Three sons of the London-born actor Junius Brutus Booth followed in their father’s footsteps and became eminent tragedians of the 19th-century American stage, bringing the drama of William Shakespeare to audiences across the country and helping to secure the Bard’s legacy for generations to come.
Junius, Jr., “June” among the family, was the eldest and namesake who sought his fame and fortune out west, eventually becoming a successful actor and theater manager in Gold Rush-era San Francisco. Edwin, with his brooding good looks, gift of voice and naturalistic acting style, trod the boards as far as Australia before settling in New York. The youngest, John Wilkes, epitomized the contemporary matinee idol. Handsome, ambitious, possessed of raw natural talent but erratic and undisciplined both on stage and off, he established his reputation in Richmond before setting his sights on Washington, D.C.
When the brothers Booth gathered in New York during the fall of 1864 to stage a benefit production of William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, the quintessential tragedy of political assassination and its aftermath, it was their first professional appearance together. Political assassination and its aftermath assured it would be their last. Given their family dynamics and the ongoing Civil War, it was nothing short of a theatrical miracle that the production came off at all.