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On the road with Ben DeBar and Lawrence Barrett to the Chestnut Street Theater, Philadelphia

previous: John Nickinson

Ben DeBar   Lawrence Barrett   Chestnut St. Theater   Charlotte Cushman  St Louis 1894

We are still piecing together a chronology of the years prior to 1886, from  New York Clipper obituaries, other newspaper accounts (particularly play reviews), clues in the letters, and other research.

"In that class of roles designated in stage parlance as "leading old women" Mrs. EW [sic] Phillips is the representative actress of the American stage.  She was for some years a member of the famous stock company Ben DeBar [1821-1877  at St. Louis   History of the American Stage 1870

Ben DeBar (1812-1877) had been "stage manager for Noah Ludlow and Sol Smith at the St. Charles Theatre in New Orleans, when they retired in 1843 he assumed management of their  New Orleans  and St. Louis  theatres.  At the outbreak of the Civil War he moved to St. Louis.  He remained active as a performer, touring the  Mississippi River valley as a star every season, and was the most influential manager in the region". [Concise Oxford

He was the stage manager for Noah Ludlow and Sol Smith (uncle of Sol Smith Russell) for their St. Charles Theater in New Orleans and, when they retired in 1843, he assumed ownership of their New Orleans and St. Louis theaters.[1]  Upon the outbreak of the American Civil War, he moved St. Louis, but retained ownership of the St. Charles Theater in New Orleans until 1876.[1 
Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ben_DeBar  Accessed march 17,. 2015

EJP went to Mrs. DeBar's funeral in Philadelphia  Aug. 27, 1894 .

Strang's Players and Plays of the Last Quarter Century, Ben DeBar

[EJ Phillips, from one of her obituaries] went from there [St. Louis]  to New Orleans to play old lady parts at the Varieties Theatre, the leading stock theatre at New Orleans, under the management of Lawrence Barrett. (1838-1891).  

New York Clipper 1869 25 Sept  IN OUR LAST ISSUE appeared only a portion of the company engaged by W. R. Floyd for the season at the Varieties Theatre , New Orleans. We now present a complete list of the same : Mrs. Kate Meek, leading lady; Mrs. T. S. Cllne, Mrs.  E. J. Phillips. Fanny Stocqueier, Florence Stanley, Annie Vaughn, Mrs. C. Jamison, Mrs. R. Maddern. Annie Tyson, Kate Tyson, Maggie Rowe, Oliver B. Doud, Adam Everly, Waller Lennox, J. B. Fuller, C. H. Morton, J. R. Kay, C. H. Thompson. T. S. Cline, Wm. F. Owen, J Gobay, R. J. Browne, E. A. Aitkens, G. Sherman , W. R. Floyd; J. B. Wright, assistant stage manager; R Madden, leader of orchestra; W. C. Steelman, master carpenter; T. Macartby, property man; John H. Connlff, treasurer.

Cincinnati, New Orleans and St. Louis
During the decades of the 1850's and the 1860's the fact is conspicuous that the Missouri river and water communication influenced, if they did not actually dominate, not only the orientation of theatre and other entertainment, but most aspects of the outlook and activities of the inhabitants of the Missouri valley. Until well along in the 1860's most travel necessary to entertainment was dependent upon the river almost as literally as showboats. Whatever the theatrical organization and practices in the East and its large cities, in order to provide continuity and variety along the Missouri river, the resident dramatic company associated with the star system was almost a necessity. Such a combination required the least possible dependence upon mobility, especially during the winter months when the river was closed to navigation. Incidentally, theatre was peculiarly a summer institution outside of the largest cities. The orientation upon New Orleans by way of Cincinnati or by way of St. Louis was based upon long practice interwoven with the multitude of familiar connections and personal relations attendant upon a going concern. ... A study of the New Orleans Theatre of the 1850's and 1860's, both before and after the American Civil War, reveals the major role of that city in relation to the interior river cities, extending to the Missouri river elbow region including Leavenworth. Ben DeBar (1812-1878) came to the United States and New Orleans by way of New York in 1835. Between that date and 1853 when he took over the management of the St. Charles Theatre in New Orleans he had been in both New York and New Orleans. In 1855 he bought a theatre in St. Louis to which he gave his own name. Except for the Civil War period, when the St. Charles was closed, he kept both going, adding in 1873 the Wakefield Opera House to his holdings in St. Louis. ... Even prior to the Civil War the railroads were changing all this, but slowly, because of the momentum of the "going concern," and the reluctance to abandon old and accustomed connections for new and uncertain methods and personalities. Ben DeBar and his enterprises in both St. Louis and New Orleans, continuing after the war as before, were telling examples of persistence of old associations long after railroads had superceded the water navigation which had originally made the cities and his theatrical enterprises in the Mississippi valley possible.

Theater in Kansas 1858-1868, James C. Malin, Kansas Historical Quarterly, Summer 1957  http://www.kshs.org/publicat/khq/1957/57_2_malin.htm      New Orleans  March 1897

In 1871 she "began a three years engagement under the management of  Lawrence Barrett, and next appeared at the Chestnut Street Theatre in  Philadelphia, which was then controlled by FF Mackay

Lawrence Barrett, Strang's Players and Plays, 1902 

Barrett  was "a careful, a painstaking, and a very dependable actor...He was always a student and he never left anything to chance" according to theatre critic William Winter. 
Barrett had interrupted his acting career to enlist in a Massachusetts Regiment during the Civil War, and after it ended he acted with Edwin Booth in New York, went to Philadelphia, to management in New Orleans and to San Francisco.  His best known Shakespearean part became Cassius, and he "did his best to enlarge the restricted scope of the American theatre by the production of new works". Dictionary of American Biography

(1838-1891) In 1858 he was in the repertory company at the 
Boston Museum. He served in the American Civil War as captain in Company B of the 28th Massachusetts Infantry regiment. However, he did not see action in any major battles. From 1867 to 1870, with John McCullough, he managed the California theatre, San Francisco.  Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lawrence_Barrett accessed march 17, 2015

John Dolman Sr. was at the Arch Street Theatre from 1853-1860, when he left acting to become a lawyer, since his wife's family didn't want her to marry an actor.

Charlotte Cushman, Philadelphia, May 1858

Headlined Great Actress of the Age Miss Charlotte Cushman, 
Only Four More Nights as Lady MacBeth and Mr. Dolman playing MacBeth.

A background to Philadelphia history http://www.ushistory.org/philadelphia/index.html 
Philadelphia timelines
1871 http://www.ushistory.org/philadelphia/timeline/1871.htm 

1876 http://www.ushistory.org/philadelphia/timeline/1876.htm    EJ Phillips' Philadelphia

FF Mackay was manager of the Chestnut Street Theatre from 1875-78, along with William Gemmill (c. 1845- 1882 Catalog of Dramatic Portraits) and J. Frederick Scott.  However in 1878 severe internal difficulties began and the Company's previously favorable position (as Philadelphia's only first-class resident company) began to erode. Many of the company's best actors resigned. 

Frank Finley MacKay (1832-1923) photo http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/ggb2005023255/
photo in the Two Orphans 1875 http://digitalcollections.lib.washington.edu/cdm/ref/collection/19thcenturyactors/id/464

EJ Phillips Philadelphia photograph 

Carte de visite FF Mackay, Univ. of Washington Libraries Digital Collection http://content.lib.washington.edu/cgi-bin/viewer.exe?CISOROOT=/19thcenturyactors&CISOPTR=464&CISORESTMP=/site-templates/search_results-sub.html&CISOVIEWTMP=/site-templates/item_viewer.html&CISOMODE=thumb&CISOGRID=thumbnail,A,1;title,A,1;subjec,A,0;descri,200,0;0,A,0;10&CISOBIB=title,A,1,N;subjec,A,0,N;descri,K,0....

The [New] Chestnut Street Theatre was built in 1862 on the north side of Chestnut Street between Twelfth and Thirteenth Streets, a full seven blocks to the west of the old theatre, and considered by many too far removed from the theatre district to succeed.  But "the rapid westward expansion of center-city Philadelphia  soon made the new Chestnut Street Theatre the city's most fashionably located theatrical facility."  [from?]

Philadelphia May 5, 1895 On Monday the 13th I appear at the Girard Theatre for one week as the "Marquise de St Maur" in Caste.  It is 19 years [1876] since I played it at the Chestnut [Street Theatre, Philadelphia].

"Our Boys" at the Chestnut [Street Theatre] ran the whole Centennial summer [June 26-November 18, 1876]. A program lists Mrs. EJ Phillips as Miss Champneys, an elderly young lady.  The cast included McKee Rankin as Charles Middlewick.

Our Boys 100th Performance Sept. 6, 1876

Following the end of the American Civil War, Americans began to prepare for the celebration of the nation's 100th birthday in 1876. Various citizens of Philadelphia proposed that this exhibition should be held in this city and a resolution to that effect was adopted by the Select and Common Councils in January 1870.  The International Exhibition opened to the public on 10 May 1876 and closed on 10 November 1876. http://www.phila.gov/phils/Docs/Inventor/graphics/agencies/A230.htm

Centennial Exhibition 1876, Free Library of Philadelphia  http://libwww.freelibrary.org/cencol/

The Chestnut Street Theatre Stock Company disbanded in 1880 and the theatre was demolished in 1917.Durham1986

The Players Club of Swarthmore [Pennsylvania] produced The Rivals in Feb. 1934, with John Dolman Jr. playing Sir Anthony Absolute, and Hattie (Mrs. John Dolman Senior) lending Mrs. Malaprop the costume worn by EJP at the Chestnut Street Theatre in November 1877.  The Players Club has (or had) a program from that production displayed in the lobby.  The program notes that "the frank artificiality of these plays is a bit startling to modern audiences not accustomed to them  They were written for large bare stages with painted wings and drops and little furniture; and were played in "The grand manner," with the actors facing the audience most of the time and declaiming their lines bombastically.  Asides and soliloquies were spoken directly to the audience; the actor did not drop out of character, but the character stepped out of the play to confide in the audience with the utmost frankness.  We shall try to recapture that pleasantly childish convention.

"We have discovered many apocryphal lines and traditional bits of business not conceived by Sheridan, but have retained a few of the happiest, including Mrs. Malaprop's mistake in handing Captain Absolute the wrong letter (supposed to have been invented by Mrs. John Drew), the chore boy's line about kicking the cat, Bob Acres' curl papers, his last two lines in the challenge scene (probably invented by Jefferson), and much of the comic business between Sir. Lucius and Acres in the last scene of the play. "

The Arch Street Theatre opened in 1828 as a rival to the Chestnut and Walnut Street Theatres in Philadelphia.  The theatre's heyday began in 1861 when Mrs. John [Louisa Lane] Drew (1820-1897) established it as one of the greatest of American stock companies.  The house was under her control for the next 31 years. "She was not the first woman in America to manage a theatre and direct an acting company, but she was the first to do so on a considerable scale, and over a term of years...When she finally retired from the management she became the grande dame of the American Theatre." In her last years she was said to cheerfully travel 1000 miles for a chance to play Mrs. Malaprop.  [DAB]

next: Union Square Theatre Co.

Nov. 17, 1893 Cleveland Then go to St Louis.  Play in the old Olympic where I used to belong to the Stock Co [with Benedict DeBar].  

Nov 23, 1893 Cincinnati On the 4th St Louis.  We play at the Olympic Theatre there and I shall stop at Southern hotel which is just opposite theatre. 

The Southern Hotel had opened in 1865.

The Southern
Absolutely Fireproof 
St Louis 
Octr 16th 1894 

My dear Neppie, 

You will be surprised to receive this from so far a distance, unless Hattie has written to you since I left.  I had received a telegram from Gustave Frohman on Friday asking me if I could play the "Duchess" in [Lady] Windermere's Fan for this week in St Louis.  I answered yes, and on Saturday Morning about 9 rec'd another telegram from him telling me to start by Penn RR.

I got ready in a hurry, took the 4:30 train and arrived here at 7 on Sunday night.  Played last night and expect to through the week -- eight performances in all.  The Co then go to Columbus, O[hio] for three nights, then back to Indianapolis for three nights.  And after that go South, playing in New Orleans on Xmas.  

Walter Dolman is looking splendidly.  There has been some trouble in the Co with the Duchess and her husband who played Lord Darlington and they were dismissed,  So I was sent for, for this week.  I had nothing to do and thought I might as well come.  I shall not be much richer for it, but it was a nice little trip. 

I am not as strong as I would like to be, but if in an engagement I think I should feel better.  God bless you all! is the constant wish of your loving Mother

next: Philadelphia Oct. 31,1894   [She ended up in Toronto in December instead.]

Blum, Daniel C., Pictorial History of the American Theatre 1860-1980,New York: Crown Publishers, Fifth edition, 1981.
Bordman, Gerald, American Theatre: A Chronicle of Comedy and Drama 1869-1914, New York:  Oxford University Press, 1994.
Bordman, Gerald Martin, Oxford Companion to the American Theatre, New York : Oxford University Press, Second edition, 1992.
Brown, T. Allston, History of the American Stage, New York : Dick & Fitzgerald, 1870. HAS
Durham, Walter B. American Theatre Companies 1749-1887, Westport CT : Greenwood  Press, 1986.
Hewitt, Barnard, History of the Theatre from 1800 to the Present Day,  New York : Random House, 1970.
Hornblow, Arthur, A History of the Theatre in America, New York/London: Benjamin Blom, 1919.
Hughes, Glenn, A History of the American Theatre 1700-1950, New York: Samuel French, 1951.
King, Edward and James Wells Champneys, The Great South, Hartford: American Publishing Co., 1875  http://docsouth.unc.edu/nc/king/menu.html 
Leach, Joseph, Bright Particular Star: The Life and Times of Charlotte Cushman, 1970, CardinalBook Electronic Edition, 1997 http://www.cardinalbook.com/leach/cushman/iso8859/index.htm 
Leslie, Frank, Frank Leslie" Illustrated Historical Register of the Centennial Exposition 1876: A Facsimile of with a new introduction by Richard Kimer, Paddington Press Ltd, 1976
Quinn, Arthur Hobson,  A History of the American Drama: From the Civil War to the Present Day, New York : Appleton-Century Crofts, 1927.
Strang, Lewis C.,  Players and Plays of the Last Quarter Century, Boston : L. C. Page & Co., 1902.
Stratman, Carl J.,  American Theatrical Periodicals 1798-1967: A bibliographical guide, Durham : Duke University Press, 1970.
Taubman, Howard,  The Making of the American Theatre, New York : Coward McCann Inc, 1965.Wilmeth, Don B. and Tice L. Miller,  Cambridge Guide to American Theatre, Cambridge Cambridge University Press, 1993.
Zecher, Henry William Gillette, America's Sherlock Holmes Xlibris, 2011
http://books.google.com/books?id=ScXhXVaAFlAC&vq=debar&dq=ben+debar's+stock+company+st+louis&source=gbs_navlinks_s  William Gillette worked for Ben deBar in St, Louis as a young man.

DeBars' Grand Opera House Stock Co  North American Theater online http://asp6new.alexanderstreet.com/atho/atho.detail.companies.aspx?companycode=org0006935 1855-1878
St. Louis Post Dispatch Proquest 1874-1922

Harvard Theatre Collection has some of Lawrence Barrett's Letters 1863- 1891 http://oasis.lib.harvard.edu/oasis/deliver/~hou00685

Philadelphia Free Library (Logan Square) has a Philadelphia Theatre Collection with a Chestnut Street Theatre File, Chestnut Street Theatre Programs File and Philadelphia Theatre Index, as well as files on many of the Chestnut Street Theatre performers.

New Orleans Bibliography

Last updated March 17, 2015

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