Sir John Martin-Harvey, one of the most popular actors of his time, had a long and successful career of more than forty years on the stage. He first appeared in 1881 and then the next year joined the troupe of Sir Henry Irving with whom he stayed until 1896. He played in at least nine Shakespeare plays, but usually in fairly minor roles. Not until 1899 and a year with Sir Johnston Forbes-Robertson in 1897 did he begin playing the major roles.
In 1899, Harvey took over the management of the Lyceum Theatre, after Irving, but his real success—and most enthusiastic audiences—was not in London but in the provinces where he toured extensively. It was around this time that he met and married fellow actress Nina de Silva with whom he performed many times. In his repertory were a number of Shakespeare’s plays, including Hamlet, which opened in Dublin in 1904 and then moved to London to the Lyric Theatre in 1905. Four of the plays he revived in 1916 for the Shakespeare tercentenary; he produced Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, Richard III, and Henry V. In 1919, he again played Hamlet at Covent Garden, and in 1924 during years of touring, he played in Richard III.
Between 1916 and 1931, he appeared in five films, several of them—The Breed of the Treshams and The Only Way—screen adaptations of his most popular stage roles.
Harvey published The Autobiography of Sir John Martin-Harvey with Samson, Low and Marston and Company, in London, in 1933. He and de Silva had two children, Muriel and Michael, who each became successful actors in their own right.