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

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

We scoured the region to bring you 53 items we’ve deemed this year’s “Best of the ’Burgh,” as well as 8 stellar local Instagram accounts you don’t want to miss.
See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez is discontinuing her blog and column.
Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

The restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty hits some high notes as it finds itself.
Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

During her final season of professional basketball, Cash remains ferocious on the court and selfless everywhere else.
Edit ModuleShow Tags

The 412

Pittsburgh's Union Trust Building Renovated and Restored

Pittsburgh's Union Trust Building Renovated and Restored

The historic Downtown building reopens after a two-year, $100 million renovation.
The Section of Mystery: What’s behind the door?

The Section of Mystery: What’s behind the door?

The Carnegie Museum of Natural History opens new permanent exhibit featuring 3-D holograms.
Our JazzLive International Festival Cheat-Sheet

Our JazzLive International Festival Cheat-Sheet

We break down each day of the festival so you don’t have to improv your way through it.
Avatar-inspired Cirque Du Soleil Show Takes Off in Pittsburgh

Avatar-inspired Cirque Du Soleil Show Takes Off in Pittsburgh

Pittsburgh Magazine has a backstage view of “Toruk: The First Flight,” which runs this week at Consol Energy Center.

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

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

Best of the 'Burgh 2016

We scoured the region to bring you 53 items we’ve deemed this year’s “Best of the ’Burgh,” as well as 8 stellar local Instagram accounts you don’t want to miss.
See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

See Yinz: PittGirl Says Goodbye

After writing for seven years about the city for Pittsburgh Magazine and pittsburghmagazine.com, Virginia Montanez is discontinuing her blog and column.
Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

Restaurant Review: Whitfield at Ace Hotel Pittsburgh

The restaurant at Ace Hotel in East Liberty hits some high notes as it finds itself.
Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

Pride of McKeesport: WNBA Star Swin Cash

During her final season of professional basketball, Cash remains ferocious on the court and selfless everywhere else.
Idol Find: Pittsburgh Rapper Teams Up with Dad Jimmy McNichol for New Show

Idol Find: Pittsburgh Rapper Teams Up with Dad Jimmy McNichol for New Show

Research led Kellee Maize to discover she is the daughter of the former teen singing sensation. Now she and McNichol are teaming up to develop a television series to help other parents and children find each other.
Daytripping: Rating the Roller Coasters at Cedar Point

Daytripping: Rating the Roller Coasters at Cedar Point

One day, 18 roller coasters, four queasy stomachs, two cheeseburgers, one fried dough … whew.
Edit Module

Edit Module

Edit ModuleShow Tags

On the Blogs


Pittsburgh's Union Trust Building Renovated and Restored

Pittsburgh's Union Trust Building Renovated and Restored

The historic Downtown building reopens after a two-year, $100 million renovation.

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
James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Stops In Pittsburgh

James Beard Foundation Celebrity Chef Tour Stops In Pittsburgh

Justin Severino and Hilary Prescott Severino of Cure and Morcilla organized the event, which featured celebrated chefs from DC, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Comments


Not just good stuff. Great stuff.
The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

The Best 7 Spots in Pittsburgh to Watch the 2016 Euro Cup

Grab your kits, scarfs and get ready to watch the Euro 2016 Pittsburgh-style. We'll show you where to go to get your fan on.

Comments


Beer Cults and Brick Ovens: An Evening at Fuel & Fuddle

Beer Cults and Brick Ovens: An Evening at Fuel & Fuddle

The restaurant and bar in Oakland welcomes college students and locals alike.

Comments


Mike Prisuta's Sports Section

A weekly look at the games people are playing and the people who are playing them.
Perspective Accompanies Long-Awaited Second Crosby Cup

Perspective Accompanies Long-Awaited Second Crosby Cup

The Pittsburgh Penguins may be more poised to establish a dynasty in 2016 than they were in 2009.

Comments


Style. Design. Goods. Hide your credit card.
Add a Bygone Beacon to Your Living Room

Add a Bygone Beacon to Your Living Room

Vintage signs can add a pop of personality to your decor.

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.
Demons, Orcs, Hipsters and More at the Multiplex

Demons, Orcs, Hipsters and More at the Multiplex

Reviews of "The Conjuring 2," "Warcraft," "Maggie's Plan," plus local movie news and notes.

Comments


Everything you need to know about getting married in Pittsburgh today.
True to Tradition: Incorporating Your Heritage at Your Wedding

True to Tradition: Incorporating Your Heritage at Your Wedding

Honoring tradition at weddings is important for many couples, whether that means including heirlooms and unique customs or hosting a full-blown second ceremony.

Comments


The latest tips and trends to refresh your home.
Decor Calling: Home Furnishings Go Mobile

Decor Calling: Home Furnishings Go Mobile

House15143 is Sewickley debuts “House Calls,” a mobile Airstream designed to bring the shopping experience to you (or an event near you).

Comments


The hottest topics in higher education
Summer Robotics Camp Offered to High-School Students

Summer Robotics Camp Offered to High-School Students

The camp is a collaboration between two area universities and is open to students entering grades 9-12.

Comments