American Gothic: The Story of America's Legendary Theatrical Family-Junius, Edwin, and John Wilkes Booth

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9780671767136: American Gothic: The Story of America's Legendary Theatrical Family-Junius, Edwin, and John Wilkes Booth

A biography of the theatrical family of which Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth was a member traces the rise of Junius Brutus Booth in the theater, Edwin's record-breaking performance of Hamlet, and brother John's most heinous crime. 15,000 first printing. Reader's Digest Cond Bks. Excerpts, American Heritage.

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From Kirkus Reviews:

The Booth family's important place in theater history has often been overshadowed or obscured by the notoriety of John Wilkes. This anecdotal group-biography, by the author of When the Cheering Stopped and other popular history/biography, doesn't help matters much--since nearly half the book is devoted to the largely familiar assassination saga. As a personality, father Junius Brutus Booth (1796-1852) seems the most interesting figure here. The son of a well-to-do London lawyer, young wastrel Junius was unprepossessing offstage but, more than a little mad, became a quick success in frenzied acting roles. He soon ran off to America with his pregnant mistress, abandoning a wife and child; within a year, he was considered the country's most prominent actor and, settling in Maryland, he fathered more children, cultivated many eccentricities, and succumbed frequently to alcoholism. Somber teenaged son Edwin was pushed onstage early; he went through a libertine phase, roughed it on the mining-camp vaudeville circuit, suffered from depression and alcoholism--but emerged, in his unextravagant way, as the era's greatest Hamlet, the ``Prince of Players.'' His little brother Johnny had it easier; with legendary good looks and natural exuberance, his acting fame came without much effort. But, for reasons never made clear, John Wilkes became obsessed with the South's defeat, with the idea of kidnapping and, later, with killing Lincoln. Smith savors every detail of the assassination melodrama, even those--like Mrs. Lincoln's neuroses--that have nothing to do with Booth. By contrast, Edwin's life from 1865 to 1893 (blighted by shame but busy nonetheless) is covered in two sketchy chapters. And the book is limited throughout by Smith's failure to probe or interpret, by his willingness to give equal weight to stories of varying credibility. Readable but only half-satisfying pop-history--more for assassination buffs (Smith brings together many sources) than for fanciers of theater history. (B&w photos--not seen.) -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

From Publishers Weekly:

Exemplary scholarship and deep feelings shape this portrait of the Booth family, a worthy successor to the author's Lee and Grant and his other well-received historical biographies. As events unfold against a wonderfully detailed evocation of the 19th century, Junius Brutus thrills audiences with his portrayals of Shakespeare's King Lear and Richard III, despite his notorious madness. His equally gifted sons were totally different from their father and each other. A great actor, Edwin could barely utter a word offstage; he was painfully depressed and afraid he too might lose his mind. John Wilkes seems to have been sane: a handsome man beloved by women, gregarious, popular, as admired as Edwin in certain roles. When Robert E. Lee surrendered, however, John's commitment to the Southern cause turned his thoughts to revenge, culminating in his assassination of President Lincoln. In vivid detail Smith reveals the murder's dreadful impact on the Booths and numerous others, mostly innocent victims of a tragedy Shakespeare might have written. Illustrations not seen by PW. First serial to American Heritage; Reader's Digest Condensed Books selection.
Copyright 1992 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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