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Promoting Irish Culture and History from Little Rock, Arkansas, USA


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Birth of John Brougham, Actor & Dramatist

john-broughamJohn Brougham, Irish American actor and dramatist, is born in Dublin on May 9, 1814.

Brougham’s father is an amateur painter, and dies young. His mother is the daughter of a Huguenot, whom political adversity has forced into exile. He is the eldest of three children. Both of his siblings die in youth, and, the father being dead and the widowed mother left penniless, he is reared in the family and home of an uncle.

Brougham is prepared for college at an academy at Trim, County Meath, twenty miles from Dublin, and subsequently is sent to the University of Dublin. There he acquires classical learning, and forms interesting and useful associations and acquaintances. He also becomes interested in private theatricals. He falls in with a crowd that puts on their own shows, cast by drawing parts out of a hat. Though he most always trades off larger roles so he can pay attention to his studies, he takes quite an interest in acting. He is a frequent attendant, moreover, at the Theatre Royal in Hawkins Street.

Brougham is educated with the intention of his becoming a surgeon and walks the Peth Street Hospital for eight months. However, misfortune comes upon his uncle so he is obliged to provide for himself. Before leaving the university he, by chance, becomes acquainted with the actress Lucia Elizabeth Vestris.

Brougham goes to London in 1830 and, after a brief experience of poverty, suddenly determines to become an actor. He is destitute of everything except fine apparel and he has actually taken the extreme step of offering himself as a cadet in the service of the East India Company. But, being dissuaded by the enrolling officer, who lends him a guinea and advises him to seek other employment, and happening to meet with a festive acquaintance, he seeks recreation at the Tottenham Theatre where Madame Vestris is acting.

Brougham’s acquaintance with Madame Vestris leads to him being engaged at the theatre, and he thus makes his first appearance on the London stage in July in Tom and Jerry, in which he plays six characters. In 1831 he is a member of Madame Vestris’s company and writes his first play, a burlesque. He remains with Madame Vestris as long as she and Charles Mathews retain Covent Garden Theatre, and he collaborates with Dion Boucicault in writing London Assurance, the role of Dazzle being one of those with which he becomes associated. His success at small or “low” comic roles such as Dazzle earn him the nickname “Little Johnny Brougham,” a moniker which he embraces and which boosts his popularity with working-class audiences.

In 1840 Brougham manages the Lyceum Theatre, for which he writes several light burlesques, but in 1842 he moves to the United States, where he becomes a member of William Evans Burton‘s company, for which he writes several comedies, including Met-a-mora; or, the Last of the Pollywogs, a parody of John A. Stone and Edwin Forrest’s Metamora; or The Last of the Wamponoags, and Irish Yankee; or, The Birthday of Freedom.

Later Brougham is the manager of Niblo’s Garden, and in 1850 opens Brougham’s Lyceum, which, like his next speculation, the lease of the Bowery Theatre, is not a financial success, despite the popularity of such works as Po-ca-hon-tas; or, The Gentle Savage. He is later connected with James William Wallack‘s and Augustin Daly‘s theatres, and writes plays for both.

In 1860 Brougham returns to London, where he adapts or writes several plays, including The Duke’s Motto for Charles Fechter. In November 1864 he appears at the Theatre Royal in his native Dublin in the first performance of Dion Boucicault’s Arrah-na-Pogue with Boucicault, Samuel Johnson and Samuel Anderson Emery in the cast.

After the American Civil War Brougham returns to New York City. Brougham’s Theatre is opened in 1869 with his comedies Better Late than Never and Much Ado About a Merchant of Venice, but this managerial experience is also a failure due to disagreements with his business partner, James Fisk. He then takes to playing the stock market. His last appearance onstage is in 1879 as “O’Reilly, the detective” in Boucicault’s Rescued.

John Brougham dies in Manhattan on June 7, 1880.

 

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Death of James O’Neill, Irish American Theatre Actor

James O’Neill, Irish American theatre actor and the father of American playwright Eugene O’Neill, dies in New London, Connecticut, on August 11, 1920.

O’Neill is born on November 15, 1847 in County Kilkenny. The family emigrates to the United States and settles in Buffalo, New York. In 1857 they move to Cincinnati, Ohio where James is apprenticed to a machinist.

At the age of 21, he makes his stage debut in a Cincinnati production of Dion Boucicault‘s The Colleen Bawn (1867). Also in 1867, he has a minor part in Edwin Forrest‘s production of Virginius, and then joins a travelling repertory company. By the age of 24 he has already established a reputation among theater managers as a box-office draw, particularly with the ladies. But he is also working doggedly at his craft, ridding himself of all vestiges of brogue and learning to pitch his voice resonantly. He is considered a promising actor, quickly working his way up the ranks to become a matinée idol.

In 1874 O’Neill joins Richard M. Hooley‘s company, and the following year tours San Francisco, Virginia City and Sacramento. He then heads back east to join the Union Square Company.

On June 14, 1877, while in New York City, O’Neill marries Mary Ellen Quinlan, daughter of Thomas and Bridget Quinlan. In the fall of 1877, three months after his marriage, a woman by the name of Nettie Walsh sues O’Neill, claiming that he had married her five years earlier, when she was only 15, and that he is the father of her three-year-old son. Nettie Walsh loses her case and the publicity, although it wounds his bride, enhances his reputation as a romantic leading man.

As early as 1875, while a stock star at Hooley’s Theatre in Chicago, O’Neill plays the title role in a stage adaptation of Alexandre DumasThe Count of Monte Cristo. In early 1883 he takes over the lead role in Monte Cristo at Booth’s Theater in New York, after Charles R. Towne dies suddenly in the wings after his first performance. O’Neill’s interpretation of the part caused a sensation with the theater-going public.

O’Neill soon tires of the Count and his lines come out by rote and his performances become lackadaisical. Monte Cristo remains a popular favorite so he continues the role on tour as regular as clockwork. He goes on to play this role over 6,000 times.

In the middle of 1920 O’Neill is struck by an automobile in New York City and taken to Lawrence+Memorial Hospital in New London, Connecticut. He dies, at the age of 72, on August 11, 1920 of colorectal cancer at the family summer home, the Monte Cristo Cottage, in Connecticut. His funeral at St. Joseph’s Church is attended by, among others, O’Neill’s sister, Mrs. M. Platt of St. Louis and Edward Douglass White, Sr., Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. O’Neill is buried in St. Mary’s cemetery.


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Opening of the Albany New Theatre

theatre-royal-1821The Albany New Theatre opens in Hawkins Street, Dublin, on January 18, 1821.

In 1820, Henry Harris purchases a site in Hawkins Street and builds the 2,000–seat Albany New Theatre on the site at a cost of £50,000. The theatre is designed by architect Samuel Beazley. The construction work is not completed at the time of opening and early audience figures are so low that a number of side seating boxes are boarded up.

In August 1821, George IV attends a performance at the Albany and, as a consequence, a patent is granted. The name of the theatre is changed to the “Theatre Royal” to reflect its status as a patent theatre.

On December 14, 1822, the Bottle Riot occurs during a performance of She Stoops to Conquer attended by the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Marquess Wellesley. Orangemen angered by Wellesley’s conciliation of Catholics jeer him during the national anthem, and a riot ensues after a bottle is thrown at him. Wellesley’s overreaction, including charging three rioters with attempted murder, undermines his own credibility.

In 1830, Harris retires from the theatre and a Mr. Calcraft takes on the lease. The theatre attracts a number of famous performers, including Niccolò Paganini, Jenny Lind, Tyrone Power, and Barry Sullivan. By 1851, the theatre is experiencing financial problems and closes briefly. It reopens in December under John Harris, who had been manager of the rival Queen’s Theatre. The first production under Harris is a play by Dion Boucicault. Boucicault and his wife are to make their first Dublin personal appearances in the Royal in 1861 in his The Colleen Bawn. The first performance of Boucicault’s play Arrah-na-Pogue is held at the theatre in 1864, with Boucicault, Samuel Johnson, John Brougham, and Samuel Anderson Emery in the cast.

The theatre burns to the ground on February 9, 1880.


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Birth of Gerald Griffin, Novelist & Playwright

gerald-griffinGerald Griffin, Irish novelist, poet, and playwright, born in Limerick on December 12, 1803.

Griffin is the twelfth of the fifteen surviving children in his family. His father, Patrick Griffin, is a brewery farmer, and his mother, Ellen Griffin, of the ancient Gaelic family of the O’Briens, is very cultivated and much interested in literature.

Griffin goes to London in 1823 and becomes a reporter for one of the daily papers. He later turns to writing fiction. One of his most famous works is The Collegians, a novel based on a trial he has reported on, that of John Scanlan, a Protestant Anglo-Irish man who murdered Ellen Hanley, a young Irish Catholic girl. The novel is adapted to the stage as The Colleen Bawn, by Dion Boucicault.

In September 1838, Griffin informs his family of his intention of joining the Congregation of Christian Brothers. He enters the novitiate at North Richmond Street, Dublin, on September 8. He embarks on his new career with intense dedication, abandoning his literary work entirely. He is then admitted to the religious habit on the feast of St. Theresa and embarks on a two-year novitiate. His distaste for his earlier vocation is allayed to the extent that he is willing to undertake the composition of a few tales of a pious nature, but he is also desperately determined to avoid as much as possible the renewal of old contacts and the reopening of painful associations. Griffin burns most all of his unpublished manuscripts, preserving only a few poems and the tragedy, Gisippus.

Griffin dies at the North Monastery, Cork, from typhus fever on June 12, 1840. He is buried in the community’s graveyard on June 15.

Gerald Griffin has a street named after him in Limerick City and another in Cork City. Loughill/Ballyhahill GAA club in west Limerick plays under the name of Gerald Griffins.