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SYMHC Classics: Ira Frederick Aldridge

2021-07-17 | 🔗

This 2017 episode covers one of the first Americans to achieve fame as a Shakespearean actor, and the first black man to do so, becoming a famous figure on the Victorian stage. But Aldridge has largely been excluded from biographies of Shakespearean actors.

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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
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that sheen. There is a grimy side filled with greed, disregard and scandal, listen to art, bust scandal, stories of the art world. Wherever you get. Your podcast from hello unhappy Saturday, shakespearian actor IRA rhetoric. Aldrich came up a couple of times in our recent episode on Arturo Alfonso schomburgh. As I was writing that episode. I thought I reckon food on Irish, Frederick, Aldrich reset everyone will show we remember. It Now that apathetic came out more than four years ago, this happens to me all the time but the important thing is it we're bringing that episode out as today's Saturday Classic so enjoy. Welcome to stuff. You in history class a production,
of I hurt radio and welcomes the path Tracy, Wilson and I'm Holly. For today, We have them when I first learned about from the people of color in european art history, Tumblr also known as medieval pvc is irish, Frederick Aldrich He was a shakespearian actor in the eighteen hundreds and you might even call him the first famous american shakespearian actor. although there was another American named Edwin Forest who was popular in both it states in Britain at about the same time. There is actual debate over which of them should be called first famous american shakespearian actor, which amuses me, but to return to the story. Aldrich has largely been excluded from biographies of shakespearian actors and from history is a bit theatres where he performed and the like.
some cases, there were even like histories of the theatre, written in in France, for example, that were then translated into English and in the english language versions, from Peter the late nineteenth early twentieth century, just kind of excluded from the translated version, you of all hard to find information about their, not that many books about him. But he was one of the first Americans to achieve fame ass Shakespeare, an actor as we said, and he was definitely the first black man to really So the eye he had. There were a couple of other black actors performing Shakespeare at about the same time, but none of them got merely that international renown that he did. He. came a really famous figure on the Victorian Shakespeare stage and there is some haziness about Eldridge, as parents in his early life and part of it is thanks.
to the holes in records and documentation that come up pretty often on our show, especially the farther back. You go, but complicating that was a heavily roaming Besides the story of his ancestry, that floated around as part of the publicity for his acting career and that kind of, The legs version was also picked up by biographers near the most basic version of this story was just that Aldrich was from Senegal and descended from royalty there. an african prince newly arrived from Senegal, would have been at the time somewhat more acceptable to White theatre audiences than an american black man descended from slave. So it's possible that. However, this story came to be. It was motivated, at least in part, by appeasing the White theatre crowds. Sensibilities logically, probably also discusses the publicity move
but at least one biographer went so far as to detail a whole saga of Iris Father, whose name Daniel being brought to the United States, by a missionary to be educated and to flee. A conspiracy play out among the senegalese nobility and in this story Daniel Eldridge married while he was in the states and then returned to Senegal with his wife after the danger had passed, and that would be just before I was birth. As this is told, the very, very dramatic story. It's probably also just a story, although it's really unclear at this point exactly when alternative answer doors were brought to North America or how they ultimately came to be free people living in New York. Daniel elder does birth play. With you, there are new Yorker Baltimore, his death certificates of New York and his obituaries as Baltimore it we ve had a few of those weird like different documents, say completely different things
That point all you can kind of do. His shrug IRA himself was born in New York on July. Twenty fourth of eighteen, o, seven, he had said RO siblings, but only one older brother Joshua survived mother Llorona was either from North Carolina or Delaware, depending on which record you're looking at and she died in. One thousand eight hundred and seventeen when IRA was ten and Joshua was approximately twelve. Weather New York and passed a gradual emancipation ACT in one thousand, seven hundred and ninety nine many enslaved people born before that year, weren't freed until one thousand eight hundred and twenty seven and census records reported that about seventy five and slavery, we're still living in New York in eighteen. Thirty seven,
while IRA and his family were free, there were also enslaved people, as well as people who were working out indentures that were required by the gradual emancipation neck living in New York City. At the same time, and in addition to this stratification in terms of freedom for the black community, public facilities, segregated, including the schools and the theatres that IRA would attend. As a young man, I rise early, education was at the African Free school which had been founded by the New York manumission society. The african Free school was open to children up until the age of fifteen but it seems as though I restate until he was fifteen or possibly sixteen, perhaps because he had enrolled when he was already a young teenager in about one thousand, eight hundred and twenty William Alexander Brown, who had previously worked as a steward on a ship that sailed from New York to Liverpool open to theater. This was the african grove, sometimes
Browns Theatre or the african theatre in this theatre, which was then Manhattans West side. He was building on the success of an ice cream garden he had previously opened and thus ice cream garden serves tee an ice cream and also function as a performer space. It was one of the very very few such venues in the city that was open to black patrons, and it was one of a string of browns, social and performing arts values that he opened over the years at first, the coverage of the African Grove Theatre from the White Press was largely negative dismissive, but eventually it grew so popular that it had to designate a section for white audience members. It was. Certainly be only New York Theatre that was run by and for its black residents, but it was the most.
Ambitious and successful. In addition to other works at stage adaptations of Shakespeare and one of its star, performers was a man named James Hewlitt, someone Aldridge, most likely both watched from the audience and eventually acted alongside an one thousand, eight hundred and twenty one or one thousand eight hundred and twenty two IRA M Joshuabrown both landed roles at the theater IRA would have been fifteen or sixteen at that point, but their father was not a fan of this idea. Them out of the show, possibly because he wanted them to become ministers instead of actors. But IRA would not be deterred at the age of about seventeen. He started trying to build a career as a professional actor full time, and this was a d What time to be a black actor both in New York, specifically in the United States in general, the african girl. of burned down under mysterious circumstances about three years after its opening, and that had followed
a general theatre closure during a yellow fever outbreak, and even before that, the african Grove had been the target of complaints from white neighbours about, ways and crowds, as well as sabotage attempts from a rival theatre company. It strikes me as so strange. But there were theatre rivalries, including sabotage outside of New York opportunities for black entertainers, which had not been all that numerous in the first place. really dwindling and the early met eighteen hundred menstrual shows performed by white actors and black face then in a way that offensively, lampooned and caricature lack characters were becoming more and more popular. The stock character, Jim Crow became part of minstrel, There is by eighteen, twenty eight and the name Jim Crow would be used as a racist slur within a decade. Minstrel show is performed by white people and black face
and crowding out opportunities for black performers, sometimes whilst simultaneously copying those performers original work with all of this going on not long ago, his decision to become a professional actor Aldrich so decided that he would do so in Europe and not in the United States? According to a pamphlet about Aldrich, which was published during his lifetime? One of his former classmates quote was in the habit of taking Mister Henry, while its dresses to the chest theatre. Henry Wallack and his brother James were both british actors who had become a staple in New York's white theatres at this point that theatre seen in New York was thrive, so much that a lot of british actors or being IRAN to New York to perform their much to the chagrin above the theatres, especially in London. This was the case with the well
brother, so IRA Eldridge renewed his acquaintance with this former classmate, who had been delivering the costumes to the theatre for the wallets, through his friend. He got an introduction to the two men. Both of them took an interest and outrage in his career, even though his acting opportunities had been live limited. At this point, he seemed to have already shown some clear talent we wrote him a letter of introduction and James, possibly by coincidence, booked passage on the same ship to Liverpool that Aldrich had secured employment on. He was going to work as a steward. Basically to get
off the Atlantic Ocean into England once they were on board, though James requested Alder does his personal assistant and outwards got to Liverpool in eighteen, twenty four in a year, he would make his debut with top billing and we're going to talk about that. But first we are going to pause for a moment and talk about one of the sponsors that keeps the Chicago in you are three or you presents the new series or bust scandalous story, of the art world in this investigative podcast UK author and art, expert Ben Louis explores the shadowy and staggeringly lucrative global art market, throwing compelling new light on an abiding art, mystery the world is a bizarre and dazzling space there, beauty and glamour, marble, museums and White walled galleries. But behind this Sheen There is a grimy dark side filled with greed, disregard and scandal in each of us.
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likely that Henry Wallets Letter of introduction really helped, as well as the novelty of having a black actor on the stage Eldridge we should be clear, certainly not the first actor of color in Britain, but there weren't that many before this point audiences seemed to love him in these first performances at the Coburg newspaper reports, Let's talk about really long and loud applause for as performances and audiences, you just seemed enraptured with him. Some of the reviews were positive, but a lot of bamboo were frankly just hostile may painted a caricature picture of his appearance, exaggerating his facial features in his skin color and, in one case, claimed that the shape of his lips made it impossible for him to pronounce proper English. If you re like that, is biographies collect a lot of these, and if you read them, they are terrible, while performing at the Coburg alter
met the woman that he would soon Mary, Margaret Gill, who was from a labouring family. Similarly to the story that Aldrich was really descended from african royalty. Margaret was often presented as the daughter of a member of Parliament and while the foe history of all judges parentage made him more appealing to the audience, the idea that she was. The daughter of an MP gave Margaret a little more social protection than she had as the daughter of a poor family. Soon after his engagement at the Coburg ended Aldrich and his new wife moved on to brighten, and then they went on a tour through You case provinces. He took on both comedic and dramatic roles, and since he could sing, he performed and variety shares. Most of his rolls were those of black characters. He with that point had typically been played by white actors and black race. Some of his most common rolls were Othello, which is probably the most obvious, is at the time
and another was Orinoco in the revolt of Surinam. Almost immediately. He was being built as the African Roscoe's M. Ruskin was a roman actor who became sort of that go to nickname for particularly successful actors later on. I wonder why that fell, the favour we could be using that today I knew it. I knew it was one of those things where I've I was so many p referring to it in the end. We know articles about him and things like that. I had to go. Look it up, because I was like bright, contextual early ethical, this, as they make name for a famous actor, but it is not really in common use. Now let's bring it back. Even though is performances were well received, any found work really often he and his wife really stew, old, financially at first his engagement only gave him a lot of the time a few days of work at a time and without,
steady employment or a patron at times that he would go for weeks without pay Personally, I am earlier parts of the Kurt his career Aldrich falls in and out of a historical record, sometimes the only trace we really have of Hemison playbills and theatre advertisements. We do know that he returned to London in eighteen, thirty, three to take over the role of Othello at the Covent Garden Theatre. He was picking up the role from another famous actor Edmund, Keen who had unexpectedly died and once again he got a generally warm reception from the audience and fairly vicious one from critics before you can perform. Did there were articles attacking him as being unfit for the stage because of his color reviews were filled with races, descriptions of his voice in appearance and an outraged, pitying response to his co star Ellen Tree, and they quote indignity of being part about by him.
her role of Desdemona, although he was at this point still a relatively inexperienced actor. The critical response was really just truly cruel and frequently threaded through with varies thinly veiled. Racism is veiled at all. Miss times. It was very explicit and written before he had even performed the part about how we use work there prescient its etc. year why the critical receptions his work was somewhat kinder outside of London amount, suggesting that there were none of that in the reviews from other parts of the UK bit at. It seem to be at least toned down a little bit also Matt totally clear why the reviews seemed so vastly out of step with the audience response to his performances.
One theory is that in London the critics knew that he was really an American from New York and not a prince from Senegal. Another is that social conditions in London, including the rights of trade unions and class consciousness among workers, was priming working class audiences to really like the idea of an actor who was struggling against oppression. in a way that journalists were quite in touch with, regardless of what the causes were for this sort of disparity between critics and Theatre Gowers after his run as Othello Eldridge return to acting in London's minor theatres, as well as in smaller british towns and cities. They started to get more, steady work, developing a following of passionate fans and building up in a steady income at multiple venues. Critics wrote about his heavy.
Basically carry along cast members who were not as skilled in their performance or didn't even know their lines. Eventually, he began to expand his repertoire. the shakespearian roles that were typically cast with white men in, Shylock Richard the third hamlet, Macbeth and Leir, using make up to lighten his skin basis, Lee became victorian era, equivalent of a movie star, complete with the legion of adoring fans and a steady stream of female admirers, and this was mainly a true still outside of London he never really caught on an eye of London society, but outside of it he was incredibly popular, including developing a stir. of patrons who made his financial life a lot more comfortable in July of eighteen. Fifty two, He started his first major european tour, including royal performances and heads of state in the audience which was again
incredibly well received, but still did not win critics over to his side when he made yet another go in London. He also darted adapting works of his own, including a complete redoing of Titus Andronicus, in which its moorish character is the hero. I would love to see that ready, of intrigue. Apparently, What kind of on, even in his execution and if you're, familiar with Vitus Andronicus blinked but the more his character in the play of my hero at all, no yeah. I have not. I don't even know if an adopted like up a copy of that adaptation even still exists, but I am quite intrigued. This tour of the continent also came just a few months after Harriet Beecher Stowe Uncle Tom Cabin had first been published first in the United States, and then in Britain and this book stoked anti slavery sentiment sentiment on both sides of the Atlantic.
It started to further shift the perceptions of Aldridge's performance, particularly in the role of Othello, while that one thousand eight hundred and thirty three come and garden theater performance have been met with pamphlets, saying that a black man was unfit to be on the stage and Russia in eighteen. Fifty eight one review read quote. I am firmly convinced that after Aldrich, it is impossible to see a fellow performed by a white actor, be it Garrett himself and that's a reference to David Garrick. He was a famous british shakespearean actor, although he would briefly returned to Britain and even be granted british citizenship on November seventh of eighteen sixty three, his overwhelmingly positive receptions in France and Russia meant that he spent most of the last six years of his career they're, ultimately making a name for himself as one of history's great tragedians and becoming a bigger draw than Russia's most famous actors. Apparently Russia,
particular loved him alive. France also, especially especially Russia, although shifting perceptions of race and of the institution of slavery, had also changed the way audiences and the press were regarding him, that doesn't mean the racism was magically over the later part of his career was beset by unfounded rumours that on stage he had stabbed, he Argos and suffocated. Desdemona is for real. This led to his co star in Moscow. Refusing to take the staved with him in her role as Desdemona. His response was quote
if play that role more than three hundred times in my life and in all these times I have suffocated possibly to maximum three Desdemona S, and I stabbed, I think, one Jago, obviously with a joke. It riled people up more biographers Herbert Marshal and Mildred Stock, who wrote the first really definitive biography of him in the nineteen. Fifty is described as whole incident, as quote an out and out came of color prejudice, it was like really a completely unfounded rumour, based on nothing break, as people were scattered if he had an actor at the glowing union. It would have made him more popular oh yeah, he's he's really is really smothering people Aldrich continued to tour and performed for the rest of his life, although his wife Margaret eventually stopped accompanying him a few years before her death on March twenty fifth of eight
Sixty four she was about a decade older than I ran her health had been poor. At that point, Aldrich had been supporting her and an illegitimate son. I read Daniel who had been born in May of eighteen, forty seven and who Margaret raised as her It is also unclear whether she knew about this, but he had been supporting a second family as well. He'd had two more children with a swedish woman named Amanda Pauline Van Brandt These were Irene Laurina Pauline, who was born in eighteen. Sixty an IRA, Frederick Olaf known as spritz, who was born in eighteen, sixty two and similarly to how much had been described as the daughter of an Mp Amanda Pauline was said to be a baroness. She was definitely not. She was the daughter of a farrier, Over the course of his life, Eldridge had actually fathered several other children as well in eighteen, fifty, five and other actor will.
Stop third suit him over an affair with his wife Emma after she delivered by racial baby I'll. It was found guilty of criminal conversation and sentenced to pay a fine RO married Amanda, Pauline and eighteen sixty five and after that they had to more children. Amanda Christina Elizabeth born in March of eighteen, sixty six and Rachel Margaret Frederico, who was born four and a half months after altered of death. I read died in Poland on August seventh, eighteen sixty seven and he was buried there, although he made specific plans to return to the United States at various points, It seems that he never did when the new Memorial Theatre reopened Stratford upon Avon in nineteen thirty two altered. His name was included among other great shakespearian actors commemorated with plaques among the seats. He is the only black actor of the thirty three include
as we know it. All bridge became quite successful in his career and he developed a pretty help healthy income. He started giving a significant portion of that income to abolitionist causes and he also played a part in an abolitionist work of art outside of the theatre which we will talk about after another brief sponsor break, and frankly, here it comes to your homes, plumbing theatre, leaking Fawcett, running toilet or a Watergate or gone cold. No job is to figure to small our team. Punctual plumbers. Have the skills to get you out of a job? Is its Benjamin Franklin, farming, dot com or call eight seven, seven Ben seventeen. Seventy six to request an appointment call for details independently owned and operated licensed in their respective state or county. This episode is brought you buy linked in learning was in my career,
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in learning dot com slash free month. I reckon Rick Eldridge was the subject of several works of art during his lifetime. One was head of a negro in
character of Othello, which was painted by James North Coat in the first year that IRA himself appeared as Othello on state. So, although the artist didn't specifically say this is IRA Eldridge, the widespread conclusion is that that's too, the paint the painting is of but another came back into the public. I only very recently after having been in private collections for a hundred and eighty years, it's by John Philip Simpson and it's called the captive slave and it was acquired by the ART Institute of Chicago in two thousand nine before this people knew that the that it existed and there was a really poor quality reproduction of it. But the original painting had been out of the public eye. The captive slay
was painted sometime in the late one thousand, eight hundred and twenty, and it's a painting of a young black man sitting on a bench wearing manacles he's wearing an orange jumpsuit and for modern viewers. It will probably immediately bring some on the idea of a prison. Jumpsuit he's looking upward and his face carries this impression of nearly tearful, sorrow and lost. Was the painting that first win on exhibition at the Royal Academy of the arts in eighteen? Twenty seven and its entry in the exhibition catalogue included lines from cherry which is an anti slavery poem by William Cowper, its clearly meant as an anti slavery work and the man portraying the slave in the painting is IRA. Frederick, Eldridge, lotta people dont know or that there was an incredibly famous black actor doing Shakespeare in Victoria in Europe and especially England, even though they didn't love him in London, but everywhere else. These
hey there much for joining us on a Saturday, since this episode is out of the archive, if you heard an email address or facebook url or something similar over the course of the show that could be obsolete. Now our current email address is history. Podcast at I heart radio dot com are old house to, firstly, militarist no longer works. You can find us all over social media at missed in history, and you. Subscribe to our shadow on Apple podcast, Google Podcast, the Iheart Radio APP, and wherever else he listened, the fog casts stuffy miss than history class. production of Iheart radio for more five cap for my heart rate, visit by her radio haven't Mancha or wherever? You listen to your favorite, Joe.
You may remember seeing something about the day the Danube Jones on your social media feed around the end of twenty eighteen.
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Transcript generated on 2021-07-29.