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Brougham, John (1810-1880)

Actor, Playwright, Short Story Writer

Born in Ireland, John Brougham originally pursued a surgical career at the Peter Street Hospital in Dublin. A change in fortune resulted in his decision to move to England and become an actor in 1830. He was associated with London's Tottenham Street Theatre, the Olympic Theatre, and became manager of the London Lyceum in 1840. Brougham produced over 100 works and is remembered for his comedic playwriting and acting.

In 1842 Brougham and his first wife, actress Emma Williams whom he married in England in 1842, traveled to New York City to perform in His Last Legs at the Park Theatre (Curry 95). They remained in the United States, touring the country with theatrical productions. Brougham's friend William Winter noted that, during the tour, he "lost all his earnings, while endeavoring, aboard a Mississippi River steamboat, to learn the national game of poker" (Wallet 137). In 1845 Williams divorced Brougham and in 1852 returned to England.

Brougham’s next wife, an English actor and American stage manager, Annette Nelson, moved to New Orleans in 1833 and made her first New York stage appearance in 1836 (Curry 16). Brougham married Annette Nelson, two years after his divorce from Williams in 1847 (Curry 16). Nelson’s stage career was shortened by her increasing obesity that would lead to her early retirement from the stage and, shortly thereafter, her death in 1870 (Curry 16) Brougham is said to have the “distinction of having had two wives in the management business, though neither was married to him at the time of her managerial career” (Curry 16).

Brougham spent time in Boston, but by 1848 he had returned to New York to manage William Burton's Chambers Street Theatre and later the Lyceum Theatre where he produced adaptations of the work of Charles Dickens and social satires on American history like Franklin (1856), Dred (1856), Po-Ca-Hon-Tas, or, The Gentle Savage (1855), and Columbus, El Filibustero! (1858). He also edited The Lantern in 1852 and published two volumes of collected writings A Basket of Chips (1855) and The Bunsby Papers (1856). While in New York, Brougham was said to have associated with Pfaff’s initial clientele made up of “performers of nearby theatres” (Lause 60). Mark Lause describes the beer-cellar as becoming a “mecca for performers of all sorts, including the English-born acrobats the Hanlon brothers” who later performed for a benefit with Brougham and Keene thus proving thus “underscoring the fact that their associations extended beyond” the doors at Pfaff’s (60-1).

Capitalizing on the success of his plays, Brougham opened the Lyceum Theatre in New York in 1850, "but lost on the venture because the public thought the theatre walls unsafe after an adjoining building was torn down" (W. Eaton). Two years before his death he received a testimonial benefit at the Academy of Music which bestowed upon him over $10,000 in annuity to provide for him in his old age. During the American Civil War, Brougham traveled and performed in England and Ireland, returning to New York in 1865 where he remained until his death on June 7th, 1880. In attendance at his funeral were fellow Pfaffian associates: Edwin Booth and William Winter, and scores of others who filled the small church's vestibule: "Every seat in the edifice was occupied by actors and actresses, judges, lawyers, writers from the press, physicians, merchants, and representative men of popular clubs" (Burial of John Brougham).

In The Wallet of Time, dramatic critic and friend William Winter eulogized Brougham as "a pensive moralist, a poetic dreamer, a delicate, sensitive gentleman, as frank as a child, and as gentle as a woman" (144). Though acknowledging that Brougham was no practical businessman, Winter praised his "joyous dash" as well as his concern for others and his dedication to exposing social inequity in plays which contain "delicate thought, poetic suggestion, sweet-tempered satire, contemplative philosophy, and pathos" (143).