The Library of Nineteenth-Century Photography

John Lawrence Toole

John Lawrence Toole

The comic actor John Lawrence Toole (1832-1906), seen here in an unidentified role.

Born in London on 12 March 1832, Toole was the son of an old employee of the East India Company who for many years acted as toast-master in the City of London. He was educated at the City of London School and started life in a wine-merchant’s office. However, his natural propensity was for acting, and after some practice as an amateur with the City Histrionic Club, he took to the professional stage in 1852, appearing in Dublin as Simmons in The Spitalfields Weaver. He gained experience in the provinces and in 1854 made his first professional appearance in London at the St. James’s Theatre, acting as Samuel Pepys in The King’s Rival and Weazel in My Friend the Major. In 1857 he met Henry Irving in Edinburgh and advised him to go to London. From then the two remained great friends.

In 1858 Toole joined Webster at the Adelphi and established his popularity as a comedian, among other parts creating Joe Spriggins in Ici on parle français. In 1868 he was engaged at the Gaiety, appearing among other pieces in Thespis, the first Gilbert and Sullivan collaboration. His fame was at its height in 1874 when he toured the United States, but he failed to reproduce there the success he had had in England.

In 1879 he took the Folly Theatre in London, which he renamed Toole’s in 1882. His appearances gradually grew fewer, and after 1893 he was no longer seen on the London stage. His theatre was pulled down shortly afterwards to make way for an extension to Charing Cross Hospital.

Toole married in 1854, but the death of his only son in 1879 and later of his wife and daughter had a distressing effect on his health. Crippled by attacks of gout from 1886 onwards, he eventually retired to Brighton, where after a long illness he died on 30 July 1906.

In his prime he was immensely popular, and also immensely funny in a way which depended on the tricks in his delivery. He excelled at combining humour with pathos. A good man of business, he left a considerable fortune.

Photographer unidentified.


Code: 122143
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