Launched on the stage as a child dancer at age six, Mary Gannon grew up touring the provincial theaters of the United States. Her early roles and engagements are confused by a great thicket of lies and misinformation, and a surprising lack of hard evidence. In 1855 she stepped into the first rank of American actresses playing Madame Denhoft. From that performance until her death in 1868, Gannon was reckoned the great comic actress in the country. A fixture in the plays at Wallack's Theater and performing with the greatest ensemble of comic actors of the mid-19th century, Gannon shined in hit after hit: "The Love Chase," "The Romance of the Poor Young Man," "Knights of the Round Table," "To Marry or Not to Marry," all of the comic matrons in the 18th-century town comedies, and roles she created, such as Gertrude in "The Little Treasure" and Rosa Leigh in "Rosedale."
Her memorialist in the New York Herald's obituary observed, "she was guided with very subtle and unerring powers of perception for the comic phases of character and life." Possessed of a sunny disposition, a vast repertoire of quirky gestures, and comically heroic sincerity, she could stop even bad plays with a coup of hilarity.
NOTES: Obituary, New York Herald-Tribune (Feb 24, 1868). David S. Shields/ALS