History column: Hamilton’s Genevieve Smith’s had unusual path that mostly involved theater

Genevieve Smith was born Dec. 3, 1873 in Hamilton to Thomas G. and Louise (Hermann) Smith. Thomas had come to Hamilton from New York City and was a Navy veteran of the Civil War. He was a butcher and Pullman car conductor for the Cincinnati, Southern Railway before becoming the doorman at the Globe Opera House and then the Jefferson Theatre.

Louise had emigrated to the U.S. from Germany sometime before 1864. Genevieve’s brother, Thomas A. Smith, managed the Globe and the Jefferson theatres for several years.

When Genevieve was 16-years-old she eloped with Robert James Harrison, a 25-year-old clerk for Niles Tool Works. They traveled to Covington, Ky., where they were married by Kenton County Judge Michael T. Shine on December 11, 1889. During 1890, Genevieve and Robert lived in Hamilton and acted in several local theatre productions including “Peach Blossom” at the Music Hall and “The Wire Puller” at the Globe Opera House.

In September and October 1891, Genevieve’s first play, “The Rocky Mountain Waif,” was staged at the Park Theatre in Dayton and ran for two months. Genevieve played the leading lady and Robert acted smaller roles. The play was taken on the road with a child star named Little Goldie in the lead role instead of Genevieve. During a performance in Grand Rapids, Mich. entire cast including Genevieve and Robert were arrested by police for staging a play on a Sunday.

By 1894, Genevieve was a member of the nationally touring James O’Neil Theatre Company. O’Neil was a major star of the day and the father of playwright Eugene O’Neil. Genevieve’s husband, Robert, was not listed as a member of the group and there is no record of their separation or divorce.

During 1895, O’Neil’s company was traveling from city to city performing Charles Fechter’s dramatization of “The Count of Monte Cristo” and “Virginius” by Sheridan Knowles. The company performed both plays in several cities including Pittsburgh (January); Cincinnati (February); St. Louis (February); Birmingham, Alabama (February); Little Rock, Arkansas (March) and New Orleans (March).

Genevieve married Robert Terrell Haines (1870-1943), a member of the O’Neil troop, on March 14, 1895, at the end of the company’s engagement in New Orleans. Haines was 25-years-old and had acted in theatre companies headed by Robert Downing, Thomas Keene and James O’Neil; all great actors of the day. Genevieve was 21-years-old. The newlyweds visited Hamilton to perform in a benefit production of Maria Ann Lowell’s “Ingomar.”

Even though Genevieve received very positive press reviews for her performances, she decided to retire from the acting portion of her career to devote all of her time and energies toward playwriting using the name “Genevieve Greville Haines.” Her first play, “Hearts Aflame” was based on a novelette by Louise Winter. It had only 8 performances during its staging at the Garrick Theatre in New York during May 1902. After the play was revised, a more successful run of 48 performances were given at the Bijou Theatre the following September and October.

Genevieve wrote a second play, “Once Upon a Time,” which had 8 performances at the Berkeley Lyceum in New York during December 1905. The play which starred her husband Robert Haines was considered a failure. One critic said, “We were disappointed, for the play, though pretty and sweet, was of no dramatic account. And the last act, protracted by trivial incidents, is a bore. The piece is not very strong in any respect, and will be shelved promptly.”

Genevieve wrote several one-act plays during her career as well as a number of vaudeville pieces. The plays included “Cupid and Cupidity” (1895), “The Ingrate” (1905), “The Little Mother” (1906) and “The Right of Birth” (1909). She collaborated with Kellogg Durland to write a one-act play named “Buchanan of the Times” which was staged at Keith and Proctor’s 125th Street Theatre in New York in 1908. The theatre, built by Oscar Hammerstein in 1890, was primarily a vaudeville house.

Haines and Genevieve divorced in 1908, citing grounds of desertion and incompatibility. They had been married 14 years. On Dec. 22, 1910, Haines applied for a marriage license in Chicago to marry Lillian McDowell of New York City.

Genevieve married Kellogg Durland (1881-1911), her collaborator on “Buchanan of the Times,” in Ware, Mass., on June 13, 1908. The couple traveled to Europe for a long honeymoon trip and after their return they became prominent in New York City’s literary and theatrical social circles.

Durland had worked as a coal miner in Scotland while investigating the workers’ social and economic conditions and published a book about the Fife Miner’s lives. He had traveled extensively throughout Europe and Russia and wrote a book about the events and conditions in Russia prior to the Bolshevik Revolution. He also had worked in settlement houses in Boston and New York City to help provide support services for poor European immigrants. As a journalist, Durland contributed articles to Collier’s Weekly, Harper’s Weekly, The Independent and Blackwood’s Magazine.

Genevieve and Durland agreed to separate in October 1911 when she was preparing to travel to the United Kingdom to help produce her play “Mine Only.” She claimed that her husband “was a rover, afflicted with ‘wanderlust’” and had threatened several times to kill her. She filed divorce papers the next month, on November 6. The despondent Durland made substantial effort to reconcile with Genevieve but she refused his appeals. He followed her to Boston where she had gone to escape him and repeatedly asked her to agree to a suicide pact which she refused.

On Nov. 19, 1911, Durland committed suicide by ingesting cyanide of potassium poison swallowed in front of Genevieve when they were in a sleeping car on a train about to leave Boston for New York. He was taken to a hospital where he died.

Genevieve was to have been paid $15,000 from an Equitable Assurance Society life insurance policy that named her as Durland’s beneficiary. The insurance company withheld payment while its investigators examined the circumstances of the death. On December 12, 1911, the company approved Genevieve’s claim for the $15,000.

In 1912, Genevieve published a short story named “Her Guardianship” in the February issue of Ainslee’s, a popular literary magazine. She continued writing plays, but they were copyrighted under the name of Neville De Mioton, the first of at least two pseudonyms she used during her career. In 1920, she wrote “Your Boy and My Girl,” and in 1921, she copyrighted “I Must Love Someone.” There is no record that either play was ever produced.

In 1922, Genevieve wrote the screenplay for a silent film first named “When Civilization Failed” then renamed as “Is Divorce a Failure?” using a second pseudonym of Dorian Neve. The film was based on one of her plays, “All Mine.” Publicity for the film emphasized that Neve was known for her plays “Hearts Aflame” and “Once Upon a Time” written twenty years earlier. In 1925, Genevieve, again writing as Neve, wrote the screenplay for a second film, “Headlines.”

During Genevieve’s early acting career up to 1895, she was billed as Genevieve Harrison and then as Genevieve Haines until she and Robert Haines divorced in 1908. As early as 1896 she was conducting her playwriting career as Genevieve Greville and later as Neville De Mioton.

According to her death certificate, Genevieve died on July 9, 1946, from an intestinal blockage due to gallstones and senility after a 26-day stay at Los Angeles County General Hospital. The name on her death certificate was Neville De Mioton and her father was identified as Thomas G. Smith. She was cremated at the Pierce Brothers Crematory in Hollywood. Interestingly, the informant listed on the death certificate was Robert Campbell, a former theatrical manager and long-time secretary and board member of the Actors Fund of America.

This column was submitted by Richard Piland on behalf of the Butler County Historical Society with research assistance by Judy Brewer. Visit the Butler County Historical Society at 327 N. Second St. in Hamilton or go online to bchistoricalsociety.com.

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