Friday, October 16, 2009

Bookends Friday with theater genealogy

What were your ancestors watching? Chances are Joe Jefferson was in it.

This review in the New York Review of Books ($) inspired me to pick up The Man Who Was Rip Van Winkle , by Benjamin McArthur, from my local library. Partly it's because some of my research has touched on the theater world of the late 1800s and early 1900s (if you recognize the name "Eunice Goodrich," whose company toured out of Chicago, you have the same problem!).

What McArthur has done is use the career of Joseph Jefferson -- a masterful comic actor and household word 130 years ago -- to follow the history of the country and in particular the theater within it through the nineteenth century. The Jefferson family (no known relation to the third president of the US) was a theatrical clan back in the days when actors were at best marginal characters in society. Joe himself went from riding down the Mississippi on a flatboat from one small-town gig to the next, to an opulent old age. Again, this is one for the context files. At one point they presented their repertoire in a pig pen in Pekin (Tazewell County), Illinois, and later gave several plays to an audience in a remote Mississippi barnyard, with no light other than the moon.

(The Yale University Press web site above claims to include a table of contents and index but did not when I visited.)


Reference Services said...

Great post! Our town had a "Joe Jefferson" dramatic club. See:

Reference Services said...
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