The primary subject of this collection of family papers is the life of Edwin Booth, one of the most famous American actors of the 19th century. However, it has not been titled the Edwin Booth Papers because the bulk of the collection would more accurately be described as the papers of his daughter and biographer, Edwina Booth Grossman. There is also a small amount of material on other family members including Booth's father, the actor Junius Brutus Booth, his brother, the notorious John Wilkes Booth, and other relatives with less impact on history.
Biographical/historical: The collection centers on Edwin Thomas Booth(11/13/1833-6/7/1893) of the theatrical Booth family. An outstanding tragedian and the first American actor to achieve a European reputation, Booth was one of ten children born in Maryland to the English actor, Junius Brutus Booth, Sr. (1796-1852) and his second wife Mary Ann Holmes. Edwin Booth's brothers included the lesser actors, Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. (1821-1883) and John Wilkes Booth (1839-1865), who achieved his fame as the man who assassinated President Abraham Lincoln.
The elder Booth, on stage since the age of 17, was a rival of Edmund Kean's in London and acted and managed several theaters in the United States from 1821 on. Edwin Booth made his first appearance at 16 in his father's company, playing Richard III as had his father. He made his first visit to London in 1861. From 1863-1867, Edwin Booth was the manager of the Winter Garden on Broadway in New York City. In the 1864-1865 season he played the role of Hamlet 100 times, a record unbroken until John Barrymore's 101 in 1922. Also in 1864, Booth played Brutus in Julius Caesar with his brothers John Wilkes Booth as Anthony and Junius Brutus Booth, Jr. as Cassius. This was their only performance together. On March 23, 1867, the theater burned down just as Booth was about to appear as Romeo. He built his own theater, Booth's, on 6th Avenue and 23rd Street in New York City, opening in 1869 with Romeo and Juliet. This venture was not successful and Booth went bankrupt in 1873.
Booth did return to successful touring in the United States, England and Germany. In 1881 he appeared at the Lyceum in London at the invitation of Henry Irving, alternating with him the roles of Othello and Iago. In 1888 Booth presented his house in Gramercy Square to the newly founded Players' Club. He served as the first president of the club, kept a suite of rooms there and died in office.
Edwin Booth was married twice: on July 7, 1860 to Mary Devlin Booth (5/19/1840-2/21/1863), who died after a brief illness and on June 7, 1869 to Mary McVicker Booth (9/1848-11/13/1881). Both wives had done some acting before marriage. Mary Devlin Booth was the mother of Edwin Booth's only surviving child, Edwina Booth Grossman (12/9/1861-12/25/1938). Concerned for her father's legacy, Edwina Booth Grossman published a book of recollections of her father including edited transcriptions of many of his letters. She married Ignatius Grossman and had two children: Mildred Booth Grossman Tilton and Clarence Edwin Booth Grossman, an artist and member of the Players' Club who went by Edwin as an adult and died in 1957.
Content: The collection contains correspondence, writings, clippings, photographs, personal ephemera, programs, printed material and a few speeches. The primary focus of the collection is on the actor Edwin Booth. While there is some professional correspondence with colleagues and letters from Booth's first wife, Mary Devlin Booth, the bulk of the correspondence consists of his letters to his daughter Edwina from 1867 until his death in 1893. Most of these include her transcriptions made in preparation for her book, Edwin Booth: Recollections by His Daughter Edwina Booth Grossman and Letters to Her and to His Friends, a published edition of a selection of edited letters to his family and friends. The writings include Edwina Booth Grossman's reminiscences of her father, the clippings document Booth's theatrical career, the printed material is mainly about Booth and the photographs are of Booth as well as of his immediate family members and descendents.