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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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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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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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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 ...