Author: James Johnston

The Other Booth Brother: Exploring America’s Strangest Theatrical Family

Par James Johnston | mars 23, 2020
john wilks booth portraits

To understand why John Wilkes Booth decided to gather a group of conspirators together on Good Friday 1865 to undermine the nation – killing the president alongside the failed assassinations of other members of his cabinet – one must look towards his life on the stage.

John_Wilkes_Booth,_assassin_CDV-1John Wilkes Booth was beloved by all, especially women, as a strikingly handsome figure with a face audience members would drop money just to look at, regardless of what show was on the playbill. He was also a bigot who considered African-Americans less than human and was furious that Lincoln would grant freed slaves their citizenship. Can’t forget that part. Yet, while John’s name is rather well-known today and even immortalized by theatrical legend Stephen Sondheim in his musical Assassins, he found himself overshadowed in life by his brother Edwin.

Calling Edwin Booth “The Other Booth Brother” during his lifetime would have been considered heresy. Not only was Edwin considered one of the great stage legends of his time but a performer who took his time with the language of Shakespeare. This would be a stark contrast to his father Junius Brutus Booth who spent much of his time on stage as a human tempest running around and swinging swords at ensemble members. “Fight call” was not a thing back in these days. While contemporary critics would praise Booth as a superior actor with a natural gift for the stage, his younger brother John was just a handsome face. It would not be fair to say that Edwin Booth incidentally found himself as his brother’s better. It was both their family circumstances and Edwin’s own financial decisions that would create a great divide between the two brothers that would never be healed.

Edwin Booth never had a childhood. He said so himself, saying that his boyhood days ended when he was conscripted by his mother Mary Ann Holmes to accompany his father on his theatrical tours. This was not so Edwin could have bonding time with his father but so he could look after Junius to make sure he did not drink away his earnings the family sorely needed. Not only were there bills to pay, but Junius’s first wife had moved from England to Baltimore so she could petition for divorce against Junius who had left her and her son to marry Mary Ann, a flower girl from Covent Garden, with whom he had ten illegitimate children. Marie Christine Adelaide Delannoy, the first wife, would terrorize the Booth family by following Mary and her children around Baltimore and screaming to anyone who had no choice but to listen that these children were bastards.

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The silver lining, if any, that Edwin could look forward to while playing the role of his alcoholic father’s guilty conscience was that he could learn the craft of acting at his father’s knee, even if he was asleep. One of Edwin’s first breakout rules at the age of sixteen was when he replaced his father as Richard III because Junius was too drunk to go on. Reviews were glowing. John could not help but feel that even if he could not see what his brother had to deal with from Junius it must have been a vacation compared to look after the Booth homestead where a strange woman kept following him and his family around calling them bastards. To make matters worse, when Edwin decided on a tour of California to stay so he could become his own man he had forsaken his role as his father’s keeper and sent Junius to travel home by himself. Junius never survived the trip.

Now indirectly responsible for his father’s death, something John and the rest of the family was keenly aware of, Edwin had little time to mourn as his star skyrocketed. At the same time, John sought to get into the acting profession himself but was kneecapped by Edwin. A border was drawn up across the country, several years before Fort Sumter and the Civil War, where Edwin would work all the more financially viable theaters in the North while John could have the theaters in the South which were often less profitable. This led to John spending much time in the south and at a perfect position to be scouted by the Confederate Secret Service towards conspiring against the President.

To really sink the knife in, the only time John was onstage with his brothers Edwin and Junius Jr. – Junius Jr. mostly kept to himself since his absence until now – was a production of Julius Caesar where John was denied the opportunity to play Brutus. Edwin claimed that John was not famous enough to play the assassin. A few months later when John Wilkes Booth shoots Lincoln he dives onto the stage, breaks his leg in the process and screams out to the audience what was identified as “Sic Semper Tyrannis!” While that is the Virginia state motto and can easily be a final cry from the Confederacy it also has a theatrical root. It’s Brutus’s line. Thus comes the theory that when John shot Lincoln he took one last curtain call so he could scream out to his brother “Who’s the famous assassin now?”

The Other Booth Brother: Exploring America’s Strangest Theatrical Familygramercy library boothEdwin Booth’s career would soldier on in Shakespearean classics like Romeo and Juliet as well as a career defining Hamlet. But Edwin Booth’s final years would be spent at the Player’s Club by Gramercy Park where Edwin would surround himself with greats like JP Morgan, General William Sherman, Mark Twain, and the like. His final years, as well as the Player’s Club and the saga of the Booths themselves can best be explored on TopDogTours’ Gramercy tour which includes the only tour of the Player’s Club available to the public. See the artifacts that shaped Edwin’s life and rediscover one of the largest names in theater, a name that has been largely overshadowed by the actions of his brother.

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How to Turn Your Family NYC Trip into A John Wick Vacation Without Them Knowing

Par James Johnston | décembre 18, 2019
john wick in nyc

People cannot get enough of John Wick.

Between the three movies, the upcoming fourth installment, spinoffs, video games, and inexplicable inclusion in Fortnite, John Wick has relaunched Keanu Reeves’ career and turned into the action sleeper hit of the past five years. But Derek Kolstad’s franchise is not just a rollicking good time full of blood, bullets, and regret over having to regress into the cold-blooded lifestyles we swore we’d forgo because Theon Greyjoy from Game of Thrones killed your dog. It also provides a perfect opportunity to visit New York City to see where they filmed everything! Problem though. Maybe your partner would rather not spend the holidays in New York City tracing the path of Hollywood’s most famous killer. Maybe you have kids who are not old enough to watch Keanu Reeves kill a guy with a pencil. All reasonable concerns. So how can you enjoy a stay in New York that’s family friendly while indulging in the dark underside of Manhattan you’ve seen on screen. Thankfully, TopDogTours NYC has you covered. Also, spoilers, for all three installments of the Wick films.

The Continental

the beaver building

The Continental is John Wick’s most iconic location: a hotel for assassins where they can drink scotch, make eyes at other assassins, and hang out with Lance Reddick while they take care of “business” in the heart of the Financial District. Lucky for us – The Continental is two locations. The first is The Beaver Building located at 1 Wall Street Court where all the exterior scenes were shot. Interior scenes were filmed at nearby DelMonico’s at 2 South William Street. It makes sense that DelMonico’s is the site of The Continental because both are ridiculously trendy institutions. You won’t be able to pay in gold coins at Del Monico’s but you can pay (oh my god will you pay) to try famous American dishes they’ve innovated like the eggs benedict, Manhattan clam chowder and of course the famous Delmonico steak, or as you know it, a ribeye. DelMonico’s can be glimpsed on TopDog’s Downtown tour.

Bethesda Terrace

bethesda fountain john wick

This next location sits in the heart of Central Park. No, that’s not the Friends fountain, that’s Bethesda Fountain located on Bethesda Terrace! It’s been featured in pretty much every film that shot in Central Park. Billy Crystal and Bruno Kirby jog by here in When Harry Met Sally and, on the diametrical end of the film spectrum, the upper level is where Thor teleports away with Loki at the end of the first Avengers movies. It’s a beautiful sight during the day – especially the statue of an angel crafted by Emma Stebbins who is the first woman to be commissioned by the city for a public art piece. But at night the Terrace fills a different role. Should any assassin like Adrianne Palicki’s Ms. Perkins overstep the rules of The Continental this is where Winston (Ian McShane) summons rulebreakers to be killed.

Bethesda Terrace makes a return at the unforgettable end of John Wick: Chapter 2 when Wick is called by Winston here during the day to answer for shooting Santino D’Antonio in the Continental, breaking the hotel’s no-kill policy. Winston takes some mercy on John giving the assassin a head start before he calls in a contract for every assassin in New York to go after Wick. To show how hopeless the situation is for Wick, Winston makes a phone call that causes every sightseer in Bethesda to turn around, all assassins under Winston’s employ. As you take your family around Bethesda and show them the turtles in the lake nearby be assured that none of the other tourists in the park are assassins. Probably. Better book a Central Park tour with TopDogTours NYC so we can keep an eye out for you.

New York Public Library

new york public libray john wick

At the beginning of John Wick: Chapter 3 – Parabellum, John looks for an emergency stash in one of the books at the world famous New York Public Library, desperately clambering past the twin lion statues (Patience and Fortitude) to enter the library and somehow skip their security check altogether. The Library asks patrons to be quiet as they browse the over 75 miles of books so behavior like the sight of John killing a would-be assassin with a book is something you will likely miss on your trip through the library. Still! Take your kids into the children’s corner and show them the on-display original Winnie the Pooh toys owned by the original Christopher Robin AKA Christopher Milne. Just in time for the holidays, the Library and nearby winter village are a featured part of TopDogTours NYC’s Holiday Tour!

Doyers Street

Doyer's Street John WickAfter fighting off the assassin at the library, John has to tend to his wounds with a Sbackalley doctor in Chinatown. Said clinic is Chinatown’s famous Doyers Street, once known as the bloodiest street in America for all the gang wars that occurred here by the Tong gangs of Chinatown. Hatchetmen, foot soldiers armed with literal hatchets, would throw down on this very street where today the most conflict comes from those waiting to get a spot at the Nom Wah Tea Parlor which has been serving dim sum cuisine since 1920. Take a walk down Doyers on our Three Neighborhoods tour!

Grand Central

grand central station nyc

Grand Central, the largest train station in the world, has been home to many films over the year and John Wick is no different. In Chapter 3, John Wick is walking through the concourse when he is approached by Mark Dacascos’ ultra-efficient killer, Zero. The two exchange a glance, they’re about to throw down and prove who is truly the better assassin…

And then a tour guide with a flag leads a group in between the two hitmen completely throwing everything off.

Maybe you can tour this one on your own… or as part of our Superheroes of New York walking tour!

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