"In Rip Van Winkle
he evinces all his abilities and sounds
the gamut of all quiet and natural
emotions. He is no doubt the best
comedian American has yet to produce,
and probably unsurpassed in England,
that nidus of comedians. His face and
body were formed to inspire mirth, and
this lends additional force to his
rendering of pathetic parts. In Rip,
for instance, the smile excited by his
scarecrow figure actually forces more
quickly the tear we bestow on his
"In many important
respects it more nearly approaches
positive perfection than any single
piece of acting now before the public."
a year later
"The magical charm of his acting was the
deepest human sympathy and the
liveliness and individuality by which it
was irradiated Ė an exquisite blending
of humor, pathos, grace and beauty."
(1829-1905) Beyond question the most
popular and respected American comedian
of the 19th century and the
greatest of the Jeffersons, a famous
Anglo-American family of actors who can
be traced back to Thomas Jefferson
(1732-1807), an actor with
David Garrick and
occasional manager of provincial English
theatres. Joseph was born on February
20, 1829, in Philadelphia while his
father was attempting, unsuccessfully,
to manage a theatre there. Because of
his lineage, the youngster was destined
to become an actor, and did not wait
long before making his debut at the age
of four, performing alongside and
mimicking the celebrated
Thomas D. "Daddy" Rice, a comedian
and the creator of the blackface form of
comedy of the 1800s and early 1900s. His
act included the song and dance "Jump
had little schooling and after his
father died, when Joseph was thirteen,
he toured the theatrical backwater with
his actress mother. Within a few years
he was playing major roles, in support
to some of the greatest actors of the
day, including Marrall to the Sir Giles
In 1853, he became
stage manager of the Baltimore Museum,
and a year later was hired by John T.
Ford to manage a theatre in Richmond,
VA. There he played with
and other noted performers.
The turning point n
his career came after his return in 1857
from a visit to London, when he was
Laura Keene as a member of her
company. Under her aegis he scored
notable successes as
Dr. Pangloss in
The Heir-at-Law and as Asa Trenchard
in Our American Cousin. Moving to
the Winter Garden, he consolidated his
reputation when he played Caleb Plummer
dramatization of The Cricket on the
Hearth, and Salem Scudder in
Boucicaultís The Octoroon.
In 1859 he produced
his own version of
Rip Van Winkle, but it was
unsuccessful. During a second trip to
London he prevailed on Boucicault to
give him a revised version. He played
the new four-act adaptation with great
success in London in 1865 for 170 nights
in a row, and a year later in New York.
The performance brought him fame and
fortune, and for many years he played
nothing else. A morality play, the story
involves a man who drinks himself into a
magical 20 year sleep and wakes to find
that he has slumbered through the
Revolutionary War. He is recognized
neither by his wife nor his daughter in
the changed world. The play end with Rip
promising to stay sober and his wife
Gretchen, promising she will be a better
spouse. Not all the critics were pleased
at first, but within a year his
performances had been so refined and
honed that even the Times. Which
had been among the dissenters, were
In 1880 he produced
his version of
Bob Acres to the
of Mrs. John Drew. While some critics
condemned his rewriting of
William Brinsely Sheridan, his
performance was universally hailed and
added one final portrait to his
In 1893 he succeeded
his friend Edwin Booth, as president of
the Players. He made his last
appearance, as Caleb Plummer, in 1904,
ending a stage career of 71 years.
Jefferson was a man of
slightly over average height. With a
noticeably smallish head and long brown
hair. Evan as a relatively young man
his quizzical face was wizened. He had a
prominent nose and chin, and described
himself as presenting "a classical
contour, neither Greek nor Roman, but of
the pure Nut-cracker type. His beguiling
Autobiography of Joseph Jefferson
(1890) is filled with superb pictures of
the theatre of his day and remains one
of the landmarks in American theatrical
Of his children, four
went on the stage, the most
distinguished being Charles Burke
Jefferson (1851-1908), who served for a
time as his fatherís manager.
on photo to enlarge)
Jefferson & Florence in "The Rivals"
in "The Rivals"
as Bob Acres
in "The Rivals"
as Dr. Pangloss
Jefferson & John S. Clark as Dr. Pangloss & Zekiel Homespun
"Rip van Winkle"
"Rip van Winkle"
"Rip van Winkle"
"Rip Van Winkle"
in "Rip Van Winkle"
script by John Kerr
cameo portrait with
Portrait as older man
Joseph Jefferson before
Untitled color monotype by
Jefferson in old age
"Rip Van Winkle"
listen to Joseph Jefferson as Rip Van
Winkle, clip on the gramophone)
A scene from "Rip
Van Winkle", in the mountains, by
"Hey, Nada, Nada.
Whatís the matter with that dog?
Look at him there, he goes head over
heels down the hill.
Something must scare that dog.
Aye, you pug!
Something mustíve scared him.
I never saw him do anything like that
Well, heíll find me again.
Well, here I was in
Another night, hey.
These old trees begin to know me I
How are you old fellows?
Well, I like Ďem.
I like them trees, they keep you from
the wind and the rain.
ĎCause they never froze me up.
When I laid me down falled on the flat
of my back, I think they bowed their
heads to me and said: "Go to sleep, Rip,
go to sleep."
Ah, thereís a flash of
Old Hendrik Hudson is a lightening his
pipe in the mountains tonight.
Now we hear him roll the big balls along
There they goes.
I was mighty on the other side of that
Now, I donít believe in him.
I hear the old women say that whenever
thereís a storm in the mountain, old
Hendrik Hudson and his crew are playing
ten-pin along the mountain tops.
Rolling the balls along in the valley.
Ha, ha, I donít believe it.
Huh, whatís that?
Somethingís coming up the hill there.
What a queer looking thing is that.
All rolled up like a ball.
What a queer old man.
Hi. Hi, old fella.
Sit down. Whatís the matter with ya?
What? Donít you speak, old fella?
All right, I donít want to speak to you
Who do you think you are that I want to
speak to you anymore that what you want
to speak to me.
What have you got in that keg?
Huh? I donít believe it.
Is it good sauce?
All right. You wan t me to help you off
with that mountain, with that
bottle? Then I donít do it.
Why would I help you. I never saw you
No, I donít want to see you again
Have you got good sauce in there?
All, right, I help you off with it. All
right, pick up my gun, pick up my gun
and Iíll follow you along the mountain.
Get along old bull dog. Iíll follow you.
Ha, ha, what a queer lookiní old man.
There he goes.
All right, Iím coming, Iím coming."
Haworth & Joseph Jefferson
Haworthís career, Joseph Jefferson was
an elder statesman in the American
Theatre. Haworth was a leading man and a
star in his own right, and consequently
never acted with Joseph Jefferson. But
Jefferson influenced an entire
generation in the interpretation of
contemporary American material, and in
vehicles like Ye Earlie Trouble,
Sue, and Shenandoah,
Haworth borrowed from Jeffersonís
exemplified the one-part actor career
that Haworth pointedly avoided.
Jefferson played Rip Van Winkle
throughout his professional life. It was
a role the public expected to see
Jefferson perform, and they were
disappointed to see him in other
characterizations. Similarly, Haworth
easily could have made Paul Kauvar
or Rosedale his signature plays,
but he consistently elected to abandon
these vehicles and return to the great
challenge of roles like Hamlet, Macbeth,
Richard III, Cassius, and Richelieu.