Olga Brandon

Olga Brandon who later became a celebrated stage actress in the late 19th century, has a link to Sacred Heart College through the then existing Our Lady’s Orphanage operated by the Sisters of Mercy.

Born Olga Lazarrevich on 21 December 1863 in the Victorian gold mining town of Redcastle, her father, Spiro was Croatian and her mother, Victoria Schinkle was Danish. Supposedly ‘kidnapped’ by 25-year old Spiro in 1857 when she was 15, Victoria married him that year. After mining various goldfields, they moved to Redcastle.

Around 1865, the family settled in Geelong, where Spiro worked as a fisherman. Olga now had three brothers and two sisters. Spiro accidently drowned in Corio Bay in 1867. With no income, Victoria committed her children to the orphanages at Sacred Heart and St Augustine’s respectively. Olga was four, her sisters Annette, nine, and Andrianna, ten months. For five years, they slept in dormitories upstairs (now Rooms 108, 109 and staff room) in the south wing. She and other orphans ate meals and may have had some schooling downstairs (now reception and main staffroom). Victoria went to work in New Zealand, only returning in 1873 and marrying American mariner Albert Wagner. By 1875 the reunited family had settled in America.

In 1878, Olga married Los Angeles photographer Valentine Wolfenstein; she was 14, he 32. They divorced acrimoniously three months later and Olga returned to school. In San Francisco in 1880 Olga, 16, married bookkeeper Herman Brandenstein, 25 (from whose surname she became Brandon.) The couple moved to New York in 1884, where Olga established her acting career on Broadway, mainly in comedy and melodrama.

Attractive and vivacious, on and off-stage 21-year-old Olga was a social magnet for male admirers and lovers, doing little to discourage either. Inevitably, she and Herman separated in 1886 when Olga left for England, to eventually find her real fame and fortune on the London stage.

Olga regularly acted in various genres: comedy, melodrama, and serious drama. She attained the pinnacle of her career in 1890, with her universally acclaimed performance at London’s Shaftesbury Theatre as the mysterious miracle-worker Vashti Dethic in Judah, opposite Edward Willard in the title role. At this time, Olga was one of the highest paid actresses in England.

She continued to perform, but illness from tuberculosis lead to a decline in engagements. Olga’s final performance was in 1901, followed by five years of increasing poverty until her death on 8 May 1906, age 42.

Thanks to John Watts for his research on Olga.

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