Webster family

Definition

Theater

  • The English actor-manager and dramatist Ben Nottingham Webster(1797 - 1882); his grandson the actor Ben Webster (1864 - 1947)and his actress wife Mary Whitty (1865 - 1948); and their daughterMargaret Webster (1905 - 71), who became an actress, director,and author.

    The elder Ben Webster began his theatrical careerplaying the violin at the Croydon Theatre; for six weeks he walkedfrom Shoreditch to Croydon on twopence a day ("one pennyworthof oatmeal and one pennyworth of milk"). Webster's special treatcame when the gallery pelted the orchestra with mutton pies, whichhe collected and ate under the stage.

    His first parts were as Harlequin and Pantaloon in the provincesand subsequently at Drury Lane. He performed in broad comedy at theOlympic Theatre before turning to managing and acting at the Haymarketfrom 1837 to 1853. He wrote comedies, farces, and adaptations, includingone of Dickens's The Cricket on the Hearth. Webster's finestrole was as Triplet in Taylor and Reade's Masks and Faces,which he produced in 1852 at both the Haymarket and the Adelphi. Hewent on to manage the Princess's Theatre in 1869 and retired in 1874.

    The younger Ben Webster first appeared in Londonin 1887, going on to establish a reputation with his performancesin the works of Shakespeare and Shaw. Webster, who emigrated to Americain 1939, was surprised at the US custom of rewriting a play duringrehearsals. When he asked the actress Grace George which version ofa particular play she intended to act, she replied, "WhicheverI can remember when I get to it." He earned a distinguishedname on Broadway, making his farewell appearance there in 1940 asMontague in Romeo and Juliet.

    Mary Whitty married Ben Webster in 1892. She madeher debut in Liverpool in 1881 and a year later played at the St James'sTheatre, London. Eventually she joined Henry Irving's company at theLyceum, touring America with the troupe in 1895. She appeared in HarleyGranville-barker's The Madras House (1910) and Emlyn Williams'sNight Must Fall (1935). Whitty went to New York with Websterin 1939.

    Margaret Webster, daughter of Webster and Whitty,first appeared on stage at the age of 12. She made her adult debutin 1924 in the chorus of Euripides's The Trojan Women. Theproduction starred Sybil Thorndike, with whom she later toured inShaw's Saint Joan. Webster joined Gielgud's Old Vic companyin 1929 and played in his Hamlet the following year. In 1937she directed Maurice Evans in a successful Broadway production ofRichard II. Webster's 1943 production of Othello, inwhich she played Emilia to Paul Robeson's Moor, broke all recordsfor Shakespeare on Broadway. In 1946 she helped to found the AmericanRepertory Theatre, directing and acting in the opening productionof Henry VIII.

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