Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography/Wallack, James William
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Wallack, James William
|Edition of 1900. Written by John William Weidemeyer. See also James William Wallack and John Lester Wallack on Wikipedia, and our Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography disclaimer.|
WALLACK, James William, actor, b. in Lambeth, England, 24 Aug., 1794; d. in New York city, 25 Dec., 1864. His parents were comedians, who performed at the London minor play-houses and in the British provinces. His first appearance on the stage was as a child at the Surrey theatre in London. Soon afterward he performed in juvenile characters at Drury Lane, and at the age of eighteen entered on a permanent career at the same house as Laertes in “Hamlet.” He also acted in the British provinces and in Ireland, gradually winning his way to popularity as a useful representative of drama and comedy. In 1824 Wallack became stage-manager at Drury Lane, and rose to the performance of secondary rôles in tragedy. Later he played at the Haymarket, and officiated as stage-manager at the Princess's theatre. For about twenty years his attention was divided between the theatres of the United States and those of his native land. He made numerous voyages to this country, where he was always received with favor. On the occasion of his first visit to the United States, in 1818, he boldly advanced himself to the interpretation of Macbeth, Romeo, Shylock, Coriolanus, Hamlet, and Richard III., without making any favorable impression. But in the principal rôles in “The Stranger,” “Pizarro,” and “The Gamester,” closely copied in the manner of Kemble, he attracted favorable consideration. From 1818 until 1845 Wallack performed at intervals in all the principal cities of the Union. Among his best renderings were the chief characters in “The Brigand,” “The Rent-Day,” “The Wonder,” “Don Cassar de Bazan,” “Wild Oats,” and the refined comedy parts of Mercutio, Jaques, and Benedick. “Love's Ritornello,” as sung by him in “The Brigand,” was hummed from one end of the land to the other. In 1822 Wallack met with an accident, in which his leg was fractured by the overturning of a stagecoach between New York and Philadelphia. This mishap retired him from active life for about eighteen months; from its effect he never entirely recovered. From 1837 until its destruction by fire Wallack conducted the New York National theatre. There he presented a repertory of the best plays in the English language, rendered by a company such as never before had been seen in this country. In 1852 he assumed the management of Wallack's lyceum, and in 1861 established Wallack's theatre. As a performer he was endowed with a fine personality; his voice was highly melodious, set off by flexibility and careful elocution, and his knowledge of stage-effect was unexcelled. In refined and eccentric comedy Wallack had few superiors. Some of his rôles in the romantic dramas of his own creation were entirely unequalled, and have passed away with him. —
His son, John Lester, actor, b. in New York city, 1 Jan., 1820; d. in Stamford, Conn., 6 Sept., 1888, spent his infancy and boyhood in England. At the age of twenty he was entered as lieutenant in the British army, but after two years' service he abandoned his military career. Ambitious of following in the footsteps of his father, he began his new experience on the Dublin stage in the part of Don Pedro in “Much Ado about Nothing.” He remained there two seasons, which were followed by an engagement at Edinburgh and a brief connection with the Haymarket theatre in London. In this country Mr. Wallack at first became known as John W. Lester, making his first appearance as such at the New York Broadway theatre, 27 Sept., 1847, as Sir Charles Coldstream in Dion Boucicault's adaptation of “Used Up.” After two years' connection with this establishment he appeared in succession at several other houses — the Bowery, Burton's, Niblo's, and Brougham's lyceum. In 1852 he joined the company at his father's theatre, where he acted as stage-manager and played leading parts. On the death of the elder Wallack, in 1864, he succeeded him as proprietor of Wallack's theatre, which he conducted with more or less success for twenty-four years. On 21 May, 1888, after his managerial retirement, Mr. Wallack was the recipient of a brilliant dramatic testimonial that netted the beneficiary the unexampled proceeds of $20,000. Among the actor's best performances were Don Felix in “The Wonder,” St. Pierre in “The Wife,” Alfred Evelyn in “Money,” Charles Surface in “The School for Scandal,” Young Marlowe in “She Stoops to Conquer,” Harry Dornton in “The Road to Ruin,” and Claude Melnotte in “The Lady of Lyons.” In his youth Mr. Wallack had a pleasing tenor voice, which he often used to advantage. In many respects his abilities were similar to his father's. But, unlike him, he never aspired to the leading rôles in tragedy or those of the heavy sentimental drama, but wisely confined his efforts to genteel comedy and romantic youthful characters. He wrote for the stage “The Veteran” and “Rosedale,” both of which were deservedly popular, and prepared three papers that were published in “Scribner's Magazine” in October and following months after his death.