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Aiken, George L. (19 December 1830–27 April 1876), actor and playwright, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Lemuel G. Aiken, an actor, and Susan A. Wyatt. His “first remembrance [was] of a theater,” and it was not long before his services were enlisted in children’s roles at Boston’s Tremont Theatre. Douglas Jerrold’s ...

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Bacon, Frank (16 January 1864–19 November 1922), actor and author, was born in Marysville, California, the son of Lyddell Bacon, a rancher, and Lehella Jane McGrew. A few years after Frank’s birth, the family moved to San Jose, California. Bacon received little formal education and by the age of fourteen had left school to work in a photography studio. Until his early twenties, Bacon was intermittently employed as a photographer, a newspaper advertising solicitor, and a journalist. He started newspapers in Mountain View and Mayfield, California, and was for a time co-owner of the Napa ...

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Barnes, Charlotte Mary Sanford (1818–14 April 1863), playwright and actress, was born in New York City, the daughter of John Barnes and Mary Greenhill, British actors who achieved success on the New York stage as early as 1816. At age three Charlotte appeared on stage in her mother’s arms in ...

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Barrymore, Maurice (21 September 1849–25 March 1905), actor-playwright, was born Herbert Arthur Chamberlayne Hunter Blyth in Amritsar, India, the son of William Edward Blyth, a deputy commissioner, and Charlotte Matilda de Tankerville. At age ten, following the tradition of prominent Anglo-Indians, Herbert sailed for England to prepare for a direct appointment to the East India Company’s service. Bright, spirited, athletic, and strikingly handsome, he opted instead for the less restrictive pleasures of London, becoming, to the horror of his proper Victorian family, the middleweight boxing champion of England in 1872. That same year, going from bad to untenable in the estimate of his relatives, he made his acting debut on 1 April at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, as Cool in ...

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Bernard, John (1756–29 November 1828), actor and playwright, was born in Portsmouth, England, the son of John Bernard, a naval lieutenant, and Ann (maiden name unknown). From childhood, Bernard was fascinated with the stage. After seeing a play in London when he was seventeen, he ran away from home to join what he calls in his autobiography “a band of dramatic desperadoes.” By the time he was in his mid-twenties, he had worked his way through the theatrical ranks in touring and small resident companies to become a popular low-comedy actor in London’s Covent Garden Theater company. His repertoire, much of which would stand him in good stead for the rest of his life, included parts 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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Brougham, John (09 May 1810–07 June 1880), actor and playwright, was born in Dublin, Ireland, of Irish and French Huguenot parentage. Schooled at Trinity College, University of Dublin, he participated in amateur theatricals during his university years and attended productions by touring companies in Dublin....

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Denham, Reginald (10 January 1894–04 February 1983), director, playwright, and actor, was born in London, England, the son of Harry Barton Denham, a government civil servant, and Emily Constance Chapman, a music teacher. He attended the City of London School from 1904 until 1911 and then studied music and singing with Cairns James at the Guildhall School of Music in 1913. He made his stage debut in 1913 as a walk-on in ...

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Ditrichstein, Leo (06 January 1865–28 June 1928), actor and playwright, was born Leo James Ditrichstein in Tamesvar, Hungary, the son of Count Sigismond Ladislav Ditrichstein and Bertha von Etvoes, daughter of the renowned Austrian novelist Joseph von Etvoes. Ditrichstein apprenticed in Berlin and performed at the Royal Theater in Hamburg, where, because of his acting skills, he became the company’s leading actor. In 1890, at the request of Gustav Amberg, who hired German-speaking actors, Ditrichstein immigrated to the United States. He first appeared in German plays at the Amberg Theatre in New York while he studied English. After three years he had acquired fluency in English (although he spoke with a noticeable accent throughout his acting career), and he signed with ...

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Donnelly, Dorothy Agnes (28 January 1880–03 January 1928), actress, playwright, and librettist, was born in New York City, the daughter of Thomas L. Donnelly, a theatrical manager, and Sarah Williams, an actress. After the early death of her father, Donnelly was raised in the home of her uncle Fred Williams, stage director for ...

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Field, Joseph M. (1810–28 January 1856), actor, playwright, and humorist, was born in Dublin, Ireland, the son of Matthew Field, a Catholic publisher; his mother’s name is unknown. When he was two, his family arrived in Baltimore, Maryland, and then moved to New York City. Field made his acting debut in 1827 at Boston’s Tremont Theatre in the fall of 1827. During the 1829–1830 season Field made his first New York appearance at the Park Theatre. He played Pierre in ...

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Minnie Maddern Fiske In the role of Becky Sharp. Photograph by Arnold Genthe, c. 1910. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-G4085- 0413 P&P).

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Fiske, Minnie Maddern (19 December 1864?–15 February 1932), actress, playwright, and director, was born Marie Augusta Davey in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Thomas Davey, an actor-manager, and Minnie Maddern, a musician and actress. As an infant she performed during the entr’actes in her parents’ company. Her dramatic debut occurred at the age of three, as the duke of York in ...

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William Gillette Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-92304).

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Gillette, William Hooker (24 July 1853–29 April 1937), actor and playwright, was born in Hartford, Connecticut, the youngest of six children of Francis Gillette, a politician who once filled out an interim term as a U.S. senator, and Elizabeth Daggett Hooker. He early displayed histrionic abilities and was a leading orator in high school. Some uncertainty exists about his subsequent education. He claimed at one time or another to have studied at numerous colleges and universities, including Yale, Harvard, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Boston University, and the City College of New York, but records show he was graduated from none of these. In his later years he did receive several honorary degrees, however, including one from Yale....

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Harrigan, Ned (26 October 1844–06 June 1911), playwright and actor, was born on the Lower East Side of New York City, the son of William Harrigan, a sea captain and ship caulker, and Helen Rogers. Ned Harrigan, born Edward, left public school at fourteen, served a while as printer’s devil, and then apprentice ship caulker until he was eighteen. As a boy he learned much of minstrel stage business and old songs from his mother, who also taught him to play the banjo. And he saw minstrel shows, burlesques, Irish farces, and especially ...

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Herne, James A. (01 February 1839–02 June 1901), actor and playwright, was born James A’Herne in Cohoes, New York, the son of Patrick A’Herne and Ann Temple, Irish immigrants. At age thirteen James was put to work in the hardware store that employed his father, and later he worked in a brush factory. In 1859, after a stint with the barnstorming Coney and Webb Company, who produced “dog dramas” starring well-trained canines, he was hired by Troy’s Adelphi Theater, playing in ...

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Hodge, William Thomas (01 November 1874–30 January 1932), actor and playwright, was born in Albion, New York, the son of Thomas Hodge, a businessman and real estate agent, and Mary Anderson. He began his education in the Albion public schools and continued in the public schools of Rochester, New York, after his family moved there early in his childhood. In 1891, at the age of seventeen, he ran away from home determined to go on the stage. He began his career as a property man for the Hill Repertoire Company, which was managed by his brother Joseph. During his stay with this company and all through his apprentice years he gained experience in virtually all aspects of the theater, becoming a member of a number of lesser touring companies that frequented the small towns in New York. These early days also found him performing with companies in Canada and appearing in vaudeville in Chicago, Illinois....

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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....

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Kennedy, Charles Rann (14 February 1871–16 February 1950), playwright, actor, and producer, was born in Derby, England, the son of Edmund Hall Kennedy and Annie Leng Fawcett. He was the grandson and namesake of a famous Greek scholar and English barrister who was best known for his translations of Demosthenes’ orations. Educated at College School in Saltley of Birmingham, Kennedy initially intended to enter the Anglican priesthood but at the age of thirteen changed his mind and entered business as a clerk. At sixteen he began to write short stories, poetry, articles, and drama, became a lecturer, and cultivated a talent and desire for acting....