by Tom Tullis (TomTullis@aol.com)
Stuart Robson was a famous comedic stage actor around the turn of the 19th to 20th century. He was born Henry Robson Stuart on March 4, 1836, in Annapolis, Maryland. His parents were Charles Stuart and the former Alice Ann Johnson. His older brother, Charles T. Stuart, was my great-great-grandfather. The following is a summary of his life, from his obituary in the Boston Weekly Transcript on May 1, 1903:
Stuart Robson, one of the oldest and most famous actors in America, died suddenly from heart disease Wednesday at the Savoy Hotel, New York. He had not been well for several months, and a short time ago, he was compelled to discontinue his tour and rest for three weeks; but, against the advice of his physicians, he insisted upon returning to the stage, only to have his health completely fail, at Auburn last Saturday, when he had to be carried from the stage to his room. He appeared to rally after he had been brought to this city, but at two o'clock yesterday afternoon he lost consciousness, and only for brief intervals was he able to recognize persons about him. He died at 7:15. His wife, known on the stage as Miss May Waldron, and his two children, Stuart Robson, Jr., and Mrs. Morton S. Crehore, a daughter of Mr. Robson's first wife, were with him when he died, Mrs. Crehore having arrived just three minutes before the end came. During the last week of his appearance Mr. Robson was too weak to appear on the stage in the "Comedy of Errors" except in the last act, when the two Dromios meet. Clifford Leigh, an English actor, who played the part of Dromio of Ephesus, also took Mr. Robson's part without the audience learning of the imposition put on them. Mr. Robson, during the fifty-one years that he had been on the stage, has played more than seven hundred parts, the most famous of the present generation doubtless being that of Bertie the Lamb in "The Henrietta" and Dromio of Syracuse in "A Comedy of Errors". "The Henrietta" alone was produced by him more than three thousand times, and had made for him, since he and William H. Crane separated, in 1890, after having played together for twelve years, nearly $300,000. Mr. Robson's funeral will be held at Cohasset, where he lived for many years. It will be private and without any religious ceremony.
Stuart Robson was born in Annapolis, Md., March 4, 1838, the son of a country lawyer who early determined to devote his offspring to the Methodist ministry. When he was twelve years old the family removed to Baltimore, and the boy was thus brought by chance into intimacy with Edwin Booth. John Sleeper Clarke and other stage-struck youths spent their spare time in getting up amateur theatrical performances. After serving as a page in the thirtieth and thirty-first Congresses, he determined that the stage should be his goal in life, and was fortunate enough to obtain permission from John E. Owens to go on with a lot of boys in "A Glance in New York". Persistent application soon won him a speaking part, and he was allowed to play Horace Courtney in "Uncle Tom's Cabin as It Is", a play written by Professor Hewitt as an attempt to answer Mrs. Stowe's famous indictment of slavery.
It did not take the young actor long to discover that serious roles were not in his line, and that he must give up his ambition to become a tragedian. In 1853 and 1854 he played desultory engagements in small comedy parts, and by the summer of 1855 played utility and comedy roles at the Varieties Theatre in Washington. In September of that year he secured his first regular engagement as second low comedian at the Troy Museum. In the spring of 1856 John G. Cartlich engaged him as leading comedian of a company which he took over what was then known as the Western circuit. He then returned to Baltimore and appeared with William E. Burton in Twelfth Night. Baltimore playgoers seemed to take kindly to his efforts to amuse them, and so John T. Ford engaged him for the company at the Hollidays Street Theatre, where he remained three seasons. From 1860 to 1862 he played in Richmond, St. Louis, Washington, Cincinnati, and other cities; for the season of 1862-63 he was at Laura Keene's Theatre in Washington, and after that spent three years as a member of Mrs. John Drew's company at the Arch Street Theatre in Philadelphia. Thence he went to New Orleans, and from 1868 to 1870 was at Selwyn's (later the Globe) Theatre in Boston.
Mr. Robson's "first attempt to illumine the histrionic heavens as a lone star," as he himself once expressed it, was as a policeman-in-law in New York. The venture failed to increase his bank account, and he accordingly fell back into the ranks as a member of A. M. Palmer's famous stock company at the Union Square Theatre where he remained three seasons. He made so marked a sensation there as Hector in "Led Astray" that Dion Boucicault took him to England for the London production of that play in 1874. Two years later he starred unsuccessfully with Charles T. Parsloe in "The Two Men of Sandy Bar" and the next year began his association with William H. Crane which continued until 1889. On the beginning of that partnership, one of the most famous in American theatrical annals, Mr. Robson once gave the following account: "Early in 1877 Crane and I were engaged for the original cast of 'Our Boarding House'. By some misunderstanding we were both cast to play the part of Gillypod. At first we were both inclined to insist on our full rights under the terms of the contract. Previous to that engagement we were but slightly acquainted with each other. When we met to talk the matter over I took a great fancy to Crane, and told him frankly that if I had known he had been engaged for the part I would not for any consideration have interfered with his wishes, and Crane kept up his end of the love feast. The upshot was that Crane played Elevator and I Gillypod, and we both made hits. This led to the formation of a partnership which lasted over ten years. During this time we appeared, among other plays, in 'Forbidden Fruit', 'Our Bachelors', and 'Sharps and Flats'. For two seasons we were exceptionally successful as the two Dromios. On the road we also appeared in revivals of 'Merry Wives of Windsor' and 'She Stoops to Conquer.' " The separation of the two stars, which came in the spring of 1880 after an exceptionally successful season with "The Henrietta", took place because they thought they could draw equally large audiences in single harness, and thus make more money. The result proved that they were right. After the separation, Mr. Robson appeared successfully in "Government Acceptance", "Is Marriage a Failure", "An Arrant Knave" (a blank verse play by Steele Mackays), "Truthful James", "Mrs. Ponderbury's Past", "The Jucklins" and "The Meddler". He also revived "A Comedy of Errors", "She Stoops to Conquer" and "Married Life".
Mr. Robson was an eccentric comedian, and, depended almost exclusively for his effects upon his comic personality and a curious voice which has been aptly described as the "Robson squeak". His mimetic powers were very meagre, and he was naturally the target for the mimicry of his contemporaries. Nat Goodwin could give a remarkable imitation of his style, and Mr. Crane in the revival of "A Comedy of Errors" mimicked his Dromio to perfection. Within the last three years, Mr. Robson's appearances in this city were in "Oliver Goldsmith", "She Stoops to Conquer", "The Henrietta" and "A Comedy of Errors".
He died on April 29, 1903, in New York City. His first wife was Margaret Eleanor Johnson, by whom he had a daughter, Alicia Virginia Robson (who married Morton Stimson Crehore and had two children, Morton Stimson Jr and Eleanor). Margaret died in 1890 and is buried in the Central Cemetery in Cohasset, MA. He then married an actress, May Waldron, in 1891 and had a son, Stuart Robson, Jr. Stuart Robson, Jr., also acted on the stage briefly, and for years ran a magic shop in New York City. Stuart Robson is buried in the Central Cemetery in Cohasset, MA, beside his first wife.
Stuart Robson as "Bertie the Lamb" in The Henrietta
Stuart Robson as Picard in The Two Orphans
Notice the dove he has hidden in his sleeve!
Stuart Robson as "Bertie the Lamb" in The Henrietta
Stuart Robson as Oliver Goldsmith in the play of that name.
Stuart Robson, about 1903.
This page last updated 12/17/2006.