James Lewis


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(1838–96), comic actor. The slim, short comedian with blue pop eyes and reddish-blond hair was born in Troy, New York, and began his theatrical apprenticeship touring while still in his early teens. He came to New York in 1866, quickly making a name for himself in Mrs. John Wood's burlesques at the Olympic Theatre and in similar pieces at Lina Edwin's Theatre. When Augustin Daly began assembling his soon-famous ensemble in 1869, Lewis was one of his first choices. Within a brief time he became the company's leading farceur and remained with the group until his early death. Along with John Drew, Mrs. Gilbert, and Ada Rehan he was considered a mainstay of the organization. Most of his assignments were in now-forgotten comedies, but he was also applauded for such roles as Captain Lynde in Divorce (1873), Bob Sackett in Saratoga (1874), Tony Lumpkin in She Stoops to Conquer (1874), Professor Cawallader in The Big Bonanza (1875), Sammy Dymple in Pique (1875), Sir Benjamin Backbite in The School for Scandal (1876), Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream (1888), Touchstone in As You Like It (1891), and Sir Toby Belch in Twelfth Night (1893). William Winter recalled, “Lewis was an artist. He caused effects in acting not by grimace, posturing and extravagance, but by getting inside of characters and permitting his droll humor to permeate them.”

From The Oxford Companion to American Theatre in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Theatre.

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