Poland's greatest actress of all time was Helena Modjeska (1840-1909) came to Anaheim in 1876
with her husband, Charles Bozenta Chlapowski (known in America as Count Bozenta, and who rote
"ORSO", a book about the love between a circus strong man and a lady acrobat with the plot laid
out in Anaheim) and a small group of friends including the future novelist and Nobel laureate,
Henryk Sienkiewicz. They moved to Anaheim with the hopes of establishing themselves as
farmers in the flourishing agricultural colony. As the rigors of farming was outside the experience
of this group, they soon found it beyond their capabilities and by 1877 their farming venture was
deemed a failure.
Mrs. Modjeska, having retired from her illustrious stage career in Europe, found that she was an
"impoverished, Polish exile". She realized that agriculture was not the answer to her financial
future...so she came up with another plan to enable her to remain in the United States.
Acting was what she did best. She traveled to San Francisco and made her first stage appearance
6 months later. She went on to a stage career in the United States that would span two decades.
Life on the 19th century theatrical circuit, before the days of the motion picture and television, was
strenuous and demanding. Bozenta accompanied Modjeska as she and her acting company
traveled for nine grueling months each year by railroad, steamship, and horse-drawn vehicle. She
played not only in the great theatres of New York and London, but also in the makeshift halls and
"opera houses" of rural America.
In 1888, she built her home, Arden, in Santiago Canyon, California, which she would call home the
rest of her life.
Although she never lost her Polish accent, Modjeska became America's most distinguished
Shakespearean actress of the 1880's and 1890's. She played twelve Shakespearean parts in this
country in addition to other classic and contemporary roles. In 1883 she appeared in America's
first professional appearance of Ibsen's "A Doll's House." She was admired for her high artistic
ideas and for her positive influence upon the American theatre of her day. Throughout her
American career, Modjeska made periodic return voyages to her native Poland for theatrical tours
and visits with friends and family. The old city theatre in Krakow is now named in her honor. A
current exhibit in the theatre museum celebrates her career and the 150th anniversary of her birth
Madam Modjeska died in 1909 from undisclosed causes. Today, her home in Santiago Canyon is
a National Historic Landmark, and is open to the public.