The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

G.L. Fox

G.L. Fox

A carte-de-visite portrait of George L. Fox (1825–1877), America’s first great white-faced clown, photographed by Napoleon Sarony of New York. He is seen here as the gravedigger in a production of Hamlet.

Born George Washington Lafayette Fox in 1825, his parents were stock players at Boston’s Tremont Street Theatre where ‘Laff’ (his childhood nickname) and his five surviving siblings were often called upon to play juvenile roles. Fox made his debut there at age five, though his parents later decided his future would be better served if he learned a trade and enrolled him in an apprenticeship with a local merchant.

By the time Fox had reached age twenty his apprenticeship had failed leaving him to return to the family business. He toured for a while playing minor dramatic and comedic roles and in 1850 he tried his hand as a low comedian at the Bowery’s National Theatre on Chatham Street. There he finally found his niche becoming a popular headliner over the following seven years. For the remainder of his career he played at venues that catered primarily to working class audiences.

Inspired by the famous Ravel Brothers to undertake pantomime, he created a distinct place for that kind of entertainment in New York City, first at the National Theatre and later at the New Bowery Theatre, of which he was for a time both lessee and manager in partnership with James R. Lingard. Fox continued to surround himself with increasingly competent group of comedians and acrobats that included his brother, Charles Kemble Fox, who had become popular as a comedian and pantaloon performer.

Following service in the Eighth New York Infantry during the Civil War, Fox resumed playing pantomime roles to Lower East Side audiences. Fire forced him out of the New Bowery Theatre and poor business caused a schism with Lingard. In 1866 Fox became stage manager at the Olympic Theatre on the Eastside of Broadway near Houston Street. There he played Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream and his signature role as the clown in Humpty Dumpty, the first American pantomime to be performed in two acts.

His heath began to fail in 1875 after an accident on stage that broke his nose and damaged an optic nerve. A series of strokes eventually led to his death at the age of 52 on 24 October 1877.

Photographed by Jeremiah Gurney of New York.


Code: 124456
  Back           Home Contact   
© Paul Frecker 2019