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Haworth's Versatility

Haworth's Life
Haworth's Times
Haworth's Versatility
Haworth's Press
Haworth's Writings
NY Engagements
His Brother William
The Haworth Tradition

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His Versatility


Joseph Haworth was the most versatile actor of his time. He was a romantic, swashbuckling matinee idol who thrilled men and boys with his athletic acting and swordplay, and who made female audience members swoon at his love scenes. Additionally, he was an accomplished character actor, a deft comedic player, and a brilliant farceur. He could also sing and dance. In Shakespeare, he was a master of both the classic and heroic schools of acting.

The Englishman, William Macready, was the seminal exponent of the classical school. He was a slender, somewhat awkward actor who created a modern, subtle and more human approach to the great Shakespearian roles. His rival, American born Edwin Forrest, was of the heroic school. Forrest was a powerhouse vocally and physically who dazzled audiences with his energy and strength. The classical school produced the great Hamlets and Romeos, while the heroic school produced the great Lears and Macbeths.

Joseph Haworth’s first mentor was Charlotte Crampton. Miss Crampton had played opposite Macready and Forrest, and she taught young Haworth the "stage business" of both actors in all of their major roles. Joe was therefore uniquely equipped and able to succeed in both styles. He acted successfully with Edwin Booth and Lawrence Barrett, the two leading actors of the classical school, and was also leading man to John McCullough, a great heroic star actor, who had been a protégée of Edwin Forrest.

In Haworth’s early years with John Ellsler’s theatre in Cleveland and the Boston Museum Theatre, he was called upon to play all sorts of roles and styles. He concluded his tenure in Cleveland with his first Hamlet. As leading juvenile in Boston, he played Romeo, Iago, Joseph Surface, etc. Then the Museum staged the American premieres of two Gilbert and Sullivan operettas and Joe stunned audiences with a complete change of pace. A press book for Joe’s 1895 starring tour in Rosedale recounted this extraordinary display of versatility:

"There appear to be no confines to Haworth’s talent. He is as austere in tragedy as he is clever in travesty. Not long ago he packed away the togas and armor of Caesar, went to Boston and played Grosvenor in Patience with an assurance and a self-consciousness that was beyond the understanding of most lookers-on in these days of one-part and one-line actors. And his Grosvenor was a big ‘go.’ His achievement seemed almost incredible, but the doubting ones were forced to acknowledge his ability, and applauded him.

"This feat, however, did not surprise those who knew how he had previously walked out of a heavy melodrama into the character of the Boatswain of Pinafore, and had danced and sang with as much ease and abandon as though he had been reared in a burlesque company."

In her book "Old Boston Museum Days," Kate Ryan wrote: "Everyone about the theatre was somewhat doubtful as to the success of Pinafore. Even Mr. Field was uncertain about the outcome till the song ‘He is an Englishman’ sung by Joseph Haworth took the audience by storm and received encore after encore. Joseph Haworth played the part of Bill Bobstay and added greatly to the success of the opera."

Haworth was enormously popular in costume plays, romantic melodramas, and drawing room comedies, but throughout his career he would eschew commercial theatre to take on the great classical roles. In 1887, Joe was leading man to Julia Marlowe at New York’s Star Theatre. He played a sensational classical Romeo, the grave and foolish Malvolio in Twelfth Night, and then returned to the heroic style as the title role in Ingomar. Since Joe Haworth’s time, the only actor who has shown a similar range in the classical canon was Laurence Olivier.

In 1889, a double bill had a long run at the Madison Square Theatre in New York. A Man of the World was a one act romantic drama that featured Maurice Barrymore, while Aunt Jack was a three-act farce in which E. M. Holland starred as a lovesick elderly barrister. When the production was sent on tour, Joseph Haworth played both the dashing leading man in A Man of the World and the comedic old lawyer in Aunt Jack. Manager A. M. Palmer brought Joe’s touring company to Broadway in 1890, so that metropolitan audiences could witness this theatrical hat trick by Haworth.

Joseph Haworth always played leading male roles, but he constantly sought to expand the range of his characters. In 1896, he played the uncouth Ira Beasley in Bret Harte’s Sue. Wearing a long thick beard, Joe played a dull-witted, dirty, selfish, and maudlin character that entered into a loveless marriage with the play’s title character. Haworth who was known for success in society plays, melodrama, comedy, and classical roles, astounded critics and public alike with a vivid characterization of a rube in an American folk play.

In Joe’s co-starring 1898 Broadway engagement with Helene Modjeska, he portrayed Modjeska’s warrior husband in Macbeth, her errant brother in Measure for Measure, her father in Magda, her young ardent lover in Camille, and an athletic Orlando in As You Like It. While on tour Modjeska also presented Joe in Hamlet, playing Ophelia in his support. Over the years, Modjeska’s leading men included Otis Skinner, William S. Hart, and Maurice Barrymore. Of all these excellent actors, Haworth played the broadest range of roles opposite Madame Modjeska.

A 1901 starring engagement in San Francisco again exemplifies the variety of roles Haworth offered to his audiences. He opened as Elliot Grey in Rosedale, a popular adventure melodrama in which he employed his great singing voice. Next came Richelieu, and then the dual roles in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. He followed these with his first Shylock in Merchant of Venice, and closed the lengthy engagement with Hamlet.

Haworth’s final three Broadway performances were as different from one another as night and day. He played the heroic Vinicius in Quo Vadis in 1900. Then he played opposite Richard Mansfield as the "lean and hungry" Cassius in Julius Caesar in 1902. And finally in 1903, he was the tortured and remorseful Prince Dimitri in Tolstoy’s realistic modern play Resurrection.

There have been actors capable of some of what Joseph Haworth successfully attempted. But none have been able to do it all. In addition to everything else, Joe was a sex symbol and leading man. Imagine if you will, a romantic star like Errol Flynn also succeeding in Shakespeare, musical theatre and character roles, and you will begin to take the measure of the versatility of Joseph Haworth.


Patience and H.M.S. Pinafore

Twelfth Night and Romeo & Juliet

Aunt Jack and A Man of the World

Principal New York Engagements

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