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Aarons, Alfred E. (16 November 1865–16 November 1936), theatrical manager and producer, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Aaron Aarons, a clothier, and Elizabeth (maiden name unknown). Educated in Philadelphia public schools, at age fifteen he began working in the box office of the Central Theater. After several other theatrical jobs, Aarons established a dramatic and vaudeville agency in Philadelphia; he opened an office in New York City after moving there in 1890. There in the same year he married Josephine Hall, an actress. They had three children....

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Abbey, Henry Eugene (27 June 1846–17 October 1896), theatrical and operatic manager and impresario, was born in Akron, Ohio, the son of Henry Stephen Abbey, a clockmaker and partner in a jewelry business, and Elizabeth Smith. After graduating with honors from Akron High School, where he showed a keen interest in music, Abbey worked in his father’s jewelry store until he launched his artistic management career in 1869 at the Sumner Opera House in Akron. In 1871 he became manager of the newly opened Akron Academy of Music, where he stayed for one season before moving to work first at John Ellsler’s Euclid Avenue Opera House in Cleveland and then as treasurer of the Ellsler Opera House in Pittsburgh. While still in Akron, Abbey and Ellsler managed the tours of the singing and dancing Worrell Sisters, ...

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Albee, E. F. (08 October 1857–11 March 1930), vaudeville manager, was born Edward Franklin Albee in Machias, Maine, the son of Nathan S. Albee, a shipbuilder, and Amanda Crocker. When Albee was four years old, he moved with his family to Boston. As a child he sold newspapers, and he left school at an early age to become a cash boy at a Boston store. After seeing a performance of ...

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Aldrich, Richard (17 August 1902–31 March 1986), theatrical producer, manager, and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Edward Irving Aldrich, a rubber company executive, and Mary Pickering Joy. Both parents were members of wealthy, prominent New England families. Aldrich in childhood formed a lifelong love of the theater, which he fostered in school productions and summer student performances. He did further stage work while he attended Harvard College, both with a touring student group called the Jitney Players during summers and with the Harvard Dramatic Club, which he served as president. Though tall and well-featured, Aldrich consistently preferred to work behind the scenes as producer and business manager rather than to perform on stage. He completed his education at Harvard in 1925....

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Ames, Winthrop (25 November 1870–03 November 1937), theatrical producer and theater owner, was born in North Easton, Massachusetts, the son of Oakes Angier Ames, a manufacturer, and Catherine Hobart. The Ames family was wealthy and socially prominent. Ames concluded his education at Harvard with a postgraduate year of dramatic studies. He had long been interested in the theater but, because of family opposition to a career in that field, he joined a Boston publishing firm, for which he founded two monthly magazines, ...

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Aronson, Rudolph (08 April 1856–04 February 1919), theatrical impresario and composer, was born in New York City to German immigrant parents (names and occupations unknown). When he was six, his music-loving parents arranged for him to have instruction on the piano. Recognizing in Aronson a definite musical precocity, his teacher, Leopold Meyer, persuaded Aronson’s parents to allow the child to be trained for a musical career and introduced Aronson to the violin and the theory of music. At age fourteen Aronson attended a concert featuring musical stars under the direction of ...

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Baker, Benjamin Archibald (04 April 1818–06 September 1890), playwright and theater manager, was born in New York City. Little about Baker’s early life is known; rumor has it that he ran away from home, arriving in New Orleans as a harness maker, later repairing cavalry gear for ...

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Barrett, George Horton (09 June 1794–05 September 1860), actor and theatrical manager, was born in Exeter, England, the son of Giles Leonard Barrett, a popular provincial actor, and a highly esteemed tragic actress widely known in London by her professional name, “Mrs. Rivers.” Barrett’s father immigrated in 1796 to the United States, where after a moderately successful acting career he became manager of the Federal Street Theatre in Washington, D.C. It is believed that Barrett made his first appearance on stage in 1798 as one of the children in ...

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Barrett, Lawrence (04 April 1838–20 March 1891), actor, manager, and sometime theater historian, was born in Paterson, New Jersey, the son of an indigent Irish-born tailor whose name is variously reported as Thomas Barrett and Thomas Brannigan, though Lawrence insisted on the former. His authorized biography records only his mother’s first name (Agnes), further indication of difficult early years. By the age of ten he had left home for employment in the linens department of a dry goods store in Detroit. Entirely self-educated, he was an avid reader of Shakespeare and at age fifteen turned to the stage as a career, his first role being that of Murad in ...

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Barry, Thomas (27 July 1798–11 February 1876), actor and stage manager, was born in England. Nothing else is known about his birth, parentage, childhood, or education. He made his first appearance in the United States on 16 December 1826 at the Park Theatre, New York City, in the title role in August von Kotzebue’s ...

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Beck, Martin (31 August 1865–16 November 1940), vaudeville manager, was born in German Czechoslovakia. Little is known of his early years. At about the age of eighteen he immigrated to the United States as part of a troupe of European actors. Beck’s first theatrical experience was as a German actor, appearing at the Thalia Theater in New York and later with the Waldamer Stock Company in St. Louis. The group was not successful in America and soon broke up. Having no means of livelihood, Beck turned to any form of endeavor that would enable him to survive. After working at a number of menial jobs he turned up in Chicago as a waiter in a music hall where he also served as part-time bartender, earning the nickname “Two Beers Beck.” The year was 1893, and the World’s Fair was in full swing. Beck’s previous theatrical experience came in handy, and he soon found work as a part-time stage manager. Other jobs followed, and he quickly rose to the position of house manager and then bookkeeper....

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Bingham, Amelia (20 March 1869–01 September 1927), actress and theatrical manager, was born in Hicksville, Ohio, the daughter of John B. Smiley and Marie Schwille, owners of the town’s only boardinghouse, which was frequented by touring theatrical companies. In the summer of 1887, at home from studies at Ohio Wesleyan College, Amelia acted in an amateur theatrical production, which was observed by Lloyd Bingham, the manager of a theatrical company. He persuaded her not only to join his company but to marry him that fall. She began to learn the ropes by taking small parts in his company, but her first real experience came in the early 1890s, when she joined the McKee Rankin Company and toured the Pacific Coast, accompanied by her husband, who was now serving as her personal manager. Here she gained confidence as an actress, playing successively larger and more important roles. She matured into an imposing, self-assured actress, popular with audiences, and appeared to be on her way to stardom....

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Blake, William Rufus (1805–22 April 1863), actor and theater manager, was born in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada. Little is known of his parents except that his father was a descendant of the Blakes of Galway, Ireland. His father died when he was young; his mother apparently saw to his education, intending that he would either enter the mercantile trade or, as one obituary suggests, become a doctor or surgeon. When Blake was seventeen he attended a performance given by a strolling theater company visiting Halifax, and he decided to pursue a career in the theater. His first stage role was as the prince of Wales in ...

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Bonstelle, Jessie (19 November 1871–14 October 1932), actress and director-manager, was born Laura Justine Bonesteele, in Greece, New York, the daughter of Joseph Frederick Bonesteele, an attorney turned farmer, and Helen Louisa Norton. Justine was called “Jessie” by her family and early in her career chose Bonstelle as her stage name. Under her mother’s tutelage, she was trained in theatrical skills as a toddler and was frequently taken to the theater in Rochester, New York....

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Edwin Booth. As Hamlet. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZC4-4701).

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Booth, Edwin Thomas (13 November 1833–07 June 1893), actor and theatrical manager, was born near Bel Air, Maryland, the son of Junius Brutus Booth, an actor, and Mary Ann Holmes. Edwin’s formal education ended at age thirteen, when he began to accompany his father on theatrical tours. The elder Booth, a brilliant actor but an alcoholic, attempted to discourage his children from entering the theatrical profession (he advised Edwin to become a cabinetmaker), but Edwin gained an invaluable theatrical education while accompanying his father. Although Edwin had appeared at age fourteen on a Baltimore stage, he considered his first real performance to be in 1849 as Tressel in ...

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Boucicault, Dion (27 December 1820–18 September 1890), dramatist, actor, and man of the theater, was born Dionysius Lardner Boursicault in Dublin, Ireland, possibly the illegitimate son of the Reverend Dr. Dionysius Lardner and Anna “Anne” Maria Darley, the wife of Samuel Smith Boursiquot, a wine merchant. After desultory schooling, supported by Lardner, at age fifteen he wrote his first play. He began work as a peripatetic actor in 1838 under the pseudonym of Lee Moreton, alternately adulated and attacked by critics, his strong Irish brogue by turns an asset and a liability. By 1839 his first play for the professional stage, ...

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Brown, Gilmor (16 June 1886–10 January 1960), actor, director, and theater manager, was born George Gilmor Brown on a ranch and farm twelve miles outside New Salem, North Dakota, the son of Orville A. Brown and Emma Louise Gilmor. The seeds of Brown’s very active and fertile imagination seem to have been rooted in the loneliness and rural isolation of his early childhood. When he was six, however, the family moved to Denver, Colorado, where Brown began formal schooling and finally could socialize. There he became interested in theater. His father, who had wanted to become an actor but was not permitted to by his family, sometimes took him to vaudeville shows. When Brown was about eight, his mother encouraged and assisted him in forming his own theatrical company of neighborhood children dubbed the Tuxedo Stock Company. They performed their own plays, mostly tragedies and melodramas written by Brown. Brown worked with the troupe into his early teenage years. Despite his youth and lack of any theatrical training, his dedication and skill as a director impressed many, including Denver journalists. His efforts also attracted the attention of the pastor of St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, who encouraged his interest in drama and invited Brown to participate in a summer camp in the Colorado Rockies. Brown founded a theater at the camp, staging Greek tragedies and classical drama outdoors in a magnificent alpine setting. Brown and others continued to mount such alfresco productions in the years that followed....

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Brown, William Alexander (fl. 1817–1823), theater manager and playwright, was born in the West Indies, probably on St. Vincent, before 1780. Little is known about Brown’s early life. He worked for some years as steward on passenger ships, then left the sea and settled in New York City, where he worked as a tailor. The 1820 census shows him as a middle-aged free black man, living on Thomas Street with his wife and daughter. At about this time he opened a public garden in the grounds behind the house in which he lived on Thomas Street, between West Broadway and Hudson Street. This was a sort of open-air cabaret, offering light refreshments and music. The “African Grove,” as he called it, served the city’s African-American population, which was excluded from the other, larger public gardens in the city....

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William Evans Burton. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-90336).