Joseph Jefferson

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Joseph Jefferson

Joseph Jefferson (February 20, 1829 – April 23, 1905) was a theater actor of American nationality. He was the third Joseph Jefferson of a family dedicated to theater acting and direction, and one of the most famous comedians of the nineteenth century United States.

Joseph_Jefferson’s Biography

Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, his father was a set designer and actor, and his mother an actress. As a child he was already on stage, often when “a child in his arms” was needed. His first known performance took place at the Washington Theater of Washington, D.C., participating in a charity gala for the minstrel Thomas D. Rice.

Early career

In 1833, at four years of age, in a bag was brought to the scene of the Washington Theater by actor Thomas D. Rice. He acted as his well-known character “Jim Crow,” and little Joseph as Little Joe.In 1837, at the age of eight, Joseph performed at the Franklin Theater in New York with his parents. After the 1837-1838 season, his parents moved to Chicago with him and his brothers, Charles Burke and Cornelia, and his father died when he was 13 years old, so the young Jefferson continued to act and collaborate in supporting the family. Thereafter, Jefferson and Burke acted continuously, and the entire family would travel through the West and the South of the United States. Traveling from theater to theater, Jefferson worked in numerous locations, including Chicago, where his family formed a group of itinerant actors, including the United States Army between 1846 and 1848, on the occasion of the US intervention in Mexico As a traveling actor, Jefferson worked in many places, such as hotel canteens, who were not prepared for the performance, as they did not have a stage. All the material he had was a board nailed to the floor with a row of tallow candles.

It was not until 1849, when Jefferson returned to New York, that he began to achieve economic success and criticism, although he still did not get the results he would achieve in later years, in 1861, for reasons of health and Due to the death of his wife, he decided to go to San Francisco (California) and Australia. After spending four years in Australia, he went to London, where he met Dion Boucicault, who revised the character Rip van Winkle, converting him in a pronounced success of the repertoire of Jefferson, premiered on September 5, 1865 at the Adelphi Theater in London, he became one of the most famous theatrical characters of the nineteenth century.

After this experience, in which he worked as an actor and theater director, he also had a prolonged success in 1858 as Asa Trenchard in the work of Tom Taylor Our American Cousin, represented at the Laura Keene Theater in New York. The play was a milestone in his career, as it was for actor Edward Askew Sothern. The naturalness, spontaneity and humor with which he made the love scenes, revealed a spirit for comedy that was new among his contemporaries, always accustomed to more artificial conventions.

Other early roles included Newman Noggs in Nicholas Nickleby, Caleb Plummer in Dot (adaptation of The Cricket of Home), Dr. Pangloss in George Colman’s play The Young The Heir at Law, Salem Scudder in The Octoroon, and Bob Acres in The Rivals.

In 1859, Jefferson made a version of the Washington Irving story “Rip van Winkle” based on the old performances, and acted successfully in Washington, DC, with Sophie Gimber Kuhn playing Lowenna. At the beginning of November of 1861 he arrived in Sydney, and played a fruitful season presenting in Australia Rip Van Winkle, Our American Cousin, The Octoroon and other works. He premiered in Melbourne on March 31, 1862, and had a successful record of performances over six months.

Last years

Jefferson continued to represent Rip Van Winkle for forty years, playing little more than that character. In August of 1866 he returned to the United States. Back in his country, Jefferson made repertoire theater with annual tours in which he represented the aforementioned works. He was one of the first theatrical artists to establish combinations that ousted the old system of local repertoire theater companies.

Jefferson also worked on several films about his character Rip Van Winkle, as was the case with the 1896 production Awakening of Rip, which is preserved in the National Film Registry. Jefferson’s son, Thomas, followed in his father’s footsteps and also incarnated the character in different films shot in the twentieth century. Joseph Jefferson also made several recordings, always with material from “Rip Van Winkle”.

With the exception of minor roles, such as that of the gravedigger in Hamlet, which he played in a production with big stars headed by Edwin Booth, Jefferson did not create any new characters after 1865; and the success of Rip Van Winkle was so important that it was often said that he was an actor of a single character. If this was a defect, it was a fault of the public, who never got tired of his master piece.

Personal life

No other actor was more honored for his professional achievements or his character. He had a friendship with many prominent men of American politics, art, and literature, including President Grover Cleveland. He was an enthusiastic fisherman and a nature lover, and he also liked to paint. Jefferson was also a founding member and second president of The Players of Manhattan.

Jefferson was married twice: in 1850, at 21 years of age, with the actress Margaret Clements Lockyer (1832-1861), whose early death left him with four children; in 1867 he married Sarah Warren, niece of actor William Warren.

Jefferson bought a place called Orange Island, in Louisiana, where he built a house once the Civil War ended. The place, in a peninsular area in Lake Peigneur, was later called Jefferson Island.

Joseph Jefferson died of pneumonia on April 23, 1905 at his home in Palm Beach, Florida. He was buried at Bay View Cemetery in Sandwich, Barnstable County.

More Facts about Joseph Jefferson

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