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Augustin Daly
(1838-1899)


"He made the Theatre important, and he kept it worthy of the sympathy and support of the most refined taste and the best intellect of his time." William Winter

Daly, Augustin (1838-1899) American playwright, critic, theatre manager and director, was born on July 20th in Plymouth, NC. His father was a sea captain, who died when Daly was still a child, and his mother a soldier’s daughter. His education was received in Norfolk, VA where his mother moved the family after his father’s death, and in the New York City Public School system.

His first exposure to the theatre was in Norfolk, when after seeing in James E. Murdoch in Rookwood, he began to organize amateur theatricals. In 1859 at age 21, he started his career as drama critic for the Sunday Courier a position he later held at four other New York City newspapers.

In 1862 he turned to playwriting by adapting S.H. von Mosenthal’s Deborah into Leah, the Forshaken. After its first production at The Boston Museum, it moved to New York where it was an immediate success. After several less successful efforts, he landed a hit with his largely original melodrama Under the Gaslight (possibly inspired by Wallack’s Rosedale) in 1867. It was the first American play to employ the sensational device of having a man tied to the railroad tracks in the path of an oncoming train.

In 1869 he leased the Fifth Avenue on Twenty-fourth Street with the intention of forming an ensemble company that would perform the best new American plays as well as the classics. He broke with the accepted practice of having each actor play only those roles in his or her "line. He expected his actors to switch from comic parts to serious one from heroes to villains and from major to minor roles. Against resistance from some of his players the effort paid off and his company became the only serious rival to Wallack’s. His actors included Mrs. G.H. Gilbert, James Lewis, William Davidge, Charles Fisher, John Drew and several young ladies whose careers he promoted: Agnes Ethel, Fanny Morant, Fanny Davenport and Clara Morris. The list of major hit the company offered includes: Needles and Pins, Boys and Girls,7-20-8,The Country Girl, Red Letter Nights, She Would and She Would Not, A Night Off, The Magistrate, The Taming of The Shrew, Dandy Dick, The Railroad of Love, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Lottery of Love, The Last Word and Tennyson’s The Foresters.

In 1873 the Fifth Avenue Theatre was destroyed by fire and Daly’s company disbanded. He then took over the Globe Theatre and renamed it the Fifth Avenue Theatre. At this same time he managed several other New York Theatres, including the Grand Opera House where he presented opera bouffe and musical spectacles, but they proved too costly and unpopular and were soon dropped.

In 1879 he restored yet another old playhouse (old Wood’s Museum) near Thirtieth Street and named it after himself – Daly’s on Broadway. There he reestablished his company with many of his former actors, some new Bristish players and Ada Rehan, who was to become his most beloved performer. He took his entire company on tours across the country as well as England, France and Germany.

In 1888 he began construction of Daly’s Theatre in London. He opened its doors two years later with his famous production of The Taming of the Shrew, which also played Stradford–upon-Avon, and was the first performance of the play given there.

As a playwright Daly’s claimed authorship of over 90 plays, most of which were either adapted from foreign sources, or rewrites of Shakespeare and 18th Century English drama. Of this large number few are significant literary accomplishments, thought many show Daly to have been an exceptional contriver of effects and theatrical moments and superior to many of his contemporaries. Among his finest works are Horizon (1871), Divorce (1875) and Pique (1875). From the inception of his writing career he was assisted at every turn by his brother Joseph, though this collaboration was kept a secret. He had a keen eye for spotting talent and was responsible for developing the careers of over 75 actors.

He died in New York in 1899 having been one of the most successful theatrical managers on Broadway.

(click on photo to enlarge)

Augustin Daly_formal portrait-photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (30292 bytes)

Augustin Daly, about 1875-photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (111852 bytes)

Augustin Daly, about 1898-photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (95253 bytes)

Formal Portrait

about 1875

about 1898

Under the Gaslight-railtraks scene-illustration-B&W.jpg (59398 bytes)

Under The Gaslight-Acting Edition Script-Color-Resizes.jpg (252700 bytes)

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Tied to the Tracks- device first used by Daly

Under the Gaslight Script

Under the Gaslight Poster

As scene from The Railroad of Love-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (127145 bytes)

Augustin Daly reading to his company-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (222926 bytes)

Illustration of August Daly's Production of Taming of the Shrew (1887)-B&W-Resized.jpg (171826 bytes)

A scene from
 The Railroad of Love

Reading to his company

set design for Daly's production of 
Taming of the Shrew
1887

Joseph Haworth & Augustin Daly

Joseph Haworth acted for Augustin Daly on two occasions. In the spring of 1877, young Haworth played Benvolio in Romeo and Juliet and Guiderius in Cymbeline with the great Australian actress Adelaide Neilson. At the time, Joe was on leave from John Ellsler’s company at Cleveland’s Euclid Avenue Opera House. He had come to New York supporting Anna Dickinson’s New York acting debut in Crown of Thorns at the Eagle Theatre. When the production flopped, twenty-one year old Haworth remained in the city through the rest of the season, first picking up work in The Hunchback and Macbeth at the Eagle, and then performing the engagement at Daly’s.

In March 1885, Haworth returned to Daly’s Theatre as a leading man. The play was Dumas filsDenise and it marked the return of one of Daly’s greatest stars, Clara Morris. A generation earlier, Miss Morris had been the leading exponent of the "emotionalistic" school of acting in America and hailed by many critics as the country’s greatest actress. The "emotionalistic" school was practiced exclusively by pretty young women who could cry relentlessly and convincingly throughout the length of a play’s performance. Miss Morris was now older and inappropriate for the role of the wrongly suspected ingénue. Haworth, on the other hand, was a romantic young actor beginning a meteoric rise. He mingled his own tears freely with those of Miss Morris, and every night the audience insisted that she bring Haworth before the curtain to share the final bow with her.

Departing from his usual job as executive producer, Augustin Daly took a uniquely hands-on approach with Denise. In an effort to support Miss Morris’ comeback, Daly personally translated the Dumas text from French to English. He selected the company, conducted rehearsals, and provided the scenery and mountings. Despite Daly’s efforts on Morris’ behalf, the greatest beneficiary from this production was Joseph Haworth. Denise established Joe as a heartthrob and a spellbinder. Simply put, Joe had charisma that was inappropriate for the naturalistic, ensemble work of Daly’s Theatre. Moving quickly into starring vehicles, he never acted for Augustin Daly again.

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