News From Terre Haute, Indiana

November 9, 2013

Historical perspective: Shakespearian actor Lawrence Hanley’s Terre Haute honeymoon

Mike McCormick
Special to the Tribune-Star

TERRE HAUTE — On Oct. 23, 1893 — 120 years ago — Lawrence J. Hanley, a distinguished Shakespearian actor, was starring in “The Player” at the spectacular Naylor Opera House in Terre Haute.

The play was a modern adaption of an old English comedy which incorporated scenes from “Romeo and Juliet.”

The heroine of “The Player” was actress Edith Lemmert.

Upon arriving in Terre Haute on Oct. 22, Hanley and Lemmert secured a marriage license from Vigo County Clerk Hugh D. Roquet  

The Reverend Francis S. Dunham, Ph.D., an Episcopal pastor from Albion, N.Y., officiated at the ceremony conducted at the Terre Haute House that evening. Arrangements for the event were under the supervision of hotel manager Charles Baur. Only a few friends and members of the cast were present.

Though Hanley was a protégé of Edwin Booth and, by most accounts, the finest romantic Shakespearian actor in America since the deaths of Booth and Lawrence Barrett, his appearance in Terre Haute and the wedding would not earn headlines in New York City newspapers.

Incidents surrounding Hanley’s appearance in Terre Haute, however, elevated the marriage rite to headline status.

Baur went out of his way to provide the Hanleys with every accouterment, assigning them to Room 68, frequently used as a bridal suite.

The Lawrence Hanley Theater Company consisted of actors Clarence H. Taylor, Albert Taylor, Edwin Brewster, William A. Hopper, Henry Herbert, Henry Hill, Frederick Stinson and Louise Ingersoll, treasurer John Mitchell and business manager Bury Dasent.

Room 69, connected to Room 68 by a door with a transom, was assigned to J.E. Hablo, a traveling salesman for Albert Hauff of Chicago, a wholesale milliner.

At about 11 p.m., Hanley went down to the lobby to send telegraphs to select friends in the East to announce his marriage.  While he was  gone, his bride disrobed to take a bath.

According to Edith Hanley, there was a knock on the transom and a male voice asked for the time of day. Thinking the tenant next door was a member of the theater company, she responded: “Eleven Twenty.”

During that verbal exchange Edith noticed that much of the frost on the transom glass appeared to have been scraped off.

A few moments later, Edith later asserted, the man asked if he could come in. She was frightened and presumed the man had been watching her. She quickly dressed and awaited for her husband.

Upon Lawrence’s return to Room 68, Edith described her experiences. Lawrence went into a rage and paced the floor while mulling over his options. He finally decided to move out of the hotel.

Hanley directed other members of his company to make plans to move to other quarters and, in a note to manager Baur, thanked him for his kindness in setting up his wedding. He apologized for the abrupt decision to leave but explained the reasons.

At about 1:30 a.m., before the Hanleys made final arrangements, Lawrence knocked on the door of Room 69, pretending to be “Charley,” the hotel porter. Though Hanley was a great actor, he apparently did not do voiceovers. Hablo refused to open the door.

At 3 a.m., Hanley could not suppress his anger any longer. With a crash, he splintered the door and pulled Hablo out of his bed by his leg. A policeman in the hotel lobby heard the crash and raced to the scene.

The New York Times asserted that Hanley “was proceeding to soundly thrash” Hablo when police interfered.

“The peeper,” the Times reported, “was on his knees begging for his life. The entire hotel was in an uproar.”

Hanley, accompanied by his wife, was taken to police headquarters but no charges were filed against him. Hotel manager Baur ordered Hablo out of the Terre Haute House  but not before the salesman proclaimed his innocence and issued a detailed statement of his behavior during that fateful night.

Hanley said that he started to choke Hablo after breaking into the room. Hablo, on the other hand, disagreed, claiming that there was little contact between the two. Hablo said Hanley accused him of “insulting my wife” to which Hablo responded, “I have never seen your wife.”

Lawrence’s career seemed to reach greater heights for several months after the incident in Terre Haute while Edith gave birth to a son. But, in 1895, Lawrence was hospitalized several times in efforts to control his drug habit. On Sept. 2, Edith placed the child with her parents in Los Angeles and sought refuge with friends in Cincinnati.

A daughter was born to the Hanleys in 1895 and, by late November, Lawrence was out of the hospital and signed a contract to star in “The War of Wealth,” by Charles Turner Dazey, starting Dec. 2. Edith was not in the cast.

Tragedy continued to haunt the Hanleys. On Aug. 7, 1899, their 3-year old daughter was crushed to death by a trolley in Los Angeles, where the child was living with her maternal grandparents.

In 1902, Lawrence developed a pulmonary disease and his health began to deteriorate rapidly though he was barely 40 years old. Actor Nat Goodwin paid Hanley’s way to a Los Angeles sanitarium.

In August 1905, Lawrence was moved to the Los Angeles County Hospital.

Though she had been separated from him for several years, Edith Hanley visited the hospital on Aug. 27, where she assured Lawrence that her love had never wavered. She also affirmed that she would not return to him until he had conquered his drug habit.

Lawrence Hanley died on the afternoon of the following day.