Best know for his portrayal of Asa Trenchard in Our American Cousin and Rip Van Winkle in Rip Van Winkle, Joseph Jefferson was one of the most popular comedians of his time. Born February 20, 1829 in Philadelphia, Jefferson was the son of actors and was introduced to the stage as a child. Jefferson made his adult debut in New York in 1849 at the age of twenty. His early New York successes led to a tour of the South and theatrical engagements in Baltimore and Philadelphia.
Though much of her early life, including her real name and exact date of birth, remains in shadow, Laura Keene is thought to have come from a well-to-do background. She was widely read and spent time in Turner’s studio during her childhood. After performing with Madame Vestris’ company, Keene journeyed to New York in 1852 at the invitation of James W. Wallack. She became the leading lady of his theater and enjoyed great success.
Annette Nelson was born in Madrid to an English naval captain. In 1828, she made her acting debut in London as Peggy in a play called "The Country Girl." Nelson first came to the United States in 1833 to New Orleans. In 1836, she managed the Richmond Hill Theatre in New York for several months, a period during Winter noted that she was a "reigning beauty in thousands of hearts" (Winter 121-2). She made her debut in New York the following year at Park Theatre before performing later that same year at the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia (Brown 49).
Wallack’s Lyceum was located in Broadway near Broome Street. Its productions included original works by Pfaffians John Brougham, Stephen Ryder Fiske, and Fitz-James O’Brien. The Lyceum, run by James W. Wallack, was at one time the leading theater in New York City.
Born second in a family of nine children in Maine and schooled in Boston, Willis attended Yale and traveled extensively in Europe. His sister was Fanny Fern, a member of the Pfaffian crowd. In 1831 he left Boston to join the editorial staff of the New York Mirror as a traveling correspondent discoursing on matters of taste and fashion. Like his fellow Pfaffians, Willis expressed admiration for the work of Edgar Allan Poe and even claimed an acquaintance with him.