Holland, Edmund M.

Edmund M. Holland

Actor Edmund M. Holland (1848-1913) was elected to The Lambs in 1875 and was an original member. He served as the sixth Shepherd, from 1890-1891. He was the 100-percent theatrical, actor-comedian.

Although nothing in the records suggested he was in any way an ineffective or unpopular Shepherd, he only served for one term. More than likely he probably had a busy acting schedule and tours may have been the reason why he only served one term. Or possibly club membership was booming in the early 1890s and he did not want to have the added pressure.

Edmund Milton “Ned” Holland was born in New York City on September 7, 1848, into a family with theatrical English roots. His father, George Holland, had come to America, where in 1827 he made his New York debut at the Bowery Theatre. Four of his six children became actors. Edmund’s older brothers, Joseph Jefferson Holland and George Holland, were elected to The Lambs, as have others in the family.

Holland attended local public school until 1863 when he was employed by the Olympic Theatre as a teenage “call boy,” giving the actors their 30-minute and five-minute warnings and occasionally playing small parts. He next played small roles at Barnum’s American Museum. (Barnum purposely misnamed his establishment at the southeast corner of Broadway and Anne Street a “museum” and “lecture room,” when in fact it housed a freak show with thousands of bizarre curiosities and a bona fide theater of 3,000 seats). During his apprentice years, Holland acted under the name of E. Milton, because his father forbade the use of the family name until he proved himself. In 1867 he joined Wallack’s company and remained there for 13 years, acting under the family name. He was billed for the remainder of his career as E. M. Holland.

The next part of Holland’s story is one of New York’s greatest theatrical tales that lives on today. Holland’s father died in 1870. Hearing of his friend’s death, Joseph Jefferson promptly called on the family paralyzed with grief. They requested that he make the funeral arrangements, and with one of the young Holland boys at his side, he called on the rector of the Church of the Atonement at Madison Avenue in 28th Street. Jefferson explained to the Reverend William T. Sabine the reason for his visit.

“Something, I cannot seriously say what,” wrote Jefferson, “gave me the impression that I had best mention that Mr. Holland was an actor.” The minister stiffened, and after some hesitation stated that since the deceased had been an actor, he must decline holding the service at the church.

“While his refusal to perform the funeral rites for my old friend would’ve shocked me under ordinary circumstances,” wrote Jefferson, “the fact that it was made in the presence of the dead man’s son was more painful than I can describe. I turned to look at the youth, and saw those eyes were filled with tears.”

“Well, sir, in this dilemma is there no other church to which you can direct me, from which my friend can be buried?” he asked.

The minister’s reply to Jefferson, spoke volumes. “I believe there’s a little church around the corner where they do that sort of thing.”

“Then, if this be so,” replied Jefferson, “God bless the little church around the corner!” With that, Jefferson and young Holland went to Fifth Avenue and 29th Street, to the Church of the Transfiguration, where Reverend George H. Houghton greeted them. He had founded the church and dedicated it to the poor and those in need. Certainly these poor actors were in need; he readily agreed to officiate. From the day of George Holland’s funeral, the Little Church has been a friend to the theater community. It is a shrine to the profession.

In 1874 young Holland played a peasant in Wallack’s production of The Shaughraun that made Henry Montague a star. Although Holland was not at the 1874 dinner where The Lambs was launched, he was among the first elected to the club the following year and is considered a charter member.

During Holland’s career he acted with many of the great players of the era: William J. Florence, John Gilbert, John Brougham, Lester Wallack, Mrs. Sefton, E.A. Sothern, Charles Matthews, and Joseph Jefferson. In 1877 he appeared with Henry Montague in the original cast of Steele Mackaye’s Won At Last at Wallack’s Theatre. In 1880 he made his London debut and thereafter toured England for two years. In 1882 he toured in Mackaye’s sensational Hazel Kirke. In the 1890s Augustus Thomas wrote the role of the colonel in Alabama for him, and he starred in the title role of Thomas’ Colonel Carter of Cartersville. Beginning in 1895, he and his brother Joseph starred for two years in A Social Highwayman and other plays. In 1901–02 he played the title rôle in Eben Holden, and from 1903 to 1906 he played Captain Bedford in Raffles. In 1909 he joined the New Theatre Company, of which he remained a member till 1911.

In October 1911, Holland broke his arm when he fell down a flight of stairs in Chicago’s elevated train system. The 63 year-old recuperated enough to return to touring within weeks. On November 24, 1913, Holland was performing in Cleveland, Ohio, where he died of heart disease in his hotel. His wife, Mary E. Holland, an actress who had quit the stage when she married him, was bequeathed his entire estate of $3,000. Like his father years before, the funeral was held at The Little Church Around the Corner. The Lambs and The Players, of which he was also a member, sent a large delegation. He is interred in the family plot in Kensico Cemetery in Valhalla, Westchester County.

In 2020 his shepherd’s portrait by Willard Metcalf was restored by the Lambs’ Foundation.

Researched and written by Lambs’ historian Lewis J. Hardee, Jr., with updates and additions by Lamb Kevin C. Fitzpatrick.