Booth, Edwin

▪ American actor
in full  Edwin Thomas Booth 
born Nov. 13, 1833, near Belair, Md., U.S.
died June 7, 1893, New York, N.Y.

      renowned tragedian of the 19th-century American stage, best-remembered as one of the greatest performers of Shakespeare (Shakespeare, William)'s Hamlet. He was a member of a famous acting family; his brother was John Wilkes Booth (Booth, John Wilkes), the assassin of President Abraham Lincoln.

      At 13 years of age Edwin became companion and chaperon to his eccentric father, the actor Junius Brutus Booth (born in London, 1796), who in 1821 had moved to the United States, where he achieved popularity second only to that of the American actor Edwin Forrest.

      Traveling with his father, whom he endeavoured to keep sane and sober, Edwin absorbed the rudiments of acting in the bombastic style then fashionable. He made his stage debut at the Boston Museum on Sept. 10, 1849, in the part of Tressel to his father's Richard III in an adaptation of Shakespeare's play. Two years later in New York City, when his father refused to act one night, Edwin replaced him as Richard III, giving an imitative but creditable performance.

      In 1852 Edwin accompanied his father to California and, after his father's death that year, continued acting. He barnstormed through the California mining towns and, in 1854–55, toured Australia and the Sandwich Islands (now Hawaii) with the actress Laura Keene. His first important appearances as a star were in Boston and New York City in 1857. Younger playgoers flocked to see him, and in 1860, in a series of brilliant performances in New York, he challenged and overcame the dramatic supremacy of the veteran Forrest.

      Booth had not yet, however, overcome the unruly temperament inherited from his father. His acting was occasionally fuddled by drink. In 1860 he married the actress Mary Devlin, by whom he had one daughter. It was the double shock of Mary's death in 1863 and his failure to be at her side because he was too drunk to respond to the summons of friends that henceforth made him abstemious.

      In 1864 Edwin Booth became comanager of the Winter Garden Theatre in New York. There, he and his brothers, Junius Brutus and John Wilkes, appeared together for the only time on Nov. 25, 1864, playing Brutus, Cassius, and Mark Antony, respectively, in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. From Nov. 26, 1864, to March 22, 1865, Edwin played Hamlet for 100 consecutive nights. Thereafter, he was identified with the part, for which his looks, voice, and bearing suited him. He was slight and dark, with a musical, sympathetic voice and a natural air of reserve. His acting style, quieter than his father's had been, became increasingly sensitive and subdued.

      The assassination of President Lincoln by John Wilkes on April 14, 1865, was a blow from which Edwin's spirit never recovered, causing his withdrawal from the stage until January 1866, when he reappeared at the Winter Garden as Hamlet.

      In 1869 Booth married the actress Mary McVicker, whose nervous instability made the marriage unhappy. In the same year, he opened his own theatre in New York City. His Shakespearean and other productions were beautifully mounted, but his lack of business acumen ultimately cost him his theatre and left him bankrupt at 40. By hard work he recouped his losses, acting from then on under the management of others.

      Booth first acted in London in 1861. When he revisited England in 1880, his appearances at London's Princess Theatre were near failures until Henry Irving (Irving, Sir Henry), star and manager of the much superior Lyceum Theatre, invited him to costar at the Lyceum in what proved a memorable engagement, the two actors alternating as Othello and Iago. In 1882 Booth again played England and the next year toured Germany, where the acclaim given his Hamlet and his Iago and King Lear (considered, after Hamlet, his finest roles) made the German engagement the peak of his career. At home, his financial affairs improved permanently when, in 1886, he formed a business and acting partnership with the American actor-manager Lawrence Barrett.

      In 1888 Booth founded a club, the Players, in New York City, that was intended as a gathering place for actors and eminent men in other professions. He lived at the club in his last years. His farewell stage appearance was as Hamlet in 1891 at the Academy of Music in Brooklyn. To his own and later generations, the nobility of his mature character, his splendid achievement in his art, and his zeal to raise both the moral and social standing of his fellow actors combined to make him one of the great figures of the American stage.

Eleanor Ruggles

Additional Reading
Eleanor Ruggles, Prince of Players (1953, reissued 1972), is a comprehensive biography. Earlier biographies include Richard Lockridge, Darling of Misfortune (1932, reprinted 1971), especially interesting for details of Booth's business misadventures; and William Winter, Life and Art of Edwin Booth (1893, reissued 1968), a standard and valuable study by a contemporary. An exhaustive work by Stanley Kimmel, The Mad Booths of Maryland, 2nd rev. and enlarged ed. (1970); and Gene Smith, American Gothic (1992), examine the entire Booth clan.

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Booth, Edwin — (1833 1893)    Generally acknowledged as the greatest actor in American theatre history, Edwin Booth was born on Junius Brutus Booth s Maryland farm, reportedly on a night of shooting stars. In his youth, he toured with his father and even on… …   The Historical Dictionary of the American Theater

  • Booth, Edwin (Thomas) — born Nov. 13, 1833, near Belair, Md., U.S. died June 7, 1893, New York, N.Y. U.S. actor. Born into a noted theatrical family, he played his first starring roles in Boston and New York City in 1857. He became famous as Hamlet, appearing in the… …   Universalium

  • Booth, Edwin (Thomas) — (13 nov. 1833, cerca de Belair, Md., EE.UU.–7 jun. 1893, Nueva York, N.Y.). Actor estadounidense. Nacido en el seno de una destacada familia del teatro, en 1857 interpretó sus primeros roles estelares en Boston y Nueva York. Logró la fama como… …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Edwin Booth — (* 13. November 1833 bei Belair, Maryland; † 7. Juni 1893 in New York City) war ein US amerikanischer Schauspieler und Bruder des Attentäters Abraham Lincolns, John Wilkes Booth …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Booth — Booth, William * * * (as used in expressions) Booth, Edwin (Thomas) Booth, John Wilkes Booth, William Tarkington, (Newton) Booth …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Booth family — The Booth family were an English American theatrical family of the 19th century. Its most famous and infamous members were Edwin Booth, one of the leading actors of his day, and John Wilkes Booth, who assassinated Abraham Lincoln.The patriarch… …   Wikipedia

  • Booth — /boohth/; Brit. /boohdh/, n. 1. Ballington /bal ing teuhn/, 1859 1940, founder of the Volunteers of America 1896 (son of William Booth). 2. Edwin Thomas, 1833 93, U.S. actor (brother of John Wilkes Booth). 3. Evangeline Cory /kawr ee, kohr ee/,… …   Universalium

  • Edwin — /ed win/, n. 1. Also, Eadwine. A.D. 585? 633, king of Northumbria 617 633. 2. a male given name: from Old English words meaning rich, happy and friend. * * * (as used in expressions) Julian Edwin Adderley Aldrin Edwin Eugene Jr. Armstrong Edwin… …   Universalium

  • Edwin — (as used in expressions) Julian Edwin Adderley Aldrin, Edwin Eugene, Jr. Armstrong, Edwin H(oward) Bessey, Charles E(dwin) Birkenhead, Frederick Edwin Smith, 1 conde de Booth, Edwin (Thomas) Church, Frederic Edwin Cohn, Edwin Joseph Hubble, Edwin …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • booth — /boohth/, n., pl. booths /boohdhz, boohths/. 1. a stall, compartment, or light structure for the sale of goods or for display purposes, as at a market, exhibition, or fair. 2. a small compartment or boxlike room for a specific use by one occupant …   Universalium

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