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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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Robert Benchley. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-108029).

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Benchley, Robert (15 September 1889–21 November 1945), humorist, drama critic, and actor, was born Robert Charles Benchley in Worcester, Massachusetts, the son of Charles H. Benchley, the mayor’s clerk, and Maria Jane Moran. After the death of his older brother Edmund in the Spanish-American War, an event that stunned Benchley’s family, Edmund’s fiancée, Lillian Duryea, largely financed Robert’s education. Benchley attended Phillips Exeter Academy, where his bent for satire early revealed itself when his assigned essay on “a practical subject,” embalming, earned an ...

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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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Burnett, Alfred (02 November 1824–04 April 1884), entertainer and journalist, was born in Bungay, Suffolk, England. The names of his parents and other facts about his early life are unknown. In 1828 he was sent to live with an aunt in New York City. After four years of schooling in Utica, New York, he moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1836. He later became proprietor of a confectionery business and by 1860 owned three such establishments....

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

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Burton, William Evans (24 September 1802–10 February 1860), actor and editor, was born in London, England, the son of William George Burton, a printer (maiden name unknown). Hoping his child would become a clergyman, the elder Burton enrolled him at St. Paul’s School, but at the age of eighteen Burton had to withdraw and take charge of his family’s printing business when his father died....

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Buffalo Bill Cody. Courtesy of the Library of Congress (LC-USZ62-111880).

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Cody, William Frederick (26 February 1846–10 January 1917), frontiersman and entertainer, better known as “Buffalo Bill,” was born in Scott County, Iowa, the son of Isaac Cody and Mary Ann Bonsell Laycock. Cody’s father managed several farms and operated a state business in Iowa. In 1854 the family moved to the Salt Creek Valley in Kansas, where Cody’s father received a government contract to provide hay to Fort Leavenworth. After his father died in 1857, Cody went to work as an ox-team driver for fifty cents a day. Shortly thereafter, the firm of Majors and Russell hired him as an express boy. Cody attended school periodically, although his formal education ended in 1859 when he joined a party heading to Denver to search for gold. He prospected for two months without any luck. He arrived back in Kansas in March 1860 after a trapping expedition. He rode for a time for the Pony Express during its short lifetime (Apr. 1860–Nov. 1861). After the start of the Civil War he joined a group of antislavery guerrillas based in Kansas. Later the Ninth Kansas Volunteers hired him as a scout and guide. On 16 February 1864 Cody enlisted into Company F of the Seventh Kansas Volunteer Cavalry. He saw quite a bit of action in Tennessee, Missouri, Arkansas, and Kansas during his one year and seven months of duty. He was mustered out of the army as a private on 29 September 1865....

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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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Field, Kate (01 October 1838–19 May 1896), journalist, actress, and editor, was born Mary Katherine Keemle Field in St. Louis, Missouri, the daughter of Joseph M. Field, an actor, journalist, and theater manager, and Eliza Riddle, an actress. After early schooling in St. Louis, at the age of sixteen Field went to Boston to visit her mother’s sister Cordelia, the wife of a millionaire, Milton L. Sanford. Sanford sent her to Lasell Seminary, Auburndale, Massachusetts (1854–1856), and introduced her to the world of the socially elite....

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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).