Post Reply 
Good Brother, Bad Brother
04-02-2018, 07:49 PM (This post was last modified: 04-02-2018 07:49 PM by Gene C.)
Post: #1
Good Brother, Bad Brother
Interesting look at Edwin & John Wilkes Booth written by James Cross Goodwin.
Written mainly for teen age readers, adults will also find it interesting, About 220 pages, published in 2005.
Easy to read with above average size print, not to bogged down with details. Flows well, with many nice illustrations and photographs. .

It is a good introduction to the lives of both men, I found it interesting because I knew next to nothing about Edwin.

Some inaccuracies in the book, here are two:
"On November 9, President Lincoln and his party were among those who crowded into Ford's to see John play a romantic young sculptor in the popular play The Marble Heart. Afterward, the President sent word backstage that he would like to meet the actor, but John, given his strong feelings about Lincoln, declined the invitation." (anyone heard this before?)
and at the assassination...
"Then three doctors, aided by four men from the audience, including John Parker, carried Lincoln out of the box."
The author takes a more positive position on John's acting ability than most other books I've read.

I found the parts about Edwin the most interesting. After being married for three years, Edwin's first wife died leaving him with a two year old child, Edwina. His wife had been very sick, had telegraphed Edwin asking him to come home. He postponed reading her telegrams due to being intoxicated. When he did open them, he cut his theater tour short, hurried home only to miss being by her bedside when she died by a few hours. She was only 22.

The second wife had a baby boy who died after 1 day. She suffered severe depression most of the rest of her life, had other health and mental issues before she too passed away at the age of 33 . Edwin never remarried.

Also mentioned are Edwin's early struggles with excessive drinking, financial problems, destroying John's theater wardrobe and props, and two sad marriages with both wives dying at a fairly early age.

If you are a Boothie, there's nothing new here, it's not a must have book, but a nice one to have.
I picked up my copy from the library book sale, but there are several good copies available for less than $10 on Amazon.

So when is this "Old Enough To Know Better" supposed to kick in?
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
04-02-2018, 08:22 PM (This post was last modified: 04-02-2018 08:41 PM by L Verge.)
Post: #2
RE: Good Brother, Bad Brother
I have heard the story of John refusing to meet with Lincoln before, but I have never checked out its veracity. However, from a website called According to the book Lincoln’s Sanctuary: Abraham Lincoln And The Soldiers’ Home, Lincoln enjoyed Booth’s performance so much he sent a note backstage inviting him to the White House so they could meet.

Booth, a rebel sympathizer and Confederate spy, evaded the president’s invitation. Booth didn’t give Lincoln a specific reason why he couldn’t visit but he later told his friends “I would rather have the applause of a Negro to that of the president!”

According to the book Inside Lincoln’s White House, the actor Frank Mordaunt later corroborated this story:

“Lincoln was an admirer of the man who assassinated him. I know that, for he said to me one day that there was a young actor over in Ford’s Theater whom he desired to meet, but that the actor had on one pretext or another avoided any invitations to visit the White House. That actor was John Wilkes Booth.”

As for the death of Edwin's first wife, Mary Devlin, did the author mention that John was very fond of his sister-in-law and was very upset that his brother did not leave at once to be with her? As for wife #2, Mary McVicker, there have been reports that her family may have held Edwin responsible for her mental illness and death because he had suffered from syphilis in his early years and may have even delayed his marriage to Mary Devlin while he took the mercury cure. Perhaps some vestige of the disease was passed on to wife #2 (instead of wife #1).

There are also some folks who think that venereal disease led to Booth's actions. There was an article written about this by an Annapolis doctor many years ago in the Surratt Courier.

P.S. If you've never seen a photo of Mary Devlin, check out the avatar of our forum member, Carolyn Mitchell...
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
04-03-2018, 05:00 AM
Post: #3
RE: Good Brother, Bad Brother
I think the source of Mordaunt's claim is a story in the June 16, 1901, edition of the Chicago Inter-Ocean. The Inter-Ocean was a newspaper published in Chicago from 1865 to 1914. According to the story, Mordaunt went to the White House and was wandering through the rooms. Tad saw him, recognized him as an actor, and took him to meet his father. Mordaunt and Lincoln then had a conversation. According to Mordaunt, in the conversation Lincoln apparently said he had wanted to meet JWB, but that JWB had been avoiding his request to visit the White House.

Mordaunt describes Tad as "an an impulsive little fellow and spoke with a lisp which made it difficult to understand him." IMO, this gives the story some credibility.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
04-03-2018, 08:51 AM
Post: #4
RE: Good Brother, Bad Brother
I doubt this is in the book, but I read an interesting tidbit about Edwin Booth in the Todd/Helm files in Kentucky. One of Mary Lincoln's half-sisters was named Margaret. Margaret had a daughter who made her living giving dramatic and poetic readings. One of the men who wrote an endorsement was Edwin Booth.
Nothing significant historically -- just a little tidbit showing how connected humanity can be.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
04-03-2018, 10:21 AM (This post was last modified: 04-03-2018 01:26 PM by Gene C.)
Post: #5
RE: Good Brother, Bad Brother
Laurie, the book did mention John liked Edwin's first wife, Mary Devlin. Everyone in the family liked her accept for Asia, who refused to come to their wedding or her funeral. No mention of John blaming Edwin.

No mention of venereal disease, perhaps this is because it is a book written with young people in mind.
The book does mention wife #2, Mary McVicker, does blame Edwin for her health problems and turns her parents against him. Mary #2 is described as suffering from depression developing into paranoia and mental illness, which became much worse when her baby died. A few years later, a doctor also had diagnosed her as having tuberculosis which weakened her physically, and also weakened her mind.

Regarding the desire for Lincoln to meet Booth.
This from 'Backstage At The Lincoln Assassination' by Thomas Bogar
"The president, along with Mary, Nicolay and Hay, had first seen him (Booth) perform on November 9, 1863 at Ford's in a dual role: Phidias and Raphael in Charles Selby's Pygmalion-esque The Marble Heart; or The Sculptor's Dream. They thought the production was "rather tame than otherwise". Lincoln admired Booth's performance, applauding it enthusiastically, and sent word through Ford that he wished to meet the actor. But Booth refused..."

I could find a reference to Lincoln and party attending the play in Michael Kauffman's "American Brutus" and Nora Titone's "My Thoughts Be Bloody", but no mention (that I could find) of Lincoln wanting to meet John Wilkes Booth.

Personally, I am a bit skeptical regarding Mordaunt's statement, but it is intriguing. Is there any additional source to support his comment?
If they thought the performance "was rather tame than otherwise", I can't picture Lincoln applauding enthusiastically.

Donna M - no reference to the Booth/Todd connection you mentioned.
Find all posts by this user
Quote this message in a reply
Post Reply 

Forum Jump:

User(s) browsing this thread: 1 Guest(s)