Cover image for Laura Keene : a biography
Laura Keene : a biography
Henneke, Ben Graf, 1914-2009.
Publication Information:
Tulsa, Okla. : Council Oaks Books, [1990]

Physical Description:
xi, 317 pages : illustrations ; 24 cm
Personal Subject:
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PN2287.K5 H46 1990 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Reviews 4

Booklist Review

A nineteenth-century, "Type-A" personality, Laura Keene at age 25 separated from her husband, studied acting, then took her children and mother with her to New York, where she became the first woman theater manager in America. When the Civil War broke out and times were bad for theaters, she formed not one, but two road companies and produced the performance of Our American Cousin (a property that she owned) at which President Lincoln was assassinated. Keene was a hyperactive innovator who sometimes failed but more often succeeded in altering the course of American theater. A solid biography of an interesting, energetic woman of history. ~--Cynthia Ogorek

Publisher's Weekly Review

Keene (1826-1873) is best remembered as the actress who cradled the head of President Lincoln as he lay dying in Washington's Ford's Theatre. As revealed in this adulatory biography, however, she was also an autocratic, innovative contributor to the dramatic arts, pioneering the concepts of repertory, touring casts, scenery and lighting design. After her New York debut in 1852, newly arrived from England, Keene, in order to be seen as an ``unwed leading-lady,'' severed connections with her husband, raised her children as if she were their ``aunt'' and enjoyed a rewarding relationship with mentor and business manager John Lutz until his death in 1869. Although the author, a former president of the University of Tulsa, imaginatively interpolates much of his subject's personal life, this biography offers a meticulously detailed view of mid-19th-century American theater. Illustrations. (Dec.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

English-born actress Keene left behind an unsuccessful marriage and brought her two daughters to America to achieve success on the stage in the 1850s. She changed the way in which the American theater operated by pioneering as the first female theater manager and inaugurating such innovations as road tours, long runs of successful plays, and Saturday matinees. The Civil War forced the closing of her New York City theater in 1863 and she thereafter toured until her death in 1873. She was starring in Our American Cousin at Ford's Theatre in Washington, D.C., on the fateful night of April 14, 1865. This is a well-documented and lively account of Keene's life and contributions to the stage, which gives an interesting picture of the theatrical life of that time.-- Marcia L. Perry, Berkshire Athenaeum, Pittsfield, Mass. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Given the importance of Laura Keene not only as one of the first actress-managers in the US, but also as a theatrical innovator, it is surprising that she has been the object of relatively little scholarly study. This biography, the first to be published since John Creahan's Life of Laura Keene (1897), has been extensively researched. Henneke adds significantly to the information available in the biographical sketches in C.D. Johnson's American Actress: Perspective on the Nineteenth Century (CH, Jun'85) and Notable Women in the American Theatre, ed. by A.M. Robinson, et al. (CH, May'90), and he corrects numerous errors. How unfortunate, then, that such important work has been presented in a way that is off-putting to serious scholars. The gossipy style is a constant irritant, as are the manufacture of entire scenes and the endless speculation about what "Laura must have felt." The endnotes are awkward to use, and for far too much of the narrative no sources are given. But the inclusion of references to extensive unpublished material makes the bibliography a valuable tool for future research, and the book can therefore be recommended for theater collections in academic as well as public libraries. -J. W. Lafler, Institute for Historical Study