junius b. booth

Junius Brutus Booth

[booth; Brit. booth]

Junius Brutus Booth (May 1, 1796–November 30, 1852) was an English actor. He was the father of John Wilkes Booth (the assassin of U.S. President Abraham Lincoln), Edwin Booth (an exceptional actor in his own right), and Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., an actor and theatre manager.


Booth was born in St. Pancras, London, England, the son of Richard Booth, a lawyer, and Jane Elizabeth Game, and grandson of John Booth, a silversmith, and Elizabeth Wilkes, a relative of the English radical and politician John Wilkes. He displayed remarkable talent from an early age, deciding on a career in the theatre by the age of seventeen. He performed roles in several small theatres throughout England, and joined a tour of the Low Countries in 1814, returning the following year to make his London debut.

Early in 1815, Junius met Marie Christine Adelaide Delannoy while boarding at her mother's home in Brussels. They eloped, marrying in London on May 18, 1815. Their first child, Amelia, was born October 5 of the same year, but died in infancy. Their only child to survive infancy, Richard Junius Booth, was born January 21, 1819.

Booth gained national renown with his performance in the title role of Richard III in 1817 at the Covent Garden Theatre. Critics compared his performances favorably with those of Edmund Kean, who was at that time the foremost tragedian in Britain. Indeed, partisans of these two actors would occasionally start rows at venues where the two were playing together. This did not however stop the two from performing in the same plays; Kean and Booth acted in several Shakespearian productions at the Drury Lane Theatre from 1817 to 1821.

In 1821, Booth ran off to the United States with Mary Ann Holmes, abandoning his wife and their young son. Booth and Mary Ann claimed to be married that year and settled near Bel Air, Maryland in a farmhouse which Booth later remodeled and named "Tudor Hall." He then embarked upon a thirty-year acting career that made him famous throughout the country. Booth traveled to such cities as Baltimore, Boston and New York; he was particularly acclaimed in New Orleans for his ability to perform in French.

In 1825-1826 and 1836-1837 Booth made tours of his native England. By 1831 he had become the manager of the Adelphi Theatre in Baltimore. His acclaim continued to grow throughout the rest of his life; Walt Whitman described him as "the grandest historian of modern times." Although his relationship with Mary Ann was happy, he lost four children, three in the same year (1833), and suffered from a combination of alcoholism and madness. This had a detrimental effect on his health, which declined steadily through his later years.

In 1846, his first wife learned of her husband's second family and left England for the United States. After years of unsuccessful attempts to break up his relationship with Mary Ann Holmes, she divorced him in 1851. On May 10, 1851, with the youngest of their ten children now eleven years of age, Junius finally legally married Mary Ann.

Throughout the year of 1852 he was involved in a tour of California with his sons Edwin Booth and Junius Brutus Booth, Jr., performing in San Francisco and Sacramento. On the return trip the pair again visited New Orleans for some engagements. On the steamboat ride from New Orleans to Cincinnati, Junius became ill from drinking impure river water. With no physician on board, he died after suffering five days of fever.


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