Having had occasion to write about Cecil B. Demille and William C. de Mille, we thought it appropriate to pay honor to the father who set them on their path, playwright Henry Churchill de Mille (1853-1893).
DeMille was the son of a businessman and politician in Washington, North Carolina (a town founded by one of my relatives, James Bonner). He studied at Columbia to be a minister, but wound up beginning his professional life as a teacher, while pursuing acting on the side. In 1876 he married Beatrice Samuel, also a teacher and aspiring actress, the daughter of German Jews who’d grown up in Liverpool. William was born in 1878; Cecil, in 1881.
De Mille taught at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts, then in 1883 began working as a playreader and editor at Madison Square Garden (then a very different organization than it is now). Here he developed working relationships with the likes of David Belasco and Steele Mackaye. Over the course of a decade, De Mille would work frequently with Belasco, and others, like Daniel Frohman. His plays included John Delmer’s Daughters, Or Duty (1883), Main Line, or Rawson’s Y (1886), The Wife (1888), Lord Chumley, starring E.H. Sothern (1887), The Charity Ball (1889), Men and Women (1890) starring Maude Adams, and The Lost Paradise (1891).
Henry C. De Mille was only 39 when he contracted typhoid fever, dying of related pneumonia, in 1893. Now forgotten, his illustrious sons would cause his name to echo down to the present day.