Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Brougham, John
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|Edition of 1900. Written by William Winter. See also John Brougham on Wikipedia, and our Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography disclaimer.|
BROUGHAM, John, actor, b. in Dublin, Ireland, 9 May, 1810; d. in New York, 7 June, 1880. His father, an Irishman of good family, was an amateur painter, a person of exceptional talent and gay disposition, and died young. His mother was the daughter of a Huguenot, whom political adversity had forced into exile, and who took refuge in the Irish capital. John was the eldest of three children. The other two died in youth, and, the father being dead and the widowed mother left penniless, the surviving boy was reared in the family and home of an eccentric uncle. He was prepared for college at an academy at Trim, in the county Meath, twenty miles from Dublin, and subsequently was sent to Dublin university. There he acquired classical learning, and formed interesting and useful associations and acquaintances; and there also he became interested in private theatricals. He was a frequent attendant, moreover, at the Theatre Royal in Hawkins street. The impetus toward his theatrical career was, doubtless, received by him at this time and in this way. Before leaving the university he, by chance, became acquainted with the fascinating actress, Mme. Vestris, afterward the first wife of Charles Mathews, the comedian; and when, at a later period, he went up to London, this acquaintance led to his being engaged, first at the Tottenham, and then at the Olympic, of both of which houses she was the manager. He had been studying surgery, and walked the Peth street hospital for eight months; but misfortune came upon his opulent uncle, and so the youth was obliged to provide for himself. He went to London in 1830, and, after a brief experience of poverty, suddenly determined to become an actor. He was destitute of everything except fine apparel, and he had actually taken the extreme step of offering himself as a cadet in the service of the East India company; but, being dissuaded by the enrolling officer, who lent him a guinea and advised him to seek for other employment, and happening to meet with a festive acquaintance, he sought recreation at the Tottenham theatre (afterward the Prince of Wales's) where Mme. Vestris was acting; and there, presently, he was engaged. His first regular appearance on the stage was made at that house in July, 1830, when he acted several minor parts in “Tom and Jerry”; and from that time till his death, fifty years later, he remained an actor. His first hit was made as O'Slash in “The Invincibles,” a part which in its name is typical of his individual line of dramatic art. The first twenty years of Brougham's life were passed in and around Dublin. The rest of it was divided between London and New York. In 1831 he followed Mme. Vestris to the Olympic theatre, and his name (“Mars — Mr. Brougham”) appears in the cast of “Olympic Revels,” in the first full bill that she issued there. He early began to write for the stage, his first play being a burlesque written for William E. Burton, who was then acting, obscurely, at the Pavilion theatre in London. From the Olympic, which Mme. Vestris quitted in 1839, Brougham followed her to Covent Garden, and he there remained during the brief period of her management of that house. About this time he co-labored with Dion Boucicault in writing the comedy of “London Assurance,” the authorship of which, however, has always been claimed exclusively by Mr. Boucicault. In the summer of 1840 Brougham was director of the Lyceum, and for that theatre he wrote “Life in the Clouds,” “Love's Livery,” “Enthusiasm,” and “Tom Thumb II.”
In 1842 he came to New York, under engagement to Stephen Price, and on 4 Oct. in that year, at the old Park theatre, he made his first appearance on the American stage, enacting O'Callaghan in “His Last Legs.” He was accompanied by his first wife, Emma Williams, a beauty of the Juno type, whom he had met and married in London. This lady subsequently was separated from him, became Mrs. Robertson, and died in New York, 30 June, 1865. His second wife, Annette Nelson (Mrs. Hughes), whom he married in 1847, was a singing actress and a dancer, and at one time (1836) manager of the Richmond Hill theatre, a play-house just opened, in 1831, on the corner of Varick and Charlton streets, New York, in what had been the country house of Aaron Burr. This lady died in New York, 4 May, 1870. In the time of Brougham's first visit to America the Park, the Bowery, the Chatham, and the National were the only theatres thought to be within the city limits. Niblo's Garden was deemed “out of town.” The city, indeed, was but thinly settled from Canal street northward to Union square; the Third avenue was a race-track, and all the present Fifth avenue hotel region was the resort of sportsmen. Brougham was received with kindness at the old Park, and subsequently he made a professional tour of other cities, but ultimately settled in New York. He was for a time connected with the stock company at Burton's theatre in Chambers street, and made many brilliant hits there, both as actor and manager. On 23 Dec., 1850, he opened Brougham's Lyceum in Broadway, near the southwest corner of Broome street, and on 17 March, 1852, closed it. This house became “Wallack's Theatre,” the first bearing that name, which has since become a household word in New York, though not the first Wallack's in fact, for James William Wallack had previously managed the National in Leonard street. After the collapse of his Lyceum, Brougham joined Wallack's stock company. In 1856 he managed the Bowery theatre, and there accomplished a splendid revival of Shakespeare's “King John.” In 1860 he went to London, where he remained for four years. He was connected with the Lyceum under Charles Fechter's management, and there he produced the popular English plays of “The Duke's Motto” and “Bel Demonio,” based on French originals. He acted at the Princess's, also, in his own comedy of “Playing with Fire.” His reappearance in the United States was effected, in this latter piece, on 30 Oct., 1865, at the Winter Garden theatre, situ- ated in Broadway, opposite the end of Bond street; and he never again left this country. On 25 Jan., 1869, he opened “Brougham's Theatre” in Twenty-fourth street, but this was taken from him by its owner on the following 3 April. From this time to the end he led the life of a stock-actor, a wandering star, and a playwright. His last professional tour of the United States was made in 1877, and his last appearance on the stage occurred on 25 Oct., 1879, at Booth's theatre, New York, where he enacted Felix O'Reilley, a detective, in Boucicault's drama of “Rescued.” Brougham was the proprietor and editor of “The Lantern,” a comic paper published in New York in 1852, and he brought out two collections of his miscellaneous writings, entitled “A Basket of Chips” and “The Bunsby Papers.” Toward the last he became very poor, and on 17 Jan., 1878, a performance was given at the New York academy of music for his benefit, which yielded $10,279, arid with this his friends bought an annuity for him. He was buried in Greenwood cemetery. Brougham wrote about one hundred plays, chief among which were “Playing with Fire,” “The Game of Love,” “The Game of Life,” “Romance and Reality,” “The Ruling Passion,” “O'Donnell's Mission,” “The Emerald Ring,” “The Lily of France,” and the burlesques of “Pocahontas” and “Columbus.” His last play, finished at Easter, 1880, but never acted, was entitled “Home Rule,” and it was designed to suggest expedients for improving the condition of the people of Ireland.