|Birth Day:||June 11, 1883|
|Death Date:||July 26, 1979|
As per our current Database, Virginia Brissac died on July 26, 1979.
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Brissac's acting career was launched through the efforts of Reginald Travers (c. 1879–1952), a San Francisco Bay area stage actor and little theatre impresario. Active in civic affairs and a friend of B.F. Brissac, Travers saw talent in Virginia and convinced her father to let him give her lessons in elocution. In 1902, the two performed at a church benefit in a specialty act billed as 'Reginald and Virginia Brissac Travers' (a publicity ruse to suggest a brother-and-sister act to attract family-oriented churchgoers), and a month later they starred together at San Francisco's Fischer's Theatre in a hit farce entitled A Pair of Lunatics. She was a hit in both and eventually Travers convinced Brissac's parents to let her act professionally.
By 1903, Brissac was performing with Ralph Stuart's company playing Constance in a stage adaptation of The Three Musketeers at the Theatre Republic in San Francisco, and later that year she appeared with Florence Roberts at the Alcazar Theatre performing ingénue roles in Welcome Home and Gabriele d'Annunzio's La Gioconda. After touring with Roberts' company, Brissac returned to the Alcazar, appearing in June 1904 with actor White Whittlesey in Soldier of Fortune, and again that August in Clyde Fitch's Nathan Hale.
In 1905, her growing fame spread to Southern California where she played Caroline Mitford in the William Gillette play Secret Service and the title role in Leo Ditrichstein's Vivian's Pappas, both staged at the Belasco Theatre in Los Angeles. The following February, she was declared a hit by The Los Angeles Herald for her portrayal of Tweeny in Paul Kester's Sweet Nell of Old Drury at the Mason Opera House, certifying her as a darling of the West Coast Stock circuit at the age of twenty-two.
In July 1906, Brissac married Eugene D. Mockbee, an actor she had met while working with the Belasco players in Los Angeles. In the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake and fire, a return to San Francisco theatres was not possible and they moved to Spokane, Washington where Brissac rejoined Florence Roberts’ company, touring Denver, St. Louis and cities in the Pacific Northwest in The Strength of the Weak, a play by Alice M. Smith and Charlotte Thompson.
Early in 1907, Brissac became pregnant and, awaiting the birth of her child, joined the Jessie Shirley Company, a local troupe in residence at the Auditorium Theatre in Spokane, appearing in productions of Lady Windermere’s Fan, A Bachelor’s Housekeeper, A Man of Her Choice, The Two Orphans and The Triumph of Betty. Mockbee's career had been less successful and, after the arrival of their daughter Ardel in October, Brissac continued working in Spokane for a second season. That December, she joined the Curtiss Comedy Company at Spokane's Columbia Theatre, playing leading roles in The Life of an Actress, In the Palace of the King, The Transgressors, By Right of Sword, Ten Nights in a Bar-Room, Deadwood Dick's Last Shot, The Banker, the Thief and the Girl, Old Heidelberg and The Land of Cotton. She appeared with Grant Churchill in a vaudeville act titled The Billionaire at the Pantages Theatre, and in May 1908 she and Mockbee opened Spokane's new Natatorium Park theatre. Billed as 'Miss Virginia Brissac and Summer Stock Company', they would play together for the last time there, finishing the Natatorium's 1907/08 season in productions of Sweet Clover, Troubles, Where Men are Game, School Days, Kathleen of Erin and Home Sweet Home.
Her success in Spokane led Brissac to a year long run in Vancouver, Canada and then back to Northern California where she opened theatres in San Jose and Santa Clara, finally returning home to San Francisco in March 1911. Now separated from Mockbee, she left her daughter in the care of her parents and, after a brief appearance back at the Alcazar supporting Max Figman in Mary Jane’s Pa, she returned to Washington in June 1911 to star in the Hal Reid play Human Hearts at the Seattle Theatre, and later opened in nearby Tacoma, starring in A Yankee Doodle Boy with the Pringle Stock Company at the Tacoma Theatre.
Late in 1911, Brissac began a tour of Southern California theatres, appearing in productions at The Burbank Theatre in Los Angeles, the Boston Theatre in Long Beach and headlining for the opening of the Savoy and Grand Theatres in San Diego. Playing tragic heroines such as Juliet in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet and the title role in Sapho, Brissac filled seats and captured the hearts of San Diego audiences. In 1912, she obtained a divorce from Mockbee on grounds of failure to provide and was awarded custody of their daughter, who remained in the care of Brissac's parents in San Francisco.
At the end of her run at the Grand Theatre, she joined the World's Fair Stock Company in San Diego and toured in the Hawaiian Islands for a year. She opened at Honolulu's Bijou Theatre in Brewster's Millions on December 21, 1912, and closed with a final performance in Honolulu on October 21, 1913 at the Grand Opera House.
When the tour ended, Brissac made two short silent films for Carl Laemmle (The Shark God and Hawaiian Love) with future MGM film director John Griffith Wray, a lead actor and stage director with the World's Fair Stock Company who had a side contract with Laemmle to make the films. Playing a native girl and a tribal chief's daughter, Brissac paddled canoes and danced with Hawaiian natives throughout November and December before finally sailing home to San Francisco on January 28, 1914 aboard the steamship Wilhelmina.
On June 29, 1915, Brissac and Wray were married in Santa Ana, California and then returned to San Diego where they continued to live and work for the next six years. Before opening her own stock company at San Diego's Strand Theatre, with Wray as managing director, Brissac returned to the Bay area on August 5, 1917 to give a "Farewell" performance as The Eternal Magdalene at the Bishop Playhouse in Oakland, then took the 'Brissac World's Fair Stock Company' on a tour in Australia.
Although not unique, Brissac's career was unusual for its length (over fifty years) and its geographical and historical arc: A contemporary of Theda Bara, Isadora Duncan, and Eleanor Roosevelt, she was born eighteen years after the end of the American Civil War and only a few years after the advent of street lights and cable cars in San Francisco. In a 1919 publicity stunt, she became the first air parcel post package in the United States, flown from San Diego to Los Angeles in a two-seater single engine plane wearing a helmet covered with postage stamps, and she owned and drove one of the first Roamer Coupes. She acted in her first movie two years before D.W. Griffith released Birth of a Nation, worked for twenty years in the film and television industries that would replace stock theatre and sideline radio, and died only two years before the first IBM PC went on the market in 1981.
In the middle of their record-breaking four-year residency at the Strand Theatre, Wray was hired to direct films for Thomas H. Ince at the newly formed Ince/MGM Studios and began spending more time in Los Angeles than in San Diego. With stock theatre in rapid decline, the Strand Theatre closed in 1921 and Brissac finally left San Diego to join him. Her daughter Ardel came to live with them a short time later. (Ardel would eventually take John Wray's last name and, as Ardel Wray, later became a Hollywood screenwriter remembered for such films as I Walked With a Zombie, The Leopard Man and Isle of the Dead).
A few months later, Arthur Lubin, a former member of the San Diego Stock company, gave Brissac her break into acting in Hollywood. Lubin had joined Brissac's company sometime after he graduated high school in San Diego, and he was one of the people who took over managing it when Wray went to work for Ince. When the Strand Theatre closed its doors in 1921, Lubin had followed Wray and Brissac to Hollywood. Learning of Brissac's situation after Colombo's death, he cast her as Mrs. Van Twerp in his 1935 comedy Honeymoon Limited, and by 1937 she had become an established character actress in Hollywood.
Some time after the release of his silent film adaptation of Eugene O'Neill's Anna Christie in 1923, John Wray began a long affair with screenwriter Josephine McLaughlin (aka Bradley King) and Brissac finally divorced him in May 1927.
During the years she lived with John Wray in Culver City, Brissac became friends with the Laemmle family and many of the people working with them and Thomas Ince, among them actress Carol Lombard and entertainer Russ Columbo. After her divorce, Brissac worked as Columbo's private secretary and assistant for a time, a job that might have continued indefinitely but for his untimely death in September 1934.
Brissac was seventy-two years old when she got the part of Jim Stark's grandmother in Rebel Without a Cause in 1955. Beginning to have trouble remembering her lines, she did one or two commercials after that and then retired. The money she made as a film actress had been invested for her by her only brother, Belnore Brissac Jr., and those investments, along with social security and small Equity and motion picture industry pension checks allowed her to live out the rest of her life in modest comfort. She lived another twenty-five years and outlived almost everyone she knew before she died on July 26, 1979 at the age of ninety-six in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her ashes are interred with those of her parents and other Brissac family members in the columbarium at Mt. Olivet Memorial Park in Colma, California, south of San Francisco.
Brissac's career was memorialized in a biographical article titled "The Coast Defender: Virginia Brissac, San Diego's Sweetheart" published in The San Diego Magazine in 1971. The article is based on extensive correspondence and interviews with Brissac and various people she worked with in San Diego, and it focuses primarily on her decade long celebrity there. But the article also includes reminiscences of her early career and provides insights into the history and workings of West Coast Stock companies in the early 1900s. Brissac's professional scrapbooks were donated to the San Diego History Center in 2016.
Currently, Virginia Brissac is 138 years, 4 months and 9 days old. Virginia Brissac will celebrate 139th birthday on a Saturday 11th of June 2022.
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