Thomas S. Hamblin

Last updated

Thomas S. Hamblin
Tho. S. Hamblin - W. L. Ormsby (cropped).jpg
Print of Thomas S. Hamblin, mid 19th century
Born(1800-05-14)14 May 1800
Died8 January 1853(1853-01-08) (aged 52)
NationalityEnglish
OccupationActor
Spouse(s)1.Elizabeth Blanchard, 2.Elizabeth Mary Ann Trewar Shaw

Thomas Souness Hamblin [1] (14 May 1800 – 8 January 1853) was an English actor and theatre manager. He first took the stage in England, then immigrated to the United States in 1825. He received critical acclaim there, and eventually entered theatre management. During his tenure at New York City's Bowery Theatre he helped establish working-class theatre as a distinct form. His policies preferred American actors and playwrights to British ones, making him an important influence in the development of early American drama.

Contents

Although he was known as a fair (if shrewd) businessman, Hamblin's reputation was marred by his well-known womanising and brawling. He had affairs with several up-and-coming actresses at his theatre, and he assaulted at least two newspaper editors who had published unflattering stories about him. His behaviour eventually cost him his first wife and resulted in one conviction for assault.

Early life and stage career

Hamblin was born in Pentonville, England. He apprenticed in a London business but changed course after a successful performance as Hamlet in a school production. By 1815, he had made his professional debut as a ballet dancer at London's Adelphi Theatre. He toured the British Isles over the next eight years, performing at venues such as the Drury Lane Theatre (for manager Stephen Kemble) and Sadler's Wells Theatre. He married Elizabeth Blanchard, a popular actress and daughter of actor William Blanchard and half-sister of actor/playwright E. L. Blanchard. [2] Hamblin had two children by his first wife: William Henry Hamblin Jr. (stage name "Thomas Hamblin Jr") and Elizabeth "Betsey" Hamblin.

Despite some success he had still not established himself with the London critics [3] when, in 1825, Hamblin and his wife left England for the United States. Hamblin took the stage at New York's Park Theatre in early November, [4] where he tackled a number of roles: Hamlet, Macbeth, Othello, Petruchio, Pierre, Rolla, the Stranger, William Tell, and Virginius. [5] Later that month, he appeared opposite Edwin Forrest at the Albion Theatre.

Hamblin as Red Riven Mr. Hamblain -Hamblin- as Red Riven.jpg
Hamblin as Red Riven

Critics praised Hamblin; the Albion calling him "a very excellent actor". [6] Theatre historian T. Allston Brown attributed his success to these factors:

As an actor, he possessed the valuable accessories of a fine person, a good voice, and careful education. . . . In person he was tall and commanding, but so admirably proportioned as in a measure to conceal his almost towering height. Deep set eyes as black as jet were surmounted by a lofty brow, crowned by clusters of curling dark hair in such rich profusion as is seldom seen, except in some of the models which have been handed down to us from remote antiquity. To see him dressed for Brutus, Coriolanus, or Virginius was a study for a painter. [7]

Francis Wemyss disagreed at least in part, saying that Hamblin's acting was "more than balanced by the husky, disagreeable tones of his voice, which always gave the appearance of hard labour to everything he undertook." [8]

The Bowery Theatre

Hamblin began his tenure as manager of New York's Bowery Theatre with partner James H. Hackett in 1830. Hackett left a month later, and Hamblin obtained the lease and rebuilt when the theatre burnt down later that year. Hamblin catered to the tastes of the rowdy audiences of New York's Bowery district. These "Bowery B'hoys" were working class, primarily male, and socially conservative., [9] and Hamblin accordingly staged blackface performances, circus acts, English farce, American melodrama, and Shakespeare to please them. Hamblin himself preferred upper-class entertainments like ballet and opera; nevertheless, he relegated these to infrequent bookings. [10] Under Hamblin, American working-class theatre, emphasising brilliant spectacle and plot-based narrative, emerged as a form in its own right.

Perhaps Hamblin's greatest influence was in his incubation of American talent. [5] He helped start the careers of many young unknowns, and he was not shy about exerting his influence over those who relied upon his patronage. His Bowery featured many big-name talents, including Junius Brutus Booth, Frank Chanfrau, George Washington Dixon, Louisa Lane Drew, Edwin Forrest, Josephine Clifton, Louisa Medina, James B. Phillips, Thomas D. Rice, and Charles W. Taylor. In 1831, he renamed the playhouse "the American Theatre, Bowery" after an anti-British riot at the Park Theater. The message was clear: The Bowery was the theatre of Native American drama.

Hamblin was careful to cultivate good favour with his patrons outside of the theatre, as well. He regularly provided space to the fire department for their annual ball, for example. On another occasion, he loaned the Bowery's in-house orchestra to a local militia group for one of their functions.

Hamblin's success can also be attributed to his hard-nosed business practices. [11] He advertised extensively, and he pioneered the concept of allowing productions to run for periods as long as a month. In the spring of 1834, he began purchasing shares of the theatre from its owners, the New York Association; within 18 months, he owned a majority. When the Bowery Theatre burnt down in 1836, it was the most popular playhouse in New York City. [12] Hamblin bought out the remaining shares and rented the property to W. E. Dinneford and Thomas Flynn. They oversaw the theatre's reconstruction while Hamblin acted in various venues and took care of his debts. Hamblin rebuilt yet again after a fire in 1838 and returned to active management with a bigger Bowery in May 1839.

In the 1840s, increased competition in New York City prompted Hamblin to stage even more spectacular melodramas and to book more variety entertainment such as minstrel shows and circus acts. After a fire in 1845, Hamblin tried to build a new theatre on Broadway, but local residents opposed the plan. Instead, he rebuilt the Bowery once more. Tastes were becoming more upscale, and Hamblin turned over active management to A. W. Jackson. He faced health problems, and his acting career stalled as his style became outmoded. The Albion reported that

The dignity, the finished and elaborated elocution, and the high artistical execution of that school were occasionally brought most vividly to our remembrance in Mr. HAMBLIN's delineation of Hamlet, weakened however at times . . . by a dash of the melo-dramatic style and the laboured pompousness he has acquired by long practice of his art at the Bowery. [13]

He attempted to extend his revenues by buying the lease to the Park Theatre in the summer of 1848. He renovated the building and reopened in September to mixed reviews. The building burnt down in December.

Personal life

Hamblin was a popular target for newspaper satirists, as evidenced by this engraving in "Gallery of Rascalities and Notorieties--No. 8" in The Flash, 31 October 1841. Thomas Hamblin satire.jpg
Hamblin was a popular target for newspaper satirists, as evidenced by this engraving in "Gallery of Rascalities and Notorieties—No. 8" in The Flash , 31 October 1841.

Hamblin's personal life was controversial. [10] Although he was "noted for his correct business habits, promptitude, and open-heartedness", [14] he was a well-known philanderer. [15] Newspapers and rumours alleged that he had many sexual affairs. In 1831, his wife filed for divorce after returning from a tour in Europe; this was finalised in 1834 with the condition that Hamblin was not to remarry as long as his ex-wife lived. [11] [16] Hamblin continued his womanising undaunted; he saw a young actress named Naomi Vincent for a time, and she even came to be known as "Mrs. Hamblin". [11] When she died in childbirth in July 1835, Hamblin entered a relationship with playwright Louisa Medina.

He also pugnaciously brooked no opposition. He got into a barroom brawl in October 1834 and once assaulted the editor of the New York Herald , James Gordon Bennett Sr., in his offices. [17] This latter fight led to a two-day trial and Hamblin's conviction in February 1837. [18]

In 1838, newspaper editor and blackface performer George Washington Dixon wrote in his Polyanthos that Hamblin was having an affair with a teen-aged starlet at the Bowery named Miss Louisa Missouri Miller. [15] The girl was found dead within ten days of publication from "inflammation of the brain caused by the violent misconduct of Miss Missouri's mother and the publication of an abusive article in The Polyanthos." [19] The allegation was not out of character, and many people believed it. [15] Hamblin reacted in his usual fashion:

George Washington Buffalo Dixon has this day [28 July 1838] . . . received a most tremendous quilting, at the hands of Thos. S. Hamblin. I have heard no particulars, except that Buff, as editor of The Polyanthos, was severely beaten by Arbaces. It is the only way in which his feelings can be reached. [20]

Hamblin's ex-wife died in 1849, [21] and he married actress Elizabeth Mary Ann Trewar Shaw. She bore him four more children: Alla, Constance, Edith, and William Snowden Hamblin. Thomas Hamblin died of a "brain fever" (probably cerebral meningitis or cerebral syphilis) [11] in his Broome Street home on 8 January 1853. He left eight heirs, each of whom received $10,000 from his estate. [22] He was buried at Ocean Hill, Brooklyn. His family maintained ownership of the Bowery Theatre until 1867.

Related Research Articles

William Dunlap

William Dunlap was a pioneer of American theater. He was a producer, playwright, and actor, as well as a historian. He managed two of New York City's earliest and most prominent theaters, the John Street Theatre and the Park Theatre. He was also an artist, despite losing an eye in childhood.

Bhoy and ghal

B'hoy and g'hal were the prevailing slang words used to describe the young men and women of the rough-and-tumble working class culture of Lower Manhattan in the late 1840s and into the period of the American Civil War. They spoke a slang, with phrases such as "hi-hi", "lam him", and "cheese it".

Beginning July 7, 1834, New York City was torn by a huge antiabolitionist riot that lasted for nearly a week until it was put down by military force. "At times the rioters controlled whole sections of the city while they attacked the homes, businesses, and churches of abolitionist leaders and ransacked black neighborhoods."

The Meisner technique is an approach to acting which was developed by the United States of American theatre practitioner Sanford Meisner.

Joel Sweeney

Joel Walker Sweeney, also known as Joe Sweeney, was a musician and early blackface minstrel performer. He is known for popularizing the playing of the banjo and has often been credited with advancing the physical development of the modern five-string banjo.

Coal Black Rose

"Coal Black Rose" is a folk song, one of the earliest songs to be sung by a man in blackface. The man dressed as an overweight and overdressed black woman, who was found unattractive and masculine-looking. The song was first performed in the United States in the late 1820s, possibly by George Washington Dixon. It was certainly Dixon who popularized the song when he put on three blackface performances at the Bowery Theatre, the Chatham Garden Theatre, and the Park Theatre in late July 1829. These shows also propelled Dixon to stardom.

George Washington Dixon American entertainer

George Washington Dixon was an American singer, stage actor, and newspaper editor. He rose to prominence as a blackface performer after performing "Coal Black Rose", "Zip Coon", and similar songs. He later turned to a career in journalism, during which he earned the enmity of members of the upper class for his frequent allegations against them.

Nineteenth-century theatre

Nineteenth-century theatre describes a wide range of movements in the theatrical culture of Europe and the United States in the 19th century. In the West, they include Romanticism, melodrama, the well-made plays of Scribe and Sardou, the farces of Feydeau, the problem plays of Naturalism and Realism, Wagner's operatic Gesamtkunstwerk, Gilbert and Sullivan's plays and operas, Wilde's drawing-room comedies, Symbolism, and proto-Expressionism in the late works of August Strindberg and Henrik Ibsen.

Bowery Theatre

The Bowery Theatre was a playhouse on the Bowery in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, New York City. Although it was founded by rich families to compete with the upscale Park Theatre, the Bowery saw its most successful period under the populist, pro-American management of Thomas Hamblin in the 1830s and 1840s. By the 1850s, the theatre came to cater to immigrant groups such as the Irish, Germans, and Chinese. It burned down four times in 17 years, a fire in 1929 destroying it for good. Although the theatre's name changed several times, it was generally referred to as the "Bowery Theatre".

Richard Pelham American actor

Richard Ward "Dick" Pelham, born Richard Ward Pell, was an American blackface performer. He was born in New York City.

Billy Whitlock American blackface performer and banjo player

William M. Whitlock (1813–1878) was an American blackface performer. He began his career in entertainment doing blackface banjo routines in circuses and dime shows, and by 1843, he was well known in New York City. He is best known for his role in forming the original minstrel show troupe, the Virginia Minstrels.

<i>Spirit of the Times</i> 19th-century American sporting newspaper

The Spirit of the Times: A Chronicle of the Turf, Agriculture, Field Sports, Literature and the Stage was an American weekly newspaper published in New York City. The paper aimed for an upper-class readership made up largely of sportsmen. The Spirit also included humorous material, much of it based on experience of settlers near the southwestern frontier. Theatre news was a third important component. The Spirit had an average circulation of about 22,000, with a peak of about 40,000 subscribers.

Adeline Miller, alias Adeline Furman, was an American madam and prostitute. According to her contemporary George Templeton Strong, Miller was active in New York City prostitution from the late 1810s. By 1821, she was running a brothel on Church Street, where she had accumulated personal effects worth at least $500.

Chatham Garden Theatre

The Chatham Garden Theatre or Chatham Theatre was a playhouse in the Chatham Gardens of New York City. It was located on the north side of Chatham Street on Park Row between Pearl and Duane streets in lower Manhattan. The grounds ran through to Augustus Street. The Chatham Garden Theatre was the first major competition to the high-class Park Theatre, though in its later years it sank to the bottom of New York's stratified theatrical order, below even the Bowery Theatre.

Frank Chanfrau American actor and theatre manager

Francis S. Chanfrau was an American actor and theatre manager in the 19th century. He began his career playing bit parts and doing impressions of star actors such as Edwin Forrest and of ethnic groups.

George L. Fox (clown)

George Washington Lafayette Fox was an American actor and dancer who became known for his Clown roles and who based the characterisations for these roles on his inspiration Joseph Grimaldi.

Actor-manager

An actor-manager is a leading actor who sets up their own permanent theatrical company and manages the business, sometimes taking over a theatre to perform select plays in which they usually star. It is a method of theatrical production used consistently since the 16th century, particularly common in 19th-century England and the United States.

<i>Nick of the Woods</i>

Nick of the Woods; or, The Jibbenainesay is an 1837 novel by American author Robert Montgomery Bird. Noted today for its savage depiction of Native Americans, it was Bird's most successful novel and a best-seller at the time of its release.

Louisa Medina (c.1813–1838), also known as Louisa Honore de Medina, Louisa Medina Hamblin, and the nickname Louisine, was a playwright and literary figure in New York City between the years 1833 and her death. She wrote poems, short stories, and approximately 34 melodramas of which only 11 remain extant. She is mostly known for adapting dramatic versions of Edward Bulwer-Lytton'sLast Days of Pompeii (1835) and Ernest Maltravers (1838), and Robert Montgomery Bird'sNick of the Woods (1838), among others. In an era when successful plays typically ran 3-4 nights, Last Days of Pompeii set a record by running for twenty-nine days. This was the earliest known example of a "long run" for a play, a technique which became regularly used by Thomas Hamblin. Medina is also accredited as the first women in American Theatre to earn her living exclusively as a dramatist. Louisa Medina's progressive inclinations concerning her education and self-reliance marks her as an indicator of the rise of First-Wave Feminism in America.

Elizabeth Hamblin

Elizabeth Hamblin was a British-born American stage actress and one of the first female theatre managers in the United States.

References

Notes
  1. Bogar, Thomas A. (2017). Thomas Hamblin and the Bowery Theatre: The New York Reign of "Blood and Thunder" Melodramas. Palgrave Macmillan. p. 6. ISBN   978-3-319-68405-5.
  2. Charles Kent, 'Blanchard, William (1769–1835)', rev. Nilanjana Banerji, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004
  3. The Times, Monday, 24 October 1825; pg. 2; Issue 12792; col E: In the course of an unfavorable review of another actor The Times critic says "He must take his place, with Mr. Bennett, and Mr. Hamblin, and Mr. Booth, and a hundred aspirers to celebrity more; and "mature himself"...at the cost of some provincial theatre."
  4. "Hamblin made his American debut in New York as Hamlet, Nov. 1 1825":'Booth at the Old Bowery', New York Times, 19 June 1887.
  5. 1 2 Nichols 899.
  6. Quoted in Nichols 899.
  7. Brown, vol. 1, p. 128-9.
  8. Wemyss, Francis (1847). Twenty-six Years of the Life of an Actor and Manager. Quoted in Nichols 899.
  9. Wilmeth and Bigsby, The Cambridge History of American Theatre Vol. I, p. 156.
  10. 1 2 Wilmeth and Miller 182.
  11. 1 2 3 4 Nichols 900.
  12. Bank 116.
  13. 9 September 1848. Albion. Quoted in Nichols 900.
  14. Brown 128.
  15. 1 2 3 Cockrell 115.
  16. An article in the New York Times however consisting of theatrical reminiscences of Joseph H. Tooker claims that "He (Hamblin) actually paid his first wife for a divorce in order that he might marry another." Tooker proceeds to quote from a legal document of release signed by Hamblin's wife Elizabeth, accepting payment of $2500 in return for making no further claims on her ex-husband's estate. The document is dated 2 August 1834: "Booth at the Old Bowery", New York Times, 19 June 1887.
  17. Brown 128-9.
  18. Cockrell 192-3, note 102.
  19. 20 June 1838 Boston Post . Quoted in Cockrell 115.
  20. 31 July 1838. New York Transcript , quoted in the Boston Post. Quoted in Cockrell 115. Arbaces, a character in The Last Days of Pompeii , was one of Hamblin's signature roles.
  21. According to Joseph H. Tooker reminiscing in the New York Times, Elizabeth Hamblin died in New Orleans 8 May 1849, having re-married to an actor-manager "on the Southwestern circuit" named James Charles:"Booth at the Old Bowery", New York Times, 19 June 1887
  22. Brown 129.
Further reading