By Caitlin Moffett and Carol Stabile
Marguerita Maria "Mady" Christians was born in Vienna, Austria on January 19, 1900. Her father, Rudolph Christians, was a well-known German actor and stage manager; her mother, Bertha Christians, was an opera and concert singer. Her family emigrated to the United States in 1912, where her father managed the German Repertoire theater in New York City. When Christians decided to pursue a career as an actress, her mother accompanied her to Berlin, where she studied at Max Reinhardt’s acting school.
Taller than many leading men, Christians was a talented actress, with a fine soprano voice. Christians made her debut in New York in 1915, in a one-act operetta titled Bruederline Fein Fine. In 1933, Christians was cast by MGM in A Wicked Woman and signed to a long term contract. Like many performers, Christians was relieved to flee the rising fascism of Germany. After returning to New York City, she performed in seven Broadway productions, including House, directed by Orson Welles.1. Her talent was never in question: of her performance in A Divine Drudge, theater critic Brook Atkinson said, “It would be worth sitting through fifty bad plays to see her perform.”2
In 1939, Christians played Lady Percy in King Henry IV, Part 1, directed by Margaret Webster—the beginning of a collaboration and friendship that would last the remainder of Chirstians’ life. Christians and Webster shared a circle of friends that included producer and actor Eva Le Gallienne and Marion Evenson, vacationing and working together on Martha’s Vineyard whenever they could. Webster admired Christians' talent, describing her as “distinguished, opulent with a slight German accent.” 1 ; In 1938, Webster cast Christians in the role of Queen Gertrude in Hamlet in what would become one of the defining moments of Christians’ career. Atkinson claimed “Mady Christians’ frightened, tortured, grieving queen is the best one this theatre-goer has ever seen.”2 Other successes followed, including a role in Lillian Hellman’s Watch on the Rhine, as well as a starring role in the hit I Remember Mama, produced by Rogers & Hammerstein, which was adapted for radio and then television.
Christians also appeared in numerous films in Germany and Hollywood, including Seventh Heaven (1937), Heidi (1937), Tender Comrades (1943), and All My Sons (1948).
Christians taught acting classes at Columbia University in the 1940s.3
Christians died of a stroke on October 28th, 1951.