Harrigan, Edward, 1844-1911

Alternative names
Birth 1844-10-26
Death 1911-06-06

Biographical notes:

Born in New York, N.Y., Edward Harrigan was an American actor, playwright, theatre manager, and composer. With Tony Hart he formed a stage partnership that was one of the first famous such collaborations in American musical history.

From the description of Skidmore Guard song sheet, circa 1874. (Louisiana State University). WorldCat record id: 312705236

Edward Harrigan, actor, playwright, lyricist and producer was called both the Dickens and the Hogarth of 19th century American theater.

Born in New York City, the grandson of Irish immigrants, Harrigan peopled his plays mostly with immigrant classes and presented working class life in relatively realistic if comic terms. His partnership with Tony Hart resulted in one of vaudeville's favorite attractions and his songs, with music by his father-in-law, David Braham, were among the most popular of his era.

From the description of Edward Harrigan papers, 1871-1984. (New York Public Library). WorldCat record id: 122571520

Born in New York City, the grandson of Irish immigrants, and originally apprenticed in the shipbuilding trade like his father, William, Edward (Ned) Harrigan ran away from home and made his theatrical debut in San Francisco's burgeoning variety theaters in 1867. His early partners were Alexander O'Brien, then Sam Rickey. The latter partnership was a success with a sketch called The Little Fraud, but Rickey's drinking problems led to the act being disbanded.

In 1871 Harrigan met Tony Hart in Chicago and they first appeared together in a sketch called The Big and Little of It . Together they were one of vaudeville's most popular attractions. Harrigan wrote sketches and song lyrics, Dave Braham, who became his father-in-law, wrote the music, and Hart, apparently an amazingly convincing female impersonator with a beautiful singing voice, played the wife, son or black maid to Harrigan's fatherly figure. Soon Harrigan expanded his sketches to full-length musicals. In 1879, The Mulligan Guards' Ball, the first of Harrigan's Mulligan Guard series, a spoof of the then popular paramilitary groups and a major hit, was produced. Harrigan played Dan Mulligan and Hart was his wife. Other plays included The Major, Squatter Sovereignty, Cordelia's Aspirations, Dan's Tribulations, The Leather Patch and Old Lavender . Harrigan and Hart played at the Theatre Comique on Broadway near Spring Street in New York City under the management of Martin Hanley. They had great success and opened a New Theatre Comique a bit further up Broadway in 1881, but a fire destroyed the building in 1884. They moved to the Park Theatre, later known as the Herald Square, but due to lingering bad feelings stemming from the fire, their partnership ended in 1885.

Harrigan continued at the Park Theatre until 1890 when he opened a new theater on 35th Street that he named for himself. His first production there, in which he played the title role, and his last real success, was Reilly and the Four Hundred . In later years Harrigan appeared in revivals of his plays, acted intermittently in plays written by others and leased his own theater that later became the Garrick Theatre.

Harrigan died of heart failure on June 6, 1911, leaving a widow, Annie Harrigan, and six children, two of whom, William and Nedda, also went on the stage. At the time of his death he believed himself forgotten by the public, but the outpouring of remembrances in the press belied this. His songs had been among the most popular of his era with hits such as The Mulligan Guard March, The Babies on Our Block, and Maggie Murphy's Home . His plays, presenting urban working class life in relatively realistic if comic terms, were one of the first attempts of American musical theater to identify with everyday life and indigenous themes.

From the guide to the Edward Harrigan papers, 1871-1984, (The New York Public Library. Billy Rose Theatre Division.)


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  • Ethnic theater
  • Theater--New York (State)--New York
  • Vaudeville
  • Minstrel music
  • Musical theater
  • Theater
  • Working class--Drama


  • African American soldiers--New York (State)


  • New York (State) (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--New York (as recorded)