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


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Birth of Actor Charles John Kean

charles-john-keanCharles John Kean, Irish actor and son of actor Edmund Kean, is born in Waterford, County Waterford on January 18, 1811.

After preparatory education at Worplesdon and at Greenford, near Harrow, Kean is sent to Eton College, where he remains for three years. In 1827, he is offered a cadetship in the East India Company‘s service, which he is prepared to accept if his father would settle an income of £400 on his mother. The elder Kean refuses to do this, so he determines to become an actor. He makes his first appearance at Drury Lane on October 1, 1827 as Norval in John Home‘s Douglas, but his continued failure to achieve popularity leads him to leave London in the spring of 1828 for the provinces. In Glasgow, on October 1 of that year, father and son act together in Arnold Payne’s Brutus, the elder Kean in the title role and his son as Titus.

After a visit to the United States in 1830, where he is received with much favour, Kean appears in 1833 at Covent Garden as “Sir Edmund Mortimer” in George Colman‘s The Iron Chest, but his success is not pronounced enough to encourage him to remain in London, especially as he has already won a high position in the provinces. In January 1838, however, he returns to Drury Lane, and plays Hamlet with a success which gives him a place among the principal tragedians of his time. He marries the actress Ellen Tree (1805-1880) on January 25, 1842, and pays a second visit to the United States with her from 1845 to 1847.

Returning to England, Kean enters on a successful engagement at the Haymarket Theatre, and in 1850, with Robert Keeley, becomes lessee of the Princess’s Theatre, London. The most noteworthy feature of his management is a series of gorgeous Shakespearean revivals that aim for “authenticity.” He also mentors the young Ellen Terry in juvenile roles. In melodramatic parts such as the king in Dion Boucicault‘s adaptation of Casimir Delavigne‘s Louis XI, and Louis and Fabian dei Franchi in Boucicault’s adaptation of Alexandre Dumas‘s The Corsican Brothers, his success is complete. In 1854 the writer Charles Reade creates a play The Courier of Lyons for Kean to appear in, which becomes one of the most popular plays of the Victorian era.

From his “tour round the world” Kean returns to England in 1866 in broken health, and dies at the age of 57 in London on January 22, 1868. He is buried in All Saints Churchyard, Catherington, East Hampshire district, Hampshire.


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Birth of Dion Boucicault, Playwright & Actor

dionysius-boucicaultDionysius Lardner “Dion” Boucicault, Irish American playwright and actor and a major influence on the form and content of American drama, is born in Dublin on December 26, 1820.

Educated in England, Boucicault begins acting in 1837 and in 1840 submits his first play to Lucia Elizabeth Vestris at Covent Garden, however it is rejected. His second play, London Assurance (1841), which foreshadows the modern social drama, is a huge success and is frequently revived into the 20th century. Other notable early plays were Old Heads and Young Hearts (1844) and The Corsican Brothers (1852).

In 1853 Boucicault and his second wife, Agnes Robertson, arrive in New York City, where his plays and adaptations are long popular. He leads a movement of playwrights that produces in 1856 the first copyright law for drama in the United States. His play The Poor of New York, based on the panics of 1837 and 1857, has a long run at Wallack’s Theatre in 1857 and is presented elsewhere as, for example, The Poor of Liverpool. The Octoroon (1859) causes a sensation with its implied attack on slavery.

Boucicault and his actress wife join Laura Keene’s theatre in 1860 and begin a series of his popular Irish plays — The Colleen Bawn, or The Brides of Garryowen (1860), Arrah-na-Pogue (1864), The O’Dowd (1873), and The Shaughraun (1874). Returning to London in 1862, he provides Joseph Jefferson with a successful adaptation of Rip Van Winkle (1865). In 1872 he returns to the United States, where he remains, except for a trip to Australia that results in his third marriage (for which he renounced the legitimacy of his second marriage). Among his associates in the 1870s is the young David Belasco. At the time of his death on September 18, 1890 in New York City, he is a poorly paid teacher of acting. He is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Hastings, Westchester County, New York.

About 150 plays are credited to Boucicault, who, as both writer and actor, raises the stage Irishman from caricature to character. To the American drama he brings a careful construction and a keen observation and recording of detail. His concern with social themes prefigures the future development of drama in both Europe and America.

(Pictured: Dionysius Boucicault, taken 1890 or before. Photograph: Harvard Theatre Collection/Wikimedia Commons)