Edwin Booth was a famous actor in the 19th century. Born in Bel Air, Maryland, on the thirteenth of November in 1833, Edwin Booth was fortunate enough to be a part of a notable family of performers. His father was a famous actor named Junius Brutus Booth, and his younger brother; John Wilkes Booth was the infamous assassin of Abraham Lincoln, the president of the United States of America in 1865. He was the first American-born theatre performer who is widely known in Europe. He is also famously known for his Shakespearean plays. Since he was young, Booth often performed accompanied by his father. He made his appearance in Boston, Massachusetts, and later was recognized for his talent when he performed in New York City.
Edwin Booth started his foundation in the theatre business since he was thirteen. He often accompanied his father on a tour and often times, had a hard time trying to keep his father sane and sober. He made his first appearance while on his father's tour at The Boston Museum in Boston, Massachusetts, as Tressel in the play "Richard III" by William Shakespeare. He did a monotonous acting in the eyes of the members of the theatrical professional and his father was really disappointed at him. One of the reasons he did not perform well on his first tour was because he never had the intention to be an actor in the first place. He joined his father's theatre tour only because he found an escape in acting by losing himself in another people's lives. As what he said,
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But Nature cast me for the part she found me best fitted for, and I have had to play it, and must play it till the curtain falls. (Brainy Quote)
Few years passed and he still brought an unremarkable performance in his father's tour. It is not until a few years later when he finally made an outstanding appearance in "Richard III" as a substitute for his father that gained him many appreciative feedbacks. It was on a tour to California when Booth's father decided to leave him and went back to Maryland, which leads to the unfortunate death of his father on the route to Maryland. After his father's death, he began to build a stronger foundation in the theatre business and started gaining his own reputable position on the stage. He stayed in California and did many shows across San Francisco, Sacramento and some mining towns.
From 1863 until 1867, Booth lived in New York City and managed the Winter Garden Theatre located at 624 Broadway, New York. Unfortunately, a fire burned down the Winter Garden Theatre concluding in a complete demolition of the theatre. Later on, Booth decided to build his own theatre, which was called Booth Theatre in Manhattan, New York; it was opened on February third, 1869. In his theatre, Booth did many original Shakespeare plays, which is a contradiction to the main trends of the censored Shakespeare plays that were most commonly done.
On April 1865, his brother assassinated president Abraham Lincoln. The morning after, Booth received three telegrams that said, "the president has been shot", "the president is dead", and "your brother did it". Knowing his brother had smeared their family reputation in the eyes of the whole America, Booth ran away from the theatre business and was banned for many months. Frightened and insecure from the world outside, he hid for months from the press. At last, in January 1866 he returned to the Winter Garden Theatre. This time he played the lead part in "Hamlet" by Shakespeare, which later became his signature role.
Booth's personal life is not quite a good story to tell. He might be rich, but he did not have a wonderful life with his family as what The Player's Club NYC said,
"By this time, Booth was considered the wealthiest actor in America, but his domestic life was far from blissful" (The Player's Club NYC)
He was first married to Mary Devlin and they had one daughter named Edwina. But few years later on 1863, Devlin died. In 1869, he was married again for the second time. This time it was with his acting partner, Mary McVicker. But few years later on 1881, Mary McVicker died and left Booth as a widower again. Few years later, he met his tragic ending. It was described in The Player's Club NYC's site as,
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"On June 7, 1893, with his beloved daughter Edwina by his side, during a thunderstorm as dramatic as Booth's life and career, when the lights suddenly went out all over Gramercy Park, the century's greatest American tragedian died in his bed. In the next moment, the electricity restored itself, and Booth's physician waved his white handkerchief from the third floor window to signal the vigilant fans and journalists that "the greatest American actor" had passed." (The Player's Club NYC)
However, notable actor like Edwin Booth certainly had so many achievements in his own life and time. His achievement was first recognized when he replaced his father at the very last minute on the play "Richard III". The audience described him,
"As a young man his beauty was extraordinary. His dark eyes flashed with superb fire, not alone of physical vitality, but of imagination, emotion, and exaltation of the soul. In mature years the same nobility of presence continued to subsist, but it was softened and hallowed by experience and grief." (Theatre Database)
That was the first time when Booth got recognized in the eyes of the theatrical professional as one young and talented actor. Another accomplishment of him would be the Booth's Theatre that was opened in 1869. In this theatre, Booth performed many original Shakespearian plays as opposed to the commonly censored ones at that time. In this theatre, he brought the change in his era by showing everyone Shakespearian plays the way Shakespeare did it. This brought a controversy among other theatrical professional in America, which was followed by their acceptance later on in the future. His most impressive work was when he performed as the lead part in "Hamlet," which later became his signature role. He also opened the Player's Club, a club where actors could meet people with different jobs. Booth built this because after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, actors were disrespected. So this is the place where actors can connect with the outer world again without being despised.
After his death, Edwin Booth left his legacies for us, both tangibly, and revolutionarily. The biggest impact of his existence for America would be when his brother assassinated the president Abraham Lincoln. That was the biggest turn out not just in America, but also around the world at that time. His family left a scar in the America history, which also impacted so many actors at that time, which in the end resulting in the establishment of the Player's Club which is still standing tall in New York until now. The activities in the Player's Club are still going on and they are still giving the reputable "Edwin Booth's Life Achievement Award" for actors who had a big influence and reputation in the theatre and film world. Also, without him America would still play the censored version of Shakespearian plays until now. He was the one who brought the change in America and saying no to the censored version one because he believed that the originality of Shakespearian plays is what makes a legend not just in the theatre world, but in every aspect in the world.
Edwin Booth, without any doubt is one of the most notable actors in the America and Europe history. A wise man he is, he once said,
"When you are older you will understand how precious little things, seemingly of no value in themselves, can be loved and prized above all price when they convey the love and thoughtfulness of a good heart." (Brainy Quote)
Once his friend / colleague who had a room on the third floor of Edwin Booth's townhouse, Lawrence Barrett also said,
"His life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him that nature might stand up, and say to all the world 'This was a man.'" (The Player's Club NYC)
Looking back at his life and what he has done for us theatrically and historically, Edwin Booth is truly a man.
1. "Biography of Edwin Booth". Spiritus Temporis. December 5, 2010. http://www.spiritus-temporis.com/edwin-booth/
2. "Edwin Booth Quotes". Brainy Quote. December 5, 2010. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/e/edwin_booth.html
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3. "Edwin Booth". Theatre Database. December 5, 2010. http://www.theatredatabase.com/19th_century/edwin_booth_001.html
4. "Edwin Booth". Theatre History. December 5, 2010. http://www.theatrehistory.com/american/booth001.html
5. "Edwin Booth". The Life And Times of Joseph Haworth. December 5, 2010. http://www.josephhaworth.com/edwin_booth.htm
6. "Edwin Booth". The Player's Club NYC. December 5, 2010. http://www.theplayersnyc.org/members/content/view/27/41/