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August 3, 2020

Fascinating Vintage Portraits of Lily Brayton Taken by Rita Martin in the Early 20th Century

Elizabeth “Lily” Brayton was born in England on June 23, 1876. She made her first stage appearance in 1896 with Frank Benson’s company in Richard II. She remained with the troupe for some time, so as a “Bensonian” she played many roles in the plays of Shakespeare, appearing several seasons in the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Her last appearance on the stage was as Portia in Julius Caesar. She married fellow actor Oscar Asche in 1898 and they joined Beerbohm Tree’s company in 1902.

Brayton and her husband entered joint-management later in life, managing the Adelphi Theatre and Her Majesty’s Theatre, both in London. While managing, they produced As You Like It, Othello, and The Taming of the Shrew before going on tour to acclaim in Australia and New Zealand. Brayton played Rosalind, Desdemona, and Katerina respectively.

Asche and Brayton made history in 1916 as the former wrote a play entitled Chu-Chin-Chow in which he played the lead, Abu Hasan. The play broke all records when it ran for 2,238 performances. Brayton took the part of Zahrat-al-Kulub and performed it almost two thousand times during the run. She died in England in 1953.

These fascinating photographs of Lily Brayton below were taken by Rita Martin (1875-1958), a leading portrait photographer of the London stage during the Edwardian era. Born in Ireland, she was, like her sister Lallie Charles, a self taught photographer. She pioneered a style stripped of adornment that emphasized the vivid presence of her subjects.



















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