Ben DeBar

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Ben DeBar as Falstaff

Benedict ("Ben") DeBar (1812–1877) was a prominent American actor-manager. He is associated with operating a major theater in St. Louis, and for portraying the role of Falstaff. He was also connected by marriage with the Booth family of actors.

Professional career[edit]

Born in England, he came to America as an equestrian performer in 1837.[1] He was the stage manager for Noah Ludlow and Sol Smith (uncle of Sol Smith Russell) for their St. Charles Theater in New Orleans and, when they retired in 1843, he assumed ownership of their New Orleans and St. Louis theaters.[1]

Upon the outbreak of the American Civil War, he moved St. Louis, but retained ownership of the St. Charles Theater in New Orleans until 1876.[1] In 1873 he moved from the St. Louis Theatre to DeBar's Grand Opera House.[1][2][3] He remained active as a performer even while managing his theatrical companies.[1] For example, he opened the 1862-63 season in war ravaged St. Louis in September 1862, started the season with a company that included himself as a comedian, Emma Maddern as the stock 'chambermaid', and Ella and Mary Maddern as the 'walking ladies.' [4]

DeBar is credited for first presenting Emma Maddern (mother of actress Emily Stevens and community theater director Robert Stevens as an actress.[5][6] He was also associated with Thomas Davey, who managed a circuit of theaters in the old Southwest and was married to Elizabeth Maddern, sister of Emma Maddern and mother of actress Mrs. Fiske.[7][8]

Falstaff[edit]

As an actor, DeBar was best known for portraying Shakespeare's character Falstaff.[9][10][11] In 1878, a statue of Shakespeare was dedicated in Tower Grove Park, St. Louis; on the east face of the monument base is a depiction of DeBar as Falstaff.[12] He was perhaps motivated to explore this character, as he grew corpulent with age.[13]

Connection to Blanche Booth and the Lincoln assassination[edit]

Clementine DeBar Booth, sister of Ben DeBar, was the mother of Blanche Booth (1844–1930), who was the daughter of Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. and the niece of John Wilkes Booth, the assassin of Abraham Lincoln.[14] Junius and Clementine divorced when Blanch was a child, and Ben DeBar adopted her.[14] Following the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, The DeBar house in St. Louis was thoroughly searched.[14] Ben DeBar was known in St. Louis as a Southern sympathizer ("At the outbreak of the war he was several times admonished by the Provost Marshals for pandering to rebel tastes on the stage of his Theater"), but the investigation into the assassination concluded that as the war was drawing to a close, he had modified his sympathies to protect his pecuniary interests.[14][15] Blanch was an actress, using her mother's (and adopted father's) name, Blanch DeBar.[14][16]

Death[edit]

He died August 28, 1877 in St. Louis of "disease of the brain".[17] His estate was hotly contested.[18]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e Pg. 210; The Cambridge Guide to American Theatre, 2nd Edition (Don B. Wilmuth, editor)
  2. ^ New York Times; "General Notes: May 28, 1873
  3. ^ http://cinematreasures.org/theaters/4359
  4. ^ "Recollections of an Old Actor; Charles A. Rone; Missouri Historical Society March 17, 1906; Vol. 4, Issue 1)
  5. ^ Historical Montreal: Annals of the Montreal Stage With Biographical and Critical Notices of the Plays and Players of a Century (2nd Edition); by Franklin Graham, 1902; pg. 152
  6. ^ The American Stage (Containing Biographical Sketches of Nearly Every Member of the Profession That Has Appeared on the American Stage, from 1733 to 1870; By T. Allston Brown. (Dick & Fitzgerald, Publishers 1870
  7. ^ Uncle Remus Magazine; April 1908(pg 20)
  8. ^ My Remembrances by Augustus Thomas (Charles Scribner's Sons 1922), pg. 12
  9. ^ St. Louis, an Informal History of the City and Its People; 1764-1865, by Charles Van Ravenswaay, Pg. 442
  10. ^ Early Days in Detroit, by Friend Palmer, 1906; pg. 988
  11. ^ Benham's Musical Review, Vol. 8, Issue 11, pg. 67 ("Dramatic")
  12. ^ Tower Grove Park in the City of St. Louis: Review of its Origins and History, By David H. MacAdam, pg. 45
  13. ^ The Golden Age of the New Orleans Theatre, by John S. Kendall,Louisiana State University Press, 1951), pg. 290
  14. ^ a b c d e The Lincoln Assassination: The Evidence, edited by William C. Edwards and Edward Steers Jr. University of Illinois 2009; pg. 98-101: "Report of the Provos Marshall General of St. Louis to the Assistant Secretary of War; April 24, 1865"
  15. ^ Right or Wrong, God Judge Me: The Writings of John Wilkes Booth, edited by John Rhodehamel and Louise Taper; University of Illinois 2001; pg. 87 (footnotes)
  16. ^ YouTube recording of Blanch DeBar c. 1922: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FjVepKMFXro
  17. ^ "Early Actors of the Stage; In Memoriam"; http://genealogytrails.com
  18. ^ New York Times: "Ben DeBar's Estate: A Contest in the Court -- The Administrator Accused of Using a Forged Power of Attorney"; Jan. 27, 1878