Madge Fabian

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Madge Fabian (b. London, 16/08/1883 – d. Hekpoort,Gauteng, 13/03/1958) was a British-born actress.


Marjory Alice Wilks's father was Washington Fabian Wilks and she took his second name as her stage name. He was a collector of water rates for the New River Company and according to "Who Was Who in the Theatre: 1912-1976" she was educated privately as well as in Paris and Düsseldorf before attending the drama school founded by Henry Neville. She made her first appearance on the professional stage in Lord and Lady Algy (1900) and in 1902 joined Lily Langtry on one of her theatrical tours to the United States. She made her first appearance on the London stage in Vendetta (1904), followed by three and a half years as the ingénue of Martin Harvey’s company. Her first leading part was in The Breed of the Treshams (1907), followed by tours throughout the country. For five consecutive years she was engaged for the autumn season at Drury Lane, acting in such plays as The Whip (1909), The Sins of Society (1911) and Sealed Orders (1913).

In May 1914, she came out to South Africa under the management of J.C. Williamson to feature on the local theatrical circuit and was such a success that she stayed for nearly two years, performing in Cape Town and Johannesburg in a number of her London hits. At this time she frequently appeared with Stephen Ewart, who had come out with her. Her first appearance in South Africa was on 30 June 1914 in Within the Law and this was followed by The Land of Promise, Bought and Paid For, The Lion and the Mouse, Under Cover, The Third Degree, Paid in Full, The Yellow Ticket, Madame X, The Man Who Stayed at Home, The Law of the Land, On Trial and The Whip. The staging of The Lion and the Mouse was a Command Performance for the Governor-General, Viscount Buxton, on 6 October 1914 at His Majesty’s Theatre in Johannesburg.

In March 1916 she sailed for Australia and embarked upon an extensive tour of all the major cities in a number of her South African hits, as well as in Romance and The Story of Rosary. Once again her performances met with great acclaim, but in September of that year the Sydney Morning Herald announced that she would be returning “to her home in Johannesburg” in November. Back in South Africa she resumed her appearances in a number of her earlier successes, but added such plays as Seven Days’ Leave, The Little Brother, Nobody’s Widow, The Argyle Case, Peg o’ My Heart, House of Glass and Kick In to her repertoire. During this time her leading man was usually Frank Cellier. Towards the end of 1918 she made the film Fallen Leaves (1919) for African Film Productions. It was directed by Dick Cruikshanks, who also played her father.

Madge Fabian was married twice, first, in 1905, to fellow actor Alfred Mansfield (1877-1938), the nephew of the celebrated Richard Mansfield, and in South Africa to Charles Arthur Hadley (1880-1933), one of the most prominent local racehorse owners of the time. She herself was an accomplished horsewoman and became a popular member of Johannesburg social scene, involving herself in many charity events. Though, over time, her stage appearances became less frequent, she produced Twelfth Night (1921) with Charles Sparrow for the Transvaal Memorial Hospital for Children, acted in Romeo and Juliet (1921) at the Standard Theatre opposite Henry Miles, as well as in The Second Mrs. Tanqueray, Brown Sugar, The Naughty Wife, Dear Brutus and The Prodigal Son, all in 1922 at the Opera House in Pretoria.

According to Thelma Gutsche, she played Mrs. Retief in the English language version of Die Bou van ‘n Nasie / Building a Nation (Joseph Albrecht & Andries A. Pienaar/1938). Illustrating the esteem in which she was held, The Forum reported that when, in December 1941, she attended a stage production of Alice in Wonderland at the Standard Theatre, the audience gave her a big hand. Writing in Curtain Up!, Olga Racster called her “an actress with a strong, attractive personality and a distinctive deep voice. Her dramatic intensity in Madame X, often so hackneyed and spoilt by some actresses, was stated to be very fine.“ Interestingly, she appeared as a character in the 2014 novel “A Bullet in the Back” by Nigel Fox. (FO)


Gutsche, Thelma - The history and social significance of motion pictures in South Africa 1895-1940

Racster, Olga - Curtain up!

Who was who in the theatre: 1912-1976

Sydney Morning Herald, 26 February 1916

Sydney Morning Herald, 30 September 1916

Stage & Cinema, 25 January 1919

South African Pictorial, 8 February 1919

Return to

Return to ESAT Personalities F

Return to South African Theatre Personalities

Return to The ESAT Entries

Return to Main Page