The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Jefferson, Joseph

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Jefferson, Joseph
Edition of 1920. See also Joseph Jefferson on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

JEFFERSON, Joseph, American actor: b. Philadelphia, 20 Feb. 1829; d. Palm Beach, Fla., 23 April 1905. He was privately educated and from infancy was upon the stage, appearing as Cora's child in ‘Pizarro’ when three years old, and among his first public appearances being that as a miniature of T. D. Rice in one of the latter's “Jim Crow” entertainments at Washington, D. C. In 1843 he became a member of a band of strolling players that gave primitive entertainments through Mississippi and Texas, and followed the United States army into Mexico. On his return to the United States he appeared at the Arch Street Theatre, Philadelphia, directed the performances at Peale's Museum in that city, became known as an excellent stock actor, and in 1851 played Marroll in ‘A New Way to Pay Old Debts’ to the Sir Charles Overreach of Junius Brutus Booth. His prominence began with his creation of Asa Trenchard in ‘Our American Cousin,’ which eliminated from the stage the traditional caricature of Yankee character. He visited Europe in 1856 and soon after his return joined Laura Keene's Company. He then appeared in the parts he afterward made famous: Newman Noggs in ‘Nicholas Nickleby’; Caleb Plummer in ‘The Cricket on the Hearth’; Dr. Pangloss in ‘The Heir at Law’; Dr. Ollapod in ‘The Poor Gentleman’; Mr. Golightly in ‘Lend Me Five Shillings’; Salem Scudder in ‘The Octoroon’; Bob Acres in ‘The Rivals’; and, above all, Rip Van Winkle in the play of that name. Dissatisfied with his own dramatization of Irving's sketch in which he had appeared at Washington in 1860, Jefferson had the play rewritten by Dion Boucicault, and in Boucicault's version, with slight changes, afterward acted. The drama ran for 170 nights at the Adelphi, London, in 1865, and in the United States was so successful that for years Jefferson appeared there in nothing else. Jefferson's Rip established itself as one of the classic creations of the stage, and outside of Shakespeare probably no character ever attained so wide and permanent a recognition with the American public. In the later years of his life he played but a few weeks annually in a repertoire of favorite parts. He also made a considerable reputation as an artist by his impressionist landscapes in oils. His acting method was distinguished by ease, verisimilitude and perfection of finish. In the plays used by him he, for artistic purposes, introduced several admirable changes and additions. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He published an interesting ‘Autobiography’ (New York 1890), and a ‘Reply to Ignatius Donnelly on the Shakespeare-Bacon Argument.’ Consult the ‘Autobiography’ and Carroll, ‘Twelve Americans’ (New York 1883); Dole, N. H., ‘Joseph Jefferson at Home’ (Boston 1898); Jefferson, E. P., ‘Intimate Recollections of Joseph Jefferson’ (New York 1909); Matthews and Hutton, ‘Actors and Actresses of Great Britain and the United States’ (ib. 1886); Moses, M. J., ‘Famous Actor-Families in America’ (ib. 1906); Wilson, Francis, ‘Joseph Jefferson’ (ib. 1906); id., ‘Reminiscences of a Fellow Player’ (ib. 1906); Winter, William, ‘The Jeffersons’ (Boston 1881); id., ‘Other Days’ (New York 1908).