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Leading Juvenile

Haworth's Life
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Leading Juvenile In Boston



In 1878, Edwin Booth was about to embark on a twenty week tour of southern states. He knew Joe was getting ready to leave Ellsler’s company, and he offered him a place in his troupe. It was a tough decision for Joe, but he turned down his idol and friend. Instead, he joined the acting company at the Boston Museum. Again, "museum" was a deliberate misnomer. It was a theatre, but on the floors above the box office was an exhibit of stuffed animals, wax figures, mummies, mineral specimens, and other odds and ends that enabled puritanical Bostonians to persuade themselves they were attending a place of learning, and not a palace of amusement. In addition to housing mummies and mineral specimens, the Boston Museum housed the finest acting company in the United States.

The greatest American comic actor of the era was William Warren. He was on the stage for over fifty years, and the last 36 of those years were spent at the Boston Museum. He didn’t tour and he wouldn’t play New York. And yet despite this, he was a national institution who drew adoring fans from around the country season after season. He was one of the reasons Boston rivaled New York City as a center for theatrical activity during this period. He gave a total of 13,500 performances in nearly 600 different roles, and was fresh and inventive till the end of his career. Charles Barron was another fixture at the museum as its leading man. He was accounted the most versatile actor in America, excelling at modern and classical roles and played over 500 parts in his time.

Joe’s reputation was already growing nationally when R. F. Field hired him for the Museum. Field felt that Joe would strengthen the company, and must have been amused when his newly signed actor declared: "I am not handsome, and I am not a masher, but I’ll get there all the same". Joe’s self image and description didn’t completely jive with the facts. He was slight and not that tall. But he had a good athletic physique, strong features and a great Barrymore-esque profile. As to whether he was a "masher" or not, he had a pretty strong reputation as a womanizer. But Joe was always a mixed bag. The American Biographical Dictionary characterized him as "half dashing man about town, half recluse."

Joe lived in a "swell" boarding house on Cambridge Street just off of Bowdoin Square in Boston. A fellow lodger was Charles H. Hoyt who was a then a newspaper man, but later became one of America’s most successful and best known playwrights. He and Hoyt bonded, and would frequent the chop houses and prowl the city together. When E. H. Southern joined the Museum company as a neophyte actor, he was befriended by Joe and taken along. These three  were young professionals in a big city, playing hard and working hard. Joe quickly became the Museum’s leading juvenile, and in nearly four years of frequently changing programs, he was in every piece performed.

The museum produced the American premiers of Gilbert and Sullivan’s HMS Pinafore (1879) and Patience (1881). In the roles of Boatswain and Grosvenor respectively, he was said to have "sang and danced with as much ease and abandon as though he had been reared in a burlesque company." Kate Ryan in her book Old Boston Museum Days wrote: "…everyone about the theater was somewhat doubtful as to the success of Pinafore. Even Mr. Field was uncertain about the outcome until the song: ‘He is an Englishman’ sung by Joseph Haworth took the audience by storm and received encore after encore."  Joe triumphed in musical theatre, and the same season played "Romeo" opposite Mary Anderson, setting a box office record in Boston for a single night’s gross receipts.

In March 1881, Joe introduced R. F. Field to his Bostonian cousin Miriam O'Leary, and she was hired to play small roles.  Her first appearance was with Dion Boucicault as a guest in the ballroom scene of his play Colleen Bawn.  Miriam had one line: "We have danced enough; 'tis nearly seven o'clock."  Joe coached her diligently for weeks, and her large Irish family was in a state of anxious anticipation until after her debut.  That oft repeated and practiced line of dialogue subsequently became a catch-phrase among the O'Leary siblings to label anything that might be considered boring.  From this modest beginning, Miriam O'Leary became the leading soubrette of the Museum company, and one of the most popular actresses of the day.

During this period, Joe’s artistic growth was remarkable. A critic at the time observed: "When he came out of the West he was crude and raw, but had an abundance of talent which was only waiting to be developed." He played second leads to Charles Baron in Ruy Blas and Lester Wallack in Rosedale; both would be important plays for Joe in the future. Joe acted with great success in the beloved "Old Comedies," as "Joseph Surface" in School for Scandal and "Hastings" in She Stoops to Conquer. At the Museum he shared the stage once more with Lawrence Barrett, and on numerous occasions with the actor/author Dion Boucicault. After nearly four years at the Museum, Joe was offered the position of leading man, but he decided it was time to move on. At the end of his tenure, the theatre gave him a benefit in which Charles Baron played "Othello" to Joe’s "Iago". Months later, that role established Joe as a leading actor on the New York stage.

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