by Bruce Campbell Adamson


On the opening of the season of 1879-80 at the Chestnut Street Theater Wilson acted in an old minstrel. Years later, when a member of the "All Star Rivals Company," as we sat at table in the private dining-car, the subject of minsrelsy came up for discussion.

"I suppose," said Mrs. John Drew, "there are few, if any men in this company who have not at one time or another been connected with the minstrels."

Joseph Jefferson spoke up, saying "For years I danced 'Jim Crow' in black-face, in imitation of Daddy Rice." "I can vouch for that," continued Mrs. Malaprop Drew, "for I once sat in front and saw you do it." "I was on the tambourine 'end' of Pell's Minstrels," added William H. Crane. "Did Edwin Booth ever black his face professionally? I forget" asked Mrs. Drew. "He did," said Jefferson




Joseph Jefferson mentioned his associate Mrs. John Drew. She was an incomparable artist. Her "Mrs. Malaprop" was a delightful performance, one which the great comedian never tired of extolling....In some respects Mrs. Drew's career paralleled that of Mrs. Stirling, the accepted and popular "Mrs. Malaprop"" of London during the last half of the ninettenth century. At one time or another, nearly all the characters assumed by Mrs. Stirling in England were played by Mrs. Drew in America.

Both John Drew (father of John Drew Jr.) and his wife, our own "Mrs. Malaprop," appeared with Jefferson in "The Rivals" before the days of the Jeffersonian revision of that play. The elder Drew played "Sir Lucius Trigger," and his wife, the romantic-minded "lydia Languish," the part played later by Julia Marlowe.

 Wilson and family below and William Crane - Julia Marlow to right


When Jefferson rearranged and condense "The Rivals," he felt the need of so sterling an artist as Mrs. Drew to support him in the liberties he felt he was taking with a masterpiece. So sincere was Jefferson's admiration for Mrs. Drew's art that I do not recall an evening during the All-Star tour in 1896 that he was not in the "wings" enjoying her acting in what is called the "Letter-Scene." Her confusion on carelessly handing the detested "Beverley" a love-letter sent to her by "Sir Lucius" was delightful. Jefferson called it "the perfection of comedy."

John Drew Jr. tells us, in his "My Years on the Stage," of the dinner he gave to the cast of the All-Star Rivals cCompany at Chicago, where he was also playing. It was there he aw his mother act for the last time. As a member of that unusual association of players at the head of which were Joseph Jefferson and Mrs. Drew, with such small-fry as Julia Marlowe, William H. Crane, Nat Goodwin, Rober Taber, Edward Holland, Joseph Holland (Jefferson's godson)), Fanny Rice, and Francis Wilson filling up the ranks, I well remember that dinner. I especiallly recall "the stories of the old days" told by Jefferson and Mrs. Drew--they had been telling equally wonderful experiences all through the season--for, at that time, and for a number of years previously, I was taking notes of the sayings and doings of Jefferson which were later issued in book form by Charles Scribner's Sons.

There was also present a young lady by the name of Ethel Barrymore, a niece of Drew's. She was playing a small part in a piece called "Rosemary" by a young dramatist named Barrie, who was thought to be "promising." The play was Drew's vehicle for the season. After dinner, this young lady sang for us, and I remember how enchantingly embarrassed she was when Francis Wilson expressed delight at having, at last, hear a singing voice worse than my own.

In those days the youthful and undeveloped Ethel was quite uncertain as to what line of ddramatic work she would turn her attention. From sometime she and her grandmother said, I thought it might be along the broad way of light opera. She was already a capable musician, "soothing her young heart with catches and glees," and, notwithstanding my jest at our respective voice, sang with taste and intelligence. I was all the more impressed with this feeling of uncertainty on her part when I recalled what her uncle Lewis Baker said to me about this time. I had expressed some doubt as to Ethel having inherited the family talent. "My dear Francis, why be in doubt?" he replied; "in the family, Ethel's ability has long been a matter of hilarious jest." In this connection, and apropos of the fact that prediction is never a safe indulgence, I remember reading an interview by one of our well-known dramatic critics with Georgie Drewe Barrymore. Her three children, Ethel, Lionel , and John were mentioned. It was confidently declared that no one of these children would ever figure prominently on the stage. Not more than three of them did. I wish her mother had lived to see Ethel's exquisite performance of "Lady Teazle!"
William Warren, Jefferson's cousin, was credited with saying something cleaver reflecting on Jefferson's audacity, that it was "The Rivals," as Jefferson played it, "with Sheridan twenty miles away." But that remark was first made, Jefferson declared, "by a member of my company." That "member" was liely the brilliant Maurice Barrymore, who one Christmas amused everybody, including Jefferson, by presenting him with a copy of "The Rivals" with every part scissorsed out but that of "Bob Acres." This wa like the witty Barrymore, who was much given to such pranks. It is said that once, about to sign his name in a hotel register, he observed in the space above: "Richard Harding Davis-- and valet," and that instantly Barrymore wrote beneath: "Maurice Barrymore--and valise."
As for my own performace of "Bob Acres" (Francis Wilson) a character which I assumed for the first time, it is a fact that, but for the decision of The Players, I should likely never have attempted the role. The original plan was to give "The School for Scandal" with John Drew and the three Barrymores in the case -- Ethel Barrymore as "Lady Teaazle," John Barrymore as "Charles," Lionel Barrymore as "Joseph," and John Drew as "Sir Peter," which would have made an interesting event., and it was decided, rather than abandon the project, to substitute "The Rivals." A year later, The School for Scandal was given by The Players June, 1923..