Edwin Booth Memorial
( Originally Published 1921 )
The memorial of Edwin Booth erected in Gramercy Park is the first of its kind, to an actor in this country. It is a product of the genius of one of the members of The Players—the club founded by Mr. Booth in 1888. Mr. Booth conceived the idea that the intermingling of players with men of kindred arts—writers, artists, sculptors, architects, musicians—would broaden their vision and give them a deeper knowledge of human motive and human action. These others also would derive intellectual and spiritual stimulus from contact with men who were interpreting the masters of dramatic literature and song. How excellently the idea has worked out is shown in the bronze statue of Edwin Booth recently erected in Gramercy Park and unveiled November 13th, 1918, the anniversary of Mr. Booth's birth.
The memorial is a fine representation of Booth in his favorite role of Hamlet when he was about the age of thirty-five, and to people who remember him in his incomparable impersonation of this character the statue has a strangely fascinating interest. Those who saw him as he rose to speak the famous soliloquy, "To be or not to be," have the whole scene vividly brought back to them. The statue is a noble memorial of the great Shakespearean actor, and will perpetuate his lovable personality as well as his great achievements to future generations of New Yorkers. Mr. Edmond T. Quinn, the sculptor, and Mr. Edwin S. Dodge, the architect, have accomplished a work of which the people of New York are justly proud.
The unveiling of the statue was an interesting event and well worthy of being preserved in the annals of our city. Three generations of Mr. Booth's descendants were present, Mrs. Edwina Booth Grossman, her son, Edwin Booth Grossman, and his daughter, Lois Fellows Grossman; also little Edwin Booth Waterbury, a son of Mr. Grossman's sister. The invocation was spoken- by Rev. George C. Houghton, rector of the Church of the Transfiguration, affectionately known by actors and their friends as "The Little Church Around the Corner." The presentation of the memorial was made by Mr. Howard Kyle, secretary of the memorial committee, and the unveiling of the statue by Mr. Edwin Booth Grossman followed. Mr. John Drew, president of The Players, accepted it in the following words :
MR. SECRETARY, LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:
From the poet to whose genius Edwin Booth dedicated his great powers of interpretation I may well take my cue today. You remember that line in The Merchant of Venice, "Such harmony is in immortal souls." Out of the immortal memory of Edwin Booth there has flowed the harmony to which we owe this statue, the harmony of many men, working steadily and devotedly together to do honor to his name. Amongst members of The Players, the club which he founded and gave not only to his own Profession but to the other arts, the monument was planned and made possible. The Players have fashioned it. The bronze was modelled by the sculptor, Edmond T. Quinn. The pedestal was designed by the architect Edwin S. Dodge. And that it stands now amid these trees, upon which Booth loved to gaze from the, windows of his home yonder, is due also to the courteous co-operation of the Trustees of Gramercy Park, who from the start have sympathized with our project. An immense good will, my friends, has carried the project to its successful completion. I speak of it with feeling. It is as the gift of a company of loyal loving hearts that I accept, on behalf of The Players this statue of the noblest Hamlet the American stage has ever produced, our leader and our friend.
Mr. John B. Pine made an address on behalf of the trustees of the park, felicitating The Players on the accomplishment of their long-cherished wish of erecting this statue of the great player who for so many year's made Gramercy Park his home and who left here a place in which his spirit still dwells. The exercises finished with a most interesting address by Brander Mat-thews, appreciative of the character and art of Edwin Booth. Mr. Matthews said:
We, who take pride in our membership in The Players have recognized from the hour when the Founder handed us the deed of gift and lighted the fire which still burns brightly on our hearth--we have recognized that we owed Edwin Booth a debt we could never repay, a debt not merely for the house with its furnishings, its books and its pictures, not merely for the kindly thought that prompted his liberality, but also and especially for the wisdom with which he established our prosperity upon a sound and solid foundation. He was an actor; he loved his profession; and he wished to testify to this love. He meant The Players to be a home for the actor, first of all, for the dramatist and for the manager, that the men of his own calling might mingle at ease. But he knew that it is not well for the members of any one profession to fellowship exclusively with one another; and he wanted the men of the theatre to associate with men of letters and with artists, painters, sculptors and architects. He held that
"All arts are one, all branches of one tree, All fingers, as it were, upon one hand."
And he designed The Players to be a haven of rest for the practitioners of all the allied arts.
Now, at last, more than a score of years since he was taken from us, we have been enabled to erect this statue, as an out-ward and visible sign of our gratitude and our affection. It is placed here in this little park that he loved to look down on, in full view from the room in which he lived the last years of his life and in which he died. It has been modelled by one of our own members, with a fidelity to be appreciated by all who knew Edwin Booth and with a beauty to be recognized by those who have had the privilege of beholding him.
In the privacy of our own home, we have a portrait of Edwin Booth, painted also by one of our own members, a portrait which shows him as we like to recall him, as one of us, as our fellow-Player, as a man of most engaging personality, gracious and courteous, unaffected and unassuming. And here in the open air, where all the world may gaze on it, we have now this statue, representing Edwin Booth as the public knew him, as an actor impersonating "Hamlet" and about to utter the soul-searching soliloquy on life and death. In all this great city of ours there is only one other statue of an actor—that of Shakespeare in Central Park; and I make bold to believe that the comrade-ship is one with which the author of "Hamlet" would not be displeased.
We may apply to Edwin Booth the praise which was given to Shakespeare as an actor by one of his contemporaries : he was excellent in the quality he professed. He was a born actor, inheriting the divine gift from the father whose memory he ever revered. He was an untiring student of his art, knowing why and how he got his effects. By his skill and his sincerity he was able to disguise the artificiality of "Richelieu" and of the "Fool's Revenge." I can recall the thrill with which—now not so far from three score years ago—I first heard Richelieu threaten to launch the curse of Rome; and I shall never forget the shiver that shook me as I later beheld the demoniac dance of Bertuccio when he believes that he is at last revenged on his enemy. But like the greatest of his predecessors, with whose achievements he had admiringly familiarized himself, he liked best to act the greatest parts, the characters that Shakespeare has filled with undying fire—Othello and lago, Brutus and Macbeth, Shy-lock and Hamlet. Here in New York more than half a century ago, he acted Hamlet for one hundred consecutive performances, a longer run than any Shakespearian play has ever had in any city in the world.
In founding The Players, Edwin Booth erected a monument more enduring than bronze; and now we have set up this enduring bronze to bear witness that Hamlet's command has been obeyed and that The Players are "well bestowed."