Laurence Hutton.

Actors and Actresses of Great Britain and the United States: Kean and Booth ... online

. (page 10 of 20)
Online LibraryLaurence HuttonActors and Actresses of Great Britain and the United States: Kean and Booth ... → online text (page 10 of 20)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


Theatre in London. Everything requisite to complete
the illusion of the scene was there — and she insisted
as a sine qua non with the American managers, that
they should be here also. For this alone she deserves
the gratitude as well as admiration of every visitor of
the play-house.

'Actors As They Are,* New York, 1856.

In petticoats our heroine shines most when the part
is one of a boisterous nature ; her Juliana in the
* Honeymoon ' is a fine display of ability. In the dance
when the farmer says — " I always kiss when I like,"
and she retorts with " and so do I," her significant
look always calls down thunders of applause : and the
air with which she utters " Duke or no Duke, I will be
a Duchess ! " is a superlative specimen of the proud,

petulant and disappointed minx We are

among those who admire her most in' her natural
dress ; if she be really partial to broad characters, her
Miss Hoyden is a perfect delineation of vulgar sim-
plicity, and she has given most excellent effect to Nell
in the * Devil to Pay.* These and such parts, though
rude and boisterous, are not inconsistent with ber sex



Digitized by VjOOQ iC



ELTZA LUCY VESTRIS. 141

and female propriety ; and one of the prettiest pieces
of acting ever seen, is her Cowslips in the * Agreeable
Surprise.' Her voice is a sweet tenor, and has no
superior since Miss Tree left the stage ; she uses no
flourishes, no falsetto tones, and possesses one quali-
fication rarely found in modern singers who have
formed their taste upon the Italian school. Her voice
is not all musical tones ; you can distinguish the words,
and comprehend the meaning of what she is singing.
If we take Madame Vestris all in all she is a most
valuable actress, and possesses more universal talent
than any comic lady we know Wanting per-
sonal charms, our heroine would never have advanced
higher than the reach of a third-rate actress ; with
them she has risen to be the first low comic actress on

the London boards And in no one instance

will he ever feel disgusted, or inclined to breathe a
hiss at an)rthing she does, serious, humorous or ridicu-
lous. No one can see her without being instantly pre-
possessed in her favor ; her appearance steals away
the understanding before she opens her seductive lips,
and enchants you with heavenly sounds. Her vocal
powers require not any notice ; all admit them to be
delightful ; and as long as cherries ripen with the
summer, will her reputation as an English songstress
live in musical fame.
*Life of Madame Vestris,' London, 1839,^.56, 57.

The writer recollects being present at the Olympic
on an occasion when some people in a private box
greatly annoyed the audience by loud talking. The
annoyance went on all through the first piece, and
was continued in the second, in which the manageress



Digitized by VjOOQ iC



142 ELIZA LUCY VESTRIS.

herself performed. Vestris was evidently angry; at
last she came forward to sing a ballad — the interrup-
tion was at its height, when during the first verse of
the song, Vestris stopped short, and as had probably
been arranged, the orchestra stopped at the same mo-
ment, so that nothing could be heard but the loud
talking from the ill-behaved people in the box. A
torrent of hisses soon quieted them, and it would seem
made them ashamed of themselves, for, at the end of
the piece, a bouquet was thrown from that box at
Vestris' feet. She did not pick it up, and when the
curtain fell, there it lay near the footlights ; it was
pulled in contemptuously, by means of a broom thrust
from beneath the curtain, and returned to the donors.
J. M. Langford: ^ Era Almanack/ ySyo,/. 73.



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



HENRY PLACIDE

1799 — 1870.



M3



Digitized by VjOOQ iC



upon this stage thirteen brief years ago,
Flushed with the hopes that ardent bosoms know,
A youth appeared ; nor friends nor loud acclaim
Ushered him forth. Unheralded by fame
He came among us with a taste refined,
A vivid fancy and a burning mind —
Nature his model, counselor, and guide.
The goddess found him ever at her side, —
All her instructions he instinctive caught
And ne'er "overstepped her modesty" in aught.
Until the wreath for which he strove was won,
And gay Thalia crowned her favorite son !
Twas then the public with admiring eyes
Saw a new star in placid beauty rise.
And take its place, transcendent and alone
The brightest jewel in the mimic zone !

George P. Morris.



144



Digitized by VjOOQ iC



HENRY PLACIDE
As Polonius in " Hamlet."



Digitized by VjOOQ iC



Digitized by VjOOQ iC



HENRY PLACIDE.



Henry Placide, the most chaste and finished general
comedian of native birth known to the American stage,
and. a worthy peer of the most distinguished foreign
actors, was born at Charleston, South Carolina, on
Sept. 8, 1799. His father, Alexander Placide, French
by birth, was an eminent gymnast and rope-dancer,
and with his first wife — an accomplished danseuse and
pantomimist — first appeared at the John Street Thea-
tre, New York, Feb. 3, 1792. After her death, and
while manager of the Charleston Theatre, he married
a daughter of Mrs. Wrighten, the famous English
comic vocalist, known in America as Mrs. Pownall. By
this lady he had several children, who, as soon as they
could walk and talk, were brought before the public ;
and as they inherited much of the saltatory, musical
and histrionic proclivities of their parents, their early
training produced the happiest professional results,
especially in the cases of Henry and his elder sister,
Caroline, who as Mrs. W. R. Blake, became nearly as
good a general performer as her brother.

In 1807 the Placide family appeared at the Park
Theatre, New York, in a series of ballet-pantomimes,
some of which were performed exclusively by chil-
dren, among whom was doubtless the youthful Henry,
although his name is not found recorded on any
III. — 10 145



Digitized by VjOOQ iC



14^ HENR Y PLA CIDE.

play-bill, until Aug. 23, 1808, when it stands as the per-
sonator of Old Thomas in a ballet entitled the * Wood-
cutter,' performed by children at the Augusta (Georgia)
Theatre. In October of the same year, he is there
announced as Florio^ in the * Hunter of the Alps,' and
Davidy in the * Blind Bargain.' At the theatre in
Richmond, Virginia, Dec. 21, 18 10, Master Placide is
advertised to give, by particular desire, imitations of
Master Payne as Rolla and Douglas, His juvenile
efforts soon attracted public notice, and after a long
apprenticeship in Southern theatrical circuits, his
merit reached the ears of Northern managers, and on
Sept. 2, 1823, he made his reappearance at the Park
Theatre in the characters of Zekiel Homespun^ the
Yorkshireman, in the * Heir at Law,' and Z>r. Dablan-
cceuTy the French physician, in the * Budget of Blun-
ders,' in each of which he was triumphantly success-
ful.

Generously endowed by nature with every personal
requisite for his art — a figure of full medium height, a
voice powerful and melodious, a dark-eyed, handsome
face, enriched in early and middle life with the great-
est flexibility of feature and the most variable expres-
sion ; with unfailing spirit and vivacity, habits of tem-
perance and industry, and powers of observation
rarely equalled, Mr. Placide was one of the most
careful students of character and life, and his repre-
sentations of nature were judiciously heightened in
color only enough to produce the requisite effect in
scenes where all around was artificial. His perfect
familiarity with the French language gave him an im-
mense advantage over almost every competitor in
characters like Dr, CaiuSy or Jean Jacques Frisacque^



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



HENR Y PLA CIDE. 147

while his seemingly intuitive knowledge of music,
combined with a pure and full-toned baritone voice,
rendered him one of the most valuable of operatic
assistants, as his Baron Fumpolino^ Dr, Dulcamara^
Lord Allcashy and numerous other parts in English
operatic adaptations, abundantly testified.

Although never indulging in grimace or buffoonery,
his powers were happily adapted to almost every
grade of comedy or farce, and were so diverse in their
nature that a stranger could scarcely believe that the
foppish representative of the fastidious niceties of Sir
Harcourt Courtly was identical in person with the
stupid Fathom of the previous night ; or that the
Farmer Ashfield or Dogberry of the play, could pos-
sibly be transformed into the Lingo or Grandfather
Whitehead of the afterpiece. Yet his very person
seemed to change with the character he portrayed, and
to contract or expand with the age or station in which
it was cast — in one piece sturdy, hale, hearty, and exu-
berant ; in others, shrunken and withered by age, or
reduced to mere overgrown boyishness. His Frederick
the Great was an example of one class, his Master Tom
DobbSy and the Fat Boy in * Pickwick,' were prominent
in another. In voice only was he to be recognized ;
and modulate or subdue his clear ringing tones as best
he might, his articulation was always so perfect, and
his enunciation so crisp and distinct, that to a familiar
ear he was sure to betray himself.

Mr. Placide continued in the stock company of the
Park for more than twenty years, becoming the unri-
valled representative of Lord Ogleby, Sir Feter Teazle,
Sir Anthony Absolute and similar characters, and mak-
ing his last appearance as one of its regular members



Digitized by VjOOQ iC



148 HENR Y PLA CIDE.

on Nov. 2, 1843, as Captain Tarradiddle, in 'What Will
the World Say/ and Grandfather Whitehead^ although
he frequently after fulfilled, limited starring engage-
ments there.

During his first season, his salary was twenty dollars
a week ; it was raised in a year or two to twenty-five,
and ultimately to thirty dollars a week, at a time when
his coadjutors, Messrs. Hilson and Barnes, forming
with him the finest comic trio ever known on the
New York stage, who each had been receiving fifty
dollars a week, were notified that their salaries would
be reduced. This finally caused their secession
from the company and his accession to their most
important characters. He had been promised the
highest rate ever paid by the management, but never
received it until he played for brief limited periods,
although he was generally fortunate enough to receive
profitable benefits semi-annually ; for he was ever one
of the first favorites of the town, not only by reason of
his merit, but because of his modesty and his willing-
ness to oblige the management, in any unexpected
emergency.

From 1843 until within a few years of his death, when
partial blindness overtook him, he played star engage-
ments throughout the Union and at the leading thea-
tres of New York, being always sure of a hearty re-
ception. His last appearances were at the Winter
Garden, New York, commencing in an original piece
entitled * Corporal Cartouche,' in which he represent-
ed the titular character, March 25, 1865. It met with de-
cided success, but its run, as well as the engagement of
Mr. Placide, was interrupted by the death of President
Lincoln. On the resumption of performances it was



Digitized by VjOOQ iC



HENR Y PLACtDE. 149

repeated a few times, but he terminated his engage-
ment with his final appearance on the New York stage,
May 13, 1865, in the characters of Havresack, in

* Napoleon's Old Guard,' and Michael Perrin, in the

* Secret Service,' in which he had long been especially
admired. His list of characters on the Park stage out-
numbered five hundred, and he was the original repre-
sentative there of more than two hundred. Soon after
his retirement from that theatre, Mr. Placide took up
his residence at Babylon, Long Island, where he became
an object of affectionate interest and regard to the entire
community, and enjoyed its perfect respect. If not a
member of the Episcopal Church, he was for many
years a regular attendant on its services. His death
occurred after a long illness, on Jan. 23, 1870, in the
71st year of his age. His funeral services were per-
formed in St. Paul's Church, in the city of New York.
He left a handsome competence to his widow and
adopted daughter, and bestowed generous legacies on
his sisters, Mrs. Blake and Mrs. Mann, as well as on
their children, Dr. Lewis Blake, Mrs. Jas. W. Wallack,
Jr., and Miss Alice Placide Mann.

Joseph Norton Ireland.



Henry Placide was one of the best comedians this
country has ever known.

H. P. Phelps : * Players of a Century,' chap, xx,y
1848.

Mr. Henry Placide was also introduced to a New
York audience during this season [1823-4] ; a gentle-
man whom I have no hesitation in placing at the head



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



150 HENR Y PLA CIDE,

of the American stage. As a native actor decidedly
the best comedian the United States has yet produced.
There is a finish about all he undertakes which re-
minds a foreigner of Farren, to whom he may be
compared.

F. C. Wemyss : * Twenty-six Years of the Life of
an Actor,' vol, /., chap, 10.

Mr. Placide was very fine in poor Flutter [* Belle's
Stratagem']. We cannot praise many of the male
actors on our boards with so willing a heart as we do
Placide. There is an intelligence about him that is
sure to please. He performs in a style entirely
original, and well calculated to lead him to eminence.

New York Mirror y April 9, 1825.

Placide made a most glorious Don Ferolo Whisker-
ando$ [Critic]. His burlesque imitation of Kean's
manner of dying was extremely ludicrous.

Ibid,y Nov. 25, 1826.

This gentleman seems to hold to the maxim that
whatever is worth doing is worth doing well. With
pleasure we have witnessed the rapid strides he has
lately made in his profession, and think there is that
sterling talent about him which will eventually place
him at its head. To a correct and happy conception
of character he unites a felicitous execution, and in
many parts exhibits a fund of rich, broad, unconscious
humor, without the least admixture of buffoonery or
grimace. His Gravedigger in * Hamlet ' is an admir-
able piece of acting.

Ibid,y Dec. 9, 1826.



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



HENR Y PLACIDE. IS I

Four or five years ago, Placide's abilities were but
little known. He had risen from the lowest walks of
the drama, and, as is common in such cases, the
admiration of the audience did notkeep pace with his
increasing merit. They were slow to believe that one
whom they had long been in the habit of regarding as
not above mediocrity, could ever attain excellence ;
and strangers were often astonished at the slight
estimation in which he was held. This is human
nature ; we are unwilling to give up early impressions,
or retract expressed opinions. Had a strange actor
of equal merits and some reputation, appeared before
the same audience, he would instantly have become
an object of unmingled admiration. This, however,
could not last, and the unequivocal ability displayed
by Placide in some parts commanded praise — praise
attracted attention, and that was all that was wanted.
Since that time he has steadily and rapidly advanced
in public estimation — he has never once receded, and
his course is still onward.

To speak of Placide apart from the character he
represents is difficult. We know that there are a string
of set phrases going the rounds of the press, con-
cerning actors " identifying themselves with the part
they play," and " losing themselves in the character
they represent," etc., and, in some sense, this is true,
seeing that they frequently lose themselves, the char-
acter, the author, and the audience ; but in reality,
there is not one man in a thousand who possesses the
gift of making the audience forget the actor in the
part. Even in Kean it was sometimes wanting. It is
the highest kind of praise ; and as it appears to be
fast becoming a settled rule, that all praise, to be



Digitized by VjOOQ iC



152 HENRY PLACIDE.

worth the having, must be in the superlative, a quality
that is peculiar to the few has been awarded without
scruple to the million. Indeed, so very loosely and
indiscriminately are these phrases applied, that we
should not be surprised to see one of them tacked to
a commendation of Barnes, who seldom or never
" identifies " himself with anything, but simply plays
Barnes, let him appear m what he will ; and so amus-
ing and successful is he in that character, that he can-
not do better than stick to it. But Placide has in
truth the faculty of appearing to be the character he
assumes ; and we would instance as a strong proof of
the soundness of this assertion, that of all the imita-
tions of celebrated actors that have been given in this
city, not one has been attempted of Placide. And
why is this ? For the simple reason that he has no
peculiarities common to all his characters, and the
imitation would not be recognized unless the audience
had seen him in the part imitated. Not so with many
— Barnes, for instance. Let a good imitation of him
be given in any character, and though nine-tenths of
the audience have never seen him in that peculiar
character, the general resemblance will be instantly
appreciated.

In articles like the present, which must of necessity
be brief, it would be impossible to enter into a minute
examination of the various excellencies of Mr. Placide
in the wide range of parts in which he appears. There
are three distinct classes in which he is without an
equal, namely, old men, or rather middle-aged gentle-
men, drunken servants, and kind-hearted, simple
country lads. As a sample of the three we would
instance the Marquis in the * Cabinet,' Antonio in the



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



HENR Y PLACIDE. IS3

'Marriage of Figaro,' and Zekiel Homespun in the
*Heir at Law.' In the last he would probably be
successful either at Drury Lane or Covent Garden.
His Lord Ogleby we did not so much admire ; it was a
creditable performance, but rather stiff and with
scarcely enough of the coxcomb, and appeared what
he himself termed it, an attempt. Upon the whole,
he is a fine — almost a faultless actor, with a rich
natural vein of humor, free from the alloy of buffoon-
ery. There are only two things of his which we
remember without pleasure, namely, a portion of his
Fcter in ' Romeo and Juliet,' and an ill-judged attempt
to give a ludicrous expression to the word "bubble "
in the caldron scene in * Macbeth,* while enacting one
of the witches. The sinful deed was certainly com-
mitted by one of the beldams, and we 'unwillingly
thought by Placide. If it were not, we ask his pardon;
if it were, he may be assured of one thing — ^that though
deservedly a great favorite with the public, Shakspere
is still a greater.
Ibid.y June 20, 1829.

In the * Rent Day,* however, Wallack is not the only
and scarcely the prominent feature. Placide is just as
good, in his way. The latter gentleman always im-
proves. We like him every, time better than the last.
He is truly a chaste and invaluable performer, and we
proudly claim him as a countryman — shining with an
equal light among so many brilliant specimens of
transatlantic talent.

Ibid,y Sept. 22, 1832.

I have seen Liston and Farren, both distinguished



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



IS4 HENR Y PLACIDE.

for their talents, and both deservedly admired. Yet I
have seen nothing to alter tJie opinion which you
know I have long entertained, that Henry Placide is
the best actor on the stage in his own diversified
range.

Edwin Forrest : Letter from London, 1835. Al-
ger's 'Life of Forrest,' vol. /., chap. x.,p. 282.

I made my first appearance at the Park Theatre,
on Wednesday, Sept. 21, 1842, in * Hamlet;* Mr.
Placide, the best Folonius and the best actor in his
varied line in the country, was the Folonius.

George Vandenhoff : ' Leaves from An Actor's
Note Book,' chap, xii.^p. 191.

Henry Placide enjoyed in public estimation a fame
worthy and well deserved. He was an actor of the
old school, and his conceptions were the fruit of ap-
preciative and careful study ; his acting was a lucid
and harmonious interpretation of his author ; and his
elocution, clear and resonant, was the speech of a
scholar and a gentleman. The artistic sense was never
forgotten in his delineations, and his name on the bills
was a guarantee of intellectual pleasure. He was not
broadly funny like Burton, or Holland ; but those who
remember his Sir Harcourt Courtly y his Jean Jacques
Francois Antoine Hypolita de Frisac in * Paris and
London,' and his Clown in Shakspere's 'Twelfth
Night,' will not deny that he was the owner of a rich
vein of eccentric humor, and that he worked his pos-
session effectually. He was an expert in the Gallic
parts where the speech is a struggle between French
and English, and, indeed, since his departure they,



Digitized by VjOOQ iC



HENR V PLACIDE. ISS

too, have vanished from the stage. But those who
saw him as Havresack in the * Old Guard/ as the Tutor
in * To Parents and Guardians/ or as Monsieur Dufard
in the 'First Night/ will bear witness to his inimitable
manner and to his facile blending of the grave and
gay. We shall never forget how, in the last named
character {Mons. Dufard) having engaged his daugh-
ter for a " first appearance," and having declared his
own ability to manage the drum in the orchestra on
the occasion, he, suddenly during the mimic rehearsal,
at an allusion in the text to sunrise, stamped violently
on the stage ; and to the startled manager's exclama-
tion, "What's that?" serenely replied, "Zat is ze can-
non which announce ze break of day — I play him on
ze big drum in ze night." In choleric old men Placide
was unsurpassed. All the touches that go toward the
creation of a grim, irascible, thwarted, bluff old gentle-
man he commanded at will. His Colonel Hardy in
*Paul Pry,' for instance, what an example was that !
I hear him now, at the close of the comedy, when
things had drifted to a happy anchorage — hear him
saying in reply to the soothing remark — " Why, Colo-
nel, you've everything your own way." — "Yes, I know

I have everything my own way ; but it, I haven't

my own way in having it ! " His repertory covered a
wide range ; and we retain vivid recollections of his
Sir Peter Teazle, his Doctor Ollapod and his Silky; the
last in the * Road to Ruin ' — in which comedy, by the
way, we remember seeing Placide, Blake, Burton, Les-
ter [Wallack], Bland, and Mrs. Hughes ; truly a phe-
nomenal cast. Such, briefly sketched, was the actor
who constituted one of Burton's strongest pillars.
For some years he played at no other theatre in New



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



IS<5. HENRY PLACIDE.

York. He gave enjoyment to thousands, and in dra-
matic annals his name and achievements have distin-
guished and honorable record.
Wm. L. Keese : * Life of Burton,'^. 48-51.

Let us not forget Harry Placide, that glorious old
actor, now on the Long Island shore, who consents
to forget in sea-side sports his early triumphs and a
long-admiring public. I wish he would occasionally
revisit the glimpses of the footlights, just to remind
us how Sir Peter Teazle or Sir Harcourt Courtly ought
to be acted. With him, probably, will pass away even
the tradition of those parts. In his Sir Peter was ex-
hibited a consummate art of which the more modem
stage gives us but few examples. It was the ideal of
an English gentleman of the olden time. When Pla-
cide and Gilbert are gone, Sheridan will have to be
shelved.

* Some of our Actors,' Galaxy y Feb., 186&.



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



JAMES H. HACKETT.

1800 — 1871.



157



Digitized by VjOOQ iC



As Yankee, Hackett first appealed to fame ;
Then Gallic parts essayed, till Dromio came.
The last was symptom of another birth,
Which found development in Falsiaff's girth.
He could no further go — ^the rage of Lear^
The darkly-frowning Richardy vanished here.
Lost in the fat Knight's humorous embrace,
The tragic mask forgot to show its face ;
And when hereafter Hackett's name we call.
Twill be as Falstaff, first and best of all.

William L. Keese



158



Digitized by VjOOQ IC



JAMES H. HACKETT
As Falstaff in " King Henry IV."



Digitized by VjOOQ iC



Digitized by VjOOQ iC



JAMES H. HACKETT.



James Henry Hackett, one of the favorite and most
highly distinguished of American comedians, was born
in the city of New York, on March 15, 1800.

His grandfather, Edmund Hackett, a collateral heir
to an Irish barony, settled in Amsterdam, where he
married a daughter of the Baron de Massau. A son,
Thomas G. Hackett, was there born to him, who for a


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20

Online LibraryLaurence HuttonActors and Actresses of Great Britain and the United States: Kean and Booth ... → online text (page 10 of 20)