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).
Adah Menken, an actress "not known for her talent, but rather for her frenetic energy, her charismatic presence, and her willingness to expose herself," was born in a suburb of New Orleans (Richards 192). Adah’s given name was probably Adah Bertha Theodore, but conflicting accounts of her early years and parentage (many generated by herself for publicity purposes) make it difficult to say with certainty.