Page:Dictionary of National Biography, Second Supplement, volume 2.djvu/477

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Leno
Leno
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a playbill. Tho boy's stepfather appreciated the accidental change and saw the value of it, and an Dan Leno the stage name was crystalled. For many, years the touring life continued, with moderate success, and then in 1880 Dan Leno, now nearly twenty, entered for a clog-dancing competition and tho championship of the world silver belt at the Princess's Music Hall, Leeds, and won it. He subsequently lost it, but recaptured it in 1883, at the People's Music Hall, Oldham, and emerged from the contest into the successful period of his life. In 1883, in St. George's Church, Hulme, Manchester, he married Miss Lydia Reynolds, a music-hall singer, and not long afterwards made his first appearance as Don Leno in London, at tho Foresters' Music Hall, where at a salary of 5l a week he sang and danced. His first song, 'Going to Buy the^Milk for the Twins,' a mixture of singing and monologue such as he practised to the end, was so successful that he obtained an engagement at the Oxford Music Hall and there attracted the attention of George Conquest [q. v. Suppl. II], of the Surrey Theatre, who engaged Leno and his wife at a joint salary of 20l. a week to play in the 1886-7 pantomime of 'Jack and the Beanstalk.' Dan accepted, and played Jack' s mother. From this point his career was a triumph.

In 1887 he made his appearance at the Empire theatre, Leicester Square, on the occasion of its being converted into a music hall, and sang one of his earliest successes, a parody of 'Queen of My Heart' in 'Dorothy.' Next year Sir Augustus Harris [q. v. Suppl. I] engaged him for the Drury Lane pantomime of 1888-9 — 'Babes in the Wood' — for which he worked so acceptably as the Wicked Aunt that it ran from 26 Dec. until 27 April, and his engagement was renewed for a term of years which ended only with his death. Every winter he was the particular star of Drury Lane ; while during the rest of the year he made a tour of the principal music halls in the United Kingdom. No other comedian of his time had drawing power to compare with him. On 26 November 1901 the culminating point of his success was reached when he was commanded to Sandringham to sing before King Edward VII, Queen Alexandra, and their guests — the first music-hall performer to be thus honoured.

In September 1902 Dan Leno's health broke down. His continuous and excitable activity exhausted his strength. He was able to return to the stage during the early months of 1903 and for the Drury pantomime of 1903-4 ; but be died at Balham from general paralysis of the brain on 31 Oct. 1904 at the early age of forty-three. His funeral on 8 Nor. at Lambeth cemetery, Tooting, was attended by an immense crowd of admirers.

Dan Leno throughout the best years of his career, which covered his connected with Drury Lane, signally excelled all other music-hall comedians in intelligence, humour, drollery, and creativeness. He used the words provided for him only as a basis, often suggested by himself, on which to build a character. Although essentially a caricaturist, with a broad and rollicking sense of fun which added myriad of extravagance beyond experience, groundwork of his creations and truth continually broke through the exuberance of the artist. His most memorable songs in his best period were a mixture of monologue and song, in male or female character, but the song came gradually to count for less and less, 'The Shop-walker' perhaps first convinced the great public of his genius. Leno's long series of largely irresponsible but always human pantomime figures at Drury Lane differed from all pantomime figures by their strange blend of fun and wistfulness. It was his special gift to endear himself to an audience, and compel its sympathies as well as applause.

The recipient of large salaries, he was correspondingly lavish. He was President of the Music Hall Benevolent Fund, and himself the distributor of much private charity. He carried his fun into private life and was much addicted to practical jokes. His hobbies were farming live stock in the meadow attached to his house at Balham and painting or modelling in the wooden studio in his garden. For one evening in 1902 he edited the 'Sun,' a short-lived newspaper then under Mr. Horatio Bottomley's ownership. He also wrote a burlesque autobiography entitled 'Dan Leno: his Book' (1901), which is not wholly without nonsensical merit.

He left a widow and several children among them a married daughter, Georgiania, who had appeared on the stage. A bust of the comedian is in the entrance hall of Drury Lane Theatre.

[The Times. 1 Nov. 1904 ; Daily Telegraph, 1 Nov. 1904; Era. 6 Nov. 1904. Dan Leno, by Jay Hickory Wood, 1906; James Glover, Jimmy Glover his book, 1911; pp. 74 acq. (with portrait of Leno from bust by himself).]

E. V. L.