Monday, February 25, 2013

I'm in Love with a Dead Man

by Nell Pratt (from Sheila Connolly's Monument to the Dead (Museum Mystery #4), coming June 2013)

No, I haven't really lost my mind.  I can still tell reality from fantasy, at least most of the time.  And I'm in love with a very real, living, breathing guy, one Special Agent James Morrison.  Or at least I think I am.  I haven't had a lot of practice with the real thing, so we're taking it kind of slowly.

But the dear departed object of my affections is Edwin Forrest.  What, you say you've never heard of Edwin Forrest?  That's all right—most people haven't.  Edwin Forrest was the first great American stage actor, born right here in Philadelphia.  He ruled American theater for years in the middle of the nineteenth century, playing the great Shakespearean roles and even holding contests for new plays, which he went on to make famous.  He married an actress and they had a tempestuous relationship that ended quite badly with a very messy divorce—the transcript of the trial is over a thousand pages long, and he published it for all the world to see.  He lost the trial, more or less, but it didn't seem to harm his career, while his former wife died in obscurity as "Mrs. Forrest."

Edwin Forrest
(handsome, isn't he?)
I feel badly that his star has faded.  But I'll admit, I only know about him because the Pennsylvania Antiquarian Society, where I'm president, houses a lot of Edwin's (I may call him by his first name, right?) memorabilia, starting with a larger-than-life marble statue of him in one of his favorite roles, Shakespeare's Coriolanus.  He kept it in his Philadelphia home.  I'll admit I have trouble wrapping my head around someone who keeps a large statue of himself in his house, but Edwin was undeniably special.  The Society also has his mahogany make-up case (all traveling actors need one, right?) filled with silver-topped jars.  And a lot of his letters too—would you believe he wrote in purple ink?

It makes me sad that it's so easy to forget our history.  I guess I could ask, who's going to remember George Clooney or Ben Affleck in a hundred years?  Although in their cases their performances will live on in digital format forever.  But loyal fans haven't died rioting in the streets of New York to defend their good name, as they did for Edwin.  Sometimes the past is more interesting than the present, don't you think?

All right, I'll go back to reality, but that won't stop me from saying hello to Edwin (all right, to his statue) whenever I walk by him.  I won't tell James.


  1. We all love someone from the past as long as we don't forget the living.

    Love the cover of the book from your latest adventure.

  2. Say hello to his statue for me, too. He sounds like quite a character.

  3. Never heard from him, but so many of my favourite idols have already died. It is sad. So if you have something like a life sized statue to remember him by, go ahead, and great it as often as you want. To remember something you used to like, will make you feel happier. An extra smile a day :)

  4. I often wonder if future generations will care much about the people we hear so much about now. There's a passage in THE GREAT GATSBY in which Nick lists all the Jazz Age celebs at Gatsby's party. I never do recognize the names. Maybe Danica Patrick will turn out to be this generation's Jordan Baker? ;)

  5. George Clooney and Ben Affleck may live on for a while, but sad to say not only has this generation forgotten Edwin Forrest, but also some of the great character actors of the past that have been memoralized on film...Lionel Barrymore, David Niven, Cary Grant, Errol Flynn, William Powell, Basil Rathbone, just to mention a few. (I grew up watching their movies on TV.)

  6. I know this comment is coming a day late, but in a weird coincidence, I was reading an annotated copy of Little Women yesterday and was introduced to Edwin Forrest in one of the notes. Louisa May Alcott described his performance style as "gasping and shouting." How cool to meet your Edwin here, too. Thanks, Nell!

  7. Molly, I think Nell is single-handedly managing his revival. I'd guess Louisa May was right, though--Edwin's style, appropriate for the time, would probably seem rather over the top these days. I call it "chewing the scenery." Maybe it's a good thing there are no videos.