The Points Interview: Barbara W. Grossman

The fifth installment of the Points Interview takes us on our first venture into biography as a dimension of drugs history.  Here, we talk with Barbara Wallace Grossman, author of A Spectacle of Suffering: Clara Morris on the American Stage (Southern Illinois University Press, 2009).  The work tells the story of the actress Clara Morris, whose morphine addiction is just one dimension of a remarkable, turbulent, and compelling life.

Describe your book in terms your mother (or the average mother-in-the-street) could understand.

A Spectacle of Suffering: Clara Morris on the American Stage (Southern IllinoisBook cover of Spectacle of Suffering University Press, 2009) is the story of a remarkable person and grew out of my ongoing interest in documenting the lives of women who shaped American theater history. Having written a book about Fanny Brice – someone who worked hard, played hard, and left very little primary source material behind – I wanted to find a woman in theater who had kept a diary. A former student doing research at Schlesinger Library in Cambridge (Massachusetts) told me about an actress whose 54-volume diary was housed there. After spending several weeks reading the first few volumes, I knew I had the subject of my next book – a project that took almost 14 years to complete! It chronicles the turbulent life and career of actress, author and feminist Clara Morris (1847-1925)

Largely forgotten today, Clara Morris (1847-1925) was one of the most renowned stars of her time, known as “America’s Greatest Actress,” the “Queen of the American Stage” and the “Empress of Emotional Acting.” Her mesmerizing performances riveted audiences as much as her tabloid-worthy antics intrigued them. Using Morris’s diary, memoirs, novels and short stories, as well as countless newspaper articles and secondary sources, I worked hard to present her story in an objective, yet compelling way. Continue reading