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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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William Stephenson

Blinn, Holbrook (23 January 1872–24 June 1928), actor, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Charles H. Blinn, a surveyor and customshouse inspector, and Nellie Holbrook, an actress and dramatic coach. After one year at Stanford University (1891–1892), Blinn attained a small role in a West Coast production of ...

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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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Booth, John Wilkes (10 May 1838–26 April 1865), actor and assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, actor and assassin of President Abraham Lincoln, was born near Bel Air in Harford County, Maryland, the son of Junius Brutus Booth, an actor, and Mary Ann Holmes. His grandfather, Richard Booth, named him after John Wilkes, the British reformer. As a child Booth dabbled in acting, as did some of his brothers and several neighborhood boys, both at the Booth country home, “Tudor Hall,” and at their town house in Baltimore. Booth’s father actively discouraged his children from entering the theatrical profession, but he toured extensively and died on the road when John was only fourteen....

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Booth, Junius Brutus (01 May 1796–30 November 1852), actor, was born in London, England, the son of Richard Booth, a lawyer, and Elizabeth Game, who named him after the Roman patriot Lucius Junius Brutus. Booth sampled several professions—printing, law, the navy—as a young man, but in 1813 he attended a performance of ...

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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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Chanfrau, Frank (22 February 1824–02 October 1884), actor, was born Francis S. Chanfrau in New York City, the son of a French naval officer who settled in New York as an eating house proprietor, and Mehitable Trenchard. It is not insignificant that Chanfrau grew up in a tenement known as “The Old Tree House” at the corner of the Bowery and Pell Street, for it was Bowery life that inspired one of his greatest stage successes and the Bowery Theatre that launched his professional career....

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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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Davidge, William Pleater (17 April 1814–07 August 1888), actor, was born near Ludgate Hill, London, England. Little information has survived about his childhood and education; his parents’ names are not known, but he described his father as a merchant. As a child Davidge became involved with amateur dramatics and chose the theater for his life’s work. In his youth he played the minor role of James in ...

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Duncan, Augustin (17 April 1873–20 February 1954), actor and producer, was born in San Francisco, California, the son of Joseph Charles Duncan, a businessman and art dealer, and Mary Isadora Gray. His sister Isadora Duncan became a famous dancer. Educated in the public schools of San Francisco and Oakland, California, Duncan later studied art and painting at the San Francisco Art Association. Encouraged by his mother, Duncan decided to pursue a career as an actor; he began his training at home—his mother taught him dancing, music, and fencing—and studied elocution. At the age of fourteen, Duncan and his brother Raymond made a makeshift stage in a stable and put on ...

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Forrest, Edwin (09 March 1806–12 December 1872), first American-born star of the U.S. stage, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of William Forrest, a Scottish-American bank messenger, and Rebecca Lauman. His father recognized Edwin’s interest in oratory and provided him with elocution lessons. Edwin left school and took a series of odd jobs after his father’s death in 1819. During his teen years, Edwin practiced acrobatic feats to train his weak body (a regimen he enhanced and continued throughout his life) and performed with an amateur thespian society. He made his stage debut as Young Norval, a conventional vehicle for aspiring juveniles, in 1820 at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre. Accorded generous notices in the press, Forrest played a few minor roles for managers William Warren and ...

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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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Gilpin, Charles Sidney (20 November 1878–06 May 1930), actor, was born in Richmond, Virginia, the son of Peter Gilpin, a laborer in a steel-rolling mill, and Caroline White, a nurse in the Richmond City Hospital. Gilpin attended St. Francis School for black children, where Sister Jerome inspired him to seek a stage career by training and encouraging him in amateur theatricals. However, at the age of twelve, he went to work as a printer’s devil (apprentice) for the ...

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Hackett, James Henry (15 March 1800–28 December 1871), actor, was born in New York City, the son of Thomas C. Hackett, a lieutenant in the Life Guards of the Prince of Orange when he migrated to New York in 1799. The name of his mother, the daughter of the Reverend Abraham Keteltas of Jamaica, Long Island, is unknown. Hackett was three when his father died, and he was brought up by his mother. Her close touch with wealthy Knickerbocker families, both in New York City and upstate, gave him a solid start in life. He attended school first at Union Hall Academy in New York City and then, at age fifteen, for one year at Columbia College. He dropped out after a serious illness and began reading law with General Robert Bogardus. But Hackett was soon enticed into the profitable grocery business, an activity that took him in 1820 to the thriving upstate town of Utica, New York, to run a business on his own. Along with him came Catharine Lee Sugg, an actress at the Park Theatre, whom he had married the previous year; the couple had one child. Though his enterprise failed, Hackett learned a good deal about the townspeople and particularly about the New England Yankees trading in the area. This background led him into a career of developing and acting native folk characters when he went on the stage in 1826....

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Hamblin, Thomas Sowerby (14 May 1800–08 January 1853), actor and theater manager, was born in London, England. After a schoolboy performance of the role of Hamlet enticed him away from a business career, Hamblin’s first professional theatrical engagement was at the Adelphi Theatre in London as a ballet dancer before 1815. Between 1815 and 1823 Hamblin gained prominence playing a variety of roles at numerous theaters, including Sadler’s Wells and Drury Lane, as well as theaters in Bath, Brighton, Dublin, and Sheffield. During this period he married Elizabeth Blanchard, a well-known actress and the daughter of eminent London actor and playwright E. L. Blanchard....

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Hopper, DeWolf (30 March 1858–23 September 1935), actor and singer, was born William D’Wolf Hopper in New York City, the son of John Hopper, a lawyer, and Rosalie D’Wolf. The family lived on East Third Street right off the Bowery and later moved to West Forty-third Street. His paternal grandfather, John Tatum Hopper, was a Quaker and a conductor of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, who was disciplined by the Quaker Meeting for his participation in the Civil War. Hopper was six when his father died, leaving him and his mother comfortably well off. He studied at J. H. Morse’s School. Early on he showed a propensity for the theatrical. As a school boy he mastered the “Senator Dilworthy” monologue, and when he was fifteen he played in a Sunday school production of ...

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Jefferson, Joseph, III (20 February 1829–23 April 1905), actor, was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the son of Joseph Jefferson II and Cornelia Frances Thomas Burke, both actors. Jefferson grew up in one of America’s most distinguished theatrical families. His grandfather, Joseph Jefferson I...

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Mansfield, Richard (24 May 1854–30 August 1907), actor, was born in Berlin, Germany, the son of Maurice Mansfield, an English wine merchant who died when Richard was five, and Erminia Rudersdorff, an accomplished opera singer. Mansfield’s mother’s domineering tendencies led to a stormy relationship with her son. However, his difficult childhood and adolescence was partially offset by the cultural enrichment of travels through Europe, the kindness of his headmaster at Derby School, and the musical training provided by his mother....

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Miller, Henry (01 February 1859–09 April 1926), actor, manager, and director, was born John Henry Miller in London, England, the son of John Miller, a railroad contractor, and Sophia Newton. In 1873 the family relocated to Toronto, Canada, where Miller spent his adolescent years. Infected from an early age with the theatrical virus, the young Henry studied elocution in Toronto with the American actor ...

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Oland, Warner (03 October 1880–06 August 1938), movie actor, was born Jonah Werner Ölund in Umea, Vesterbötten, Sweden. His father, Jonas Ölund, was Swedish; his mother, Maria (maiden name unknown), Russian. When he was thirteen, his family immigrated to the United States and settled on a farm in Connecticut. After graduating from a Boston high school, Oland gave up hoping to become a judge and entered Curry's Dramatic School, where he took voice lessons. He and other Curry students went backstage during a performance of Hall Caine's ...