Dictionary of National Biography, 1901 supplement/Clarke, John Sleeper

CLARKE, JOHN SLEEPER (1833–1899), actor, of English extraction, was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on 3 Sept. 1833, educated for the American law, and entered the office of a Baltimore solicitor. He made his début on the stage in 1851 at the Howard Athenaeum, Boston, as Frank Harvey in 'Paul Pry;' on 28 Aug. 1852, at the Chesnut Street theatre, Philadelphia, played Soto in 'She would and she would not,' and became principal comedian at the Front Street theatre, Baltimore, and joint lessee of the Arch Street theatre in Philadelphia. In 1861 he acted at the Winter Garden theatre, New York, of which, till its destruction in 1867, he was joint lessee. In 1865, with his brother-in-law, Edwin Booth, he purchased the Walnut Street theatre, Philadelphia, and in 1866 he was for a short time lessee of the Boston theatre. He had also a share in other managements. His first appearance in London was made in October 1867 at the St. James's theatre as Major Wellington de Boots in Stirling Coyne's 'Everybody's Friend,' rewritten for him and called 'A Widow Hunt.' At the Princess's in February 1868 he was Salem Scudder in a revival of 'The Octoroon,' and later, at the Strand, was the first Young Gosling in 'Fox versus Goose.' On 26 July 1869 he was the first Babington Jones in John Brougham's 'Among the Breakers.' At the same house he also played Toodles, Dr. Pangloss in the ‘Heir at Law,’ and other parts. After reappearing in America he was again at the Strand as Dr. Ollapod in the ‘Poor Gentleman,’ following it up with Paul Pry and Robert Tyke in the ‘School of Reform.’ In November 1872 he opened the Charing Cross theatre, enacting Bob Acres in the ‘Rivals,’ and on 4 April 1874 he opened at the Holborn as Phineas Pettiephogge in Byron's ‘Thumbscrew.’ In the autumn of 1878 he assumed the management of the Haymarket, where he produced the ‘Crisis,’ Albery's adaptation of ‘Les Fourchambault.’ Wills's ‘Ellen, or Love's Cunning,’ 14 April 1879, was a failure, and enjoyed no better fortune when rewritten and produced on 12 June as ‘Brag.’ Clarke then transferred the theatre to the Bancrofts and appeared, 11 July 1885, at the Strand, which he purchased, as Cousin Johnny in a piece by Messrs. Rae and Nisbet so named. After acting in country theatres he retired eventually in 1887, and never made a reappearance, though he often discussed it. He died on 24 Sept. 1899 at his house in Surbiton-on-Tharnes, and was buried the Thursday following at Teddington. He married, in 1859, Asia Booth, daughter of Junius Brutus Booth and sister of Edwin Booth, and left two sons on the stage. A likeness appears in the ‘Era’ for 30 Sept. 1899.

Clarke was an excellent actor in old comedy, in which his principal successes were made. He was a ‘mugger’ of the Liston type, but had more intensity than his predecessor. His new creations were neither very successful nor very important. A portion of his method was due to American actors unknown in this country.

[Personal knowledge; Pascoe's Dramatic List; Scott and Howard's Blanchard; Jefferson's Autobiography; Sunday Times, various years; Cook's Nights at the Play.]

J. K.