Today is the birthday of David Garrick (1717-1779), one of the most influential figures in the history of the English-speaking theatre. Descended from French Huguenots, he studied under Samuel Johnson as a young man and became his friend, moving to London with him in 1737. He worked for a while as a wine dealer, taking part in amateur theatricals on the side. By the early 1740s he was both a professional actor and playwright. His 1741 Richard III, coached by Charles Macklin, garnered the attention of the entire theatre going world. Garrick’s acting was relaxed and naturalistic, unprecedented qualities in a form that was then dominated by artificial declamation.
Thought to have no rivals in his own day, Garrick inaugurated the trend toward greater and greater realism in acting that reached its climax in the 20th century. In 1847 he assumed the management of the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, a post which he held until 1776. In addition to producing dozens of his own plays (most of which are long forgotten), he widened the conventional Shakespeare repertory and revived many plays of the Restoration. He is also credited with many innovations in stagecraft and even house management (i.e., attempting to civilize the rabble in attendance).
To learn more about show biz history, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold.
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