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Celebrating Edwin Forrest’s Legacy

May 5, 2011

Edwin Forrest Society member James Karen in LA.

The Actors Fund marked its annual Edwin Forrest Day celebrations with two special readings of Shakespeare: The first took place on April 29 on the grounds of The Actors Fund Home in Englewood, NJ (we’ve pasted our highlight video below), and the second, on May 2, at Off Vine in Los Angeles.

The history of The Actors Fund is entwined with the name of this great actor, who historians consider the first great star of the American theatre.


Born in Philadelphia in 1806, Edwin Forrest quickly became the most popular actor in nineteenth-century America. Particularly admired for his interpretations of Shakespeare, he was the first American to be acclaimed internationally as well. (His star shined so brightly, in fact, that he was one of the two actors whose Shakespearian rivalry spurred New York City’s infamous Astor Place Riot in 1849.)

Actors Fund Chairman Brian Stokes Mitchell at the Los Angeles celebration.

The most important part of Edwin Forrest’s legacy, though, was what he did to help change society’s perception of actors, which at the time was not generally positive. A major supporter of both The General Theatrical Fund and the American Dramatic Fund Association (two predecessors of The Actors Fund), his true desire was to establish a retirement home for the elderly members of the profession he so loved. Four years after his death in 1872, The Edwin Forrest Home opened in Philadelphia, funded by the bulk of Forrest’s enormous estate, which he left for this purpose. It remained open until the 1980s, when its Board of Managers decided to close the home, sell the property, and contribute its sizable assets to The Actors Fund for the merger of The Edwin Forrest Home with The Fund’s Lillian Booth Actors Home in Englewood, New Jersey. Today, The Lillian Booth’s main section is known as the Edwin Forrest Wing.

The name of this great actor and humanitarian also lives on in The Actors Fund’s Edwin Forrest Society, membership in which is granted to those who have included a gift to The Fund in their estate plan. For more information on the Edwin Forrest Society, please call Wallace Munro, Director of Planned Giving, at 212.221.7300 ext. 128, or e-mail wmunro@actorsfund.org.

Los Angeles Edwin Forrest Day photos by Daniel G. Lam. Edwin Forrest daguerreotype by Mathew Brady.

–Karissa Krenz

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