One of American’s greatest stage actresses of the 20th Century. Her performances included starring roles in: George Bernard Shaw’s “Candida”; W. Somerset Maugham’s “The Letter”; and, Maxwell Anderson’s “The Wingless Victory”. Best known for her portrayal of Elizabeth Barret Browning in the “Barrets of Wimpole Street”, and as Cleopatra in Shakespeare’s “Antony and Cleopatra”, for which she won the 1948 Tony Award.
“The finely chiseled face and delicate genius of Katharine Cornell had fascinated me long before I saw them at close range. The voice, which I had heard so often in the theatre, seemed to me as intriguing as the face and was the final expression of the genius. When I was invited to tea at Miss Cornell's New York house in 1947, I found her sensitive, quick-witted, and filled with a salty sort of humour. Here was a great actress playing her greatest part—herself. She had been glancing over some letters from George Bernard Shaw, for whom she had earned a million dollars or so by acting in his Candida, and she read snatches of this inimitable correspondence with hoots of laughter. Because their distant partnership of the theatre had been so profitable, G.B.S. referred to her in these letters as “My Million Dollar Baby”—a queer title for the queen of the American stage, but Miss Cornell seemed to appreciate it. I asked her whom she considered to be among the great women of America. Her reply was quick and decisive, “Helen Keller and Martha Graham—and happily they are friends of mine. I would like you to photograph them.” (This I did later on.) And Miss Cornell began to talk about Helen Keller, whom she deeply admired. — The conversation was very pleasant but I had not yet found a way of representing the actress against her proper background, the stage. Finally I asked her to wear one of the numerous scarves which had been presented to her. Instantly grasping my intent, she seemed, for a moment, to be performing one of her famous roles. Yet when my camera actually caught her, she was being herself, and this too was what I wanted.”