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Edwin Booth was a 19th century Shakespearean actor best known for his portrayal of Hamlet and as the brother of assassin John Wilkes Booth.
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Edwin Booth was born on November 13, 1933, near Bel Air, Maryland. Like his father and brothers, Booth became a Shakespearean actor, touring the United States and Europe. in 1865, his brother John Wilkes Booth shot and killed President Abraham Lincoln. After the assassination, Edwin Booth managed his own venue, Booth’s Theater,
in Manhattan. He died in New York City on June 7, 1893.
Edwin Thomas Booth was born near Bel Air, Maryland, on November 13, 1833. His father, Junius Brutus Booth, was a Shakespearean actor, as were his two brothers, John Wilkes Booth and Junius Booth Jr. Booth was named after two of his father's colleagues, Edwin Forrest and Thomas Flynn.
Booth first performed with his father in an 1849 production of Richard III. He embarked on an international tour after his father's death in 1852, developing considerable renown. Of the three Booth brothers, Edwin was the most successful. He appeared onstage with both of his brothers only once, in 1864, during a benefit meant to raise funds to purchase a statue of William Shakespeare for New York City's Central Park; the three starred in a production of Julius Caesar, with Edwin playing Brutus.
The Booth brothers found themselves politically divided at the outset of the Civil War. Edwin supported President Abraham Lincoln and the Union, while his brother John was an extreme secessionist. On April 14, 1865, John Wilkes Booth shot and killed President Lincoln in Washington, D.C. Thereafter, Edwin Booth abandoned the stage for a period of years and disowned his brother. In 1866, he returned to the theater to play Hamlet—this would become his signature role through the remainder of his career.
Coincidentally, Edwin Booth had saved the life of Abraham Lincoln's son, Robert Todd Lincoln, shortly before the president's assassination. Robert and Booth had been waiting on a train platform when Robert lost his footing. Robert recalled that Booth had grabbed him by the collar, and that he had recognized and thanked the famous actor. Booth's brother would kill Robert Lincoln's father less than a year later.
From 1863 to 1867, Booth managed the Winter Garden Theater in Manhattan. After a fire destroyed the theater in 1867, Booth set to work on a new venue. Booth's Theater opened in February 1869, with a production of Romeo and Juliet. Despite Booth's celebrity, his theater was never lucrative, and he was finally forced into bankruptcy during the Panic of 1873. Booth maintained his personal wealth by touring extensively after his theater venture folded.
Booth married Mary Devlin in 1860. They had one daughter, Edwina, before Devlin's death in 1863. He married his acting partner, Mary McVicker, in 1869. The two remained together until McVicker's death in 1881.
Edwin Booth died on June 7, 1893, in New York City, and was buried next to Mary Devlin at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
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