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Born in Bath Street, Wivenhoe, Essex, he was the son of John Harvey, a yacht-designer and shipbuilder, and Margaret Diana Mary (née Goyder). His father expected him to follow his own profession, but Martin Harvey had his sights set on the stage. One of his father's clients was the dramatist W.S. Gilbert, and it was through Gilbert that young Martin Harvey met his first teacher, John Ryder.
Martin Harvey joined Sir Henry Irving's Lyceum Theatre company in 1882. For many years he played only minor parts in Irving's productions. His most famous play was first produced at the Lyceum on 16 February 1899. This was The Only Way, an adaptation of Charles Dickens' A Tale of Two Cities in which Martin Harvey played the lead role of Sydney Carton. Many other plays followed and many tours in both Great Britain and North America. His success was always greater in Canada than the United States.
After Sir Henry Irving's death in 1905, Martin Harvey continued to revive his old manager's plays, often using Irving's own props which he had bought. These plays included The Bells and The Lyons Mail. His early successes included Pelleas in Maeterlinck's Pelleas and Melisande, with Mrs. Patrick Campbell as Melisande and incidental music written for the production by Gabriel Fauré. His later successes included A Cigarette-maker's Romance, Oedipus (in Max Reinhardt's Covent Garden production), Shaw's The Devil's Disciple and Maeterlinck's The Burgomaster of Stilemonde. By the time he retired, Martin Harvey claimed to have performed The Only Way more than 3,000 times, though this would not have been possible in reality.
In 1889 he married Angelita Helena Maria de Silva Ferro, daughter of a Chilean consul and a fellow actor in Irving's company who used the stage name Miss N. de Silva. They had two children, Muriel Martin-Harvey and Michael Martin-Harvey, both successful actors. John Martin Harvey died at his home in East Sheen, Richmond, Surrey, aged 80.
- The Broken Melody (1916)
- The Breed of the Treshams (1920)
- The Only Way (1927)
- The Burgomaster of Stilemonde (1929)
- The Lyons Mail (1931)
- Busby, Brian: Character parts: who's really who in Canlit. Toronto: Knopf Canada, 2003
- Butler, Nicholas: John Martin-Harvey: the biography of an actor-manager. Wivenhoe: Nicholas Butler, 1997.
- Disher, Maurice Willson: The last romantic: the authorised biography of Sir John Martin-Harvey. London: Hutchinson, 1948
- Edgar, George: Martin Harvey: some pages of his life. London: Grant Richards, 1912.
- Martin-Harvey, John, Sir: The book of Martin Harvey. London: Henry Walker, 1930.
- Martin-Harvey, John, Sir: The autobiography of Sir John Martin-Harvey. London: Sampson Low, 1933.
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to John Martin-Harvey.|
- Sir John Martin-Harvey
- John Martin-Harvey on Flickr
- University of Bristol Theatre Collection, University of Bristol