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.
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 in New York City on New Year’s Eve in 1820, John Lester Wallack was christened John Johnstone Wallack; he later adopted Lester John Wallack as his professional name. He first became interested in drama while being schooled in England at private schools; Wallack admits that he “hesitated long before [he] made up [his] mind to become an actor" (Memories of Fifty Years 24). Wallack made his first professional appearance in Tortesa the Usurer; he used the alias “Allan Field,” so as not to rely on the draw of his father’s name.