrait" Blythe Danner

Book Description and More Reviews


From Publishers Weekly
Eva Le Gallienne (1899-1991) had this in common with her favorite Ibsen character, Hedda Gabler: she refused to be oppressed by a sexist society that limited her freedom. Luckily, Le Gallienne never developed a penchant for pistols. Instead, she became an accomplished performer and a master at building nonprofit repertory theater companies. Sheehy's (Margo, 1989) account of Le Gallienne's life, drawn mostly from the actress's personal papers, is the perfect combination of professional triumphs and defeats and personal anecdotes. Le Gallienne's childhood is well documented here, but Sheehy refrains from covering insignificant events. She shows how Le Gallienne's parents' tempestuous marriage, which ended in bitter divorce, helped lay the foundation for many of her own adult relationships. Le Gallienne was raised by an independent, self-sufficient mother and nanny. Her father, an aloof alcoholic, had little positive influence on her, and Sheehy hints that he may have sexually abused his daughter. As an adult, Le Gallienne's support system consisted mainly of women; she was a lesbian who didn't hide her sexuality to further her career. Sheehy re-creates for the reader Le Gallienne's love of acting and directing while avoiding the litany of theatrical reviews that mars too many performing-arts biographies. Sarah Bernhardt and Eleonora Duse were Le Gallienne's heroes, and the author's descriptions of how her subject absorbed their professional technique and expert advice are inspiring. Early in her career, she rejected Broadway's commercial theater, and she went on to lead several repertory companies. Sheehy carefully documents each experience, offering insight into the rewards and heartbreaks associated with Le Gallienne's lifelong struggle to firmly establish repertory theater in the United States. In this balanced, carefully researched biography of an actress who defied convention, Sheehy has perfectly staged Le Gallienne's life. Photos.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal
In a richly detailed account of an American theater legend, the author of Margo: The Life and Times of Margo Jones (LJ 12/​1/​89) chronicles the on- and off-stage drama that was Le Gallienne. Founder of the Civic Repertory Theatre and cofounder of the American Repertory Theatre, "Le G" strove throughout her career to bring the repertory system to U.S. stages. She was an actor, author, director, producer, teacher, and translator, and her star shone brightly in our theatrical sky. But her talents were sometimes obscured by publicity about her unconventional personal life and, in her later years, by a dearth of plays for her to act in or direct. Mining the mother lode of material by and about Le Gallienne, including her two autobiographies, numerous letters, diaries of more than 50 years, and interviews with family members, friends, lovers, and colleagues, Sheehy has produced a gem of a biography. Some famous ads once asked "What becomes a legend most?" In the case of Eva Le Gallienne, it is this well-researched and readable work.Carolyn M. Mulac, Chicago P.L.
Copyright 1997 Reed Business Information, Inc.

The New York Times Book Review, Margo Jefferson
Sheehy lets Le Gallienne's words and thoughts take center stage and her prose glides along at a courteous, stately pace.

From Booklist
Most readers are familiar with such daring and innovative stage actors as Eleonora Duse and Sarah Bernhardt. Sheehy attempts to turn the lights on for Eve Le Gallienne to prove that she led an exceptional life and greatly influenced American theater in her role as founder and head of the Civic Repertory Theater (the model for off Broadway). In supporting her claims, Sheehy has drawn on Le Gallienne's diaries, letters, notes, and books and interviewed her friends, lovers, acquaintances, and family members (the book is rigorously researched) and presented a portrait of an artist's life, with the requisite revelations (her mother, Julie Norregaard, was a feminist; perhaps her artist father, Richard Le Gallienne, was a child abuser, definitely added "Le" to his name; perhaps her unfaithfulness to her lesbian lovers could be attributed to his behavior; and so on). Le Gallienne led an artist's life and, from Sheehy's account, an interesting one. Bonnie Smothers