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His Brother William

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William Haworth

"…the best thing in its performance at the Union Square Theatre is his own quiet, natural acting." The New York Times

Haworth, William (1860-1920) William was Joe Haworth’s younger brother. He was born in 1860 when Joe was five years old. From the very beginning Joe had shared his success with his family. When he acted with  John Ellsler, he brought his check home to his mother, and when he moved to the Boston Museum, a generous portion of his pay was sent back to Cleveland each week. This enabled William to stay in school and get an excellent education. Following high school, William Haworth received a prestigious appointment to Annapolis and attended as a naval cadet.

But Bill was called to the theatre just as strongly as Joe. To the shock of his family, Bill resigned his commission in the navy and went on the stage. But he didn’t have the training that Joe had. He didn’t have Charlotte Crampton’s tutelage, and he didn’t have years on the stage with the likes of Booth and Barrett. What he did possess were good looks, a natural talent, and the deep desire to be in the theatre. John McCullough recognized these attributes when Joe introduced his aspiring kid brother in 1882. McCullough gave Bill a job with his company playing small but good roles, and Bill immediately began getting noticed.

Following McCullough’s collapse, Joe Haworth was able to move into a succession of leading man roles in prestige projects. Bill was less established and still in need of training and experience. In 1885, he played Balthasar in an enormously successful production of A Comedy of Errors starring the team of W. H. Crane and Stuart Robson. The elaborate production was the runaway hit of the season, and it was with regret that Robson and Crane ended its profitable run at the Star Theatre to fulfill the show’s tour bookings. As Bill departed New York to tour with A Comedy of Errors, Joe was in the long running play A Moral Crime. The Haworth brothers were making their mark.

At the Star Theatre in February of 1886, Joe Haworth played Orlando in As You Like It opposite Helene Modjeska in an all-star benefit for Polish exiles. When Joe introduced his brother to the great actress, Modjeska took an instant liking to Bill and hired him for her company. The fall of 1886 saw Bill at the Union Square Theatre playing Oliver in As You Like It in support of Modjeska and Maurice Barrymore, and when Modjeska presented a stage adaptation of Balzac’s Le Dernier Chouan, Bill was given the important part of Pille Michel. His work in The Chouans attracted the attention of William Gillette who had just had a success with his production Held by the Enemy. It was the first major play written about the Civil War and its engagement at the Star Theatre sold out for months. A tour was launched in the fall of 1887 and although it featured most of the original cast, William Gillette relinquished the leading role of the northern spy to William Haworth.

Inspired by William Gillette’s dual career as a playwright and actor, Bill began making notes for a play while he was traveling with Held by the Enemy. At the conclusion of his tour, he returned to New York with the completed manuscript of Ferncliff, a play that takes place near Providence, RI during the Civil War. Bill put a lot of his of life experience in the play. For example, Providence was where his parents first settled after emigrating from England. Bill’s plot involved two brothers: an older good hearted but wild youth and a younger steady stay at home boy. They both go to war, the older brother returning a captain promoted for gallantry, and the younger an emaciated victim of the Andersonville prison. Arriving home they foil a villainous plot to steal the younger brother’s wife. Clearly Joe was the model for the character of the older brother Tom, and Bill saw himself as younger brother Jim.

Ferncliff was produced at the Union Square Theatre in September of 1889. E. H. Vanderfelt, a well-known actor who had been Modjeska’s leading man, played the character of Tom. And in a Gillette-like move, Bill wrote the role of Jim for himself. The opening performance provoked a frenzied and enthusiastic response from the audience. The climax of act three brought calls of "Author, Author," the impact of the performance heightened by the presence of General Sherman in the box nearest the stage. The critics praised Bill’s stagecraft, story telling, and deft handling of sentiment. In the final act, Jim delivers a speech recounting the horrors of Andersonville Prison. Bill’s dad, Benjamin Haworth, had died at Andersonville and the lines came from the depth of the author/actor’s soul. Of Bill’s interpretation, the New York Times wrote: "…the best thing in its performance at the Union Square Theatre is his own quiet, natural acting."

In September of 1889, Joseph Haworth was starring as Paul Kauvar at the Grand Opera House and William Haworth was starring his own play Ferncliff at the Union Square Theatre. This was a rare moment for two young brothers, one just twenty-nine years old and the other thirty-four, and although they loved each other and were deeply proud of one another, they were very different artists. Joe was a spellbinder, a larger than life performer, whose emotional intensity brought audiences to a fevered pitch. Bill was an under player who stood with a natural slouch, and who got his effects across without the use of force. While Bill never reached Joe’s level of stardom, there were those who preferred his acting to that of his illustrious brother.

Bill toured in Ferncliff throughout the season. His performance as Jim greatly enhanced his reputation as an actor. When he returned to New York in the fall of 1890, he was hired by the star Richard Mansfield to play Lycias in T. Russell Sullivan’s Nero. It played New York’s Garden Theatre in September and October and then toured for the rest of the season. The following summer he acted with Joe in an outdoor production As You Like It in Pittsburgh, PA. The great Rose Coghlan played Rosalind, and Joe and Bill portrayed the onstage brothers Orlando and Oliver.

But Bill’s acting career soon took a back seat because he had an idea for another Civil War play, this one with a naval setting. He chose a remarkable moment in United States history for its background. In 1861, Captain Charles Wilkes seized two Confederate emissaries to the British government on the vessel "Trent" while on the high seas. The incident nearly caused Britain to declare war on the North. Bill made the real-life Wilkes the protagonist of his play, which he called The Ensign. It was set in Havana and involved a plot by two British officers to provoke Wilkes into a quarrel and delay his departure to intercept the Trent. Tried and convicted for killing one of the Brits, Bill had Wilkes escape the firing squad through the direct intervention of President Lincoln himself.

The Ensign was produced in New York in September of 1892. Bill’s naval background provided an unprecedented realism to the depiction of military life. And Bill and his producer Jacob Litt hired six men who had served on Charles Wilkes’ frigate to appear in the play. Because it was a massive spectacle and he needed to devote himself full time as author and director, Bill did not act in The Ensign. As with Ferncliff, The Ensign filled audiences with passion. It became Bill’s greatest hit and was revived constantly through the early part of the twentieth century. In the early 1900’s film pioneer D.W. Griffith played "Lincoln" in The Ensign at the Alhambra Theatre in Chicago. Subsequently, Griffith lifted the Lincoln scenes directly from The Ensign for his film "The Birth of a Nation."

For the rest of his life, whenever Bill’s name appeared in print he was identified as "the author of The Ensign." Its success allowed Bill to think more expansively about the dimensions and technical effects of his productions. A talented artist and an Annapolis trained engineer, Bill was the set designer for all his plays. His vision anticipated cinema and his knowledge of machinery brought a new level of realism to the stage. For example, The Ensign featured an elevator stage that allowed scenes on deck and below deck to take place simultaneously. Bill also was a trained and gifted musician and composed all the incidental music and songs for his plays. He directed, scripted, composed, designed, and acted in some of the most successful plays of the 1890s. He also took an active role in the business aspects of his productions. William Haworth was a true Renaissance man.

Bill also understood and loved women. Raised by a mother and three sisters, he had great insights into a woman’s psychology. In The Ensign and Ferncliff, he drew vivid portraits of three generations of women, and in his next play A Nutmeg Match, the female characters completely dominate. Set in rural New England, its plot involved the foiling of a bounder’s courtship of a young lady. But the similarities to stock melodrama stopped there. Bill made his heroine Jess nobody’s fool, who saw through the villains machinations and alienated her family with her attentive visits to a tubercular "fallen woman." He created a great role in Elizabeth Sharp a two-time widow impatient to remarry. And finally there was the tomboy Cinders, the daring rescuer of the hero in the third act. Bill’s fourth and final act was pure comedy with Cinders marrying the handsome hero, and having her eccentric way on her wedding day.

At this point Bill was under no budget constraints regarding spectacle and machinery, and he out did himself with a third act set that included a river, a floating dock, and an actual pile driver. The hero’s rescue from being crushed by the pile driver drove audiences wild with excitement. They also laughed heartily at the play’s comedy and were gravely attentive to its pathos. In its cast, Annie Lewis scored a huge hit as Cinders, a role clearly based on Bill’s eccentric sister Kate. As her comic partner Brick, a young David Warfield had his first notice, and also in the cast as Nervy Kate was Mr. Oscar Shoening who was seven feet tall. Decades after its first production, A Nutmeg Match remained a stock staple, often billed as "that grand old New England comedy."

In June of 1893, Martha O’Leary Haworth died at the age of seventy-two. She had lived to see her two sons attain fame and fortune. Bill went home for his mom’s funeral and while there purchased a country home in the small town of Willoughby, east of Cleveland. This became his retreat. During this time, Bill reworked Ferncliff to become a companion piece to The Ensign. Now called A Flag of Truce, it toured in the fall of 1893 and opened in New York in December of that year. Bill added a thrilling rescue in a quarry that involved a real derrick onstage. In December 1893, New York audiences saw A Nutmeg Match and The Ensign performed at the Grand Opera House, and A Flag of Truce at the Fourteenth Street Theatre. Through out the next decade, Bill’s two Civil War plays were almost constantly performed, often in repertory.

Bill’s next play was On the Mississippi. Set in the shadowy region of southern river country soon after the Civil War, its triangular plot involved an adventuress trying to win the affections of Ned Raymond a northern mine owner, and her lover’s machinations against him. The action included a Ku Klux Klan outrage, a mob’s attack on a jail, a shooting in a gambling house, and the fall of a mountain bridge. Bill took his audiences to a New Orleans street, to a floating theatre, to a swamp, and to a mountain in Tennessee. The scenic effects were natural and beautiful, and included a firefly drop in the swamp scene that evoked gasps at every performance. But the real innovation of On the Mississippi was the fact that it was an integrated company. Bill rejected the common practice of using white actors in blackface, and put black and white actors together on his stage. The effect was exuberant and highly commercial, with the music and movement of the "plantation buck dancers" the highlight of the show.

On February 4, 1894 when On the Mississippi opened successfully at the People’s Theatre in New York, William Haworth was sitting on an empire. During the play’s fall tour, Bill had taken over the leading role of Ned Raymond from actor Henry Napier, but he stepped aside before the New York opening in order to focus on the production from the front of the house. It was a loss because audiences loved to see Bill Haworth onstage. But presiding over multiple companies of four massive and spectacular productions not only deprived Bill of opportunities to act, it also took a toll on his creativity. After On the Mississippi, he went dry as a writer, and spent the rest of the decade engaged mostly in the business side of his four great hits.

In 1896, Joe and Bill began collaborating on a play. Joe had built a summer home near Bill’s in Willoughby, Ohio, and the two brothers worked together on The People’s King, a romantic comedy tailored to Joe’s talents as an actor. The producer Walter Sanford optioned the play and announced it for the 1897 season. However, Joe’s availability became a problem when Modjeska selected him as her leading man for her farewell tour. The opportunity for Joe to play in a round of magnificent classical roles opposite America’s greatest actress could not be passed up, and with Bill’s blessing, The People’s King was postponed.

During the 1897-98 season, the O’Malley Company in Boston performed The Ensign for twenty weeks. And in 1899 the Barrett Company toured extensively with The Ensign and A Flag of Truce in alternating repertory. Bill took a hands-on approach with these productions, by re-conceiving some of their more spectacular effects so they could be toured and accommodated in smaller venues. The royalties from these engagements mounted up and Bill became a rich man. He also occasionally drew a salary as an actor, playing ‘Wilkes" in The Ensign at various theatres throughout the 1899 and 1900 seasons.

In the fall of 1901, Bill and Joe finally worked together as author and actor. Joe had been engaged to perform Hamlet, Quo Vadis, and Merchant of Venice at the Grand Opera House in San Francisco. The great star Richard Mansfield had had a big hit with T. Russell Sullivan’s adaptation of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, and the Grand Opera House wanted Joe to perform the play in San Francisco. Mansfield had exclusive rights to Sullivan’s version, so Joe persuaded the Grand Opera House to commission Bill to write a new adaptation. It opened in September of 1901 and was a great success for both men. Joe’s acting was widely praised, and William Haworth’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde became a stock staple for many years, occasionally with its author in the title roles.

Bill’s Jekyll and Hyde had a light touch. It was surprisingly free of moralizing. Much stage time was given to the comedic romance of two young people, the beau being an amateur detective. The character of Utterson, Jekyll’s friend and lawyer, carried much of the plot and dramatic action. The scenes involving Jekyll or Hyde were condensed and highly charged, evidence that Bill knew the potent power of his brother and how to use it best. The dialogue was modern and free of the fustian prose that afflicted most melodrama of this era. The romantic scenes were believable, funny and completely charming. William Haworth’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was a fascinating and intimate piece of work, from an author who was known mostly for writing great spectacles.

Bill was still held in great regard as an actor. And one of his greatest admirers was the playwright Augustus Thomas. Thomas had scored a huge hit with his play Arizona at the Union Square Theatre in the spring of 1900. As he prepared to reopen the play in the fall, he began to think of its production in bigger terms. He booked the vast Academy of Music Theatre, and where the earlier production used the off stage sounds of horse hooves, Thomas was now able to have forty riders and horses enter the stage covered with perspiration and alkali dust. Thomas also looked to strengthen the cast for its reopening and hit upon the novel idea of inviting Bill to play the pivotal role of "Sergeant Keller, 11th U. S. Cavalry."

Bill’s acceptance was huge news, and his success as "Sergeant Keller" was immediate. The intimate, non-acting style Bill had created was perfect before the western backdrops created by Frederic Remington and Walter Burridge. Arizona ran through the season, and then made history by being the first completely American acting company to play on the London stage. Bill was invited to repeat his role, and the great Theodore Roberts was cast for the London production as well. Arizona opened with a special matinee at the Victoria Theatre on January 9, 1902, and settled into a long run at London’s Adelphi Theatre on February 2, 1902. The British loved the play’s plot involving a heroic man foiling the elopement of a young wife with her villainous lover, only to be then suspected himself of the misdeed by the wife’s much older husband. British audiences also found the "Cavalry Station at Ft. Grant" a colorful and exotic setting.

Bill enjoyed his time in London. He had many old friends there and his days off were spent enjoying their hospitality. He visited with a couple that had several young children and after spending all day rolling around and playing with the kids, he remarked to his friends: "I forgot to get married!" On his return to New York, he courted and married an actress over twenty years his junior named Sarah Graham. He resolved to give up the intransient life of a theatre professional, settle down and become a family man. He and his young wife left New York and settled in Cleveland. Children began coming almost immediately and Bill determined to arrange his life so he would be away from them as little as possible. He invested in farmlands adjacent to his country home in Willoughby, taught acting, and performed on the Cleveland stage.

Bill also kept his hand in the national theatre scene. He would occasionally appear with stock companies and his five plays continued to be widely produced. He also found a new and lucrative outlet for his writing. The vaudeville circuits were now completely controlled by New York trusts and the need for sketch material and one act plays was tremendous. Bill was able to stay with his wife and children and write, with a New York theatrical law firm protecting his interests. His prolific output included a condensed version of The People’s King and his solo one act play Jean Jocot, which depicted a comedic series of botched suicide attempts by a despondent hero. These brought Bill a steady income and their plots were used in several early films.

Joseph Haworth’s death in 1903 was a terrible blow to Bill. And after the loss of his sister Kate, it was Bill’s unhappy task to sell the beloved house "As You Like It." On a dank and rainy fall day, he traveled from Cleveland to Willoughby to show Joe’s house to a prospective buyer. He caught cold that day and it developed into pneumonia. Bill died in 1920 at the age of sixty. He left eight children: Martha, Elizabeth, Catherine, William, Joseph, Mary Louise, Ada Gertrude, and Edward Sothern. His wife Sally was pregnant with their ninth child, a son she named Albert Francis.

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Studio Portrait as Jim Hewins in
Studio Portrait

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(l-r) Mary Louise, Martha, Ad Gertrude,Betty, Joseph, William, Albert, Catherine, Edward Sothern-B&W-Resized.jpg (239406 bytes)

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William's father Benjamin Haworth William Haworth's
9 children
William's Mother
Martha O'Leary Haworth

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William Haworth's son
William Haworth, Jr.
Willoughby, OH William Haworth's son
Ted Haworth

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