LIMA — Once Norah Lamison left Lima, she saw the world as an actress — but she never forgot where she came from.
Lamison was born June 30, 1873, in Allen County to Charles N. and Elizabeth G. Meyer Lamison. She was the youngest of eight children. Her mother died when she was very young, and her father later remarried.
The Lamison household was a well-to-do household, as her father was a public figure. He served as prosecuting attorney of Allen County, led a regiment during the Civil War, was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives and was an attorney for several railroads. Later, he was a U.S. land commissioner in Kansas.
Locally, he appeared to have been well liked. He and his family were out of town when their house burned in 1881, but people hurried to move out the books and most of the furniture — even that which was upstairs — before the items were lost, according to a newspaper story from April 28, 1881.
Soon thereafter, Norah Lamison’s name appears in the social news. In 1890, she was home visiting after a “year of study at Oxford Seminary.” Two years later, an item notes she was studying in Boston. By 1894, it appears she had made her career decision: acting.
“Norah Lamison says the New York Mirror gave a charming performance of the role of the heroine in ‘The Private Secretary’ at the Columbian theater in Brooklyn last week,” a story from Jan. 29, 1894, reported.
Soon, she was picked up for acting work in a troupe led by Richard Mansfield. He managed the Garrick Theatre on 67 W. 35th St., New York, and his New York Garrick Theatre Stock Co. traveled all over the Midwest.
In 1897, Lamison brought her talents back home. She and a local cast presented “Sweet Lavender” on May 25.
“By this vehicle, Norah Lamison will appear professionally for the first time in her native city,” a story from May 1, 1897, reported. The show was staged at Faurot’s Opera House.
Her talents hadn’t gone unnoticed in New York.
“One of the younger crop of American actresses whose career will bear watching is Miss Norah Lamison. It is only a comparatively short time since she adopted the stage as a profession and already she has succeeded in winning a fine position for herself by dint of hard work and the determination to secure advancement by deserving it instead of through the devious ways of the press agent which are now so prevalent. Miss Lamison is at all times conscientious in her methods and is as little given to theatrical makeshifts as any actress on the American stage today. This augurs well for her future unless good judges should be greatly mistaken she will be heard from at no distant date in a more prominent way,” wrote Octavus Cohen on April 2, 1898.
She continued working in traveling troupes, taking “Lady Bountiful” across the Midwest. It had a stop in Lima, again at Faurot’s Opera House, in summer of 1898. She toured with “The Countess Valeska” in late 1898.
In 1899, she appeared in the opening performance of “Barbara Frietchie” at the Criterion Theatre in New York. The man who would become her husband, Donald MacLaren, also appeared in the play. Also, the lead female character was played by Julia Marlowe, whom Lamison would understudy.
According to the 1900 census, Lamison was back in Lima, living with her sister’s family. It was but for the shortterm, as she was soon back on stage in “When Knighthood was in Flower.” The show, again at the Criterion Theatre, featured Marlowe. The New York Times reviewer called Lamison “graceful.”
She also earned glowing remarks for another show from The Washington Post. “Far more real, more sincere and more fetching was Miss Norah Lamison as Katharina,” the paper reported Sept. 11, 1904.
In 1909, an item lists that she had married MacLaren and that both were continuing their careers in separate companies. She used the name Lamison professionally.
A story from Feb. 24, 1914, reported that Lamison broke her leg in two places when she slipped on icy pavement. She was going back to her hotel after a performance at the Pitt Theater in Pittsburgh. Her husband, who by that time had focused on working as a playwright, hurried from New York to her side as soon as he heard the news.
The injury didn’t slow her down. The following year, she applied for a passport for an extended trip to England to stage plays. From this application, we learn she was 5 feet 7 inches tall and had auburn hair and dark eyes.
MacLaren died of pneumonia in March 1917, and Lamison was back on the stage by October. She also performed under a one-year contract to entertain soldiers in France in 1918. The America’s Over There Theatre League operated under the YMCA banner.
She appeared in 16 productions in New York between 1899 and 1920. Several shows were at the Playhouse Theatre, which was used in the Mel Brooks movie “The Producers.” She also appeared at the Shubert Theatre, which still stands today.
Of course, Lamison was not idle between those New York shows, and she appeared often in traveling troupes throughout her career.
Her niece, who shared her name, also took up the theater. Lima’s Miss Norah Sprague took after her aunt and worked with traveling troupes. The two Norahs even had the opportunity to work together. They’re both listed in the opening night cast for “Opportunity” at the 48th Street Theatre in New York. It opened July 30, 1920, and ran for 138 performances. This is the only play listed for the younger Norah on the Internet Broadway Database.
Sprague died in 1942 at Roosevelt Hospital in New York after a six-month illness.
Lamison, a longtime Manhattan resident, died Dec. 14, 1955, of a cerebral hemorrhage at age 82. She was cremated, and her ashes were returned to Lima for burial at Woodlawn Cemetery — where her father is also buried. Her obituary appeared both locally and in The New York Times.