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TREMAYNE, WILLIAM ANDREW (until about 1897 he spelled his family name Tremaine), actor, playwright, and stage director; b. 26 Nov. 1864 in Portland, Maine, the second son and third child of James Tremaine, probably a merchant, and Isabella Andrew; d. unmarried 2 Dec. 1939 in Montreal.

William Andrew Tremayne, who would be called Billy by friends throughout his life, was born in the United States. His parents, former residents of Quebec City, returned to Lower Canada with their children in 1866 and settled in Montreal. Tremayne received some education at St John’s School in Montreal [see Edmund Wood*] and from an early age wrote poetry and short stories. He found employment as a clerk; from about 1892 to 1897 he worked in the stores department of the Grand Trunk Railway in Montreal.

By the 1890s Tremayne was acting with local repertory companies as well as with American troupes that performed in Canada and the United States. He achieved some prominence in the touring company of American star James O’Neill. His first one-act play, The notary, was sold to American actor-manager Felix Morris in 1893 (no copy has been located). In collaboration with Logan Fuller he wrote Lost – 24 hours, a comedy on infidelity produced in 1895 by actor-manager Robert Hilliard at Hoyt’s Theatre in New York City. Revised and billed as A New Yorker, it was presented at the same theatre on 17 Jan. 1898.

From the late 1890s onwards Tremayne appears to have made a living from his writing and his work in theatre; it was probably during this period that he was a Montreal correspondent for the New York Dramatic Mirror. At some point during the decade he met actor Robert Bruce Mantell and wrote at least two plays specifically for him. The first, The secret warrant, a romantic story set in Paris in 1720, was produced in Montreal in 1898. The second, The dagger and the cross, adapted from a novel of the same name by Joseph Hatton, was published in 1899 and performed in Toronto the following year. Other pieces dating from this time include The rogue’s daughter, a light-hearted story of an unscrupulous father and his witty daughter, staged in Montreal in 1898, and A free lance, which met with considerable success in England in 1901. The light of other days, a drama which takes place in Ireland and France during the French revolution, was written in collaboration with Irving Lincoln Hall; it opened at Haverley’s 14th Street Theatre in New York on 30 Nov. 1903. In 1906 The triumph of Betty, a melodramatic comedy about a wholesome American girl in a foreign country, was presented at the New Russell Opera House in Ottawa with Adelaide Thurston in the starring role. Sometime before 1912 Tremayne wrote the libretto, and Montreal conductor Herbert Spencer* the music, for the operetta The cavaliers, performed by the Lyric Operatic Society of Montreal. The black feather, first produced at the Grand Opera House in Toronto in 1916 by actor-manager Albert O. Brown, was later mounted in Montreal with Tremayne’s friend Basil Donn in the part of a British intelligence officer during World War I. It was published in Boston in 1918 as The man who went. The alien, staged at the Russell Opera House on 13 and 14 Sept. 1918, featured Paul Cazeneuve [Georges Alba*] and his wife, Orpha L. Alba, as the leads. Cazeneuve would translate at least one of Tremayne’s plays into French.

Tremayne’s golden years extended from the late 1890s to about 1916. His understanding of commercial theatre enabled him to succeed as a professional playwright. The general public wanted romance, sentiment, and adventure, with high-flown speeches and deeds of gallantry. Popular actors such as Mantell drew audiences and needed plays that showed off their acting style. Tremayne responded with work that catered to contemporary tastes. He did not want to be identified as a specifically Canadian author; he was interested in a larger market and his pieces were applauded in the United States and England as well as Canada. In 1912 George Murray, literary editor for the Montreal Daily Star, was quoted in Canadian men and women of the time [see Henry James Morgan*] as saying that Tremayne was “the most voluminous dramatic author Canada has so far produced.” Four years later an unidentified reviewer for Saturday Night ranked him as “the most successful of all Canadian playwrights.”

While pursuing a career as a playwright, Tremayne had also begun to pen movie scripts. For some time he was under contract to supply a weekly comedy to the Vitagraph Company of America, one of the leading film-makers of the silent era. Among his most noteworthy credits were Captain Jenks’ dilemma (1912), starring noted comedian John Bunny, and Ward’s claim (1914), a one-reel western directed by Ulysses Davis. One 21st-century database lists him as the author or co-author of scripts for 77 films produced in the United States between 1911 and 1916; most were for Vitagraph.

Tremayne also made his mark as a director with amateur-theatre groups in Montreal. Appointed stage director of the Trinity Players in 1911, he would continue in that position until 1925. At various times he also directed the Weredale Players of St Stephen’s Church, the Emmanuel Church Players, the Xmas Tree League Players of Saint-Lambert, the troupe of the Young Men’s–Young Women’s Hebrew Association, the Court Players, the Dickens’ Fellowship, the Community Players, and the Little Theatre Players.

Although some 20 plays are known to have been written by Tremayne after 1916, fewer of his pieces were staged and no scripts seem to have been filmed. As the tradition of the actor-manager disappeared, interest in his work declined. Unable to adapt his style to the new realism of theatre and film, he retired about 1929. He apparently had few savings and he survived with the help of friends and the occasional sale of radio scripts to Rupert Caplan, a drama producer for the Canadian Radio Broadcasting Commission and later the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He continued to promote amateur theatre in Montreal. Before 1900 he had lived with his sister; from at least 1901 he shared lodgings with three aunts, and he spent his final years in rented single rooms. He died after a two-year illness, forgotten by the theatre world. Yet in his day he had been considered one of the best-known and most prolific playwrights in Canada.

Murray D. Edwards

Some of William Andrew Tremayne’s plays are held at the Univ. of Guelph Library, Archival and Special Coll. (Ont.), L. W. Conolly Theatre Arch., Coll. 128 (Murray D. Edwards Theatre hist. coll.), but many of his original writings were burned shortly after his death. See the author’s account of the destruction in M. D. Edwards, “A playwright from the Canadian past: W. A. Tremayne (1864–1939),” Theatre Hist. in Canada (Toronto and Kingston, Ont.), 3 (1982): 43–50. Several of his plays are mentioned in the “Internet Broadway database”: www.ibdb.com (consulted 2 May 2013). The “Internet movie database”: www.imdb.com (consulted 2 May 2013) lists Tremayne as the author or co-author of scripts for at least 77 silent films produced between 1911 and 1916.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Geneal. Soc., International geneal. index. LAC, R233-37-6, Montreal, Saint-Laurent Ward, subdist.A-31: 1. Gazette (Montreal), 4 Dec. 1939. Canadian men and women of the time (Morgan; 1912). Directory, Montreal, 1891–1939. M. D. Edwards, A stage in our past, English-language theatre in eastern Canada from the 1790s to 1914 ([Toronto], 1968). The “New York Times” theatre reviews, 1870–1919 (6v., New York, 1975), 3. The Oxford companion to Canadian theatre, ed. Eugene Benson and L. W. Conolly (Toronto, 1989). “Music and drama,” Saturday Night, 9 Sept. 1916. Herbert Whittaker, Setting the stage: Montreal theatre, 1920–1949, ed. Jonathan Rittenhouse (Montreal, 1999). “William A. Tremayne,” Variety (New York), 13 Dec. 1939: 54.

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Cite This Article

Murray D. Edwards, “TREMAYNE (Tremaine), WILLIAM ANDREW,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed September 28, 2023, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tremayne_william_andrew_16E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/tremayne_william_andrew_16E.html
Author of Article:   Murray D. Edwards
Title of Article:   TREMAYNE (Tremaine), WILLIAM ANDREW
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 16
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   2015
Year of revision:   2015
Access Date:   September 28, 2023