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de Walden, Thomas Blades (1811-1873)

Actor, Playwright

Born in England in 1811, Thomas Blades (Bladies) de Walden made his first appearance on the English stage in 1841, then traveled to New York for his premier on the American stage at Park theatre in 1844 (Wilson and Fiske 158). Identified by William Winter as a regular at Pfaff’s during the Bohemian days, de Walden was active in the New York stage community as both an actor and a playwright (Old Friends 88). Mark Lause also labels de Walden as one of the frequent actors who inhabited the vault at Pfaff’s (60). Thomas Butler Gunn describes de Walden’s entrance into Pfaff’s one evening:"De Walden came in about midnight, with his white beard, and laying his gouty leg upon a chair, treated the party and talked Bohemianish about Addey's "Momus" enterprise, scoffing at that ill- advised ex-bagman and "the Almighty Newman" (14.35)

De Walden appears to have been most active professionally during the 1850s and 1860s. He is credited with supporting roles at the Bowery during the 1852-1853 and 1853-1854 theatrical seasons. In addition to acting, de Walden also worked as a playwright; his first play, The Upper Ten and the Lower Twenty was performed at Burton’s during the 1854-1855 season. George Odell calls this piece a "play of local interest" that was a "really notable success, destined to many repetitions" (6:351). De walden would be credited for writing over a hundred plays (Wilson and Fiske 158).

During the 1855-1856 season at Wallack’s Theater, de Walden enjoyed success with his three-act play Manifest Destiny. That same season he was also rumored to have adapted The Marble Heart for Burton’s, titling his version Vice and Virtue, or, a Woman’s Heart. Because of this, de Walden gained a reputation as a "play carpenter of the Gayler-Taylor variety" (Odell VI:523). He wrote several new plays in the 1860s, including The Monkey Boy and Toodles a Father, which were performed during Laura Keene’s 1860-1861 season (Odell 7:309, 310). During the 1861-1862 season, de Walden was again seen on the stage and his play The Man of Destiny debuted at the Bowery (407). His Luck, or, The Gentleman of Nature opened at the Winter Garden in the 1862-1863 season and Ada Clifton was a member of the original cast. The play’s three acts span fifteen years, with the first act taking place in 1779 while the second and third acts are set in 1794 (480). De Walden’s dramatization of the J. T. Trowbridge’s novel, Cudjo’s Cave titled Pomp of Cudjo’s Cave debuted at the New Bowery the next season (567).

During the 1865-1866 season de Walden had "an astonishing hit" with Sam, a comedy that Odell describes as "another apple from the Dundreary tree, representing the return of Brother Sam from America, and his foiling all the villainous influences that grow so thickly in the garden of melodrama" (8:33). De Walden was also a member of the production’s original cast, playing the role of "Bill Crocket" (8:33). He reprised the role during the 1869-1870 season (8:292). There was some debate in the press over de Walden’s authorship of The Balloon Wedding, which Henry Clapp referred to as an example of necessary "low comedy" (T. Miller 30). De Walden refused to take credit for the final version of the play; in a "card" in the Tribune he admitted the play had begun with him, but that he had not finished the piece. The play appears to have been a failure (Odell 8:77).

Theatre, it seems, was not de Walden’s only career. In 1857 de Walden left the stage and writing behind to begin “mercantile pursuits,” but quickly failed and returned to writing. During the war, de Walden also voluntarily served as a chaplain. All of these pursuits led back to the theatre and playwriting. De Walden died on September 26th, 1873 in New York (Wilson and Fiske 158).