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Shakespeare & Beyond

Elsie Leslie: Sparkling Child Star of the American Stage

Elsie Leslie Lyde. Photograph. Folger Shakespeare Library.
Elsie Leslie Lyde. Photograph. Folger Shakespeare Library.

From Shirley Temple to Kiernan Shipka, child stars have been a central part of America’s pop culture. Today, we introduce you to the woman who arguably started it all: Elsie Leslie Lyde, better known as Elsie Leslie. She shot to fame as a young child in the late 1880s, and her career included notable Shakespearean roles.

Let’s look at some of the many Elsie Leslie-related items in the Folger collection to get a glimpse of this early celebrity sensation. We’ll begin with images of Elsie Leslie in what may be the role of Prince Arthur in Shakespeare’s King John.

Elsie Leslie as Prince Arthur

Elsie Leslie was born in 1881 and made her stage debut at the tender age of four in Rip Van Winkle. She continued to act throughout her childhood and found great success with parts in Editha’s Burglar (1887) and Little Lord Fauntleroy (1888) before playing the dual role of both the prince (Henry VIII’s son Edward) and the pauper in an 1890 play based on Mark Twain’s novel, The Prince and the Pauper.

The Folger has this charming sketch and photograph of Leslie from about this time in her career in what is believed to be the role of Arthur from King John. The sketch was done by Bernard Partridge, an English illustrator who was the first chief cartoonist for the famed humor magazine Punch. Not much can be found about the production Leslie appeared in, but it seems to have left an impression on her, as she nicknamed her patron, John Spaulding, “King John.”


This was thoroughly enjoyable and well-written. It was so interesting to learn about this fascinating child/woman. Thank you!

Jacqueline West — November 6, 2018