Dame Ellen Terry, a part of a large and famous family of actors and actor-managers, was one of the most famous actresses in the world in the nineteenth century. Many of her most famous roles were alongside Sir Henry Irving, one of the most famous male actors in the world at the time. She joined his company in 1878, becoming his leading lady, touring both America and Britain in her famous roles in The Merchant of Venice and Much Ado About Nothing, to name a few. Her career lasted nearly seventy years and she appeared in several films in the 1920s after a failed venture to manage the Imperial Theatre in London. Later in life, she became known for her one-woman shows, lectures, and recitations of soliloquies from Shakespeare’s heroines, much like performances from our own Anna Deavere Smith today.
Her brother was Fred Terry and her niece and nephew were Phyllis and Dennis Neilson-Terry. Her sister-in-law was Julia Neilson (wife of Fred). All were accomplished actors in their own right. Terry was appointed Dame Grand Cross of the Order of the British Empire in 1925, the second time an actress was honored as such in history.