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Famous Houlton thespian led life of triumph, tragedy

HOULTON, Maine — She was a successful actress whose life was touched by immense tragedy.

But before she made a name for herself, Fay Davis was a Houlton-born youngster who was raised primarily in Boston, honing her craft to become one of the leading actresses of the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

Fay Davis was born in Houlton in 1869, according to Cora Putnam, author of “The Story of Houlton.” The daughter of Asa Davis, a Civil War veteran who spent time in a Confederate prison, and Mary Snell Davis, she was lithe and beautiful. In published accounts, her name is sometimes misspelled as “Faye” and her birthplace inaccurately reported as Boston.

Her maternal grandfather owned the Snell House, one of the most luxurious hotels in Houlton at the time.  She struck out for London when she was 26 years old. According to Lewis C. Strang, author of “Famous Actresses of The Day,” Davis was invited to present several recitations. So successful was the performance that people crowded into the room and hallway to hear her.

“When they [the crowd] was told that she was an American reciter, they said, ‘surely she in actress, or should be one,’” he wrote. 

Davis soon joined a company at the Criterion Reader. 

She made her stage debut as Zoe Nuggetson in “The Squire of Dames,” and quickly followed it up with appearances in the comedy, “The Princess and the Butterfly;” or, “The Fantastics” in 1897.

 According to a New York Times article published shortly after her death, she returned to the United States in 1902 to make her debut appearance at the Empire Theatre. Four years later, she returned to England and established herself as a noted Shakespearean actress, playing leading roles in such plays as “As You Like It,” “Romeo and Juliet,” and “Much Ado About Nothing.”  She continued acting until 1933, when she played her final role at the Winter Garden Theatre in London.

Davis married Gerald Lawrence, an English actor and manager. The union produced a daughter, Margery.

It was at this point that Davis’ life turned tragic, according to the published reports. Margery was 21 years old when she married 

Eardley Cotterill, a 24-year-old engineer.

It was shortly before their first wedding anniversary that Margery was murdered at 22. Cotterill shot his wife and then turned the gun on himself.

The murder-suicide took place moments after Cotterill had returned from a trip to Africa.

Davis died in 1945 in Exmouth, England, at age 72.

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