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John Ellsler

Haworth's Life
Haworth's Times
Haworth's Versatility
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Haworth's Writings
NY Engagements
His Brother William
The Haworth Tradition

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John Ellsler


Ellsler, John (1822-1903) American manager who began his career as an actor. He assumed management of his own company at Cleveland’s Academy of Music in 1855. He opened his lavish Euclid Opera House in 1875, but the Academy of Music remained his center of operations until 1885. His company toured extensively to surrounding towns in the summer, and between 1871 and 1887 he managed at least on theatre a year in Pittsburgh. His theatre was noted as a nursery of talent: Clara Morris, James O’Neill, James Lewis and Mrs. G.H. Gilbert apprenticed there. His daughter Effie Ellsler (1854-1942) became a leading lady of the next generation, remembered primarily for her Hazel Kirke, a role written for her by Steele MacKaye. John Ellser’s memoirs were not published until 1950, forty-seven years after his death.

John Ellsler (1822-1903) as a young man-Photo-tinted_Resized.jpg (80004 bytes) Euclid Opera House, Cleveland, OH-Illustration-B&W-Resized.jpg (97693 bytes) John Ellsler as a young man-etching-Resized.jpg (83862 bytes)
as a young man Euclid Opera House Cleveland, OH Engraving
Academy of Music, Cleveland-Photo-B&W.jpg (198921 bytes) Effie Ellsler in Hazel Kirke (1880)-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (80681 bytes)
as a young man Academy Of Music, Cleveland, OH Effie Ellsler in
 Hazel Kirke

Joseph Haworth & John Ellsler

It was Joseph Haworth’s incredible good fortune to spend his childhood in Cleveland, Ohio. There the stage struck Haworth had his earliest theatre-going experiences, attending performances by John Ellsler’s renown company at the Academy of Music. He subsequently was hired by Mr. Ellsler, and rose through the ranks to become one of the troupe’s favorite players. In 1896, during the run of Sue, Haworth gave an interview to the New York Dramatic Mirror in which he recounted his days with John Ellsler:

"Although I was born I Providence, I have always regarded Cleveland as my home, as my father took up his residence there when I was a child, and I was brought up there, together with my three sisters and my brother William, who as you know is both an actor and a playwright. The first time I went to the theatre was when I was about ten years old. My cousin, Jack Akers, who received a dollar a week for spending money from his folks, took me up to the top gallery of the Cleveland Academy of Music to see Monte Cristo. I was greatly impressed with what seemed to me, on that occasion, the most magnificent place in the world…

"The next time I went to the theatre was to see Mrs. D. P. Bowers as Lady Audley. After that I saw Lawrence Barrett as Cassius, Adelaide Neilson as Rosalind, and many other stars of the day. By that time I was simply gone about the stage. I wrote under an assumed name to Uncle John Ellsler, and he answered my letter, asking me to call upon him. When I called, he offered me a place as a super, which injured my dignity, and I declined his offer. About that time my father, who was surveying for the government, died in Nashville. So I left school and went to work in a newspaper office. Again I wrote to Uncle John, and he allowed me to recite ‘Shamus O’Brien’ at a benefit performance. Charlotte Crampton heard me from the wings. She was about to appear as Richard III, and offered me the part of Buckingham, which I eagerly accepted. For that performance I sold $500 worth of tickets.

"It took place in May, 1873. After that performance Mr. Ellser gave me a position at $10 per week, and I played all sorts of parts. Charlotte Crampton, who was a member of the stock company, took a great interest in me, and gave me much valuable instruction in the art of acting. She was a great actress. Macready said of her when she played Lady Macbeth in his support that if she had been four inches taller she could have commanded the world.

"When Edwin Booth came to Cleveland he opened in Hamlet, and I was cast as Laertes. For several days before the opening I practiced assiduously for the combat in the last act. When, however, Mr. Booth on the evening of the performance winked gravely as a signal for the fight to begin, I was so flabbergasted that I stood as if glued to the stage. He winked again but I was still rattled. Then Mr. Booth, noticing that I was nervous, invited me in a tone of kindliness rather than defiance to ‘come on!’ and I at once recovered my nerve and fought through the combat to the best of my ability. Mr. Booth after the play complimented me on my personation of Laertes. And when it was told me that after watching me in the wings one night, Mr. Booth had said ‘that boy has genius and will be heard from yet,’ you can readily imagine that I appreciated the compliment most highly, coming as it did from the greatest actor on the American stage. Soon afterward Mr. Booth offered me an engagement in his company, which I was unfortunately compelled to decline owing to my having been previously engaged for the stock company at the Boston Museum. At my farewell benefit in Cleveland, I appeared for the first time in Hamlet."

Among Haworth’s many appearances at Ellsler’s theatre are:

bulletCinna in Julius Caesar starring Lawrence Barrett (December 1874)
bulletFrank Littlefield in Saratoga (September 1875)
bulletJaques de Bois in As You Like It (September 1875)
bulletThomas John in Money and Thomas in David Garrick starring Lawrence Barrett (October 1875)
bulletBalthazar in Romeo and Juliet starring Lawrence Barrett (October 1875)
bulletMr. Peter Parker in Quiet Family starring James Lewis (October 1875)
bulletSir John Friend in Lord Clancarty starring Edwin Adams (November 1875)
bulletJim Stokes in Streets of New York (December 1875)
bulletGower in Henry V starring George Rignold (March 1876)
bulletCromwell in Crown of Thorns starring Anna Dickinson (November 1876)
bulletSir William as Davidson in Mary Stuart starring Fanny Janauschek (December 1876)
bulletBanquo in Macbeth (starring Fanny Janauschek (December 1876)
bulletCaptain Deadly Smooth in Money starring Lawrence Barrett (February 1877)
bulletLouis XIII in Richelieu starring Lawrence Barrett ( March 1877)
bulletRobert Harebell in Harebell, or the Man O’ Airlie starring Lawrence Barrett (March 1877)
bulletHoratio in Hamlet starring Lawrence Barrett (March 1877)
bulletOctavius Caesar in Julius Caesar starring Lawrence Barrett (March 1877)
bulletThomas Cromwell in Crown of Thorns starring Anna Dickinson (April 1877)
bulletCaptain Deadly Smooth in Money starring John Ellsler (May 1877)
bulletRobert Ffolliot in The Shaughraun starring Dion Boucicault (October 1877)
bulletLaertes in Hamlet starring Edwin Booth (November 1877)
bulletKing Edward in Richard III starring Edwin Booth (November 1877)
bulletBaradas in Richelieu starring Edwin Booth (November 1877)
bulletCromwell in Henry VIII and as Grumio in Katherine and Petruchio starring Edwin Booth
bulletHamlet in Hamlet (May 1878)

Twenty years after leaving John Ellsler’s theatre, Joseph Haworth was an established Broadway star. In the winter of 1898, Haworth co-starred with Helene Modjeska in Macbeth, Measure for Measure, Magda, Camille, and As You Like It at New York’s Fifth Avenue Theatre. Joe was enormously popular with audiences and had gained a new respect from the critics as the legitimate successor to Edwin Booth.

John Ellsler, meanwhile, had lost his theatre in Cleveland after many decades of operation. In April 1898, as Joe Haworth was preparing for a starring tour of New England with Macbeth, Romeo and Juliet and Hamlet, he reached out to his old mentor, casting John Ellsler in a line of character roles including Polonius to Joe’s Hamlet. Similarly, in the fall of 1898 Joe headed the Shakespearian Festival at the Park Theatre in Philadelphia. Joe played Iago, Hamlet, Richelieu, Shylock, and Cassius. Again, his beloved Uncle John Ellsler was in the acting company with him. In a strange coincidence, John Ellsler and Joseph Haworth died within a few days of one another in 1903.

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