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Fiske, Stephen Ryder (1840-1916)

Editor, Journalist, Playwright, Short Story Writer, Theatrical Manager

Born in Newark, New Jersey, Stephen Ryder Fiske achieved journalistic success at a young age. He was a paid contributor to several newspapers by the time he was twelve and, two years later, became the editor of a small newspaper. He attended Rutgers College until 1860, when he was asked to leave after he was found to be responsible for writing book chapters that satirized the college professors, according to D. W. Miller. Fiske's obituary, on the other hand, reports that he graduated sucessfully from Rutgers and was admitted to the bar two years later, but abandoned law for journalism ("Stephen Fiske").

After leaving Rutgers, Fiske moved to New York City and began writing for the New York Herald, where he served as an editorial writer and war correspondent there ("Stephen Fiske"). Through this work, he is considered part of the "Bohemian Brigade," a group of Civil War journalists with a tangential relationship to the Pfaff's bohemians (Starr). He also worked as a “special correspondent” who traveled the country with dignitaries such as the Prince of Wales and President Lincoln ("Stephen Fiske"). As a journalist, Fiske maintained a keen desire to be the first person to report a story. In one notable instance, he sent Biblical passages through the telegraph in an effort to tie up the lines, thus preventing his competitors from sending their stories (D. W. Miller). Fiske replaced Edward G. P. Wilkins as dramatic critic at the Herald in 1862. At the time, he also accused Wilkins of reviewing productions without actually seeing them (T. Miller 46).

Several sources place Fiske at Pfaff's, where he was one of the youngest of the crowd. One article, which provided updates on many former Pfaff's bohemains, lists Fiske as a theatrical manager and critic ("General gossip" 479). Miller writes that he joined the Pfaff's circle prior to the Civil War (17). While he worked for the Herald, Fiske maintained a friendship with Henry Clapp, Jr and later helped to organize his funeral. The two also men co-edited the Leader in 1864. (T. Miller 40). Fiske is also mentioned by Rose Eytinge as one of the "clever and distinguished" men who frequented Ada Clare's evening parties (21).

Fiske shifted his focus toward the theatre, although he continued to write throughout his life. He moved to Europe at the end of the Civil War, making the ocean crossing in the Henrietta during the “first Atlantic yacht race” (D. W. Miller). He traveled first to Rome, where he was with Garibaldi during the revolution, and then to London, where he became manager of the Royal English Opera Company and the St. James’s Theatre ("Stephen Fiske"). Returning to New York City in 1874, he succeeded Augustin Daly as manager of the Fifth Avenue Theatre three years later. Both Edwin Booth and Joseph Jefferson performed in Fiske’s company one year prior to his retirement.

Around this time, he met and began an affair with Mary Hewins Fox, which prompted Fox’s husband at the time, Mr. Burnham, to attempt to shoot and stab Fiske. Fiske survived and married Fox, who in 1877 gave birth to a son (T. Miller 110).

After leaving the theatre in 1879, Fiske started the New York Dramatic Mirror and also worked as a dramatic critic for The Spirit of the Times. Soon after founding the Mirror, he relinquished control and split his time between writing for Spirit and creating his own plays. Some of Fiske's most memorable works include the plays Corporeal Cartouche, Martin Chuzzlewit, and My Noble Son-in-Law and the books English Photographs, Holiday Tales, and Offhand Portraits of New Yorkers. He passed as a widower at the age of seventy-nine survived by two brothers and a sister ("Stephen Fiske"). Fiske came to be considered the “dean of active dramatic critics” whose “sharp pen has not been a whit dulled by time” (D.W. Miller 479).