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Augustin Daly

Biography: 

(1838-1899)

Augustin Daly had the greatest eye for acting talent of any manager in 19th-century America, a tireless energy as a playwright and translator of European plays, and an uncanny instinct about how to stage implausible or formulaic events on stage in a way to capture public interest. His theatrical career began as a newspaper critic, a position that he held at several New York papers, and which made him analyze the effects and defects of plot and dramaturgy in contemporary drama.

During the Civil War Daly turned from critiquing plays to fashioning them, first Americanizing Mosenthal's "Deborah" into "Leah, the Forsaken," and then attempting original plays. He made his reputation in melodrama with "Under the Gaslight" and "Pique." The success of the former secured him enough money to lease the 5th Avenue Theatre where he formed his revolutionary company of actors, securing new talents, or seasoned performers who possessed sufficient versatility to play off type. His letters to prospective performers or to authors whom he wished to cultivate were uniquely eloquent, confiding, and sometimes visionary.

The 1873 fire destroyed his theater, forcing him to scramble to reassemble his empire. He rebranded the Globe Theatre into the new "5th Avenue Theatre" and consolidated its success with two self-penned hits, "Divorce" and "Pique." One of his innovations was playful stagings of Shakespeare--at a time when Charles Keane in London was engaging in his historicist revivals of Shakespeare, Daly adjusted staging and sometimes incident to make them more sensational, sexy (with Ada Rehan), and fast paced. David S. Shields/ALS