Edwin Booth Is Not His Brother’s Keeper

Edwin BoothOn this day in 1732, one of the great characters in 1776, John Dickinson was born. It’s a great character, but the real man was far more complex. He was not John Adams’ antagonist and simply abstained from votes. Given my souring opinion of Adams over the years, I’m inclined to think that Dickinson was the more clear headed one. That’s especially true given that Adams just wanted to create an American aristocracy. But neither of them were Thomas Paine.

The great Scottish novelist Robert Louis Stevenson was born in 1850. He is best known for Treasure Island and Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. He was hugely successful during his lifetime, but throughout most of the 20th century, he was generally dismissed as a genre writer. Gladly, in recent years, people have reevaluated him. He was a great writer and not just in his novels. He should be rightly appreciated as one of the towering figures in English literature. I can’t imagine his reputation not growing even stronger in the coming years.

Willie Edwards was born in 1932. He would probably be alive today. Unfortunately, at the age of 24, he was murdered by the Alabama Klan. They had decided to kill a black man who was thought to be having an affair with a white woman. Regardless of the truth of that, Edwards was not that man. They beat him and then forced him at gun point to jump off a bridge to his death. His body wasn’t even found for three months. No one was even charged in the case for almost 20 years and then the judge threw it out because “merely forcing a person to jump from a bridge does not naturally and probably lead to the death of such person.” The bridge was 125 feet high. No one was ever convicted of the crime even though there is a confession.

Other birthdays: businessman Leon Leonwood (LL) Bean (1872); film director H C Potter (1904); the evil but ultimately impotent pastor Fred Phelps (84); actor Richard Mulligan (1932); television producer Garry Marshall (79); actor Joe Mantegna (66); comedian Whoopi Goldberg (58); actor Steve Zahn (46); and atheist Ayaan Hirsi Ali (44).

The day, however, belongs to the one of the greatest actors of the 19th century, Edwin Booth who was born on this day in 1833. He was the son of Junius Brutus Booth—the man most important in popularizing Shakespeare in the United States. Booth continued that tradition. The problem with Booth is that he had a brother named John Wilkes Booth. Now John was also an actor but by all accounts not nearly as good and nowhere near as successful. John’s assassination of President Lincoln really hurt Edwin’s career and greatly harmed his legacy. There is no indication that anyone other than John was a political radical. I’m still amazed that we have a few recordings of Edwin. The following is in very bad shape, so I will put the text below it. It is from Othello, Act 1, Scene 3:

My story being done
She gave me for my pains a world of sighs.
She swore, in faith, ’twas strange, ’twas passing strange,
‘Twas pitiful, ’twas wondrous pitiful.
She wished she had not heard it, yet she wished
That heaven had made her such a man. She thanked me
And bade me, if I had a friend that loved her,
I should but teach him how to tell my story
And that would woo her. Upon this hint I spake.
She loved me for the dangers I had passed,
And I loved her that she did pity them.

Happy birthday Edwin Booth!

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