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Search >> Daly, Augustin ( Le Perin ) (1838-1899)

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Theater Critic, Playwright, Theatrical Manager.

John Augustin Daly’s widowed mother moved the family to New York City when he was still a child. In New York, Daly quickly developed an affinity for the theatre. As a young man, he participated in amateur theatrical productions where his interests led him to the behind-the-scenes world of production and direction. Before he was twenty years of age, Daly put on a production in a rented hall in Brooklyn: "The details of this performance . . . are an epitome of his later career of alternate success and failure, met with courage, resourcefulness, and unquenchable confidence" (Quinn).

Daly spent the next ten years as a dramatic critic for several periodicals, including the Sunday Courier, the Sun, the Times, the Evening Express, and the Citizen. During this time, he also began crafting his own dramatic works. Daly was known as a "carpenter of plays" in his younger days and "in all these early adventures of his Daly found young, interesting players to interpret his ideas . . . He was a wonderful teacher. Lester Wallack and A.M. Palmer hired the most finished actors they could discover; Daly made actors. Many of the stars of the next decades came from his school" (Odell 8:294). Daly’s first achievement was Leah the Forsaken, which he adapted from a German play. Daly returned to the adaptation process numerous times during his career. According to Tice Miller, "between the Civil War and the end of the century, Daly was responsible in part or whole for forty-four adaptations of French drama" (11). His first known piece of original writing was a "striking play” entitled Under the Gaslight (Odell 8:186). The play, produced at the New York Theatre in 1867, presented aspects of New York life. It also “introduced to the American stage the rescue, by the heroine, of a person bound to a railroad track in the path of an onrushing train” (Quinn). Daly later obtained an injunction to prevent a production of After Dark, or, London by Night from using the train device that he patented. Even though the idea was not originally his, his argument was that it was still his patent. Daly eventually compromised and accepted money for the use of this technique (Odell 7:443).

In 1869, Daly leased the Fifth Avenue Theatre and established his own acting company. William Winter’s wife, Lizzie, performed in this theater company during 1870-1871, for which she was paid $40.00 per week (T. Miller 76, 170). During that season, Daly produced Divorce, which opened on September 5, 1871 and ran for two hundred nights (Quinn). Daly’s success with the Fifth Avenue Theatre ended when it burned down on January 1, 1873. He did not, however, allow the loss to hinder him; he quickly leased the New York Theatre and within three weeks he re-opened it as Daly’s Fifth Avenue Theatre. He went on to produce Roughing It, based on the stories of Bret Harte and Mark Twain, and Pique, one of his most popular plays. Charles A. Byrne, editor of the Dramatic News accused Daly of stealing Pique from a woman named Miss Eleanor Kirk Ames. In response to this accusation, Daly "brought a lawsuit for $10,000 against Byrne" (T. Miller 132). After Byrne’s chief witness, Andrew C. Wheeler, failed to present himself at the trial, Daly won the suit by default and Byrne was forced to pay $2,363.63 in damages (132).

In the 1880s, Daly and his company made several trips, first to England--where he presented his adaptation of Colley Cibber’s She Would and She Would Not with great success--and later to Germany and France. His reputation in the theater world was so great that Tennyson asked Daly to adapt The Foresters for a stage performance. Daly returned to London in 1893 and opened a theater there. His production of Twelfth Night ran for one hundred nights. Daly died during a business trip to Paris on June 7, 1899.

Daly was a powerful force in the theatrical world as a writer and producer. He was also gifted with the ability to bring out the best in his actors: “A martinet in his theatre, he demanded of his company the loyalty he gave them. Discriminating in his judgments of actors . . . he made probably the finest and most complete interpretative instrument for the drama that America has seen. He built up a clientele which was confident that at Daly’s Theatre there would be a play worth seeing, and he achieved an identification of manager, playwright, director, company and theatre, unique in our stage history” (Quinn).

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References & Biographical Resources

Quelqu'un [Winter, William]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New-York Saturday Press. 15 Sep. 1860: 3. [more about this work]
(Unclear if Qulequ'un is writing about Augustin Daly.) Critiques his performance in The Monkey Boy at Laura Keene's Theatre (3). [pages: 3]
Bateman, H. L. "The Bateman-Daly Controversy." New-York Saturday Press. 28 Apr. 1866: 4, 5. [more about this work]
[pages: 4,5]
Eytinge, Rose. The Memories of Rose Eytinge: Being Recollections & Observations of Men, Women, and Events, during Half a Century. New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1905. [more about this work]
Refers to Augustin Daly as her "fast friend" for arranging the details of her voyage to Europe "in just twelve hours from the time I had settled to go" (95).

Describes how Daly, dramatic critic for the New York "Evening Express," took over the lease of the New York Theatre as his "third venture into theatrical business" (111).

Eytinge refers to conversations with Daly's mother in which she learned that "he had always been a manager" (112). As a child, he "would organise his comrades into a stock company and manage them. He never attempted to act himself, but . . . he cast his pieces and handled his company with the single-mindedness that characterised him afterward" (112).

Daly began his management of the New York Theatre with a production of "Griffith Gaunt" and Eytinge describes his difficulty finding the right actress to play the heroine Kate Peyton (112-3). Upon meeting Eytinge and discussing the story and the character with her, Daly, "with one of those gusts of sudden resolution to which he was addicted, . . . asked me if I would play the part" (113). Describing Daly as a "serious-eyed, intensely earnest young manager," Eytinge was impressed when he was able to convince Lester Wallack to add a provision to her contract that allowed her to act in "Griffith Gaunt" (113-4).

Eytinge reports a conflict with Daly during the first rehearsal for "Griffith Gaunt." As she rehearsed, he interrupted her with instructions and made her "nervous and uncertain in [her] work" (114). However, she also comments on how agreeable he was. When she "begged that he would allow me to struggle through the part uninterrupted . . . he promptly and amiably assented" (114-5).

Daly read his play "Under a Gaslight" to Eytinge and she agreed to play the part of Laura Courtland. She describes how "even then his artistic aspirations and longings were struggling for expression . . . everywhere there were evidences of his reaching out after a literary and artistic atmosphere" (115).

Daly is commended by Eytinge for the good acting companies he put together for his plays. She tells an anecdote about how he attempted to control joking among the actors by threatening to discharge them. Once he found that this tactic did not work, he "fairly and frankly gave up the fight" (117). Eytinge explains that this "magnanimous action of our young manager had the effect of making us all feel heartily ashamed of ourselves, and from that night, by unanimous decision, there was no more guying" (117).

Eytinge describes Daly and herself as "good comrades" (117). She often accompanied him to plays at several theaters in one evening so that he could review these performances in his role as theater critic (117). She also notes that Daly accompanied her to acting engagements in Newark and Washington as her producer (119).

Eytinge attributes her return to the stage in 1873 in part to Daly. She refers to him as one of America's leading managers. While Daly and Lester Wallack made her "tempting offers," she decided to work for Shook & Palmer upon the recommendation of Thurlow Weed (215).

Explaining her first ill-equipped venture into the business side of acting, Eytinge makes reference to Augustin Daly. She writes in appreciation of how he always took care of the business details when she worked with him and allowed her to focus on acting (241-2). [pages: 95,111-119,112(ill.),215,241-242]
Figaro [Clapp, Henry Jr.]. "Dramatic Feuilleton." New-York Saturday Press. 28 Apr. 1866: 4. [more about this work]
Figaro discusses Daly's case vs. Bateman in the Marine Court (4). [pages: 4]
"General gossip of authors and writers." Current Literature. 1888: 476-480. [more about this work]
Mentioned as one of the Bohemians at Pfaff's "gossiped" about by Rufus B. Wilson in a "reminiscent letter to the Galveston News." The blurb gives "updates" on the whereabouts of many of the former Bohemians.

"Augustin Daly has drifted from dramatic critic on the Times, and nights and days of roystering, to the proprietorship of a theater, and the management of the leading comedy company in the metropolis." [pages: 479]
Haynes, John Edward. Pseudonyms of Authors: Including Anonyms and Initialisms. New York, 1882. [more about this work]
This text identifies the following pseudonym: Le Perin (56). [pages: 56]
Meserve, Walter J. American Drama to 1900: A Guide to Information Sources. Detroit: Gale, 1980. [more about this work]
[pages: 108-112]
Miller, Tice L. Bohemians and Critics: American Theatre Criticism in the Nineteenth Century. Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1981. [more about this work]
"Between the Civil War and the end of the century, Daly was responsible in part or whole for forty-four adaptations of French drama" (11).

William Winter's wife, Lizzie, performed in Daly's theater company in 1870-1871, for which she was paid $40.00 per week (76, 170). The friendship between Daly and William Winter during the 1880s and 1890s caused people to question Winter's "critical integrity and earned him the nickname of 'Daly's house poet'" (96).

Daly "would establish his reputation with borrowed plumes -- Leah the Forsaken, Griffith Gaunt and Under the Gaslight -- which were adapted from European dramatic source material (103).

While writing dramatic reviews for the Evening Express, Daly was called upon to review Fiske's Martin Chuzzlewit, but circumstances forced him to send his brother, Joseph, instead. In a letter to his brother, Daly "instructed Joseph to 'speak as flatteringly as you can' of Martin Chuzzlewit in order to court the favor of Fiske and his fellow Bohemians" (105). Stephen Ryder Fiske worked as an agent for Daly. "Fiske wrote to Daly describing available actors and their desired salaries; new plays and 'hot' playwrights; good buys in costumes; and general theatre gossip" (108).

Daly adapted Gustav van Moser's Ultimo, which was performed 137 times between February and June of 1875 (109).

"Poor financial conditions, excessive rent on the Fifth Avenue Theatre, and a heavy debt of $45,000 forced Daly to post closing notices" in September of 1877 (111).

Charles A. Byrne, editor of the Dramatic News accused Daly of stealing his popular play , Pique, from a woman named Miss Eleanor Kirk Ames. In response to this accusation, Daly "brought a lawsuit for $10,000 against Byrne" (132). After Byrne's chief witness, A. C. Wheeler, failed to present himself at the trial, Daly won the suit by default and Byrne was forced to pay $2,363.63 in damages (132).

After spending most of his career attacking Daly's work, A. C. Wheeler reversed his opinion about Daly. "In The Theatre of November 30, 1889, Wheeler admitted that he had misjudged the talented playwright and manager [. . .] Wheeler now admired Daly's accomplishments: building up 'character for his theatre instead of buying cheap reputation'; introducing new people--Clara Morris, Sara Jewett, Kate Claxton; and offering new ideas, new stage settings, and new costumes. Daly had built up a reliable stock company which offered continuous good work to the better class of patrons. He did not care what the mob said, Wheeler asserted, but what 'the discreet public knew'" (155). [pages: 11, 76, 79, 96-97, 103, 105, 108, 109-115, 122, 132, 143, 155, 161]
Odell, George C.D. Annals of the New York Stage: Volume IX (1870-1875). New York:Columbia University Press, 1936. [more about this work]
While managing the Fifth Avenue Theatre, Daly suffered "the most troubled autumn of all his experience as manager" (534). [pages: 534]
Odell, George C.D. Annals of the New York Stage: Volume VIII (1865-1870). New York:Columbia University Press, 1936. [more about this work]
Odell makes references Daly's biography written by his brother, Judge Joseph F. Daly, called Life of Augustin Daly. Odell discusses Daly's later management of the Grand Opera House, New York and the future members of his theatrical companies.

Odell attibutes the New York Theatre's first success to Daly's dramatization of Charles Reade's novel Griffin Gaunt, or, Jealousy produced Nov. 7, 1866. Odell claims people liked the play and it saved the management as well as improved Daly's reputation. Odell includes reviews (182-3). Daly produced a "striking play," Under the Gaslight, at the New York Theatre, August 12, 1867, which lasted well into the next autumn (186). Daly also wrote a new version of Leah entitled The New Leah in the 1866-67 season (240-1). Daly adapted Nos Bons Villegeois, which was produced under the title . Odell also includes a review for this show (241).

Odell claims that "few of my readers know of this Brooklyn invasion [at Conway's] by the restless Daly" and refers to Daly as a "now important young playwright" (241). Odell calls him "the prolific carpenter of plays." Daly's melodrama A Flash of Lightning played June 10, 1868. Odell says it is difficult to remember that Daly wrote this play in light of his other work. A review is included (293). The play had a long run despite "absurdity."

Odell mentions the New York Theatre (728 Broadway) in 1867-68 (still known at that time as the Worrell Sisters' Theatre) because it opened with Under the Gaslight, which Odell notes as "the first of its kind to use a purely external force as a determining factor in the action. The man tied to the tracks just before the express dashed by was the prototype of many a hero or heroine exposed to some great peril from modern engines or mechanical contrivances" (301-2). Odell also notes that the cast was strong for this production. A reviews that statest that the show plays with the "manifest absurdity of the plays" is reprinted by Odell (302).
Daly patented the effect that made the railroad scene work properly; it was similar to a technique used on the London stage in The Engineer (According to Allston Brown) (304).

Daly dramatized Henry Ward Beecher's novel of Norwood. He also dramatized The Pickwick Papers, according to his brother. These two adaptations were done in the 1867-68 season (304). Daly wrote New York by Gaslight in the 1867-68 season(353).

Daly is mentioned as one of the "prominent figures in the controversy that has been raged since Wallack's elaborate [Shakespearean] revival now under review" (419). The controversy may have been over a "realistic staging of Shakespeare."

Odell mentions Daly's takeover of Brougham's Theatre (later the Fifth Avenue Theatre). Odell argues that the closing of the Fifth Avenue Theatre in 1868-69 (July 3, 1869)was a good omen of Daly's management, "to us perhaps the most important event of those years in New York" (432). The theater opens Jan. 29, 1869, as Brougham's and again on August 16, 1869, under Daly's management (432). Odell notes that it was reported in the June 10, 1869, Times that the Fifth Avenue Theatre had been leased for $27,000 for one year by Daly (432).

Daly's The Red Scarf played during the 1868-1869 season (466), as did A Flash of Lightning.

Odell cites Daly's "entry into the field of management" as one of the most significant events of the 1869-70 season and several seasons afterwards. Odell says that even those who knew his plays couldn't have anticipated his success at managing the Fifth Avenue Theatre. Odell claims this theater was "conceived in terms of originality". "Actors were startled into a loyalty hitherto unknown...[according to Judge Daly] they worked harder than ever they ever worked for a man who, they saw, workied harder than they; they were content with small salaries, perhaps not always regularly paid, from a man who drew, at times, nothing from the treasury for himself, but poured back into the theatre his love the money that came, not always too freely, into the box-office. This was Augustin Daly and this was the spirit he awoke in his loyal associates" (571). D.H. Harkins brought the theater to Daly's attention after it failed under Brougham and the French. Daly asked James Fisk, Jr. to find out how to rent it - and told him he could offer no security deposit. Daly rented the theater at $25,000 a year with a payment of six weeks rent in advance. Daly did not get help from his father- in-law, "Duff of the Olympic Theatre," and got the money to lease the theater (571). Daly's first company was a combination of well-known and new actors. He seems to have pleased both his staff and his public. Odell cites E.A. Dithmar Memories of Daly's Theatres and includes some excerpts on p.573.

Daly's staging and acting tricks seem to have been imitated with success. The burlesques of Under the Gaslight are said to have affirmed the success of the play (391). [pages: 1,11,17,153, 182-3, 186, 217,239,240-1,293-4, 301-4, 353,361,391,400-1,419,429,432,443,466,524,571-4,629-30,663]
Odell, George Clinton. Annals of the New York Stage: Volume VI (1850-1857). New York: Columbia University Press, 1931. [more about this work]
Odell mentions the future successes of his theater and how certain aerly performances are later echoed in Daly's theater. Odell refers to Daly as though his theater is one of the later, but great, institutions by which to measure New York theater/theatrical performances. [pages: 26,162,213, 279]
Odell, George Clinton. Annals of the New York Stage: Volume VII (1857-1865). New York: Columbia University Press, 1931. [more about this work]
Odell notes that 1863 is the year that the performance of Leah, the Foresaken introduced Daly to the theater. Daly is described as energetic and ambitious. In 1863 he was the dramatic critic for the Sunday Courier and occasionally other papers. Odell mentions that Daly would later be commanding and that in 1863 he yearned for the stage.

Daly was given his first stage opportunity by the Batemans. Leah, the Foresaken is Daly's adaptation of Mosenthal's Deborah, popular at the time in Germany. Odell describes the play as having an appealing dramatic value for the playwright and his producers. The play debuted in Boston and came to Niblo's in New York Jan. 19,1863.

Daly's brother, in his biography, claims that Daly had fears about letting the "fraternity" of theater critics know the authorship of the play. Daly's secret was discovered regardless, and the play was condemned for "crudity, bad writing, etc.," according to the review in the Herald. Odell includes other reveiws of Daly's play.

Daly's second play, Taming a Butterfly, was adapted from Le Papillion by Sardou. Daly was assisted by Frank Wood, who wrote a burlesque, Leah the Forsook that caught Daly's eye and led to their partnership. Odell also includes reviews of this play.

Daly adapted The Sorceress from the French La Sorciere. Odell makes mentions of Daly's 1870s theater company: Fifth Avenue Theater Company. [pages: 31,291,484-485, 550-551, 556]
Quinn, Arthur Hobson. "John Augustin Daly." Dictionary of American Biography. Base Set. American Council of Learned Societies, 1928-1936. Reproduced in Biography Resource Center. Farmington Hills, Mich.: Thomson Gale, 2006. [more about this work]
Thomas, Lately. Delmonico's: A Century of Splendor. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1967. [more about this work]
Daly and other producers ate at the Delmonico's at Madison Square. [pages: 218]
Wilson, James Grant and John Fiske, eds. Appletons' Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Volume II, Crane-Grimshaw. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1888. [more about this work]
Appleton date the beginning of Daly's career from 1862 with his adaptation of the German play Deborah. [pages: 61]
Winter, William. Old Friends; Being Literary Recollections of Other Days. New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1909. 407 p. [more about this work]
Winter mentions that when he arrived in New York in 1859-'60, Daly was beginning his career as a writer at "The Courier," on Spruce Street; the weekly paper was edited by Briggs (137).

Winter mentions that Oliver Wendell Holmes "wrote the Address--and a fine one it is!--for the opening of the lamented Augustin Daly's Fifth Avenue Theatre, in New York, in 1873" (126). [pages: 126,137]
Winter, William. The Wallet of Time; Containing Personal, Biographical, and Critical Reminiscence of the American Theatre. New York: Moffat, Yard and Company, 1913. [more about this work]
[pages: FP(ill.)]
Winter, William. Vagrant Memories: Being Further Recollections of Other Days. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1916. [more about this work]

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