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Local History: Thespian Annie Russell's Time in Millburn

She and her husband lived on Hillside Avenue. She's buried in St. Stephen's Cemetery.

St. Stephen's cemetery includes many graves of notable Millburn-Short Hills residents.

One marker states, "Annie Russell; 1869-1936; The curtain falls on a beloved player of many parts." Russell's obituary in the January 24, 1946 Item reveals more about that player of many parts:

"Miss Annie Russell, actress and former resident of Short Hills, died Thursday, January 16, at her home at Winter Park, Florida...Born in Liverpool, Miss Russell moved to Canada as a child. She made her first professional appearance at the age of eight in Montreal and at 14 her first New York appearance as Josephine in 'H.M.S. Pinafore.' with a juvenile opera company. Later she toured the West Indies and South America with the company. Her first appearance as a star in New York was in 'Esmeralda' at the age of 17.

"Miss Russell was twice married and divorced. [Her second husband was] Oswald Yorke, actor. Miss Russell and Oswald Yorke lived for several years on Hillside avenue. She purchased the George Taylor home November 13, 1915. Her brother Thomas H. Russell an actor who was often seen in plays with Bernhardt and Modjeska, also resided in Short Hills, as did a sister, Mrs. Carty, wife of General Carty, for a time prior to his death in New York City July 10, 1928.

"Miss Russell directed a 'Masque of Shakespearean Women' given in the gardens of William D. Renwick's home, for the benefit of World War orphans, and April 4, 1921, she was head of a committee that gave a fair in Short Hills and raised $2,500 for the benefit of the Neighborhood Association.

"In 1932 Rollins College conferred upon her the degree of doctor of humanities. In the same year, the Annie Russell Theatre, donated by her friend, Mrs. Edward W. Bok, was opened at Rollins College, where Miss Russell was artistic director of the theatre and professor of theatre arts... She is reported to have said she went on the stage because of financial need, not because she was 'stage struck.'"

The two pages about Russell that are posted here came from the 1910 book "The American Stage of Today" with an introduction by William Winter. The book on actors and actresses of that period shows us Russell in many of her roles, such as Puck, Major Barbara, and Peggy in Mice and Men, among others.

As her obit noted, Russell moved to Short Hills in 1915. The stately home that she and Oswald Yorke lived in was at 24 Hillside Ave., and the home also can be seen here. The Yorkes were listed among the former members of the Short Hills Club, having joined around 1916. The Yorkes were not here long, however, as by 1923 Russell was in Florida. Whether Oswald Yorke was with her in Florida is not clear, but the last time he was listed in the historical society's local directories was in 1924.

As the curtain fell on Russell's last act, she returned to Millburn, to join the many renowned former residents who rest in St. Stephen's cemetery.

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