The Last (Curtain) Call

Recounting the 90-year-old tale of Eleonora Duse, once the most famed actress in the world, who spent her final days in an Oakland hotel.



At the turn of the last century, Eleonora Duse was a superstar. Although she usually performed in her native Italian, she was an internationally famous actress; her modern, naturalistic style was a revelation and earned rave reviews everywhere she appeared. Her only real competition in fame and praise was the flamboyant French actress Sarah Bernhardt — but many critics and theatergoers, including playwrights Anton Chekhov and George Bernard Shaw, preferred Duse’s more controlled style of acting.

Leading the way for such single-name stars as Cher, Madonna and Beyoncé, she usually was known simply as Duse, sometimes La Duse. She was early fodder for gossip columnists due to her very active love life, which featured several husbands and (allegedly) lovers of both sexes. Her famous relationship with the Italian poet and soldier Gabriele d’Annunzio inspired Duse to new heights of artistry — but when the couple split in 1909, Duse was devastated and retired from the stage.

In 1921, she decided to make a farewell tour of Europe and America, and her fans — including many in Pittsburgh — were elated. In July 1923, she became the first woman to be featured on the cover of Time magazine. In spring 1924, after several stops on the West Coast and in Detroit, Duse arrived in Pittsburgh to appear on stage at the Syria Mosque in Oakland.

She checked in to the stately William Penn Hotel on April 1 but soon changed hotels after learning the elegant Hotel Schenley in Oakland (which now serves as the University of Pittsburgh’s Student Union) was much closer to the theater. Word got out that Duse wasn’t in the best of health, but the show had to go on.

On a very rainy April 5, Duse was driven across the street to the Syria Mosque; they were met with confusion, as the stage door was locked. The great tragedienne and her assistant were left standing in the rain until the door could be opened. (Ironically, she was here to perform in a play titled “La Porta Chiusa” — “The Closed Door” — by Marco Praga.) Exposure to the rain may have seriously exacerbated her already frail condition.

She nonetheless wowed the Pittsburgh audience that evening and received glowing reviews from the local press. Her next scheduled stop was Cleveland, but she lingered at the Hotel Schenley. People speculated that she was enamored of Pittsburgh as a good place to pause and rest; in reality, she was very sick with pneumonia. She canceled the Cleveland appearance. Despite public denials that anything was amiss, her condition worsened, and on April 21, at age 64, she died in her room at the Hotel Schenley.

It was news around the world. The Italian ambassador came to Pittsburgh to make arrangements. People paid respects at Samson Funeral Home on North Neville Street in Oakland. Later, her body was taken to New York, where fans came to pay homage for days. Her casket was eventually loaded onto a ship headed to Italy.

In 1949, on the 25th anniversary of her death, a special plaque was installed at the Hotel Schenley; you still can find it in the marble-paneled lobby of the Pitt Student Union. Another plaque honoring her hangs in the School of Drama at Carnegie Mellon University. 


Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

The stunning photo of a star trail around Mt. Rainier took two hours to shoot.
Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Is PUC Going Overboard With Its Punishment of Uber

Governor Tom Wolf, Mayor Bill Peduto, and Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald say the PUC went too far when it fined the ride-sharing company $11.3 million.
The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

The Story Behind This Epic Picture of Lightning Over Pittsburgh

Most people crawl deeper under the covers during a nighttime thunderstorm, photographer Dave DiCello does just the opposite.
Not Surprising: 'Burgh Among the Best for New College Grads

Not Surprising: 'Burgh Among the Best for New College Grads

According to a financial advising site, Pittsburgh is both affordable and a good place to find a job for those fresh out of college.

Sign Up for the 412 e-Newsletter

 

Our new, daily e-newsletter is curated by the editors of Pittsburgh Magazine and is designed to give you the very best Pittsburgh has to offer -- delivered directly to your inbox.

Sign me up!
* Email
 First Name
 Last Name
  * = Required Field
 
Edit ModuleShow Tags Edit ModuleShow Tags

Hot Reads

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

Top Ten Things to Do in Pittsburgh in May

The month's best bets in The 'Burgh.
Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

Best Doctors in Pittsburgh 2016

The list of the regions's 687 leading physicians across 80 specialities.
Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

Making The Rounds: What It Means to be a Doctor in Pittsburgh

In a city known for world-class care, a life dedicated to health is rewarding, challenging, and innovative at every level — from med school to the board room.
Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Why Pittsburgh Police Chief Cameron McLay is Cornered

Can McLay reshape the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police in his polite, communication-heavy, community-friendly, racially sensitive, 21st-century image?
The Eaglets Have Landed

The Eaglets Have Landed

The bald eagles nesting in Hays once again have given birth to a new generation. We take you into the nest to see how quickly the two chicks are growing.
Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Review: Justin Severino Knocks It Out of the Park With Morcilla

Severino's follow-up to Cure is already winning national accolades.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

Ross Photographer's Out of This World Picture To Be On Postage Stamp

The stunning photo of a star trail around Mt. Rainier took two hours to shoot.

Comments


Pittsburgh, only cooler
PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

PittGirl: How You Should Grade A Squishy Tongue

Kennywood Park opens soon and new this season is the return of the famed whale at the entrance of Noah’s Ark. In the name of science, PittGirl paid an early visit to test the squishiness quotient of the whale's all-important tongue.

Comments


All the foodie news that's fit to blog
Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

Umami Izakaya (Finally) Open in Lawrenceville

The much-anticipated Japanese pub from Tamari's Roger Li and Round Corner Cantina's Derek Burnell will serve food and drink deep into the night.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The Best 6 Places to Get a Cup of Tea in Pittsburgh

The quiet rise of Pittsburgh's tea scene gives us a few favorite gems.

Comments


Digital Jukeboxes are Evil, Bar-Ruining Monsters

Digital Jukeboxes are Evil, Bar-Ruining Monsters

The case against TouchTunes, the streaming music loudspeaker that can't stop screwing up the vibe at local bars.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
A By-The-Numbers Draft Has Its Advantages For Steelers This Time

A By-The-Numbers Draft Has Its Advantages For Steelers This Time

For the Steelers, this is a draft that’s long on need but short on intrigue.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Welcome Warm Weather with This Bright Summer Shift Dress

Welcome Warm Weather with This Bright Summer Shift Dress

Local fashion line Kelly Lane has the perfect dress to kick off your summer style.

Comments


Sean Collier's Popcorn for Dinner

The movies that are playing in Pittsburgh –– and, more importantly, whether or not they're worth your time.
Your Mother Deserves Better than This Awful Mother's Day Movie

Your Mother Deserves Better than This Awful Mother's Day Movie

Reviews of "Mother's Day," "Keanu," "Green Room" and local film news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

Finding Sunshine on a Rainy Wedding Day in Pittsburgh

You don’t always need blue skies and sunshine to have a beautiful and memorable wedding. One couple shares their advice on making the most of a rainy wedding day and what to do when the forecast is less than ideal.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

A Far From Ordinary House Tour in Wilkinsburg This Weekend

The Wilkinsburg Community Development Corporation hosts a one-of-a-kind house tour on May 7.

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
STEM Event for Girls Planned at La Roche College

STEM Event for Girls Planned at La Roche College

The Tech Savvy program from the American Association of University Women aims to interest middle school girls in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.

Comments