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.
Actor Edward Askew Sothern, who was known as Douglas Stewart in the early part of his career and possibly went by the initials E.A. Sothern in his later years, moved in theatrical circles like many of the Pfaffians, including playwright John Brougham, actress Adah Menken, and theater critic William Winter. Sothern was part of the troupe that theater historian George Odell describes as Laura Keene’s best company. In addition to working with Keene, he also appeared at Barnum’s and at Wallack’s during the 1854-55 season.
Born in Riga, NY, Mortimer Thomson was a humorist and journalist who wrote under the name Q. K. Philander Doesticks, P.B.--Queer Kritter, Philander Doesticks, Perfect Brick ("Obituary," 5). Thomson acquired this penname while writing for a student magazine at the University of Michigan; although he never graduated from the university, as he was expelled for belonging to a campus secret society, Thomson had a productive career as a journalist and satirist after failing as both an actor and a traveling salesman.
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.
The unofficial biographer of the Pfaff’s crowd, William Winter was born in coastal Massachusetts, and his mother died when he was young. Winter attended school in Boston; he also went to Harvard Law School but decided not to practice ("William Winter, 19). By 1854 he had already published a collection of verse and worked as a reviewer for the Boston Transcript; he befriended Pfaffian Thomas Bailey Aldrich after reviewing a volume of his poetry. He relocated to New York in 1856 "because he believed [the city] offered the best field for writers" (Levin 153).