Wilson, Francis, 1854-1935

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1854-02-07
Death 1935-10-07

Biographical notes:

American actor.

From the description of Autograph letter signed, dated : [New York], 8 April 1891, to an unidentified recipient, 1891 Apr. 8. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 270679262

Francis Wilson was an attorney working out of his own firm in Santa Fe.

From the guide to the Francis Wilson Files, 1927-1962, (School for Advanced Research)

Actor, author, lecturer; first president of the Actor's Equity Association.

From the description of Francis Wilson letters[manuscript], 1897, 1929. (University of Virginia). WorldCat record id: 647999162

Francis Wilson (1854-1935), actor and author, was a member of the legitimate comedy group at the Chestnut Street Theatre, 1887-1888, in Philadelphia, and became involved in comic opera as the leading actor of McCaull Opera Company, 1885-1889. He subsequently organized his own company, was president of the Actor's Theatre, and wrote several biographies, e.g., John Wilkes Booth and Joseph Jefferson, and drama, e.g., "The Magic Ring.".

From the guide to the Francis Wilson letters to Otto Fleischner, 1889-1909, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)

From the guide to the Francis Wilson letters to DeWitt Miller, 1890-1911, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)

Francis Wilson (1854-1935), actor and author, was a member of the legitimate comedy group at the Chestnut Street Theatre, 1887-1888, in Philadelphia, and became involved in comic opera as the leading actor of McCaull Opera Company, 1885-1889. He subsequently organized his own company, was president of the Actor's Theatre, and wrote several biographies, e.g., John Wilkes Booth and Joseph Jefferson, and drama, e.g., "The Magic Ring."

From the description of Letters, 1891-1921. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 207181311

From the description of Francis Wilson letters to Otto Fleischner, 1889-1909. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122533026

From the description of Francis Wilson letters to DeWitt Miller, 1890-1911. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122682816

Actor and author.

From the description of Letters, to Eugene Field, 1889-1895. (University of Michigan). WorldCat record id: 34365952

Francis Wilson was an actor.

From the description of Letters to Horace Howard Furness, Jr., 1894-1929, n.d. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 155883869

Francis C. Wilson was a prominent attorney in Santa Fe, New Mexico where he was in practice from 1907 to 1942.

From the description of Francis C. Wilson photograph collection [graphic]. 1905. (Santa Fe Public Library). WorldCat record id: 37995470

Comic actor, dramatic author and manager, Francis Wilson was an active spokesperson for theatrical interests.

Born in Philadelphia, he began his theatrical career as a child in minstrel shows. He made his debut on the legitimate stage at the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia in the 1878-79 season. For thirty-five years he was one of the best known and best loved of American comedians. His greatest success was as Cadeaux in ERMINIE. This operetta opened at the Casino Theatre in New York City in 1886, ran for 1256 performances, had a long run on the road and was revived in 1921 with Wilson and his co-star, De Wolf Hopper, assuming again their famous roles.

In 1889 Wilson established his own production company, Francis Wilson and Company and ran up against the Theatrical Syndicate, a trust trying to control theater bookings. Allied with other actor-managers, Wilson fought the Syndicate but ultimately surrendered. This experience led the founders of the Actors' Equity Association to ask him to serve as the first president of the organization, a post he assumed in 1913. In 1919 Wilson led the successful strike against the Producing Managers' Association in which Equity won recognition as the bargaining agent for actors. The next year Wilson retired from the presidency.

Wilson was also a writer and a lecturer, writing books on Eugene Field, Joseph Jefferson, John Wilkes Booth and Edwin Booth as well as plays including THE BACHELOR'S BABY and his own reminiscences. Except for roles in Players Club productions, Wilson made his last professional appearances in the title role of RIP VAN WINKLE and in THE RIVALS, both at the opening of the new Boston Repertory Theatre in 1925. His final appearance was in the Players Club revival of THE LITTLE FATHER OF THE WILDERNESS in 1930.

From the description of Francis Wilson papers, 1875-1958. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122598369

Born in Philadelphia on February 7, 1854 to Charles Edwin and Emily Von Erdon Wilson, Francis Wilson began his theatrical career as a child in minstrel shows. "It may seem a little odd that a boy of Quaker forebears should have gravitated so early toward the stage. I was not older than eight or nine when I made my first appearance. I can explain it only on the theory that it was an overdue protest against the solemn repression suffered by generations of ancestors," Wilson wrote in his 1924 autobiography, Francis Wilson's Life of Himself (Houghton Mifflin Company, p. 33). He was soon the main breadwinner of his family.

Wilson made his debut on the legitimate stage at the Chestnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia in the 1878-79 season. For thirty-five years he was one of the best known and best loved of American comedians. His greatest success was as Cadeaux in Erminie . This operetta opened at the Casino Theatre in New York City in May 1886, ran for 1256 performances, had a long run on the road and was revived in 1921 with Wilson and his co-star, De Wolf Hopper, assuming again their famous roles.

In 1889 Wilson established his own production company, Francis Wilson and Company, and ran up against the Theatrical Syndicate, a trust trying to control theater bookings. Allied with other actor-managers including Joseph Jefferson, Richard Mansfield, Minnie Maddern Fiske and David Belasco, Wilson fought the Syndicate beginning in the 1896 season, but ultimately surrendered. This experience led the founders of Actors' Equity Association to ask him to serve as the first president of the organization, a post he assumed in 1913. Frank Gillmore, one of the founders and a later president said, "No man was more responsible for the success of the Actors' Equity Association than Francis Wilson... He was a notable actor, a fiery and logical speaker, and he was a man of independent means whose livelihood could not be destroyed by his assumption of the leadership of this movement." (The New York Times, "Francis Wilson, 81, Noted Actor, Dead" Oct. 8, 1935.) In 1919, Wilson led the successful strike against the Producing Managers' Association, a strike that involved 8 cities, closed 37 plays, and prevented the opening of 16 others. Most of the casts of the leading Broadway productions walked out. Equity won recognition as the bargaining agent for actors and eventually affiliated with the American Federation of Labor. Wilson retired from the presidency in 1920, but was made president emeritus for life.

Wilson was also a writer and lecturer. He wrote books on Eugene Field, Joseph Jefferson, John Wilkes Booth and Edwin Booth as well as plays including The Bachelor's Baby and his own reminiscences. Except for roles in the Players Club productions, Wilson made his last professional appearances in the title role of Rip Van Winkle and in The Rivals, both at the opening of the new Boston Repertory Theatre in 1925. His final appearance was in the Players Club revival of The Little Father of the Wilderness in 1930.

Wilson was married twice: first to Mira Barrie from 1881 until her death in 1915, then to the actress, Edna Bruns, from 1917 until his own death in 1935. He had four children, two daughters, Frances Barrie and Adelaide Craycroft, with his first wife and a son and daughter, Craycroft Francis and Margalo Francis, with his second. He had three homes: in New York City, Lake Mahopac, N.Y. and Clearwater, Florida. In Florida he was active in the Little Theatre movement where the Francis Wilson Little Theatre was named for him. Francis Wilson died of a heart attack at his home on Gramercy Park in New York City on October 7, 1935. He was 81 years old. At his request, he was buried in the Actors' Fund Plot in Kensico, N.Y. under an epitaph he composed for himself: "Here lies the man who tried to free the actor."

From the guide to the Francis Wilson papers, 1875-1958, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)

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