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Some Players in Peoria

Kami Kosenkok
Washington School, Peoria

"Will it play in Peoria?" That question can still be heard not only in Peoria, but throughout the entertainment world. Peoria is well known for its history of live theater and vaudeville and for the medley of illustrious performers who appeared on Peoria's stages. Central Illinois in the early 1900s was the host to many famous actors and actresses, including Ethel Barrymore, Edwin Booth, Joseph Jefferson, and Minnie Maddern Fiske.

Ethel Barrymore was one of many well-known actresses who appeared in Peoria. In 1904 while touring with her actor grandfather, Ethel appeared in Cousin Kate in Peoria. The Grand Opera House where Ethel appeared regularly, owed part of its success to her appearances. Ethel soon rose to stardom and later appeared in Clair de Lune, Mid-Channel, and Carrots, among other hits. Ethel was one of the best actresses of all time and will forever be remembered for her contributions to modern drama.

Edwin Booth was considered one of the greatest actors of the nineteenth century. Edwin appeared in several plays in Peoria and was one of the most frequent visitors. His first performance in Peoria prepared him for a later performance in Chicago. After that performance in Peoria, he appeared annually, and his work in Julius Caesar and The Merchant of Venice were legendary. Later, Edwin starred in Romeo and Juliet, Iron Chest, and Katherine and Petruchio. The few Peorians lucky enough to see him perform, recalled him vividly.

Joseph Jefferson was another accomplished actor who appeared regularly in Peoria. Joseph toured central Illinois, and though his experiences were not pleasant, he returned faithfully each year. In Quincy, he had to act in a courthouse, and in Pekin he had to work in a porkhouse. Though his performances in Peoria and the surrounding cities could

Peoria played host to many stage actors and. actresses. This broadside
advertises Joseph Jefferson (pictured on the cover) for the starring role
in a Charles Dickens play.

Play Broadside


never be called classics, his performances were truly one of a kind.

Minnie Maddern Fiske was one of the most famous and beloved actresses of her time. Minnie especially enjoyed appearing in Peoria and did so often. Minnie was beloved in Peoria and, in turn, treated area residents with respect and kindness. Minnie's first appearance in Peoria was in Vanity Fair in 1900. She later appeared in The Pillars of Society, A Doll's House, Romersholm and Ghosts, among others.

Peoria's entertainment industry has continued to grow, but television and movie theaters have since become the major sources of modern entertainment. They have largely replaced live theater. Though Peoria continues to attract wonderful entertainment, few have the star quality of Ethel Barrymore, Edwin Booth, Joseph Jefferson, and Minnie Maddern Fiske. Their contributions to local drama have widely affected our lives, and have characterized the types and quality of entertainment seen in Peoria and the surrounding counties.[Ethel Barrymore, Memories; A. Binns, Mrs. Fiske and the American Theatre; K. Gooddale, Behind the Scenes with Edwin Booth; J. Jefferson, The Autobiography of Joseph Jefferson; J. Klein, Played in Peoria; E. Ruggles, Prince of Players; and A. Thorleifson, Ethel Barrymore.]


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