James A. Herne

Information on this page was researched, compiled, written and submitted to the Rensselaer County, NY GenWeb site by the late Lin Van Buren.

The US playwright and actor James A. HERNE (1839-1901) was born James AHEARN on 1 February 1839 in Troy, Rensselaer County, NY, a son of Patrick AHEARN. James A. Herne was a fixture of the American theatre in the second half of the 19th century and was known as "the American Ibsen".

Spending most of his adult life in New York City, Herne also took a number of plays on tour to other major US cities. His first marriage was to actress Helen WESTERN, whom he married on 17 July 1866. Western's real name was Rebecca Vallileo, and her mother was actress Jane ENGLISH. Helen and her sister Lucille WESTERN toured the US as the "Star Sisters".

Helen Western, prior to her marriage to Herne, had a dubious connection with actor John Wilkes BOOTH (1838-1865), the assassin of President Abraham LINCOLN (1809-1865). After Booth shot President Lincoln on the night of 14 April 1865 at Ford's Theatre in Washington, DC, the assailant escaped capture for 12 days, despite having broken his leg when he had jumped from the stage after firing the fatal shot. Booth was eventually apprehended at a barn near Bowling Green, Virginia, where he was shot dead either by his pursuers or by himself. In any case, at his death, Booth had several photographs in his pocket. One of the photos was of actress Helen Western.

Even after James A. Herne and Helen Western were divorced, Herne sometimes acted with Western's sister Lucille.

Herne remarried on 3 April 1878, this time to the Irish-born actress Katherine CORCORAN (c1857-9 February 1943). It was about the time of this second, happier marriage that Herne's career really took off. With David BELASCO, he wrote Hearts of Oak, which debuted in 1879.This success was followed by Margaret Fleming in 1890 and by the popular Shore Acres in 1892. Other hits included The Reverend Griffith Davenport and Sag Harbor.

James A. Herne and wife Katherine Corcoran had five children: four daughters and a son. The son, John T. HERNE (4 October 1894-September 1966), was the youngest and was known as "Jack". The daughters were Alma HERNE (died young), Julie Adrienne HERNE (31 October 1881-24 February 1955), Chrystal Katherine HERNE (17 June 1883-19 September 1950) and Dorothy Lucille HERNE (c1885-8 November 1921).

Julie Herne was born in Boston and died in New York City. She wrote plays for Broadway and screenplays for the cinema in the 1920s. Her stage plays included Richter's Wife (1905), The Prince of India (1906), The Family (1910), The Inner Man (1917) and April (1918). Then Hollywood beckoned, and Julie produced numerous screenplays, including The Misfit Wife (1920),Dangerous Money (1924, starring Bebe Daniels and William Powell) andSackcloth and Scarlet (1925).

Chrystal Herne was born in Dorchester, Massachusetts (now part of Boston) and died at Phillips House of the Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston after an illness of one month. She was a stage actress and appeared often on Broadway from 1899 until she retired in 1931 (she did make a brief comeback in 1935). In October 1914, Chrystal Herne married Boston-born, Harvard-educated Harold Stanley POLLARD (28 May 1878-1953), an editorial writer (and later editor) of The Evening World. Pollard had been private secretary to the Hungarian-born publisher (and "yellow journalism" champion) Joseph PULITZER (1847-1911) in the last years of the latter's life. When the Pulitzer prizes began, in 1917, Pollard became a member of the Pulitzer Board, which selects the winners. Pollard held this post for the rest of his life. Interestingly, the Board, with Pollard on it, chose to award the 1926 Pulitzer prize for drama to Craig's Wife by George KELLY (1887-1974), uncle of Princess GRACE of Monaco (1929-1982). Playing the eponymous role of Harriet Craig in this play on Broadway was none other than Pollard's wife, actress Chrystal Herne.

Dorothy Herne, also born in Massachusetts, married the journalist and theatre critic Montrose Jonas MOSES (1878-1934) on 1 February 1911 at All Angels' Church in New York City. Dorothy had one child, Montrose James MOSES, born in 1919 in New York City.

James A. Herne's widow, Katherine, died at Astoria, Queens, at the age of 86. Her home, Herne Oaks, in Southampton, Long Island, was destroyed by fire on 11 December 1909. The fire started in the middle of the night in the cellar, and Katherine and her 15-year-old son Jack had to flee for their lives as the blaze engulfed the entire mansion. All the original manuscripts of her late husband's plays and other papers were lost. Her three daughters, who still resided with her at the time, were not at home.

James A. Herne died on 2 June 1901 in New York City. It was his dying wish that no mourning or sorrow be displayed at his funeral, and his widow and children respected his wishes. His widow greeted funeral guests beside his coffin with a big smile, according to her late husband's instructions. This "cheerful funeral" was written up in the magazine The New Yorker; you can read the entire article here. Herne's biography, James A. Herne: The American Ibsen, by John PERRY, was published in 1978 by Nelson-Hall in Chicago.

© Copyright 2005, L. J. Van Buren

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