Wallack family

Definition

Theater

  • A British-US theatrical family that produced four noted actors:Henry John Wallack (1790 - 1870), his son James William Wallack(1818 - 73), Henry's younger brother, also named James WilliamWallack (1791 - 1864), and his son Lester Wallack (John JohnstoneWallack; 1820 - 88), who was also a playwright.

    Henry John Wallack was born in London, the son ofWilliam Wallack, a star of Astley's amphitheatre, where young Henryappeared with his father. In 1818 he emigrated to America and joinedThomas Wignell's company at Philadelphia's Chestnut Street Theatre.He appeared at the Chatham Theatre, New York, in 1924, taking over itsmanagement two years later. In 1837 he became stage manager at hisbrother James's National Theatre in New York, where he achieved considerablesuccess in 1847 as Sir Peter Teazle in Sheridan's The School forScandal.

    James William Wallack II, was born in London andserved an apprenticeship with his father before joining his uncleJames's company at the National in 1837. He specialized in tragedyand melodrama, playing many leading Shakespearean roles. In 1865 hejoined his cousin Lester at Wallack's Theatre, New York. His latersuccesses included Fagin in Oliver Twist and Mathias in TheBells.

    The elder James William Wallack began acting at theage of 12, and subsequently spent nearly 10 years at Covent Garden.From 1818 onwards he played romantic and tragic roles in both Americaand Britain. He was general manager of the National Theatre, New York,from 1837 until 1839, when it burned down. In 1852 he reopened theNew York Lyceum as Wallack's Theatre, which became one of the city'sleading venues. He made his farewell performance there in 1859; twoyears later he opened a second Wallack's on Broadway, shortly beforeretiring and leaving the theater to his son Lester and nephew James.

    James's son Lester Wallack was born in New York butbegan his career in the provincial theater in Britain. His New Yorkdebut came in 1847 in Boucicault's Used Up; he subsequentlyplayed romantic and comic roles before joining his father at Wallack'sTheatre. He took over the management of Wallack's in 1861; amongsthis many successes was his own play, Rosedale, which openedin 1863. He opened a third Wallack's in 1882 and managed both venuesuntil his retirement five years later.

    Lester collected theatrical spoonerisms. His favourite occurredin a production of The School for Scandal at Wallack's Theatre,when the actor H. B. Crabtree tried to say "a bullet in thethorax" but came out with "a thullet in the borax".None of the audience noticed until his fellow actor John Brougham(who never failed to inflate others' mistakes) boomed out, "Whatthe devil is his borax?"

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