Eleanor Daniels was born on 28 December 1886 in Llanarthney, Carmarthenshire, the daughter of David Daniels, a hay merchant and publican, and his wife Margaret. She was brought up at the Fountain Inn, 36 (now 40) Thomas Street in Llanelli. The family were members of Capel Newydd Methodist chapel, and Welsh was her first language. She learnt to recite in chapel and achieved her first success in a local eisteddfod at the age of 13. She entered the teaching profession and continued her success as a reciter, winning numerous other medals, cups, chairs and prizes. She won first prize in three National Eisteddfodau at Swansea in 1907, London in 1909 and Carmarthen in 1911, when she became a member of the Gorsedd of the National Eisteddfod under the bardic name Ellyw.

Having achieved a Licentiate of the London Victoria College of Music and Drama in 1910, she attended Sir Herbert Beerbohm Tree’s Academy of Drama in 1912, winning the gold medal for elocution. The same year she had the honour of reciting at the Carmarthenshire Dinner held at the Criterion in London in honour of the Right Honourable Lloyd George, for which she was highly commended.

In 1913 she was tempted to transfer her allegiance to the stage and became part of a movement towards a National Welsh Drama. She appeared in a touring production of Little Miss Llewelyn, in The Joneses at the Strand Theatre and also in The Mark of Cain. In 1914 she toured to the USA. with the Welsh Players to perform J. 0. Francis's prize-winning play Change. Eleanor's excellent notices throughout the tour ensured her return to the U.S.A., where she settled for the rest of her life.

For a number of years she appeared in the productions of the well-known Broadway firm of Comstock and Gest. She appeared, among other plays, in Heart of the Heather, Kitty McKay, Loyalty and with Richard Bennett in Zach. A spell in musical comedy followed: she sang and danced in Kitty Darling and appeared in Lassies and La La Lucille. Eleanor also appeared with Florence Reed in Ashes and with Jeanne Eagels in Rain.

Eleanor appeared in a number of silent film productions in New York between 1914 and the mid twenties but is to be remembered mostly for her appearance in If Winter Comes, with Percy Marmont and Bebe Daniels in 1923.

In 1930, along with Gareth Hughes, Eleanor was awarded Gorsedd Honours for her contribution to the Drama. In later life she worked as a vocal coach in New York, and in 1951 she took an office job with an American diabetes organisation and worked there until she was 87.

From the 1940s onwards she developed a friendship in New York with a likeminded group who shared an interest in religion, philosophy and the arts. The friends would split their time between New York and a house in Connecticut, which was owned by a wealthy member of the group, Alice DeBuys. They would perform concerts and plays for each other at the house. On her death in 1981, Miss DeBuys left the house and estate to six members of the group, including Eleanor.

The dramatic, prize-winning recitations of her youth led her to success in both dramatic and, surprisingly, comic productions on Broadway and touring the length and breadth of the USA. In an interview four years before her death, Eleanor remembered her theatre days with great fondness. "I was an actress" she exclaimed proudly. "I started acting when I could talk". At Tree's Academy, where she won the Gold medal, her instinctive, dramatic, vocal ability led her to be cited as a model for the other students. This was her cue to leave: "After all" she said "why should I teach what I was paying to learn!” Like many performers she suffered dreadfully from stage fright. "I used to skip rope to get it out of my mind, but it gripped me. But when I placed my two feet on the stage, everything became fine. Only the stage was real. The stage is the most important of all. Its message is carried to the people."

Eleanor was 107 years old when she passed away at the 18th Century house in Darien, Connecticut, USA. At the time she was Wales's and, most likely Britain's, oldest living actress.

In 2011 I organised the unveiling of a Blue Plaque in Eleanor's honour in Thomas Street, Llanelli.


  Eleanor DanielsEleanor Daniels Plaque