William Rufus Blake


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(1802–63), actor and manager. After playing the Prince of Wales in Richard III with a band of strolling players who visited his hometown of Halifax, Nova Scotia, in 1817, he decided to make acting his career. Blake first appeared in New York in 1824 as Frederick in The Poor Gentleman. His trim figure and good looks prompted managers to cast him in romantic leads, although early on he exhibited a comic flair. With age and increasing corpulence, he was able to concentrate on comic parts. Among his prime interpretations were Sir Peter Teazle, Mr. Hardcastle, Malvolio, Sampson Legend, and Sir Anthony Absolute, but he also scored heavily in many contemporary, now-forgotten works. Blake was often first comedian in the greatest companies of the time including Burton's and Wallack's. A good businessman, he at one time or another managed the Bowery, Franklin, Olympic, and Broadway theatres, as well as Philadelphia's Walnut Street Theatre and Boston's Tremont. A contemporary critic wrote of his performance in the long-popular The Heir at Law that the actor “is a glorious Lord Duberly—one charm of his acting consists in bringing all the vulgarity of the ‘old chandler’ out in broad relief, and yet preserving his representation from being coarse—a great stroke of art.” Writing in more general terms, Joseph Jefferson observed, “He was a superior actor.. .. Without seeming to change his face or alter the stolid look from his eyes, Mr. Blake conveyed his meaning with the most perfect effect. He was delicate and minute in his manner, which contrasted oddly with his ponderous form.”

From The Oxford Companion to American Theatre in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Theatre.

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