Do you recognize the man above? No? Me, neither. But in his day he was a very popular stage actor who toured both the US and Europe. His name was Otis Skinner, and at the height of his fame he maintained a summer home here in Montgomery County.
Born in Cambridge, Massachusetts in 1858, Skinner made his stage debut at 19 in 1877 when he played Uncle Tom in a stage production of Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel. He went on to play many Shakespearean roles. In 1911, he originated the role of Hajj in the play Kismet, and he later recreated the role in both the 1920 and 1930 film versions. These are his only two film credits.
Now, the Montgomery County connection. According to Edward Hocker’s article in the Norristown Times-Herald of October 14, 1945, Skinner and his family first leased a house on Spring Mill Road in Lower Merion in 1905. It was from there that he wrote this letter, which is part of our collection here at the Historical Society of Montgomery County.
The letter was donated by Edward Hocker in 1933, how he came to have the letter is unknown.
In 1909, Skinner purchased the Wheeler estate which was on Gulph Road (the house was later destroyed by fire). Although Skinner spent only a few months a year in Lower Merion, his daughter Cornelia Otis Skinner (who became a famous actress), attended the Baldwin School.
Skinner sold the home in 1921, and after that lived mainly in New York. He died in 1942.