GOOD MORNING P.O.U.!
We continue our series on Black Shakespearean Actors…
(From Alan W. King’s Blog)
…Born 1778, James Hewlett’s education of theatre came from following behind British actor George Frederick Cooke as a servant boy, when he learned to imitate the actor’s actions and attitude. But, according to a Dec. 22, 1825 article in The Star, the young man had something else going for him. “Hewlett…must have had a natural talent for theatrical performances and an excellent voice, or he could never have surmounted his early difficulties,” the newspaper reported. Those difficulties were the result of racism. In addition to working as a waiter and tailor by trade, Hewlett was a role model for the African Grove’s younger member, Ira Aldridge. When Hewlett joined the theatre company in 1821, he attempted Richard III with an all‐black cast and played the title role in Brown’s The Drama of King Shotaway. But much of his life after the African Grove is a blur. According to the Oxford Companion to American Theatre, he “seems to have confined his appearances to recitals devoted largely to imitations of famous White actors.”
Among his honors, Hewlett was called “the most astonishing phenomena of the age” by an 1826 advertisement. In addition, the ad goes on to describe him as: “a young man, who, notwithstanding the thousands of obstacles which the circumstance of complexion must have thrown in his way of improvement, has, by the mere dint of natural genius and self‐strengthened assiduity, risen to a successful competition with some of the first actors of the day.” Later billed as “Shakespeare’s proud Representative,” he disappeared after a farewell benefit in 1831. According to blackpast.org, Hewlett passed in 1836.