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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

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.

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.

Charlotte Cushman photographed by Matthew Brady http://www.npg.si.edu/exh/brady/gallery/01gal.html 

John Nickinson's encounter with Charlotte Cushman 1837

The New York Dramatic Mirror obituary of EJ Phillips mentions that she played with Charlotte Cushman. I was unable to trace this until I read John Dolman Jr.'s The Art of Acting where he recounts the following anecdote.

The unwillingness to act at rehearsals is a characteristic of third-rate actors; the great ones like Garrick have generally been less temperamental about it., though some have pretended to be more casual than they really were.  Charlotte Cushman, for example, is quoted by her chief biographer, Emma Stebbins, as saying that she was content to get the general sense of her part at rehearsals; but my own grandmother, who was on the stage for forty-five years, used to say that the most stirring piece of acting she ever saw was a portrayal of Lady Macbeth, in the banquet scene, done at rehearsal, in street dress, by that same Charlotte Cushman. 

It seems likely that this was in Philadelphia, though it may have been in New Orleans or elsewhere.  I have a small undated newspaper clipping which mentions Charlotte Cushman, and a copy of a playbill from Wheatley's Arch St. Theatre, May 25th 1858 

Charlotte Cushman early in her career, Strang's Players and Plays, 1902

"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 HAS] at St. Louis 

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] 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).  

McGill, John, Mardi Gras History, 1872 New Orleans http://www.geocities.com/mardichild/history1.html 

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". [DAB]

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 CDP) 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. 

EJ Phillips Philadelphia photograph 

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.library.phila.gov/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 invited 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]

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.

next: Union Square Theatre Co.

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 
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.

The 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.

Last updated March 29, 2005

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