“You’re such a wonderful actor, Mr. Booth,” gushed a female admirer one day, “but to be perfectly frank with you, I can’t get over your nose.”
“There’s no wonder, madam,” replied Booth. “The bridge is gone.”
[Note: Booth’s profile was marred by a broken nose.]
Junius Brutus Booth was an Anglo-American actor, born in Britain, father of John Wilkes Booth. He was regarded as one of the greatest tragedians of his day, particularly in Shakespearean roles. Booth made his American debut in 1821, playing Richard III. Audiences admired his passion and intensity; Walt Whitman called him “the grandest historian of modern times”; and Mrs. John Drew called his acting “beautiful; he made the figure stand before you! It was infinitely tender.” In his New York debut, one critic admired his open, expressive face, “well adapted to display the workings of a distorted mind.” Booth carefully chose roles that he felt suited his relatively small, lean frame. In addition to Richard III, he often played Iago, Hamlet, Shylock, and Macbeth. Personal sorrow, including an unhappy marriage and the death of two children, led to Booth's emotional instability and alcoholism, but audiences never lost their affection for him. At the end of his career, some critics insisted that he had reached new heights of grandeur when he was most troubled. Booth died on a Mississippi riverboat, while on tour.
The photo above is a half-length portrait of Junius Booth, three-quarters to the left, in theatrical costume, ca. 1850. Photographer: Mathew Brady.