Date of Degree
James V. Hatch
Daniel C. Gerould
Vera M. Roberts
Theatre and Performance Studies
Reports during the nineteenth century indicate that John Brougham was one of the best known actors of his day, but little study during the twentieth century has been made of his performance career. Today he is sometimes recognized as a playwright, probably because two of his plays have been included in anthologies of nineteenth-century plays, but he considered himself primarily an actor rather than playwright. While it has been acknowledged that he was never very successful financially in his repeated attempts at theatre managements, reasons for his lack of success have not been fully explored. His artistic triumphs as a manager have been ignored because of his lack of financial acumen.
As an Irish comedian, Brougham was regarded primarily as a light comedian, and many of his favorite roles were those of Irish gentlemen. However, he also played Irish low comedy roles as well as a number of roles that were not Irish. In his own melodramas, he often included a comic role for himself.
In general, Brougham did not associate himself with particular companies for long periods of time. In fact, his longest consecutive period of association in America was four years in the early 1850's with John W. and Lester Wallack at Wallack's Theatre after they had taken over the theatre which had been built for Brougham in 1850.
Although he wrote that he preferred being "at home" in New York to touring, he performed in almost every principal city during his thirty-five years on the stage in America. He often participated in benefits and was one of the founding members of the American Dramatic Fund Association. He was recognized for his distinctive performance style, and his impromptu curtain speeches were often quoted verbatim in the next day's newspaper.
As an almost perfect example that illustrates that fame is fleeting, it is interesting to note that Brougham's popularity was probably as much a product of his sparkling personality as his prowess on stage. However, his versatility as an actor provides a fascinating example of the career of a nineteenth-century actor.
Sutton, Dana Rahm, "John Brougham: The American Performance Career of an Irish Comedian, 1842–1880" (1999). CUNY Academic Works.