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Smith, Mark

Actor, Comedian

An active theater critic, comedian, and actor, Mark Smith was also a member of an exclusive subset of the Pfaff’s cadre which called itself “The Bees.” This group was composed of actors, writers, dramatists, and artists devoted to the theater who "met regularly for dinner and conversation" (T. Miller 44). The club was formed in 1856, and had rooms on the south side of East Houston Street. Their motto was "Honey Soit." John Brougham was the president, and members included Fitz-James O’Brien, Ned Wilkins, Henry Clapp, Jr., and Smith himself. O’Brien describes them as a gay, lively, and witty crowd who were feared by the theatrical world because of their clever ridicule of plays (Wolle 131-32). Smith was also a member of the Theta Delta Chi, an American college fraternity that included among its members O’Brien, John Brougham, Wilkins, and Smith along with "six others." They were initiated into the graduate chapter, known as the Lambda Graduate Association, in January of 1857. The rooms of Theta Delta Chi were located in a house on Fourth Street (Wolle 132). The club was short-lived, however, and disbanded the following summer.

William Winter, in Leaf from My Journal, explains that Smith had "extraordinary truthfulness to nature, extraordinary precision of method, large humanity, strong intellect" (qtd. in Odell 8:271). He brought these skills to his performances in what theater historian George Odell argues was Wallack’s strongest company (1867-68) (8:269), and to his work at St. James’s Theatre for Mrs. Wood (T. Miller 108). In a move that Odell characterizes as ill-timed, Smith left Wallack’s after the major flop of the White Fawn (1867-68) to act and manage the New York Theatre. He managed the theater, located at 728 Broadway, during the 1866-67 season. Despite financial problems (the government raised the issue of a non-payment of a post-war revenue tax by the theater), "the New York Theatre started on a more or less interesting winter campaign" after 1866 (Odell 8:181).

On February 3, 1869, Smith played Friar Lawrence in the opening production of Romeo and Juliet at fellow Pfaff’s associate Edwin Booth’s theater. Though referring to him as a "noble recruit" from Wallack’s Theater, George Odell states that he was "curiously cast" in the opening show (Odell 8:424). After the death of his father, Smith went west for the funeral and resigned as stage manager. Upon returning to New York, he resumed the role of Friar Lawrence, but he did not take up the job of stage manager again (Odell 8:425).

Smith was fairly well known in his day. He is mentioned as the intended leading man at Burton’s new theater during the 1855-56 season where he appeared with Clifton and Booth, and took part in one of Brougham’s benefits. At the close of the 1862-63 season, Smith was the subject of one of these benefits himself (Odell 6:473, 7:481-82).