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. He next appeared as “John Lester” and soon played at theaters in Dublin, Southampton, and Manchester before earning the chance to appear at the Haymarket in London.
In 1847 he traveled to America where he made his debut at the Broadway Theatre as Sir Charles Coldstream in a farce titled Used Up. He used the name “John Wallack Lester,” appearing in Shakespearean dramas, before gaining his big break as Don Cesar de Bazan in July 1848; he followed up with a successful run as Edmond Dantes in Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo. Perhaps inspired by this success, Wallack presented his own well-received plays based on Dumas’ material: The Three Guardsmen and The Four Musketeers, or Ten Years After; Wallack is also credited with the authorship of the short-lived comedy First Impressions which only ran for four nights, co-starring Pfaff’s frequenter E.A. Sothern (Odell 6:530). In addition, Wallack claimed authorship of The House with Two Doors, played in Central Park, and laid disputed claim to Lady Lee’s Widowhood (Odell 7:542).
Wallack's level of involvement in the Pfaffian circle is uncertain. Francis Wolle claimed that in the pre-war days Wallack frequented Pfaff’s with O’Brien (Wolle 50). William Winter does substantiate the idea that Wallack and O'Brien are friends; however, Wolle remains the only source directing connecting Wallack to frequenting Pfaff's (Winter 76). Neverthless, Wallack was known to the major theater personalities, actors, dramatists, and critics of the day, many of whom had connections to Pfaff's including: Laura Keene, John Brougham, Joseph Jefferson, E.A. Sothern (who served as an usher at his funeral), and Rose Eytinge (New York Times, Sept. 9, 1888, pg. 5). For example, Wallack was added to Burton’s company in the 1850-51 season where he acted under Brougham’s direction (Odell 6:52). Wallack also shared a close professional relationship with Rose Eytinge, whom he offered the position of the leading lady for a season at his theater and also encouraged to return to acting after her return in 1873 to New York from traveling and living abroad (Eytinge 88, 215).
Wallack’s success as an actor was crowned when he became both player and stage manager once his father took over Pfaff’s regular, John Brougham’s Lyceum in September 1852. Here he played comic and romantic parts alongside actors associated with Pfaff’s including Laura Keene, John Brougham, and E. A. Sothern. Wallack continued his dual role as stage manager and actor when Wallack’s Theatre opened at Broadway and Thirteenth Street in 1861. Wallack’s theater became the leading New York (and possibly American) theater in the 1859-60 season. (Odell 7:206). Wallack began appearing as “Lester Wallack,” a name he kept through the opening of the new Wallack Theatre until his retirement in 1887. Wallack’s memorable performances include roles in Pfaffian John Brougham’s A Decided Case as well as Night and Morning, Playing with Fire, The Game of Life, and The Game of Love. He also appeared in Stephen R. Fiske’s My Noble Son-in-Law (T. Miller 104).
Upon this retirement he enjoyed a well-received benefit, in which famous actor and occasional visitor to Pfaff's, Edwin Booth starred as the lead in Hamlet (Martin 56). Four months after this event, Wallack died, leaving behind his wife and four children as well as his memoir, Memories of Fifty Years which was published posthumously in 1889. Theater historian George Odell describes him as "undoubtedly the handsomest and most popular leading man on the American stage" (Odell 6:17).
Wallack is mentioned as a member of the original cast of this play; billed as "Mr. Lester."
Wallack is billed as "Mr. Lester." He appears in the original cast in the role of "Philip Beaufort."
Wallack originates the role of "Doctor Savage" in the original cast at Wallack's.
Wallack is listed as Mr. Lester among the original cast; he played the role of "Rupert Wolfe."
Wallack is billed as "Mr. Lester;" he plays the role of "Paul Weldon" in the original performance.
C.B.S. mentions that prior to Brougham's performance in Playing with Fire at the Winter Garden, the principal role had only been played by Lester Wallack (217).[pages:217]
C.B.S. remarks that he will not be "supplanted" by Frederick Robinson (312).[pages:312]
C.B.S. mentions that Wallack has received a new play from Tom Taylor and is preparing to produce it within the next week. C.B.S. notes that it is based on one of Miss Braddon's novels and it is not creating much excitement (329).[pages:329]
Clare discusses Mr. Lester's demeanor in the production of Poor Young Man (2).[pages:2]
Wallack is reviewed here as "Mr. Lester" (3).[pages:3]
Eytinge describes returning to New York to play the spring and summer seasons at Lester Wallack's Theatre (85).
When Eytinge's wish to play the part of Nancy Sykes in "Oliver Twist" at Wallack's Theatre is derided by her fellow actors, she appeals to Lester Wallack. At first, he reacts the same way. She says "he simply pooh-poohed my wish and also laughed me out of court" (86). He soon relented, however, on the condition that a one-act piece be added to the play so that the audience could see Eytinge as herself and "not take away with them the ghastly picture of Nancy in her death throes" (86).
After two successful seasons at Wallack's Theatre, Lester Wallack offers Eytinge the leading lady position for the upcoming season (88). Eytinge expresses appreciation for her time there stating, "What a school of acting was Wallack's Theatre!" (88) She goes on to praise Wallack and his theater for the "courtesy and kindness [that] ruled on both sides of the curtain. Everybody employed in the theatre, whether a principal or a call-boy, was treated with consideration" (89).
As a stage-manager, Lester Wallack ran rehearsals and Eytinge notes that although he "would occasionally 'let out' if some one or other were unusually stupid . . . the outburst was pretty sure to be followed by some little gracious act or word that effectively removed the sting" (89). She also comments that Lester Wallack had "an exquisite wit and a keen sense of humour" (89) and if an actor told him a funny story, "no matter how great your fault or how late you might be for rehearsal, you were safe" (90).
After the death of actress Mary Gannon, Lester Wallack asked Eytinge to play several of her parts, most notably Rosa Leigh in "Rosedale" (90).
Eytinge describes her desire to attend Charles Dickens' series of lectures in New York. Lester Wallack agrees to add a stipulation into her contract with the Theatre that would allow her to attend the four night series (90-1).
Eytinge explains that she left Wallack's Theatre to travel abroad to the Orient (93).
Eytinge describes how she takes two of her guests to Wallack's Theatre upon their request to see Lester Wallack and herself act. Wallack generously responded to their request "with that genial courtesy which was one of his many graceful qualities . . . by placing his own box at my friends' disposal, and the following evening they occupied it" (108). Eytinge goes on to describe how Wallack enjoyed her guests' enthusiasm for his portrayal of Young Marlowe in "She Stoops to Conquer" and "he played to them the whole evening in the most flagrant manner, and their admiration for him was something beautiful to see" (109).
When Augustin Daly wanted Eytinge to play the part of Kate Peyton in his production of "Griffith Gaunt" at the New York Theatre, he was able to convince Lester Wallack to add a provision to her contract that allowed her to do so (113).
Eytinge attributes her return to the stage in 1873 after being abroad in part to Lester Wallack. She refers to him as one of America's leading managers. While Lester Wallack and Augustin Daly made her "tempting offers," she decided to work for Shook & Palmer upon the recommendation of Thurlow Weed (215).
Eytinge tells an anecdote about Lester Wallack's purchase of the play "Blow for Blow" for production at his theatre in New York and how she and the other actors did not like the play (222). As Wallack attempted to direct rehearsals, Eytinge and the other actors would "sotto voce, interpolate between our lines divers remarks, editorial, critical, and slighting, regarding the play, and we enjoyed our own comedy much more than the author's" (222). Wallack's reaction to their levity, according to Eytinge, ranged from having difficulty "repressing his desire to laugh" and "join[ing] in our merriment" to "sternly rebuk[ing] us for this levity in business" and falling "into a positive rage" (223). After a week to ten days of such rehearsals, Eytinge explains, "Lester gave some order in a low tone to the call-boy, who went to each of us in turn, collected the parts, and laid them on the prompt-table. Lester, with great deliberation, made a neat parcel of the manuscript and parts, tied it up, and, putting it under his arm, lifted his hat, and bidding us a ceremonious good-morning marched off the stage and out of the theatre, leaving everybody present, but especially we three culprits, looking blankly at each other. We never heard of 'Blow for Blow' again" (223-224).[pages:85-93,86(ill.),108-109,113,215,222-224,231,250]
Figaro discusses Mr. Lester Wallack's return to Wallack's after a year-long absence (5).[pages:5]
Figaro reprints one of his imitations of the "facetise" in the Saturday Press (4). Figaro also mentions Wallack's return to the stage after a year-long absence in She Stoops to Conquer (4).[pages:4]
Figaro writes that "A Well-Known New Yorker" has reported that Wallack has left the stage to write a play. Figaro argues that it is well known among the theatrical community that Wallack is currently too ill to perform (5).[pages:5]
Figaro mentions that Wallack will appear during the next week in To Marry or Not to Marry and Don Caesar de Bazan and after which "his brief but brilliant series of performances" will end (4).[pages:4]
Figaro reports that "Mr. Lester" was present at the opening of Wallack's (120).[pages:120]
Wallack is mentioned in a newspaper clipping that Gunn has saved (13).
Gunn states that Stuart rented the theatre from Wallack, "He did some extensive swindling villainy in Ireland, came to this country four or five years ago, wrote a series of tremendously slashing articles on Forrest's acting in his various parts, which appeared in the Tribune, got connected with the Times, and finally became the lesee of the theatre, renting it of Wallack" (147- 148).[pages:13, 147-148]
Gunn writes that Lotty left the stage because of her fights with Wallack and Laura Keene: "Mrs D speaks of Alleyne very unfavorably, says he's a fifth-rate actor, a loafer, a worthless article generally. Lotty left the stage in consequence of her getting into rows first with old Wallack, then with Laura Keene. She was late at rehearsal in the first place and restive under reproof. When the 'Veteran' objected she 'sauced back'."[pages:24]
Wallack is mentioned in a newspaper clipping.[pages:131]
Gunn writes about Shepherd's opinion regarding Fred Watson's play: "Shepherd opines that the five-act comedy upon which Watson has been engaged for the past three months has been rejected by old Wallack, as a large roll of M. S. was brought to the author by a man servant, this morning. But on Watson borrowing his (Shepherd's) shoes and Edge's overcoat in which to visit the manager, my informant augurs more hopefully! It appears subsequently that the play is to be altered, that Lester Wallack's part may have a due prominence over that of Mrs Hoey."[pages:68]
John writes that Mary Jane wanted to go to Wallack's on their wedding tour "to see the darling Lester." Lester, however, was not playing the night they went to the theater (264).[pages:264]
Wallack acted in Stephen R. Fiske's dramatic debut: My Noble Son-in-Law (104).[pages:48, 57, 76, 104, 134]
(Unclear if O'Brien is referring to this Mr. Wallack) O'Brien cites him as an example of an actor "who has the courage to utterly and entirely lose himself in his part" (3).[pages:3]
O'Brien claims to be looking forward to the upcoming Monday when Wallack will be producing a new play - one of his "five-act melodramas" - and breaking the cycle of boredom for dramatic critics (3).[pages:3]
O'Brien discusses Wallack's performance as Shylock in a recent performance of The Merchant of Venice. Wallack's appearance marks his return to the stage after a two-year absence (2).[pages:2-3]
O'Brien reports that Wallack has an "original five act drama in progress at his father's theatre" (3).[pages:3]
O'Brien notes that Mr. Wallack looked good in rehearsals despite months of illness (3). (It is unclear which Mr. Wallack O'Brien is referring to.)[pages:3]
He is mentioned here as "Mr. Lester" (3).[pages:3]
He is reviewed here as "Mr. Lester" (3).[pages:3]
He is reviewed as "Mr. Lester" in this column for his performance in Going to the Bad(3).[pages:3]
O'Brien notes that Wallack both acted in and wrote The Veteran, or France and Algeria (2).[pages:2]
The author mentions a production of "Ours."[pages:286]
Wallack was in ill health at the opening of Wallack's in Sept. 1865. He returned to Wallack's in the 1865-66 season in She Stoops to Conquer on April 9, 1866,and had a full schedule from that point on (9). Wallack ended his engagement at the theatre on May 5 after several comedies (9).
Wallack returned Dec.3, 1866 , and brought T.W. Robertson's comedies, especially Ours to Wallack's (130-131). Odell reprints reviews of this show on p.131-132. Wallack also brought Ours to Brooklyn on Feb. 8, 1867 (247).
Wallack was a memeber of the strong cast of Wallack's in the 1867-68 season. He played what Odell calls a "star engagement in mid-season" (269). Odell mentions that Wallack was an actor-manager and that he had appeared "but infrequently" since his father's death in 1864.
Wallack began his 1867-68 season on Jan. 13, 1868, his first acting night at Wallack's in 12 months. The opening bill ran a week with average nightly receipts of $1,111.14 1/6. (273). Odell reprints a review of The Wonder from the Times on p. 274.
Benefits stop at Wallack's for good in the 1867-68 season. Wallack "considered the custom undignified, and that, when he came in control, he abolished it, adding to the salaries of the actors a sum equivalent to what they had made by their benefits" (275). Wallack's abolition of farces seems to have been more controversial, but other theaters soon followed his lead and the custom was also abolished (275).
Odell writes that in the 1868-69 season Wallack had already "been for years a star in his infrequent visits to his own theatre." Wallack began his first engagement in 12 months in two shows. The nightly receipts for these performances averaged $1044.75. The double bills seemed to have made a successful first six weeks of Wallack's season (415-16).
Wallack did not bring Shakespeare to Wallack's until after the opening of Booth's. He began a production of Much Ado About Nothing Feb.1, 1869, with very lavish and expensive scenes and costumes. The play seems to have been a very rare and extravagant production. Odell reprints a disapproving review from the Times from Feb. 8,1869 on p.417-18. Wallack seems to have aroused controversy over the production of Shakespeare and how it should be done. Much Ado About Nothing had a lengthy run, but Wallack did not attempt Shakespeare again until 1880 when he began his last season at Wallack's with As You Like It (415-419).[pages:FP (ill),3 9, 130-2,247,269,273-5,276,294,390,391,415-19,561]
Early performances are credited to "Lester," specifically, John W. (Wallack) Lester. Lester Wallack was a member of the theater-owning and acting Wallack family.
Odell mentions that the "long popular comedietta, A Morning Call" was one of his mainstays and that the play was first seen at the Broadway on April 25, 1851. Whether Wallack was a member of the cast for this performance is unclear (14).
Wallack was added to Burton's company in 1850-51 season and is described as "undoubtedly the handsomest and most popular leading man on the American stage" (17). Wallack acted at Burton's under Brougham's direction during this season (52). He became a well-known commedian and was also on stage with Jefferson in the 1851-52 season.
Wallack left Burton's for his family's theater in the 1852-53 season. Wallack was lured away from the Burtons with William Rufus Blake, with whom he debuted at Burton's (205). Lester Wallack is listed as the stage manager when Wallack's opened in 1852-53 (213).
He is described as the attractive leading man type. Odell mentions that when J.W. Wallack gave over control of the theater briefly in 1856-57 season, Lester Wallack remained in the stage manager position throughout the season.
Lester Wallack is also credited with the authorship of First Impressions, a comedy that only ran for 4 nights and was never seen again (530). E.A. Sothern co-starred in this show.[pages:8,14,17,18,52,69,122,166,167,205,213,287,295,354,359,361,441,477,523,530,537,563,564]
Wallack was a well-known actor and stage manager at Wallacks (run by his family). His salary at Wallack's is noted by Odell on p.19 - Odell includes his weekly salary plus numbers for what he was to receive from benefits and how many benefits he could hold for himself. His salary at the new theater is also listed by Odell.
Wallack became famous slightly earlier than Jefferson, Booth, and Sothern. The Happy Veteran, a "melodrama of glitterning Oriental accoutrements" was credited to him; he also performed in it. This show was also one of the last performances by the elder Wallack. The play was a financial success and ran for 66 nights, unaided by farce or afterpiece (124).
Wallack was part of a benefit for the Mount Vernon Association that also starred many other Pfaff's notables. Wallack was also part of a benefit for the American Dramatic Fund that seems to have brought together several of the important players in NY at the time: Keene, Brougham, and others.
Wallack's theater becames the leading New York (and possibly American) theater in the 1859-60 season. The Romance of a Poor Young Man required Wallack to leap from a tower that caused him an injury and the use of an understudy; however, Wallack was given positive reviews for the role (206).
Wallack claimed authorship of The House with Two Doors, played in Central Park. He was also credited as the author of the stage version of Lady Lee's Widowhood, a claim that is debatable (542).
At the new Wallack's the Rosedale, or the Rifle Ball received 125 performances in the 1863-64 season. For 25 years it became the best known feature of Lester Wallack's repetoire (542).
Wallack stopped acting in the 1864-1865 season. He seems to have been affected by bad health and his father's death(629). Wallack returned to the stage May 9, 1865, after a 4 month absence.
Wallack claimed that Our American Cousin had originally been offered to his father, but there was no actor in the company suitable to play the role of Asa Trenchard, so he advised the play be sent to Keene's as "an admirable medium for exploiting the popular Jefferson" (128).[pages:4,19,30, 120,124-5,128,159,203,206,262,263,305,306,307,308,377,378,462, 542, 544 (ill), 625,629,631,677]
Personne notes that Lester Wallack's Romance of a Poor Young Man is still at Wallack's (3). (It is unclear which Mr. Wallack is being written about here.) Wallack is mentioned in the New Orleans True Delta account of the events of a performance of Our American Cousin at the Varieties Theatre (3). Personne also reports that Mr. Wallack is "getting mercenary" in terms of controlling the audience so that the paying customers enjoy the show (3).[pages:3]
Personne asks Lester Wallack to "hurry up" his Poor Young Man (3).[pages:3]
The author discusses The Veteran (2).[pages:2]
The column refers to Wallack's performance in Prison and Palace. Personne also remarks that critics are glad to have other actors than Wallack to discuss and critiques Wallack's style as "too demonstrative" (2).[pages:2]
Personne writes that Wallack and Keene "have between them arranged some very curious amusements for the country managers" (3). Personne reports what role Wallack will play in The Overland Route (3).[pages:3]
Refers to him as "Octave Feuillet Lester" (3).[pages:3]
Personne writes that Mr. Lester has "sacrificed" his whiskers "to Art" and that public opinion is that he looks "awful." Personne also notes that Mr. Lester has been accused of "parricide" by taking one of his father's roles in a tableau. Personne praises Mr. Lester for his writing and acting in The Veteran (2).[pages:2]
Personne reports that Wallack is doing old plays (3).[pages:3]
Personne notes the "forty-eighth jump" of Lester Wallack's Poor Young Man. Personne reports that the author's rights that will be divided between Wallack and Edwards amount to $1440 (3).[pages:3]
Personne lists Lester Wallack as a member of the cast of Brougham's new comedy, set to open at Wallack's on Monday. Personne also mentions that he saw Wallack at the opening of the Winter Garden (2).[pages:2]
Personne mentions the performance of the actor who played his role in Gayler's burlesque of Poor Young Man. Personne feels that the actor's performance reminded him more of Wallack's cousin, young James Wallack, than it did Lester Wallack (3).[pages:3]
Personne claims that when one goes to Wallack's to see Lester Wallack's Poor Young Man, one leaves only remembering that they saw the young man climb the tower and jump off it. Personne compares the staging of Lester Wallack's adaptation to the original (Le Roman d'un Jeune Homme Pauvre) at the French Theatre (3).[pages:3]
(It is unclear which Mr. Wallack Personne refers to). Personne predicts that the company at Wallack's will soon present Mr. Wallack with a "piece of plate" (2).[pages:2]
Personne notes that "oddly enough" the best role in Overland Route will be performed by Wallack (2).[pages:2]
Personne reviews Wallack's performance in Everybody's Friend (2).[pages:2]
Personne writes about the "errors committed in the name" of J. Lester (This may or may not refer to Wallack) (2). In response to the end of the long run of The Veteran, Personne writes that it is "just possible to have too much of Mr. Lester" (3).[pages:2,3]
Personne advises Wallack to gather up and lock away the remaining copies of The Clandestine Marriage. Personne expects Wallack to produce his Poor Young Man and expects it will be good (3).[pages:3]
Personne makes a passing reference to The Veteran (2).[pages:2]
(It is unclear which Wallack is being written about.) The letter from Nancy Scudder refers to a performance where "Mr. Wallack had been going around the stage saying all sorts of wicked things to everybody for two hours and more" (3). Anna Maria's letter discusses how "tired" Mr. Lester's The Romance of a Poor Young Man made her (3). Personne reports that Wallack's Romance of a Poor Young Man is a success (3).[pages:3]
Personne discusses Mr. Wallack's current reviews and recent performances (3).[pages:3]
(It is unclear which Mr. Wallack Personne is writing about). Personne reports that Mr. Wallack is performing in some of his old roles. Personne urges readers to go see him perform and claims that Wallack is drawing big houses (2).[pages:2]
Personne mentions that Wallack's The Romance of a Poor Young Man is eagerly awaited (3).[pages:3]
Personne mentions Mr. Lester's "irreproachable" "buckskins" in his discussion of what the audience will take away from A Husband to Order. Personne reports that his The Romance of a Young Man is expected to debut on Wednesday or Thursday (3).[pages:3]
(It is unclear which Mr. Wallack the author is indicating.) Personne notes that he will end his season after 150 performances that coming week (2).[pages:2]
Personne reviews Wallack's performance in The Wreck Ashore. Personne writes that Wallack has re-edited Rochester, which is now titled Fast Men of the Olden Time (3).[pages:3]
Mr. Wallack Lester is mentioned as appearing only in the tableau of the sketch of The Dark Hour Before the Dawn. Mr. Wallack is also mentioned in Personne's review of Extremes (3).[pages:3]
Personne reviews Wallack's performance as the Earl of Rochester in a play about the nobleman's life. Personne refers to him as "Lester Rochester Wilmot, Earl of Wallack" (2).[pages:2]
According to Personne, Mr. Lester Wallack is currently "cultivating his Spring whiskers" (2).[pages:2]
Personne reviews Wallack's performance in The Ruling Pardon (2).[pages:2]
Personne reports that Wallack is "preparing" a translation of Le Roman d'un Jeune Homme Pauvre (3).[pages:3]
Personne notes that Lester Wallack's The Romance of a Poor Young Man has debuted at Wallack's. Personne notes that it is a "literal translation from the French." Personne reviews Wallack's perfomance as the Poor Young Man (3).[pages:3]
Personne "puns" on the "'Life of General Houston' by Lester - Glory-and-Shame-Democratic-Age-Lester, not J. Wallack" (2).[pages:2]
Personne reports that Wallack has been "getting philologically fine lately" and has been referring to the "antique" Knocks and Noses as a "Fairy Folly." Personne claims that Wallack is wiser than Keen for not dramatizing "vexed political questions" (3).[pages:3]
(Personne doesn't specify which Mr. Wallack he is speaking about.) Personne reports that Wallack has published a "card" that states he plans to continue with A Husband to Order, as the play is doing well. Personne also reports that the "young Mr. Wallack" will play the "heavy Venetian" in Lesbia at the Winter Garden (3).[pages:3]
Quelqu'un reviews his performance in Playing with Fire (2).[pages:2]
Wallack's The Veteran and its success are among the topics Quelqun'un and Brougham discuss (2).[pages:2]
Lester Wallack and his father are listed as O'Brien's friends in the New York Stage community, where O'Brien was able to produce some of his short plays (76).
Winter notes that Curtis is one of the young "wandering mistrels" mentioned in Wallack's "Memories of Fifty Years": "You come upon him very pleasantly, in the society of that brilliant actor, and you hear their youthful voices blended" (267).
Winter reprints a April 18, 1893, letter from Aldrich that discusses the influence of Wallack's treatment of one of his plays on his career: "If Lester Wallack, in 1866, had not kept a play of mine six months, then returned it to me, with the seals unbroken,I should, probably, have been a writer of dramas instead of a writer of lyrics. Without breaking those seals myself I put that MS. on the coals, in my room in Hancock Street, and gave up the idea of being Shakespeare!" (372).[pages:76,267,372]
Wallack frequented Pfaff's with O'Brien.[pages:50]
The Vault at Pfaff's
27 Memorial Drive West, Bethlehem, PA 18015