Dion Boucicault

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This article is about Dion Boucicault Senior. For his actor and stage director son (1859–1929), see Dion Boucicault, Jr..
Dion Boucicault
DION BOUCICAULT PHOTO 1.jpg
Dion Boucicault, c. 1862
Born Dionysius Lardner Boursiquot
(1820-12-26)26 December 1820
Dublin, Ireland
Died 18 September 1890(1890-09-18) (aged 69)
New York City, United States
Resting place Mount Hope Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York, United States
Occupation Playwright, actor
Language English
Nationality Irish
Ethnicity Irish
Alma mater University of London
Notable works London Assurance, The Octoroon, The Colleen Bawn, The Shaughraun
Spouse Anne Guiot (m.1845–d.1845)
Agnes Kelly Robertson (m.1853–d.1916; marriage dissolved 1888)
Josephine Louise Thorndyke (m.1885–1890; his death) (bigamously)
Children Dion William Boucicault(1855–76)
Eva Boucicault (1857–1909)
Dionysius George Boucicault Jr. (1859–1929)
Patrice Boucicault (1862 – ?)
Nina Boucicault (1867–1950)
Aubrey Boucicault (1868–1913)
Relatives Dionysius Lardner (putative father)
Anne Darley (mother)
George Darley (uncle)

Dionysius Lardner Boursiquot (26 December 1820 (or 1822) – 18 September 1890), commonly known as Dion Boucicault, was an Irish actor and playwright famed for his melodramas. By the later part of the 19th century, Boucicault had become known on both sides of the Atlantic as one of the most successful actor-playwright-managers then in the English-speaking theatre. The New York Times heralded him in his obituary as "the most conspicuous English dramatist of the 19th century."[1]

Life and career[edit]

Dionysius Lardner Boursiquot was born and educated in Dublin where he lived on Gardiner Street. His mother was Anne Darley, sister of the poet and mathematician George Darley. The Darleys were an important Dublin family influential in many fields and related to the Guinnesses by marriage. The identity of his father is questionable. He was probably the son of Dionysius Lardner, a lodger at his mother's house at a time when she was recently separated from her husband,[2] and who supported him financially until about 1840.[3] He went to London and was enrolled at University College School at the age of 13 and also studied for a year at the University of London.

Work as actor and playwright[edit]

After a year in London, Boursiquot/Boucicault left to pursue acting in Cheltenham, using the stage name Leo Moreton. He joined William Charles Macready while still young, and made his first appearance upon the stage with Benjamin Webster at Bristol, England. Soon afterwards he began to write plays, occasionally in conjunction.

His first play, A Legend of the Devil's Dyke, opened in Brighton in 1838. Three years later he found immediate success as a dramatist with London Assurance. Produced at Covent Garden on 4 March 1841, its cast included such well-known actors as Charles Mathews, William Farren, Mrs Nesbitt and Madame Vestris.

Painting by Edward Henry Corbould depicting a scene from Boucicault's The Corscian Brothers, 1852

He rapidly followed this with a number of other plays, among the most successful of the early ones being The Bastile [sic], an "after-piece" (1842), Old Heads and Young Hearts (1844), The School for Scheming (1847), Confidence (1848) and The Knight Arva (1848, all at Her Majesty's Theatre),[4] as well as his very successful The Corsican Brothers (1852, for Charles Kean) and Louis XI (1855). The last two plays were adaptations of French plays.

In his play The Vampire (1852), Boucicault made his début as a leading actor as the vampire 'Sir Alan Raby'. Although the play itself had mixed reviews, Boucicault's characterisation was praised as "a dreadful and weird thing played with immortal genius".[5] In 1854 he wrote and played the title character in Andy Blake; or, The Irish Diamond.[6]

From 1854 to 1860, Boucicault resided in the United States, where he was always a popular favourite. Boucicault and his actress wife, Agnes Robertson, toured America. He also wrote many successful plays there, acting in most of them. These included the popular Jessie Brown; or, The Relief of Lucknow in 1858.[6]

Work as theatre manager and producer[edit]

In the summer of 1859, Boucicault took over as manager of Burton's New Theatre (originally Tripler's Theatre) on Broadway just below Amity Street. After extensive remodelling, he renamed his new showplace the Winter Garden Theatre. There on 5 December 1859, he premiered his new sensation, the anti-slavery potboiler The Octoroon, in which he also starred. This was the first play to treat seriously of the Black American population. [3]

Poster for a production of Boucicault's farce Contempt of Court, c. 1879. From the Library of Congress

On his return to England, he produced at the Adelphi Theatre a dramatic adaptation of Gerald Griffin's novel, The Collegians, entitled The Colleen Bawn. This play, one of the most successful of the times, was performed in almost every city of the United Kingdom and the United States. Although it made its author a handsome fortune, he lost it in the management of various London theatres.

After his return to England, Boucicault was asked by the noted American comedian Joseph Jefferson, who also starred in the production of Octoroon, to adapt Washington Irving's Rip van Winkle. He obliged and produced a version of the beloved American classic in 1866 that would make Jefferson one of the most famous and well-respected comedians of his age.

Boucicault's next marked success was at the Princess's Theatre, London in 1864 with Arrah-na-Pogue. He played the part of a County Wicklow, Ireland carman. This, and his admirable creation of "Conn"[7] in his play The Shaughraun (first produced at Wallacks Theatre, New York City, in 1874, then at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane in 1875), won him the reputation of being the best "stage Irishman" of his time.

In 1875 Boucicault returned to New York City and finally made his home there. He wrote the melodrama Contempt of Court (poster, left) in 1879, but he paid occasional visits to London and elsewhere (e.g. Toronto[8]). He made his last appearance in London in his play, The Jilt, in 1885. The Streets of London and After Dark were two of his late successes as a dramatist.

Boucicault was an excellent actor, especially in pathetic parts. His uncanny ability to play these low-status roles earned him the nickname "Little Man Dion" in theatrical circles. His plays are for the most part adaptations, but are often very ingenious in construction. They have had great popularity.

Dion Boucicault, c 1890

Family life[edit]

Boucicault was married three times. He married Anne Guiot at St Mary Lambeth on 9 July 1845, and he claimed that she died in a Swiss mountaineering accident later in the same year.[9][10] In 1853, he eloped with Agnes Kelly Robertson (1833–1916) to marry in New York. She was Charles Kean's ward; the juvenile lead in his company[11] and an actress of unusual ability. She would bear Dion six children: Dion William Boucicault (1855–1876); Eva Boucicault (1857–1909); Dion Jr. (1859–1929); Patrice Boucicault (1862–?); Nina Boucicault (1867–1950); Aubrey (1868–1913);[12] three of whom became distinguished actors in their own right. His granddaughter Rene Boucicault (1898–1935), Aubrey's daughter, became an actress and also acted in silent films.

Between 11 July and 8 October 1885, Boucicault toured Australia, where his brother Arthur lived.[13] Towards the end of this tour, he suddenly left Agnes to marry Josephine Louise Thorndyke (c. 1864–1956), a young actress, on 9 September 1885, in Sydney.[13] This aroused scandal on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean, as his marriage to Agnes was not finally dissolved until 21 June 1888, by reason of bigamy with adultery. The rights to many of his plays were later sold to finance alimony payments to his second wife.[14]

Boucicault died in 1890 in New York City, and was buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Hastings-on-Hudson, New York.[15][16]

Selected works[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Notes

  1. ^ "Dion Boucicault", The New York Times, 19 September 1890
  2. ^ 'The career of Dion Boucicault' Chapter 1, Walsh Townsend, 1915, ISBN 1-4325-5070-5
  3. ^ a b Boylan, Henry (1998). A Dictionary of Irish Biography, 3rd Edition. Dublin: Gill and MacMillan. p. 31. ISBN 0-7171-2945-4. 
  4. ^ Victoria Web accessed 1 June 2007
  5. ^ David J. Skal (2001) Vampires: Encounters With The Undead: 47-8
  6. ^ a b Stedman, Jane W. "General Utility: Victorian Author-Actors from Knowles to Pinero", Educational Theatre Journal, Vol. 24, No. 3, October 1972, pp. 289–301, Johns Hopkins University Press
  7. ^ Clapp, John Bouvé; Edgett, Edwin Francis (1902). "The Shaughraun". Plays of the Present. NY: The Dunlap Society. pp. 247–249. 
  8. ^ "Music and Drama". The Week : a Canadian journal of politics, literature, science and arts 1 (11): 176. 14 February 1884. Retrieved 26 April 2013. 
  9. ^ Anne Guiot Calthrop Boucicault Collection {University of Kent} accessed 5 January 2009
  10. ^ Anne Guilot was much older than Boucicault. The ADoB article on his son indicates the relationship was in existence by 1844, and she may have died as late as 1848.
  11. ^ Boucicault, Dionysius George (Dot) (1859–1929) (Australian Dictionary of Biography) accessed 5 January 2009
  12. ^ Aubrey Boucicault at the Internet Broadway Database accessed 6 January 2009
  13. ^ a b Josephine Louise Thorndyke Boucicault Calthrop Boucicault Collection {University of Kent} accessed 5 January 2009
  14. ^ Agnes Robertson Boucicault (1833–1916) Calthrop Boucicault Collection {University of Kent} accessed 5 January 2009
  15. ^ Letter from Josephine Cheney – formerly Boucicault (NY Times) accessed 5 January 2009.
  16. ^ Boucicault is buried in Section 43, Lot 1, near the top of the hill; his monument is a flat tablet of granite with a cast bronze marker giving his name and his life dates in Roman numerals.

Bibliography

External links[edit]