John Wilkes Booth was a famous actor before he killed Lincoln – here’s what critics said about him

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John Wilkes Booth was already well-known years before committing the deed — the 1865 assassination of President Abraham Lincoln— that truly ensured his name would live on in infamy.

Below are a few photos of the man, along with theater advertisements that appeared in newspapers in New York, Virginia and Washington DC in the years leading up to the President’s murder.

But first, check out a preview of some of the actor Booth’s performances at Ford’s Theatre from back in 1863.

John Wilkes Booth photo by Black and Case

Actor John Wilkes Booth at Ford’s New Theatre (1863)

Daily National Republican (Washington DC) November 9, 1863

Ford’s New Theatre – The “Marble Heart,” one of the most popular, as it is one of the best of the “sensational” dramas, is announced for a performance tonight, with J Wilkes Booth as Raphael, and Mr Charles Wheatleigh and Harry Pearson in very effective characters.

In his personation of the romantic young sculptor, Mr Booth concentrates many of his best qualities as an artist. The part is exceedingly picturesque and engaging, but Mr Booth, by his earnestness, his vigorous grasp of genius, and his fervor of style, invests it with an interest beyond the author’s ideal, and claims in the result the most brilliant honors of his art.

The role is peculiarly well-fitted to Booth, and it is not to be wondered at that he has achieved in its embodiment his richest distinctions.

John Wilkes Booth with coat - Antique portrait

Mr Wheatleigh fills on the occasion his original character of Volage, the editor, in which he so famously sustained Miss Laura Keene, when the play was first presented at her theatre, and by his skill and dash added largely to its memorable success.

It will be put upon the stage, it is promised, in the best style which the ample resources of the establishment will permit, and with nearly all the members of Mr Ford’s delightful company in the cast.

Tomorrow night, Mr Booth essays the part of Hamlet, and the general curiosity to see him in that noblest ideal of the mimic world is certain to attract another crowded audience.

John Wilkes Booth - Actor and assassin

The characters of the tragedy have been promisingly distributed. Chiefly thus: Hamley to Mr Booth; Laertes, Mr De Vere; Ghost, Mr Wheatleigh; Polonius, Mr Harry Pearson; Grave-digger, Mr Fawcett, etc.

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J Wilkes Booth’s newspaper notices from 1863

John Wilkes Booth 1863

Daily National Republican (Washington DC) – November 09, 1863:

john wilkes booth theater ad 1863 11 09

Daily National Republican (Washington DC) – November 12, 1863:

john wilkes booth theater ad 1863 11 12

John Wilkes Booth’s newspaper notices from 1860 & 1862

The Daily Dispatch (Richmond, Virginia) – May 31, 1860:
john wilkes booth theater ad 1860 05 31

New-York Daily Tribune (New York, NY) – March 21, 1862:

john wilkes booth theater ad 1962 03 21

MORE: See the wanted poster with a $100,000 reward for catching President Lincoln’s killer (1865)

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