Beautiful New York

A Celebration of the City

The Top 100 Greatest New Yorkers — #36

Edwin Booth (1833 – 1893)

36 Edwin Booth

New York is a theatre town. And no star of the theatre burned brighter than Edwin Booth, the greatest actor of the 19th century whose personal tragedy outshone all of the tragedies he performed onstage. Famous for his Hamlet, which he played for 100 nights (a record that stood until John Barrymore broke it with 101), Booth lived at a time when actors were second class citizens. Seeking to raise the social status of actors, he created The Players, a club where theatricals could socialize as equals with doctors, lawyers, the clergy, etc. The club still stands at Gramercy Park, the private green where a great bronze statue of Booth stands in Hamlet costume. When Booth’s brother John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, the elder Booth fell into a deep despair and it took his audiences two years to woo him back to the stage. By this time, he had already lost his first wife to early death and would lose his second in 1881. By the time Booth died in 1893, he had become one of the forerunners of naturalistic acting. The Booth Theatre in the Broadway Theatre District is the oldest theatre in the city to be named after an actor.

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