WILLIAMSON, James Cassius (1845-1913)


WILLIAMSON, James Cassius (1845-1913)
actor and theatrical manager
was born at Mercer, Pennsylvania, U.S.A., on 26 August 1845. His father was a doctor of Irish descent, his mother's forefathers had come from Scotland. He received a good education at primary and high schools and his family having moved to Milwaukee, he began to act there in private theatricals. When he was 16 he obtained an engagement at the local theatre, and a year later was playing in Canada. In 1863 he found his way to New York, obtained an engagement in Wallack's company, then the best in the United States, and became the general utility man. On one occasion he learned and played the part of Sir Lucins O'Trigger at 24 hours' notice. His next engagement was at the old Broadway theatre as principal comedian, and in 1871 he was given a high salary to go to San Francisco. There he met Maggie Moore (q.v.) and was married to her in 1873. He went to Australia in 1874 and opened at the Theatre Royal, Melbourne in Struck Oil, which proved to be an immediate success. Williamson went to India in 1875 and in the following year opened in London with Struck 0i1, and had a long season. This was followed by two or three years in the United States, and in 1879 he again came to Australia and opened in Pinafore, in which he played Sir Joseph Porter. He had not intended to become a theatrical manager, but the suggestion was made by Messrs Arthur Garner and George Musgrove (q.v.) that they should enter into partnership with him. The association of these men under the name of Williamson, Garner and Musgrove continued for nine years, and it became the leading theatrical firm in Australia. During the next 30 years, with various changes in his partners, Williamson was to introduce to the Australian public such famous people as Genevieve Ward, Bernhardt, Margaret Anglin, Albani, Ada Crossley, Melba, Kyrle Bellew and Mrs Browne Potter, Charles Warner, the Gaiety Company with Fred Leslie and Nellie Farren, J. L. Toole, Cuyler Hastings, Oscar Asche, and a host of others. In his later years, Williamson lived at Sydney, but made many visits to Europe in connexion with his work. He began to take a less strenuous part in management in 1907, and in 1911 the organization was converted into a company under the name of J. C. Williamson Ltd. He died in Paris on 6 July 1913. He was survived by his second wife, originally Mary Weir, and two daughters.
Williamson was a versatile actor, but excelled in comedy. In addition to the parts already mentioned he played Sim in Wild Oats, Dick Swiveller, Rip Van Winkle, Matthew Vanderkoopen in La Cigale, and many others. His Jan Stofel in Struck Oil was played so often that he became identified with the part, and this character gave him every opportunity to show his great talent. As a manager he had the faculty of engaging the loyalty of his subordinates and showed excellent judgment in the selection of plays and artists. His immense experience enabled him to be of great service to the producer. He would sometimes attend rehearsals and his judgment was unerring in finding the weak places and suggesting improvements. He was prudent, cautious, far-sighted, and had great powers of organization. It was the combination of these qualities that made him the leading theatrical manager of his time in Australia.
J. C. Williamson's Life Story; The Argus, Melbourne, 8 July 1913; Nellie Stewart, My Life Story.

Dictionary of Australian Biography by PERCIVAL SERLE. . 1949.

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