Edwin Thomas Booth


No. 7211 Edwin Thomas Booth

No. 2290 Cutler/Booth House on Washington Street, Dorchester, near Mother’s Rest

From: One of a Thousand. A Series of Biographical Sketches of One Thousand Representative Men Resident in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, A.D. 1888-89. Compiled under the editorial supervision of John C. Rand.  Boston: First National Publishing Company, 1890.

Booth, Edwin Thomas, son of Junius Brutus and Mary Ann (Holmes) Booth, was born in Bel air (Harford County) near Baltimore, November 13, 1833.  He was named Edwin Thomas as a compliment to his father’s friends, Edwin Forrest and Thomas Flynn.  He was the seventh of ten children, and became early associated with his father in the vicissitudes of the career of that wonderful and eccentric actor.

Most of his boyhood was spent at his father’s town residence in Baltimore.  Edwin and his brothers ingeniously transformed a spacious arbor, situated upon the grounds, into a theatre, where, assisted by the future comedian and brother-in-law, John S. Clarke, they performed before select juvenile audiences, classic and romantic dramas, with the female element rigorously eliminated.

On the 10th of September, 1849, Mr. Booth made his first appearance on any stage in the character of “Tressel,” in Cibber’s version of Richard III, at the Boston Museum undertaking the part to help out the prompter, to whim it was usually assigned in connection with his other stage duties.

His first appearance on the Philadelphia stage was on May 22, 1850, as “Wilford” in “The Iron Chest.”  It was in this part, also, that he appeared first in New York City, September 27, 1850, at the National Theatre.  At the same theatre, in 1851, his father being ill, he suddenly and promptly took the place of the elder tragedian, and for the first time in his life enacted Richard III.  This effort, remarkably successful for a comparative novice, was hailed as the indication of great talent, and as the augury of a brilliant future.  In 1852, accompanying his father and his elder brother, J.B. Booth, Jr., he crossed the Isthmus and played in a variety of engagements in California.  In 1854 he was a member of a dramatic company, including the popular actress, Mill Laura Keene, as leading lady, that took a trip to Australia.  Returning to California in 1856, he came east, and first appeared at the Front Street Theater, Baltimore, and then made a tour of all the cities of the south, being everywhere well received.  In 1857 he appeared at the Boston Theatre as “Sir Giles Overreach” in a “New Way to Pay Old Debts,” and his great success on this occasion, always regarded by him as the turning point in this career, determined him to persist in the resolute endeavor to win the first place as a tragic actor.  His life since then has been marked by many vicissitudes of personal experience, and by fluctuations of fortune, but it has been one of lofty purpose and continuous advancement.

On July 7, 1860, he married Mary Devlin, of Troy, N.Y., who died at Dorchester, Mass., February 21, 1863, leaving a daughter, Edwina.  Mr. Booth, subsequently, on the 7th of June, 1869, married Mary McVicker, the daughter of a Mrs. Runnion, who became the wife of James H. McVicker of Chicago, a prominent actor and manager.  Mrs. Booth died in New York in 1881, leaving no children.

In 1862 Mr. Booth made a trip to England, appearing in London, Liverpool, and Manchester, and on returning to America became the manager of Winter Garden Theatre, New York, remaining associated with the house until its destruction by fire in 1867.  Here he produced, on a magnificent scale, “Hamlet,” “Othello,” “Merchant of Venice,” “Richelieu,” and other plays, and was the recipient of a gold medal presented by the leading citizens of New York, in commemoration of the, at that time, remarkable achievement of running “Hamlet” for one hundred consecutive nights.  He was afterwards associated with the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia.

In April, 1865, the appalling tragedy at Washington compelled Mr. Booth to leave the state, and it was then his wish and purpose never to return to it.  In 1866, however, persuaded by his friends, he re-appeared as “Hamlet” in the Winter Garden Theatre in New York, and was once more welcomed to professional life by a most enthusiastic and sympathetic greeting.  In 1869 he opened the new Booth Theatre, which had been built for him the previous year in New York City.  This he managed until 1874, when it passed out of his possession.  In 1876 he made a tour of the South; in 1880, and again in 1882, he visited Great Britain and Germany, and was there received with extraordinary enthusiasm.  In 1883 he returned home and resumed his starring tours in America.

He has published an edition of his principal plays in fifteen volumes, the text cut and adapted by himself for stage use, with introductions and notes by William Winter, the well-known dramatic critic of the “New York Tribune.”

Mr. Booth is still in the zenith of his strength.  He lives to lead the American stage of to-day with the same power as of old, and the glory of having given a series of the grandest pageants, graced by the presence of some of the most celebrated actors that have ever been seen in this country, will be linked inseparably with the renown of Edwin Booth, when his biographer shall come to write the true story of his career.


Posted on

April 18, 2022

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