Dictionary of National Biography, 1912 supplement/Edouin, Willie

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EDOUIN, WILLIE, whose real name was William Frederick Bryer (1846–1908), comedian, born at Brighton on 1 Jan. 1846, was son of John Edwin Bryer, a dancing master, by his wife Sarah Elizabeth May. He was the youngest member of a family of five clever children, all of whom took early to the stage. He first appeared in public in the summer of 1852 (with two sisters and others) in a juvenile troupe of 'Living Marionettes' at the Theatre des Varietes, Lin wood Gallery, Leicester Square, in farces, ballets d'action, and extravaganzas. At Christmas in 1852 and 1854 the Edouin children acted in pantomime at the Strand Theatre. In 1857 'The Celebrated Edouin Family' were taken by their parents on a prolonged tour of Australia, India, China, and Japan. In 1863, after the disbandment of the troupe, Willie and his sister Rose (afterwards Mrs. G. B. Lewis, of the Maidan Theatre, Calcutta) were both members of Fawcett's stock company at the Princess's Theatre, Melbourne, playing in burlesque. Subsequently Willie made a long stay in California. On 2 June 1870 he first appeared in New York, at Bryant's Minstrel Hall, as Mr. Murphy in 'Handy Andy.' Shortly afterwards he began a notable association with Lydia Thompson [q. v. Suppl. II], playing with her burlesque troupe at Wood's Museum, New York, in October and November. In the company was Alice Atherton, whom Edouin subsequently married. At Wallack's Theatre, New York, in August 1871 he was first seen in his droll impersonation of Washee-Washee the Chinaman, in Farnie's burlesque of 'Bluebeard.' In this character he made his first adult appearance in London at the Charing Cross Theatre on 19 Sept. 1874. In 1877 Edouin returned with the Lydia Thompson troupe to New York, where pantomime or burlesque largely occupied him for the next six years.

On 9 Sept. 1884 Edouin made his first experiment in London management by opening Toole's Theatre with 'The Babes, or Whines from the Wood,' which, with himself and his wife in the principal characters, ran 100 nights [see Brough, Lionel, Suppl. II]. On 31 July 1886 he commenced a six weeks' season at the Comedy as Carraway Bones in the farcical comedy 'Turned Up,' which proved so successful that he transferred it, under his own management, to the Royalty Theatre, where it ran over 100 nights. On 25 Feb. 1888 Edouin began his first managerial period at the Strand by producing 'Katti, the Family Help,' with himself and his wife (Alice Atherton) in the principal characters. On 13 June 1889, at the Prince of Wales's Theatre, he proved very successful as Nathaniel Glover (an amiable caricature of Sir Augustus Harris [q. v. Suppl. I]) in 'Our Flat.' A fortnight later he transferred the play to the Opera Comique, under his own management, where it had a run of close on 600 nights. During 1891 and 1893 he resumed management of the Strand, appearing there in light pieces suiting his idiosyncrasy. On 18 June 1894 he had a congenial part in Jeremiah Grubb in Mark Melford's 'The Jerry Builder,' a farcical comedy in which, as Mattie Pollard, his daughter May made a promising debut. On 24 Feb. 1897 he won great success at the Prince of Wales's with his quaint embodiment of Hilarius in 'La Poupee.' On 4 Feb. 1899 his wife, who had long acted with him, died. In 1900 he went to America for a brief period, In June 1901 he created Samuel Twanks in 'The Silver Slipper' at the Lyric. Subsequently he performed in sketches in South Africa. On his return he originated the role of Hoggenheimer in 'The Girl from Kay's' at the Apollo (15 Nov. 1902). Afterwards his acting showed a serious falling off, notably in 'The Little Michus' at Daly's in April 1905. In 1907 he was playing in vaudeville in the United States, but developed symptoms of mental failure. Returning home, he died in London on 14 April 1908. He was buried at Kensal Green. Two daughters survived him. A coloured portrait of the comedian as Hilarius in 'La Poupée' accompanies his memoir in 'Players of the Day' (1902). In parts of grotesquerie and whim Edouin was an admirable comedian. As a manager he showed little business aptitude. He made large sums of money but died poor.

[W. Davenport Adams's Dict. of the Drama; Theatrical Journal, 1852 and 1854; Illustr. London News, 1852 (advts.); Col. T. Allston Brown's Hist. of the New York Theatres; William Archer's The Theatrical World of 1894; Players of the Day (Newnes), 1902, pt. xi.; Daily Telegraph, 15 April 1908; Green Room Book, 1909; personal knowledge.]