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Charlotte Crampton

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Charlotte Crampton

“If she was but a foot taller, she would startle the world.” W.C. Macready

Crampton, Charlotte (1816-1875) was born into a theatrical family. Her parents were both members of Alexander Drake’s Dramatic Company in Louisville, KY. She was well-educated and was capable of reading, writing, and speaking several languages. She made her theatrical debut at the age of 15 at the Columbia Street Theatre in Cincinnati, OH. She made rapid progress in the acting profession, overcoming a short, stout stature by hard work, histrionic ability and a touch of genius. In a long career, she acted in nearly all of the principle theatres in the United States. She was the leading lady to both Edwin Forrest and William Macready. After her performance as "Lady Macbeth" opposite Macready, he remarked: "If she was but a foot taller, she would startle the world." She was also uncannily convincing in male characterizations. In a single week, she would play Richard III, Iago and Hamlet, along with Lady Macbeth, The French Spy, and Mazeppa.

She was married many times. Her first husband was Charles Wilkenson and for a while she billed herself as "Mrs. Wilkenson." She next married Charles B Mulholland, a comedian of some repute. During the early part of the Civil War, her Union soldier son got into some trouble, and Miss Crampton walked from Wheeling, West Virginia to Washington, D.C. to solicit favor for him from President Lincoln. Shortly afterwards, she enlisted in the Union army, rendering aid and comfort to sick and wounded soldiers. After the war, she lectured on the temperance circuit for a while, but she missed acting and was soon traveling with a small company on the New England circuit. She gradually drifted back into larger theatres, and at the time of her death was playing old women and character parts on the same boards she had trod a few years previously as a star. Just a few days before her death, she was playing Gertrude in Hamlet at Macauley’s Theatre in St. Louis.

Charlotte Crampton as Richard III Review in Cleveland Plain Dealer-Resized.jpg (173449 bytes)

Charlotte Crampton as Hamlet-Photo-cepia-Cropped & Resized.jpg (64517 bytes)

an illustration as Hamlet

Richard III Review with Joe Haworth's 1st Appearance on the Stage

as Hamlet

Joseph Haworth & Charlotte Crampton

As a boy, Joseph Haworth had applied for acting work at John Ellsler's Academy of Music in Cleveland, Ohio. When Ellsler offered Master Haworth supernumerary work, Joe’s dignity was wounded and he declined the offer. In 1865 Joe’s father Benjamin, who was surveying for the federal government, died in Nashville, TN. Joe had to leave school and go to work in a newspaper office, all the while pressing John Ellsler for an opportunity to appear onstage. Finally in 1873, Ellsler relented and let Haworth contribute a recitation to a Monday evening amateur night at the theatre.

Haworth’s rendition of the Fennian ballad "Shamus O’Brien" closed out the evening and brought down the house. The great actress Charlotte Crampton, then in residence with Ellsler’s company, observed Joe’s performance from the wings and was much impressed. She was in the process of mounting a production of Richard III, in which she would essay the title role. She invited Joe to play Buckingham. At the performance in May 1873, Joe sold $500 worth of tickets and received a rave review in the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

Subsequently, Ellsler hired Joe as "utility man" at $10 a week and he played all sorts of parts. During this time, Charlotte Crampton evinced great interest in Haworth. She became his first great mentor, teaching him all the stage business of Edwin Forrest and William Macready. These tutorials became the basis for Haworth’s technique, and throughout his career he was able to bridge the classical style of Macready and the heroic style of Forrest. This in part accounted for a level of versatility that is unmatched in the history of American acting.

Joe gave an interview in the Boston Daily Advertiser in 1887:

"My first appearance was in Richard III in Cleveland, when I was about twenty years old. Miss Crampton played Richard---and she made a wonderful Richard---while my part was the Duke of Buckingham. She had a very masculine voice, and I remember her dressing of the part distinctly. She used to wear a small mustache and goatee, and it gave her face a rather demonic expression. I was, of course, very nervous when I stepped on the stage, but I did not forget my lines. Buckingham has only has one good scene, and I did this as well as I knew how. When I finished my lines I looked in the wings and saw Miss Crampton there crouched up waiting for her cue, and looking as though she was ready to spring on the stage. She looked like a demon, and I was almost frightened to death. I gave a loud shriek of fright, but it was over in a moment. Miss Crampton complimented me on the manner in which I acted the part, but it was many days before I got over the fright which she gave me.

"I have impressed these points upon you so that I can work up to a most wonderful optical illusion. I remained with Miss Crampton a year or so, and then accepted an offer from Mr. John Ellsler to play in his theatre in Cleveland. I opened as Orlando in As You Like It and Miss Effie Ellsler was a delightful Rosalind. At the conclusion of the season I was given a benefit, and I picked out Hamlet as the play for the occasion. My friends advised me strongly against the idea, but I said it should be Hamlet or nothing. The house was crowded and I met with a cordial welcome. I got along nicely enough until the closet scene. I had just finished the lines ‘look upon this picture,’ etc., when I looked across the stage and there stood Miss Crampton in that Richard III costume glaring at me in exactly the same manner as that never-to-be-forgotten night. Why, the woman had been dead a year! I stood transfixed with horror and my tongue cleaved to the roof of my mouth. The audience thought that it was acting and gave me round after round of applause. As I looked the apparition, or whatever you want to call it, vanished slowly, and for a moment I closed my eyes. When I looked again the demon-like figure had vanished. I was stuck in my lines, and God knows how I recovered again; but I did go through the part mechanically until the end. I was called before the curtain again and again at the close. I am not a spiritualist, and I cannot account for that horrible experience. Call it an optical illusion or anything you will, I shall never forget it. Miss Crampton was buried in a little Catholic burying ground in Louisville. I remember when I was playing there I visited her grave. A small stone marks her resting place, but when I am rich this shall give way to a more substantial monument. It was very strange indeed, but lying on her grave, I found a long, rusty looking knife. I do not know how it came there. I examined it and returned it to its position. I assure you that I did not like the looks of it, and often since then have I thought of how it came there."

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