Known above all for creating "The Old Homestead," Denman Thompson lived his life on stage veiled in a tissue of legend. Myth held that he was born in a log cabin in the wilds of Pennsylvania, that he spent his boyhood as a carpenter, that he ran away to join the circus (Tyson's touring circus). He transmuted from circus property boy to a theatrical "supe" under the legendary actress Charlotte Cushman. A shortage of personnel one evening vaulted him to his first speaking part. He embarked upon his stage career playing the most caricatured of types: comic Irishmen and minstrel Africans. He toured in this capacity for years, until rheumatism felled him in Pittsburgh.
While recovering, Thompson conceived the situation of a dramatic scene, that he drafted as "Joshua Whitcomb." The vaudeville audience response proved so enthusiastic, he fleshed it to a full-length drama, renamed "The Old Homestead." Produced at the Boston Theatre in 1886, it proved a major hit. Thompson formed a troupe around himself and toured the country playing his masterwork for the remainder of his career.
NOTES: Obituary, Philadelphia Inquirer (Apr 15, 1911), 9. David S. Shields/ALS