Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Ron Reed, "Mark Twain on Junius Brutus Booth"

Junius Brutus Booth. They say he left a tremendous theatrical legacy in this country prior to his triumphant return to the American stage. Fact is he fled to the States, at least that's how the story plays on my side of the pond. Traded his wife for Covent Garden flower girl, booked a pair of schooner tickets home to the United States of, and never looked back. Junius Brutus Booth and his offspring, the Booth boys, Edwin and John Wilkes, true blue native sons; braggarts, madmen, drunkards, and assassins – drunkards most of all. They do our nation proud.

Before his hasty departure from these sceptred shores, Junius toured England playing any theater that would have him, provided there was a pub within staggering distance of the stage door. Mr. Booth believed in the balanced life – excess in all things, including vanity and contempt for his audience. If he must interrupt his drinking to suffer the twin indignities of donning tights and a British accent, they were damn well going to listen, and he took it upon himself to do what ever he deemed necessary to encourage their rapt attention.

Do you know Manchester? Nothing but factories and, what was worse, factory workers – at least, that is how Booth saw it. Button factories. Booth was engaged to play the role of Hamlet as a visiting guest star for a Manchester company. At one particular performance it seems that Junius found the attentions of his working-class audience insufficient, to the point where, come the dueling scene, Mr. Booth saw fit to enliven the festivities for the enjoyment of his buccaneering spectators. He undertook to beat poor Laertes to a bloody pulp with his bare fists. The stunned audience fell silent. When at last the local actor laid bleeding and unconscious at his feet, Junius Brutus Booth turned to the crowd and said, "So what do you think of that, you bunch of damn button makers?"

Oh, the life of the theater.

deleted scene from “A Bright Particular Star,” the story of George MacDonald's daughter Lilia, who was an actress