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Daly, John Augustin (1838-1899)

Le Perin
Playwright, Theatrical Manager

John Augustin Daly’s widowed mother moved the family to New York City when he was still a child. In New York, Daly quickly developed an affinity for the theatre. As a young man, he participated in amateur theatrical productions where his interests led him to the behind-the-scenes world of production and direction. Before he was twenty years of age, Daly put on a production in a rented hall in Brooklyn: "The details of this performance . . . are an epitome of his later career of alternate success and failure, met with courage, resourcefulness, and unquenchable confidence" (Quinn).

Daly spent the next ten years as a dramatic critic for several periodicals, including the Sunday Courier, the Sun, the Times, the Evening Express, and the Citizen. During this time, he also began crafting his own dramatic works. Daly was known as a "carpenter of plays" in his younger days and "in all these early adventures of his Daly found young, interesting players to interpret his ideas . . . He was a wonderful teacher. Lester Wallack and A.M. Palmer hired the most finished actors they could discover; Daly made actors. Many of the stars of the next decades came from his school" (Odell 8:294). Daly’s first achievement was Leah the Forsaken, which he adapted from a German play. Daly returned to the adaptation process numerous times during his career. According to Tice Miller, "between the Civil War and the end of the century, Daly was responsible in part or whole for forty-four adaptations of French drama" (11). His first known piece of original writing was a "striking play” entitled Under the Gaslight (Odell 8:186). The play, produced at the New York Theatre in 1867, presented aspects of New York life. It also “introduced to the American stage the rescue, by the heroine, of a person bound to a railroad track in the path of an onrushing train” (Quinn).

Daly’s direct connection to Pfaff’s is untenable, but we do know that he worked with known Pfaff’s members and associates. The actor and theatre manager was mentioned as one of the Bohemians at Pfaff's "gossiped" about by Rufus B. Wilson (476-480). In 1869, Daly leased the Fifth Avenue Theatre and established his own acting company. William Winter’s wife, Lizzie, performed in this theater company during 1870-1871, for which she was paid $40.00 per week (T. Miller 76, 170). During that season, Daly produced Divorce, which opened on September 5, 1871 and ran for two hundred nights (Quinn). Daly’s success with the Fifth Avenue Theatre ended when it burned down on January 1, 1873. He did not, however, allow the loss to hinder him; he quickly leased the New York Theatre and within three weeks he re-opened it as Daly’s Fifth Avenue Theatre. During this time he worked with Edwin Booth during at the new Fifth Avenue Theatre after December 1873 ("The Life of Augustin Daly"). He went on to produce Roughing It, based on the stories of Bret Harte and Mark Twain, and Pique, one of his most popular plays. Daly took charge of the "spacious and expensive Grand Opera House" working with fellow actor and Pfaffian associate, John Brougham (“The Life of Augustin Daly”).

In the 1880s, Daly and his company made several trips, first to England--where he presented his adaptation of Colley Cibber’s She Would and She Would Not with great success--and later to Germany and France. His reputation in the theater world was so great that Tennyson asked Daly to adapt The Foresters for a stage performance. Daly returned to London in 1893 and opened a theater there. His production of Twelfth Night ran for one hundred nights. Daly died during a business trip to Paris on June 7, 1899. William Winter was named in the New York Times article covering Daly’s funeral as pallbearer and names Rose Eytinge as one in attendance during the funeral procession ("Augustin Daly's Funeral").