From The Arthur Conan Doyle Encyclopedia
Lewis Waller (3 november 1860 - 1 november 1915) was a British actor who played Brigadier Gerard in 1906 in the play Brigadier Gerard and in 1909 in the play Fires of Fate. He also played Brigadier Gerard in the silent movie Brigadier Gerard in 1915.
He was considered to be the ideal hero of romance. His types were the triumphant heroes, ready to make love to every pretty woman and skilled in the use of sword and rapier. It was in what is know as the "cloak and daggers" school of drama that he won the great popularity which he enjoyed both in the United Kingdom and in America. However he did not neglect modern plays, and gave many successful impersonations in that environment, but his vast public preferred him in the gay trappings of romantic costume plays.
Lewis Waller was born in 1860 in Bilbao, Spain, the son of Mr. William Lewis, C.E. and was educated at King's College School and in Germany. At the age of 13 he was brought to London and planted on the stool of a City commercial house, an uncongenial environment which he was determined to quit at the shortest possible notice. But theatre-going was not much encouraged by parental authority, and Mr. Waller has himself said that he does not remember as a child being taken to even as much as a pantomime. Ha was about 15 when he definitely made up his mind that he would be an actor, come what might.
A comprehensive study of Shakespeare was undertaken, destined to prove of the utmost value in after years, and in addition the youthful aspirant joined several amateur dramatic societies with whom he gained useful experience. He spent five years thus, and at the end of that time his employers gave up the hope that he would ever make a successful City man, so he determined to put his fortune to the touch and try the stage. An introduction through a friend to the manager of Toole's Theatre paved the way, and Waller was given the "script" of a small part in the play, with the instruction to take it home, study i, and read it the following morning to Mr. John Billington, Mr. J. L. Toole's stage manager.
His star was in the ascendant, for Billington professed himself highly satisfied, and he was at once engaged, making his appearance at Toole's Theatre the Hon. Claude Lorimer. King Edward VII, then Prince of Wales, was in the theatre, and Mr. Waller always stated that he regarded this as a happy augury. "Like most actors, I believe in luck," he said, "particularly in good luck."
Subsequently he toured the provinces with Madame Modjeska, to whose Rosalind he played Orlando, and wept out with Henry Neville in "The Ticket of Leave Man" and "Clancarty." It was his performance of Roy Carlton in "Jack in Box" in 1887 that first brought him to the front, and thereafter his progress was rapid. He had engagements with many of the most famous players — with Kate Vaughan at the Opera Comique in "Masks and Faces," Mrs. brown Potter at the Gaiety in "Loyal Love," "Civil War," etc, Hare and Kendal at the St. James, in "A Wife's Secret" and "The Ironmaster," Julia Neilson in "Pygmalion," Wilson Barrett in "The Good Old Times" and "Nowadays," Sir John Hare in "The Profligate," Mrs. Langtry in "The Queen of Manoa," and "Agatha Tylden," and Sir Herbert Tree in "Hypatia," in which he enacted Orestes.
This was in 1893, and thereafter Mr. Waller entered into management, first with H. H. Morell at the Shaftesbury and subsequently on his own account. In the domain of the classic drama the famous actor's acknowledged finest effort was in "Henry V.", the famous patriotic speech from which he always made extraordinarily thrilling. D'Artagnan in "The Three Musketeers" was another of his most notable embodiments, but probably the play of all others in which he achieved the greatest success was "Monsieur Beaucaire" by Booth Tarkington and E. G. Sutherland, which ran for over 400 nights at the London Comedy Theatre, and has been several times revived, always to the delight of Mr. Waller's admirers. It was similarly popular in America and Canada when the famous actor toured across the Atlantic.
Among other plays in which Mr. Waller appeared may be mentioned "A Queen's Romance," "Miss Elisabeth's Prisoner," "The Perfect Lover," "The Harlequin King," "Brigadier Gerard," "Othello," with Mr. H. B. Irving as Iago, "Robin Hood," "A White Man," "The Explorer," and "The Duke's Motto." He was five times commanded before King Edward VII, and Queen Alexandra, in "A Marriage of Convenience" at Sandringham in November, 1903; "Monsieur Beaucaire" at Windsor, November, 1904; "Robin Hood" at Windsor, November, 1906; "Still Waters Run Deep" (jointly with Sir Charles Wyndham and Miss Mary Moore), Windsor, November, 1907; and "The Duke's Motto," November, 1906.
Mr. Waller had a following as distinctive as it was numerous. During his seasons at the Comedy and the Imperial his popularity reached its zenith, and much goodnatured fun was made of the enthusiastic ladies who were regular in their attendance at his performances, and who were chaffingly said to belong to the order of the "K. O. W.", letters which were stated to stand for "Keen on Waller." But when all is said and done, admiration for this fine artist was well founded. He added to a magnetic personality splendid histrionic gesture of the most commanding sweep. In him truly it may be said that a well-graced actor has quitted the stage.
Mr. Waller came to the Nottingham Theatre Royal in September, 1907, with "Robin Hood," a play which both for its local association and the popular actor's magnificent performance of the title rôle drew big audience. In October, 1910, he appeared at the Royal in "Bardelys the Magnificent" and in March 1915 in "The Three Musketeers" and "Monsieur Beaucaire."
Mr. Waller married Miss Florence West, an actress of considerable distinction, who predeceased him about four years ago. His son, Edmund Waller, was married to Miss Ethel Warwick.
The famous actor was in the last five weeks of his autumn tour when he was stricken with the illness destined to prove fatal. He had still to visit the Manchester Theatre Royal, where his company played "Gamblers All" the week before, Glasgow, where his engagement was to have been fulfilled at the King's Theatre, Edinburgh, Newcastle, and Birmingham.
At the latter place a new romantic play of the Napoleonic wars, by a soldier dramatist, Captain Maudley, now serving with his regiment at the front, was to have been produced, and on December 8th 1915, Lewis Waller had planned to sail with his company for America to open in New York on the 27th of the same month.
Lewis Waller died at 3.20 in the morning of the 1st november 1915 at the Rufford Hotel, Nottingham (UK), where he has been staying during and since his engagement at the Theatre Royal in the week of the 18th october.
Mr. Waller was suffering from cold when he came to Nottingham, contracted at Cardiff the week previously, and his hoarseness was apparent on the Monday night when he opened at the Theatre Royal in "Gamblers All." He was by no means well all week, although he enjoyed a game of golf, of which he was an enthusiastic follower, with Mr. Harry Lauder, and fulfilled his promise to recite for the wounded soldiers at Bagthorpe Military Hospital on the Friday afternoon. That night, however, he was very ill, and went through his performance with difficulty, entirely collapsing at the end. He was at once removed to bed, and in view of his critical condition a specialist was summoned from London.