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Adams, Maude (11 November 1872–17 July 1953), actress, was born Maude Ewing Kiskadden in Salt Lake City, Utah, the daughter of James Henry Kiskadden, a banker, and Asenath Ann Adams, an actress. Adams’s mother was raised a Mormon but married outside the church. Adams, the only surviving child, was introduced to an audience at nine months and took her first speaking role at the age of five. She used her mother’s maiden name from the outset of her career. She appeared frequently in stock companies with her mother, first in Salt Lake City, then in 1874 in Virginia City, Nevada, in 1875 in San Francisco, and on tours throughout the West. Reports on Adams’s schooling vary, the longest estimate being that she studied from the age of six to sixteen. According to Phyllis Robbins’s biography (informed by Adams’s mother and various other family members and corrected in manuscript by Adams), she had only intermittent schooling before spending her tenth and eleventh years at the Salt Lake City Collegiate Institute under her maternal grandmother’s protection; formal tutoring ended when her father died and Adams was summoned to San Francisco to join her mother. They toured together until 1888, when Adams received her first engagement in a resident New York company. Several years of stock with E. H. Sothern followed before Adams made a success in 1892 in ...

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Elizabeth R. Nelson

Anglin, Margaret (03 April 1876–07 January 1958), actress, was born Mary Margaret Anglin in Ottawa, Canada, the daughter of Timothy Warren Anglin, Speaker of the House of Commons, and Ellen A. McTavish. Born a Roman Catholic, she was educated at the Convent of the Sacred Heart in Montreal until she left school at fifteen to pursue a career as a concert reader. Despite her father’s disapproval, her mother supported her choice and enabled Margaret to go to New York to study elocution when she was seventeen....

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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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Cushman, Charlotte Saunders (23 July 1816–18 February 1876), actress, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Elkanah Cushman, a merchant shipper, and Mary Eliza Babbit. Due to her father’s ill health and financial collapse in 1829, Charlotte was obliged to quit school at age thirteen. Between chores in her mother’s boardinghouse, however, she often accompanied her uncle, Augustus Babbit, to the Tremont Theatre. Though her puritanical parents strongly opposed such pleasures, Charlotte later referred to those evenings watching top English and American actors perform as her real, true education....

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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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Dee, Ruby (27 Oct. 1922–11 June 2014), actor, author, and civil rights activist, was born Ruby Anne Wallace in Cleveland, Ohio, to Edward Nathaniel Wallace, who held various positions with the Pennsylvania Railroad, and Gladys Hightower. When the unstable Gladys left the family, her father married Emma Amelia Benson, a former teacher....

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Douglas, Helen Gahagan (25 November 1900–28 June 1980), actress and politician, was born in Boonton, New Jersey, the daughter of Walter Hamer Gahagan, a civil and contracting engineer, and Lillian Rose Mussen. In 1905 the family moved to an exclusive neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York. Helen’s authoritarian father made all the family decisions; her mother stressed education and the religious values of the Episcopal church. She also had a penchant for the opera and took Helen to every performance of the Metropolitan Opera. As a child Helen often staged dramatic presentations atop her father’s billiard table for siblings and friends. Although bright, she was a poor student and dreamed of being an actress, a career choice neither parent found acceptable....

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Drew, Louisa Lane (10 January 1820–31 August 1897), actress and theater manager, was born in London, England, the daughter of Thomas Frederick Lane and Eliza Trenter (or Trentner), both actors. On stage from infancy, she played numerous children’s parts in regional repertory companies throughout England not only with her parents but also with traveling stars. Her father died when Louisa was five, and two years later she and her mother emigrated to the United States, arriving in New York City on 7 June 1827 after four weeks at sea. She made her American debut at Philadelphia’s Walnut Street Theatre on 26 September 1827 as the Duke of York 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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Duse, Eleonora (03 October 1858–21 April 1924), actress, was born Eleonora Giulia Amalia Duse in Vigevano, Italy, the daughter of Vincenzo Duse and Angelica Cappelletto, members of an itinerant theatrical family. She first appeared on stage at the age of four years. Her abundant gifts were obvious from the start, and when she was fourteen she played Juliet in Shakespeare’s ...

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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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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....