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Best Actor

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

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"The Best Actor of Leading Roles on the American Stage" Julia Marlowe

Joseph Haworth as Col Kerchivah West in Shenandoah2-B&W-Resized.jpg (15229 bytes)



Even before McCullough’s collapse, Joe Haworth had begun an independent career as a leading man. In April of 1884, as the McCullough company was in its final week at the Novelty Theatre in Brooklyn, Joe began rehearsals in Manhattan for the Union Square Theatre production of M. Cazauran’s The Fatal Letter. The plot concerned a wife who had left her husband on discovering that he caused the death of her father and brother when he betrayed the Confederate Government to Union soldiers.  Joe played the husband, Captain Trevor, and the April 15, 1884 New York Times called his work "well sustained."

When The Fatal Letter closed, Joe jumped into a special matinee performance of Romeo and Juliet at Haverly’s Theatre, Brooklyn on May 17, 1884. Frederick Warde was Romeo, Alice Ferris was Juliet, and Joe played Mercutio. He then appeared in Whose Are They? written by his great chum E. H. Sothern. A successful tryout at a police convention in Baltimore led to a booking at New York’s Star Theatre on May 26, 1884. Its plot turned on the mishaps of a husband afflicted with a tyrannical mother-in-law. The May 27, 1884 New York Times said: "Mr. Joseph Haworth’s portrayal of Theophilus Pocklington, the persecuted husband, could scarcely have been improved upon." The play made money in its first week, lost some in the second, and then moved to Brooklyn where it collapsed.

The McCullough tour resumed in the fall, but due to the star’s illness the company was disbanded by the beginning of October. Joe’s troubled and litigious engagement with Dion Boucicault followed, after which Haworth retreated home to Cleveland. On January 1, 1985, he wrote the New York management team of Simmonds and Brown: "I am quite undecided as to my plans for next season and think it too early to negotiate. Many thanks for remembering me. Shall come and see you when I reach New York." Joe was in demand. He had his pick of many projects. He chose wisely and accepted an offer to appear at America’s foremost theatre, supporting a great star.

On March 4, 1885 Joe opened at Daly’s Theatre in Alexander Dumas fills' Denise. His leading lady was Clara Morris, the greatest exponent of the "emotionalistic" school of acting. The plot involved a nobleman’s love for a woman "with a past." Joe mingled his tears freely with Miss Morris and each night the audience demanded that she call Joe before the curtain to share her final bow with him. Joe was becoming a matinee idol and a heartthrob.

The next season, Joe was in A Moral Crime at the Union Square Theatre. It was a lavish production of a romantic and melodramatic story that portrayed a woman of sad experiences, betrayed and abused by men. She ends by stabbing herself and dying in her true love’s arms. As the heroic Philippe Count d’Albert, Joe was well reviewed and widely seen. Of his performance, Julia Marlowe wrote: "Mr. Haworth’s performance exhibited the very highest qualities of a romantic actor." A Moral Crime ran from early September 1885 through the end of the year.

On February 19, 1886, Joe returned to Shakespeare when he appeared as Orlando in Helene Modjeska’s all-star As You Like It benefit for Polish exiles at the Star Theatre. Both Joe and Louis James, who played Jaques, received notice and praise. Four days later, Joe was back in his beloved Boston, playing Romeo to Margaret Mather’s Juliet. An important new friend and mentor enthusiastically attended these performances. His name was Colonel Robert Ingersoll: war hero, renowned freethinker, and Shakespearian scholar.

In heavily Christian 19th century America, Robert Ingersoll was a beloved agnostic. He stood squarely for the notion that an individual may lead a moral and productive life without practicing a religion. He was a popular speaker on the lecture circuit---one night in Chicago his audience numbered 50,000. He had seen Joe act, deemed him a worthy exponent of Shakespearean thought, and sought his friendship. Joe became a regular visitor to the Ingersoll family home in Far Rockaway.

Evenings with Ingersoll and his family were three-hour symposiums. Ingersoll could quote entire plays verbatim. He knew off-hand the differences between folio editions of Shakespeare and quarto versions, and he could elucidate a passage in light of Elizabethan philosophy. When he spoke verse himself, it was simple and musical with the touch of its meaning on every significant word, and with tones changing with the changed feeling. Throughout his career, Joe was consistently praised for his "scholarship." It is clear that his thinking was deepened by the self-taught genius of Robert Ingersoll.

Joe’s next project was Hoodman Blind. It was a British play that had played at Wallack’s Theatre in November of 1885. Its plot was a fable based on the resemblance of two sisters and a young husband’s belief that the misdeeds of one were attributable to his wife. It was produced as a "filler" to keep the theatre doors open between major offerings. It ran about six weeks to modest business, after which Wallack saw no further potential in the piece. Joe, however, thought the play had further life. He acquired it and spent the summer of 1886 working on the script, trimming some of its more verbose speeches.

Joe opened Hoodman Blind at New York’s Grand Opera House in September 1886. It drew well on the strength of Haworth’s name, but did not receive much press attention. It then toured, doing such strong business in Chicago and St. Louis that a second Grand Opera House engagement was scheduled for December 1886. Joe personally wrote the New York Tribune critic William Winter: "Dear Mr. Winter, I begin a career on Monday next at the Grand Opera House in Hoodman Blind. If I succeed it means a tour of the country in the tragic drama next season. Will you do me the favor to pass judgment on me some time next week? I know it is asking a great deal but I am an American product and I hope excusable for my boldness. Will you come? With sincere thanks for past favors and wishing you happiness and health."

Winter was the dean of American critics. His favorable attention to Hoodman Blind prompted other newspapers to review the production. The play embarked on a successful tour, with a phenomenal number of return visits to New York City and the greater metropolitan area.  With each engagement, Joe’s billing became more and prominent; for a time, his name was synonymous with the play’s hero Jack Yeultett.

The 1887 season in New York was an extraordinary one for Joseph Haworth. He was the hottest young star in the country, with a consensus of opinion that he was the next great American actor. For a thirty-two year old actor, such expectations are a blessing and a curse, but Joe was simply too busy to ponder the implications of his position. A string of hits began with Joe succeeding the legendary Lester Wallack in Rosedale. Wallack had played the role of Elliott Grey for twenty-five years and decided to pass it on to Joe with his blessings and instructions.  The plot involved the dashing and reckless Grey rescuing a kidnapped child from a Romany gypsy camp.

With much fanfare, Joe opened at Mrs. Drew's Arch Street Theatre on September 12, 1887.  He then toured to Miner's Brooklyn Theatre, and played a week of one night stands in the New York area.  This was followed by engagements at Miner's Theatre in Newark, The Jersey Theatre, Albaugh's Theatre in Washington, D.C., and the Holliday-Street Theatre in Baltimore.  This short tour launched Joe in a role he would be called upon to play many times in the course of his career.

In November, he was brought into New York shore up Loyal Love starring the society amateur Mrs. Potter and her leading man, Kyrle Bellew. It was a production fraught with trouble, but Mrs. Potter had a following and it ran at the Fifth Avenue Theatre successfully. Joe’s contribution was widely appreciated. The November 15 New York Times wrote: "Mr. Joseph Haworth devoted his fine talent to the character of Gonzales. His acting was well studied and generally effective. He put nature into shallow artifice. His soliloquy on the steps of the throne at the close of Act II seemed to be an object lesson in the art of acting."

In December 1887, Joe was leading man to Julia Marlowe at the Star Theatre. He played the title role in Ingomar, Malvolio in Twelfth Night, and Romeo in Romeo and Juliet. Miss Marlow wrote: "Mr. Haworth made a superb Malvolio, as excellent in comedy as in tragedy." And of his Romeo she said: "Mr. Haworth made a fine Romeo, not so much ideal in his appearance as in spirit and execution. Had he lived he would have been recognized as one of the bright geniuses of the American stage. After the killing of Tybalt the audience rose to Joseph Haworth. Men stood up and shouted bravo and women actually got up on their seats and waved their handkerchiefs. I never have seen such an exhibition of enthusiasm in any theatre. His power was quite overwhelming."

Incredibly, one week after Haworth’s triumph with Julia Marlowe, he opened at the Standard Theatre in the title role in Paul Kauvar by Steele Mackaye. As the true republican hero in France’s reign of terror, Joe had a signature role in an enormous success. On Christmas Day 1887, the New York Times wrote: "To the character of the hero Mr. Joseph Haworth is fitted alike by temperament and method. His acting is forceful, sympathetic and dignified. He has fine moments in the parting with Diane and the interviews with Delaroche and he invests the closing scene with fiery impetuousness and moving eloquence."

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