Prince of Players

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Prince of Players
Original film poster
Directed by Philip Dunne
Produced by Philip Dunne
Written by Moss Hart
Eleanor Ruggles (book)
Starring Richard Burton
Maggie McNamara
John Derek
Raymond Massey
Charles Bickford
Elizabeth Sellars
Eva Le Gallienne
Music by Bernard Herrmann
Cinematography Charles G. Clarke
Edited by Dorothy Spencer
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release date(s)
  • January 11, 1955 (1955-01-11)
Running time 102 min
Country United States
Language English
Budget $1,570,000[1]

Prince of Players is a 1955 20th Century Fox biographical film about the 19th century American actor Edwin Booth. The film was directed and produced by Philip Dunne from a screenplay by Moss Hart, based on the book by Eleanor Ruggles. The music score was by Bernard Herrmann and the cinematography by Charles G. Clarke. The film was made in CinemaScope.

The film starred Richard Burton, Maggie McNamara, John Derek with Raymond Massey, Charles Bickford, Elizabeth Sellars and Eva Le Gallienne.


Edwin "Ned" Booth is the son of the noted thespian Junius Brutus Booth and the older brother of another actor, John Wilkes Booth. Beginning In 1848, as a boy, and into early manhood, he travels with and assists Junius, who is often drunk and seems at times on the brink of madness.

Several years go by. A theater owner, Dave Prescott, eagerly anticipates a Junius performance in San Francisco, but the actor is again unable to perform. Ned, who has memorized his father's lines, substitutes in a performance of Richard III at a mining camp, where the miners, disappointed at first, are ultimately pleased by what they see. Prescott, however, breaks the news shortly after that Junius is dead.

Ned returns east, where John Wilkes Booth is starring in The Taming of the Shrew to great acclaim at Ford's Theatre in Washington D.C. Billed as the son and successor to Junius Brutus Booth, John is planning a tour and asks Ned if he will be his manager along with their younger sister, Asia. Somewhat contemptuous of his upstart brother's early success as an actor, Ned declines. He tells his younger brother he hasn't learned the craft the way he, Ned, has by traveling with and looking after their father for years. Ned begins a theater tour of his own with Dave Prescott. He travels to New Orleans, where he meets, then soon marries, Mary Devlin, a member of a theatrical company playing Juliet opposite his role as Romeo.

The civil war breaks out and John is said to be working steadfastly for the Confederacy's cause. He declines an offer from Ned to go to London together for a production of Hamlet, and when a pregnant Mary falls ill, Ned begins drinking heavily and missing performances.

Mary's death turns her husband morose. Then comes the terrible news one night that John Wilkes Booth has assassinated President Abraham Lincoln by gunshot at Ford's theater.

Weeks after the assassination and his brother's subsequent death on a farm in Virginia, Ned has decided to return to the stage in Hamlet. On opening night the theater is packed by a mob incensed by the murder of the president and blaming not only Booth but all actors and theaters in general. One protestor says the president "died in the very doorway to hell" because he was murdered in a theater.

Backstage, Dave Prescott tells Ned that the show must be canceled. Ned insists that he wants to go on for his profession as well as his family name, remembering that his late wife once said that acting was his gift, his purpose in life and he must "never be derelict" to that purpose.

Ned is seated center stage on the throne as the curtain comes up. The mob hurls insults and objects at Ned as the other actors rush off the stage. Ned remains seated, immobile, and absorbs the abuse until the crowd's fury exhausts itself. Finally one of the protestors declares "he's got guts." and shouts "Booth, you're alright!" and begins clapping.

Gradually more of the mob join him, the other actors return to the stage and the film ends with Ned hearing his late wife speaking part of Juliet's soliloquy as the crowd's approval continues to rise.



  1. ^ Solomon, Aubrey. Twentieth Century Fox: A Corporate and Financial History (The Scarecrow Filmmakers Series). Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 1989. ISBN 978-0-8108-4244-1. p249

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