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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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Aldrich, Richard (17 August 1902–31 March 1986), theatrical producer, manager, and author, was born in Boston, Massachusetts, the son of Edward Irving Aldrich, a rubber company executive, and Mary Pickering Joy. Both parents were members of wealthy, prominent New England families. Aldrich in childhood formed a lifelong love of the theater, which he fostered in school productions and summer student performances. He did further stage work while he attended Harvard College, both with a touring student group called the Jitney Players during summers and with the Harvard Dramatic Club, which he served as president. Though tall and well-featured, Aldrich consistently preferred to work behind the scenes as producer and business manager rather than to perform on stage. He completed his education at Harvard in 1925....

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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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Baker, Benjamin Archibald (04 April 1818–06 September 1890), playwright and theater manager, was born in New York City. Little about Baker’s early life is known; rumor has it that he ran away from home, arriving in New Orleans as a harness maker, later repairing cavalry gear for ...

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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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Belasco, David (25 July 1853–14 May 1931), playwright and director, was born in San Francisco. His Portuguese Jewish parents, Humphrey Abraham Belasco and Reina Martin, were émigrés from England, where his father had been a harlequin in pantomimes. In North America his parents become shopkeepers. Raised in Victoria, British Columbia, Belasco claimed to have been educated at a monastery but actually attended the Colonial School and the Anglican Collegiate School. As a child he acted professionally, including portraying the Duke of York during Charles Kean’s farewell tour of ...

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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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Bernstein, Aline Frankau (22 December 1880–07 September 1955), set and costume designer and author, was born in New York City, the daughter of Joseph Frankau, an actor, and Rebecca Goldsmith. Joseph Frankau, who was of German-Jewish ancestry, first named his daughter Hazel, but her mother changed it to Aline. Educated in the New York public schools and raised in the theater, as a child Aline wanted to be an actress, but her father encouraged her talent for drawing instead. After the early deaths of her parents (both had died by 1897), Aline became the ward of her aunt, Rachel, a drug addict. She attended Hunter College as a student of fine art. Tom Watson, a family friend and a member of the board of directors of the New York School of Applied Design, arranged for her to study drawing on scholarship at the school. She later studied portrait painting with ...

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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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Brackett, Charles William (26 November 1892–09 March 1969), writer and motion-picture producer, was born in Saratoga Springs, New York, the son of Edgar Truman Brackett, a lawyer and state legislator, and Mary Emma Corliss. For a time, he seemed destined to follow in his father’s footsteps as a prominent lawyer in Saratoga Springs. Brackett did, indeed, pursue such a career in his college studies, first taking a B.A. from Williams College in 1915 and then receiving an LL.B. from Harvard Law School in 1920. While at Harvard, Brackett interrupted his studies in 1917 to serve in World War I, positioned in St. Nazaire, France, as a second lieutenant in the American Expeditionary Forces and serving as vice-consul and assistant liaison officer to the French general. His efforts were acknowledged with the awarding of the Medaille d’Honneur en Argent....

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Brecht, Bertolt (10 February 1898–14 August 1956), author, theatrical director, and dramatic theorist, was born Eugen Berthold Friedrich Brecht in Augsburg, Germany, the son of Berthold Friedrich Brecht, a manager of a paper mill, and Sofie Brezing. In 1917 Brecht left the comfort of his respectable provincial family in the Bavarian town of Augsburg, some forty miles northwest of Munich, to enter medical studies at Munich University. After serving as a medical orderly in the Venereal Diseases Ward of the Augsburg Military Hospital during 1918, Brecht briefly resumed his medical studies. His growing interest in theater, however, caused him to leave Munich University in 1921 without receiving a degree....

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Broadhurst, George Howells (03 June 1866–31 January 1952), playwright and producer, was born in Walsall, England. His parents hoped that he would enter the clergy, especially after the local bishop presented him with an award for his theological knowledge. To avoid a clerical life, he ran away to America, probably in 1886. He settled in Chicago and obtained work as a clerk at the Board of Trade. Subsequently he moved to Milwaukee, where he had been offered the job of managing a theater. Similar assignments followed in Baltimore and in San Francisco. He then spent a while as a journalist, serving briefly as editor of a newspaper in Grand Forks, North Dakota....

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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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Brown, William Alexander (fl. 1817–1823), theater manager and playwright, was born in the West Indies, probably on St. Vincent, before 1780. Little is known about Brown’s early life. He worked for some years as steward on passenger ships, then left the sea and settled in New York City, where he worked as a tailor. The 1820 census shows him as a middle-aged free black man, living on Thomas Street with his wife and daughter. At about this time he opened a public garden in the grounds behind the house in which he lived on Thomas Street, between West Broadway and Hudson Street. This was a sort of open-air cabaret, offering light refreshments and music. The “African Grove,” as he called it, served the city’s African-American population, which was excluded from the other, larger public gardens in the city....

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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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Burnside, R. H. (13 August 1870–14 September 1952), director, producer, and playwright, was born Robert Hubber Thorne Burnside in Glasgow, Scotland. His father, unnamed in biographical sources, was the manager of Glasgow’s Gaiety Theatre; his mother was Margaret or Marguerite (maiden name unknown), an actress. Burnside’s first name is sometimes given in biographical sources as “Richard,” a mistake that arose because he invariably went by his initials “R. H.” (or his nicknames “Burny” and “Zipp”) and made a point of keeping his given names secret. As a child, Burnside traveled on theatrical tours with his mother. His formal education was sketchy and ended early after he performed, costumed as a dog, in the musical burlesque ...

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