Phyllis McKee Rankin was the second daughter of stage actors Elizabeth "Kitty" Blanchard and McKee Rankin. Her older sister, Gladys Rankin (1870-1914,) was also an entertainer with her husband Sidney Drew in an act billed Mr. & Mrs. Sidney Drew, and her younger half-sister, Doris Rankin (1888-1946), a stage and screen actress and one-time wife of actor Lionel Barrymore. In September 1890 Elizabeth Rankin filed a motion contesting her husband's resistance to providing support for their daughter. A previous suit, in which she filed for separation from McKee, was being considered by the New York Supreme Court. Mrs. McKee Rankin was regarded as the foremost and best-known character actress and stage artist of her generation.
Phyllis Rankin was tutored by her father in old school drama. She made her first stage appearance as a youth of 10 with her parents in Stormbeaten. She eventually left her father's companies and was managed by Charles Frohman.
A house belonging to McKee Rankin at 40 Edgecombe Avenue, near One Hundred and Thirty-Sixth Street, burned in the early morning of April 1, 1891. Rankin and her mother were inside when the fire began in a linen closet. The blaze was contained and put out through the efforts of a bucket brigade. Damage was estimated at $400 and was covered by insurance.
Rankin was in the supporting cast of Sara, a play performed at the Palmer Theatre (Wallack's Theatre), in the summer of 1890. Sara was the abandoned wife of a French adventurer named Antoine la Rue. Albert M. Palmer gained control of Wallack's Theatre in 1888 and produced plays in New York City through 1896.
Rose Coghlan obtained Rankin to replace Jennie Yeamans in an 1892 production of The Check Book. In April 1893 she appeared in the Arabian Nights on a variety bill at the Standard Theatre, 6th Avenue (Manhattan) between 32nd Street and 33rd Street, Frohman's comedians were also featured performers.
In February 1897 Rankin was part of a bill at the Olympia Music Hall, 1514–16 Broadway (Manhattan) (44th Street), that included Auguste van Biene. The same month she appeared at the Twenty-Third Street Theatre, 139 West Twenty-Third Street, of Frederick Francis Proctor. In May she entertained at the St. Nicholas Music Hall, West 66th Street near Columbus Avenue (Manhattan). She sang at Koster & Bial's Music Hall, 729 6th Avenue and 23rd Street (Manhattan), in June. In July Rankin performed with Lizzie Evans and George Thatcher at Keith's New Union Square Theatre, near Broadway at 14th Street (Manhattan). During her engagement at the B.F. Keith establishment, she did impersonations of Anna Held. At the Casino Theatre, 1404 Broadway (West 39th Street), Rankin played Fifi Fricot in The Belle of New York, which had a one week booking in December 1897.
By August 1898 she was receiving offers from English managers of comic opera. The Belle of New York was staged at the Shaftesbury Theatre with Harry Davenport in the company. Davenport portrayed a doctor and Rankin, a housekeeper, in Three Wise Fools. The two met and married in the original production of The Belle of New York. In the musical they sang a famous duet, When We Are Married.
In 1921 she had performed on stage for fifty years. Other productions in which she acted were The Rounders, It Happened In Nordland, and Fascinating Flora.
Rankin died in Canton, Pennsylvania in 1934 at the age of 60. She and Harry Davenport married and were the parents of Arthur Rankin, an actor in motion pictures from 1923 -1934. He was also a writer. He died from a cerebral hemorrhage following an extended illness in 1947. Their grandson was producer and director Arthur Rankin, Jr. After her wedding to Davenport, Rankin left the stage for eleven years before returning in a small role in Lightnin, in August 1918. The couple later teamed at the Criterion Theatre for a production of Three Wise Fools. Rankin was the mother of three other children, 2 of whom acted on stage.
After the death of his wife, Harry Davenport entered motion pictures and reached fame with his supporting role as Dr. Meade in Gone with the Wind.
- Phyllis Rankin Dies; Former Stage Star, New York Times, November 18, 1934, pg. 35.
- M'Kee Rankin's House On Fire, New York Times, April 2, 1891, pg. 8.
- Parker, Jon, Who's Who in the Theatre, 1916, p. 402 Retrieved 6.28.13
- Mrs. Rankin's Suit For Separation, New York Times, September 26, 1890, pg. 8.
- "A Queenly Woman", Los Angeles Times, March 23, 1899, pg. 4.
- "Davenport and Rankin", New York Times, February 9, 1919, pg. 42.
- Amusements, New York Times, June 20, 1890, pg. 4.
- Mrs. Rankin's Matinee, New York Times, June 21, 1890, pg. 4.
- EJ Phillips' Manhattan 1830–1904, Palmer's Theatre. Retrieved on 12-24-07.
- Theatrical Gossip, New York Times, April 19, 1892, pg. 8.
- Display Ad 11-No Title, New York Times, April 23, 1893, pg. 7.
- EJ Phillips' Manhattan, Standard Theatre. Retrieved on 12-24-07.
- Alberti At Olympia, New York Times, February 16, 1897, pg. 7.
- IBDB Olympia Theatre Music Hall. Retrieved on 12-24-07.
- Notes Of The Week, New York Times, February 28, 1897, pg. 21.
- Cinema Treasures Proctor's 23rd Street Theatre. Retrieved on 12-24-07.
- Display Ad 14-No Title, New York Times, May 13, 1897, pg. 12.
- Theatres, New York Times, May 16, 1897, pg. 16.
- Theatres And Music Halls, New York Times, June 29, 1897, pg. 7.
- Koster & Bial. Retrieved on 12-24-07.
- Display Ad 12—No Title, New York Times, July 18, 1897, pg. 8.
- Musicals 101 Theatre in New York. Retrieved on 12-24-07.
- Roof Gardens And Theatres, New York Times, July 20, 1897, pg. 7.
- Theatres, New York Times, December 19, 1897, pg. 9.
- IBDB Casino Theatre. Retrieved on 12-24-07.
- Article 4—No Title, New York Times, December 11, 1898, pg. IMS10.
- American Actors Abroad, New York Times, August 7, 1898, pg. 5.
- Mr. Lederer At Home Again, New York Times, March 12, 1899, pg. 17.
- Arthur Rankin, 50, Actor And Writer, New York Times, March 24, 1947, pg. 25.
- Harry Davenport and Phyllis Rankin family papers, 1857-circa 1946 , held by the Billy Rose Theatre Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts
- Phyllis Rankin Photographic Image New York Public Library Digital Gallery