Maude Adams Kiskadden was an American stage actress who made her debut at seven months old as a last-minute stand-in at the Brigham Young Theatre. Her mother, Annie Kiskadden, an actress, often brought Maude backstage to her performances.
Adams was born in Salt Lake City on November 11, 1872, and moved with her parents to Nevada and then to San Francisco, her father working in mining and her mother working as an actress. When she was four years old she was known as Little Maudie Adams onstage in numerous productions; her father had suggested she use her mother’s maiden name onstage. He died while Maude was young. At the age of nine, her mother sent her back to Utah to live with her grandmother and to be educated. But Maude preferred the stage, and returned to live with her mother two years later. At sixteen she joined the E. H. Sothern theatre company in Boston and then the Charles Frohman Traveling Stock Company and acted with it for two years, often with her mother. She was the leading lady in John Drew’s company for five years.
On September 28, 1897, she premiered as a leading lady in New York in The Little Minister, a play by J. M. Barrie. She appeared in other Barrie plays including the titular role of Peter Pan; or, The Boy Who Wouldn’t Grow Up on Broadway in 1905; she was the first actress to play the role. She became one of the highest-paid actresses on the American stage. Her last Broadway play was Barrie’s A Kiss for Cinderella in 1916.
Adams regularly made seating available at a reduced rate of 50 cents per seat to allow all people to enjoy theater performances. In 1909, she arranged for the complimentary seating of the entire Mormon Tabernacle Choir, while they were touring in New York, for her performance of Peter Pan. At the end of the performance, the Choir stood and sang “Auld Lang Syne” in her honor and the whole audience joined in.
From 1918 to 1931, Adams stayed away from the stage and worked with General Electric to develop improved and more powerful stage lighting. She briefly appeared in Shakespearean productions, including The Merchant of Venice at Kingsbury Hall on the University of Utah campus. She was the head of the drama department at Stephens College in Missouri from 1937 to 1943, becoming known as an inspiring acting teacher and pursuing her love of staging and directing.
After author Richard Matheson saw Adams’ portrait hanging in the opera house in Virginia City, Nevada, he was inspired to write Bid Time Return (1975), which was made into the movie Somewhere In Time. Actress Jane Seymour played the character Elise McKenna patterned after Adams' career. At the height of her career, her annual income was $1 million.
Adams never married and was reclusive in her later years. She died at her home in upstate New York on July 16, 1953.