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Stuck in Zenda


James K. Hackett, Digital ID TH-17850, New York Public LibraryInspired by the recent Doctor Who regeneration, I have been thinking about actors who spent their careers stuck in a role.  There are many books about such 19th century actors, but I have been spending most of my research time in the NYPL Digital Gallery.

I found a wonderful carte de visite of James K. Hackett, who  was best known for his roles in the dramatization of Anthony Hope's novel, The Prisoner of Zenda.  Everyone had read the novel or, at least, knew the plot.  These days, it is remembered mostly for introducing the word Ruritania, which is now used to describe any small central european state.  In its prime, The Prisoner of Zenda  was beloved as the last of the swashbuckling romances.  Hackett had a double role in Zenda, which concerns a British nobleman who substitutes for his identical cousin, who is the Ruritanian crown prince. 

As well as knowing the plot, most of the audience recognized the poses, and could distinguish between his two roles.  This image, by Sarony, NY, shows him as the Brit, Rudolf Rassendyll, dueling despite his injured arm.  You can search the Billy Rose Theatre Division images for more Zenda images.


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