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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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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, 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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Daly, Augustin (20 July 1838–07 June 1899), theatrical manager and playwright, was born John Augustin Daly in Plymouth, North Carolina, the son of Captain Denis Daly, a sailor and owner of a lumber business, and Elizabeth Duffey. Captain Daly died when Augustin was only three, and, reduced in circumstances, his mother moved her family, first to Norfolk, Virginia, and then to New York City. There, Augustin and his elder brother Joseph Daly fell under the spell of the theater. The New York City public school he attended could not compete with theatricals for his attention, and his fitful formal education ended at age sixteen. He took a variety of clerkships at local concerns while spending every available moment attending professional productions and staging his own theatricals in his back yard. Unlike most stage-struck individuals, Daly never desired to act; he was always more fascinated by the challenge of producing plays....

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Davenport, Benjamin Butler (1871?–07 April 1958), playwright, actor, and theater manager, was born in New York City, the son of John L. Davenport, a water commissioner, and (probably) Delia Post. He may have been called John at birth. Butler later claimed to have been dedicated to his art from age six, when his mother gave him a toy theater, or from age eight, when he “caught a glimpse” of ...

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Keene, Laura (1820?–04 November 1873), actress, theatrical manager, and playwright, was born in London, England. Nothing is known of her parents or even of her birth name. Much of her early life remains mysterious because she and Joseph A. Donahoe, one of her biographers, made a concerted effort to conceal it. One source reports that at fifteen she began supporting herself tending bar in London and that in 1846, when she was fifteen or sixteen, she married a tavern keeper named John Taylor. After the birth of two daughters and the deportation of Taylor as a convicted criminal, Keene, then in her mid to late twenties, attempted to secure work in the theater. She eventually received an acting position in the company of the fabulous theatrical manager Madame Vestris....

Image

Laurence Langner Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, 1934. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LOT 12735, no. 663 P&P).

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Langner, Lawrence (30 May 1890–26 December 1962), patent agent, playwright, and theatrical producer, was born in Swansea, South Wales, the son of Baruch Bernard Freedman, a businessman, and Cecilia Sarah Langner. (He took his mother’s maiden name.) He attended private schools in Swansea and in Margate, England. After a brief stint as a clerk for a theatrical manager in 1903, he was apprenticed to Wallace Cranston Fairweather, a chartered patent agent in London. Langner passed examinations of the British Chartered Institute of Patent Agents in 1910....

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Smith, William Henry (04 December 1806–17 January 1872), actor and theater manager, was born William Henry Sedley in Montgomreyshire, Wales. The identity of his parents is uncertain, but it is believed he was the son of a British army officer. At the age of fourteen he ran away from home and joined a troupe of itinerant players, using the name Smith onstage thereafter. Smith adapted to the theater quickly and for the next seven years toured the English provinces with several companies. In 1822 he began to appear regularly as a “walking gentleman” (essentially a bit player) at the Theatre Royal in Lancaster. By the 1820s English actors had found in the United States a wealth of theatrical possibilities, and Smith was no exception. After receiving an invitation to appear at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia, he sailed for America in 1827. Smith made his debut that June as Jeremy Diddler in ...

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Wallack, Lester (01 January 1820–06 September 1888), actor, theatrical manager, and playwright, was born John Johnstone Wallack in the New York City, the son of James William Wallack, an actor and manager, and Susan Johnstone. Within only a few weeks of his birth, his parents took him to England, where he was reared and educated. He made his acting debut when he was only ten at the Baron House Academy in Surrey, where he read a speech from John Home’s ...