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Lawrence Barrett

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Lawrence Barrett

“…the most farsighted and ambitious, if not our greatest tragedian.” George Odell 

“His features, were attractive; a good nose, wide mobile mouth, deep-set and burning eyes, and a broad and thoughtful forehead. It might have been the head of a monk.” Otis Skinner

Barrett, Lawrence [Patrick] (1838-1891) American actor and manager born in Patterson, NJ, but raised in Detroit, he was the self-educated son of a poor tailor.

He made his acting debut in Detroit in 1853 as Murad in The French Spy. Three years later he made his New York debut at the Chambers Street Theatre playing Sir Thomas Clifford in The Hunchback. He followed this in short order with Fazio, The Stranger, Ingomar and Claude Melnotte.

He made his important New York appearance in 1857 as a member of William E. Burton’s Metroplolitan Theatre Company, where he remained until the house failed. Subsequently he was a member of Boston’s Howard Anthenaeum Company from 1858-1861.

Lawrence Barrett was long associated with Edwin Booth over the course of his career. They first appeared together during the 1861-62 season playing Hamlet at the Winter Garden and Barrett took over playing Richard III when Booth left to be near his dying wife. He supported Booth again the following season before leaving to serve as Captain in the Union Army.

After the war he joined John McCullough in managing San Francisco’s California Theatre from 1866-70.

In 1870, he returned to New York, once again to act in support of Booth, but this time in his newly opened Booth’s Theatre. His most notable role was as Adrian de Mauprat to Booth’s celebrated Richelieu, but he also alternated with Booth as Iago and Othello. Because Booth refused to play on Saturday nights, Barrett was able to mount plays with himself as star on those evenings. But it was only after Booth’s 1871 season ended and Barrett took over the playhouse that he won fame as James Harbell, the mad poet in W.G. Will’s The Man o’ Airlie, which was to become one of his most acclaimed roles. At Booth’s Theatre he also played Leontes in a spectacular production of The Winter’s Tale.

He manages the Variety Theatre in New Orleans from 1871-75.

Additional laurels were heaped on him back in New York in 1875 when he played Cassius to Booth’s Brutus in a lavish revival of Julius Caesar. This last production was later toured by Barrett under the management of Henry C. Jarret and A.M. Palmer.

He met with great personal success touring during the 1877-78 season in two works by William Dean Howells, playing the mistrusted painter Barlett in A Countefeit Presentment and the tragic jester in Yorick’s Love. The latter he played in New York in 1880.

Although a professional disagreement that began in 1873 estranged Booth and Barrett for over seven years, they were reconciled in 1880, and their relationship continued to be a close one for the rest of their lives.

Barrett’s crowning achievement came in 1883 when he reached back to an all-but-forgotten past revive Francesca da Rimini.

In 1884-85 he leased Henry Irving’s Lyceum Theatre in London during the latter first American tour.

Another success was Barrett’s revival in 1887 of Mary Russell Mitford’s Rienzi.

Later that year he joined Booths again in several important Shakespeare revivals, beginning with Julius Caesar and continuing with Othello (in which the two alternated in the roles of Othello and Iago), and The Merchant of Venice. Barrett took charge of the plays’ direction and production. And when they took these ‘joint starring’ plays on a nationwide tour for the 1889-91 season Barrett also managed.

Barrett was keenly interested in encouraging American drama and playwrights, commissioning numerous original plays and adaptations during his career.

Until shortly before his death Barrett continued his partnership with Booth and in 1888 mounted one more praise worthy production, William Young’s Ganelon. His last performance, which he was unable to finish, was as de Mauprat opposite Booth’s famous Richelieu.

The same sense of history that prompted him to revive neglected works may have induced him to become a theatrical historian as well. Among his writings are Edwin Forrest (1881) and Edwin Booth and His Contemporaries (1886).

(click on photo to enlarge)
Lawrence Barrett (1838-1891) in Man O'Airlie  head shot-(1871)-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (93984 bytes) Lawrence Barrett (1838-1891) head shot in profile (1867)-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (80199 bytes) Lawrence Barrett (1838-1891) in Man O'Airlie (1871)-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (71581 bytes)
as a young man
Lawrence Barrett (1838-1891) as Cassius with standard-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (82568 bytes) Lawrence Barrett (1838-1891) as Cassius-Illustration-B&W-Resized.jpg (87782 bytes) Lawrence Barrett (1838-1891) as Cassius-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (77633 bytes)

as Cassius

Lawrence Barrett as Julius Caesar-photo 2-B&W-Resized.jpg (170389 bytes) Lawrence Barrett in armor-postcard-B&W-Resized.jpg (138170 bytes) Lawrence Barrett as Julius Caesar-photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (146646 bytes)

as Cassius

Lawrence Barrett as Count Lanciotto in Francesca da Rimini-illustration-B&W-Resized.jpg (121690 bytes) Lawrence Barrett with torch-B&W-Resized.jpg (107392 bytes) Lawrence Barrett as Count Lanciotto in Francesca da Rimini-postcard-B&W-Resized.jpg (98600 bytes)
"Francesca da Rimini"
unidentified character Rienzi
Lawrence Barrett as Ghost in Hamlet-Engraving-B&W-Resized.jpg (89382 bytes) Lawrence Barrett as Hamlet-Engraving-B&W-Resized.jpg (113291 bytes) Willie Seymour, Lawrence Barrett in King Lear (1876)-Production Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (74746 bytes)
as the Ghost of Hamlet's father as Hamlet with Willie Seymour in King Lear
Lawrence Barrett (1838-1891) Portrait Paintng-Photo-Color-Resized.jpg (109842 bytes)   Lawrence Barrett later in life-Photo-B&W-Resized.jpg (74393 bytes)
Painting Portrait

Joseph Haworth & Lawrence Barrett

When Joseph Haworth first acted with Lawrence Barrett at the Academy of Music in Cleveland, he was eighteen yeas old and had been in the company for only four weeks. Barrett had come to guest star with John Ellsler’s resident actors and among his roles was Cassius in Julius Caesar. Barrett was a great Cassius, perfect for the role in appearance and temperament. He had played it for over one hundred nights at Booth’s Theatre in New York. It should be noted that Barrett was the last actor to use Cassius as a starring vehicle until John Gielgud played him seventy-five years later.

The following special notice appeared in the Julius Caesar playbill: "In order to give éclat to this Great Production, Mr. Lawrence Barrett will recite Antony’s Oration over the body of Caesar in the Fourth Act, thus making his performance a Grand Duality." The actor assigned the role of Antony refused to perform under those circumstances and an understudy, J. E. Whiting, was quickly recruited. Mr. Whiting didn’t know the part very well, but Haworth, who was cast as Servius, did. Through out the performance, Joe followed Whiting from entrance to entrance, coaching him on what Antony should say and do next. Barrett noted this and summoned Haworth to his dressing room after the performance. Haworth recounted the meeting years later:

"…he sent for me after the play and asked after my health, ambitions, etc. I replied: ‘Unless I can shine in the firmament of stageland – as one of its brightest stars, I do not care to continue.’ I thought he tried to hide a smile – and then he advised me to read Gibbon’s History of Rome. This was good strong wholesome advice – I thought a little too wholesome, perhaps, as I had waded through it at school. Nevertheless, I wrote down other books he named: Schlegel’s Criticisms, Emerson’s Essays, Bacon’s Essays, Wilhelm Meister, all of the poets and novelists, and all of the commentators on Shakespeare’s immortal plays. I adhered faithfully to his commands, and out of the silence of years I send forth my voice in praise of a man who was much condemned for qualities he did not possess and too little praised for his scholarly attainments and his great desire to do worthy things for the advance of dramatic art in America."

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