Lackaye, Wilton

Wilton Lackaye
Official Club portrait of Shepherd Wilton Lackaye

Wilton Lackaye (September 30, 1862 – August 22, 1932) was a stage and film actor, who originated the role of Svengali (from the 1895 novel Trilby) in both stage and film. He was the tenth Shepherd of The Lambs, serving one term from 1906-1907.

William Andrew Lackey was born in Loudoun County, Virginia the son of James Lackey and his wife Margaret Bagnam. He was married three times: first to actress Annie Lewis, second to Alice Evans, and finally to Katherine Alberta Riley. He had a son Wilton Lackaye Jr. (1902–1977) with Alice Evans. He had two siblings in show business: James Lackaye Jr. (1867–1919) and Helen Lackaye (1883–1940).

He created the role of Svengali in the play Trilby in 1895 which he played on screen in 1915 opposite Clara Kimball Young. He enjoyed a lengthy and distinguished stage career before entering silent films in middle age. He was a distinctive-looking actor with large round eyes particularly effective when playing the scheming Svengali.

He was elected to The Lambs in 1888 as a professional member. In January 1932, Council voted unanimously to grant him Honorary Life Membership.

He died on August 22, 1932, in New York. He was 69.

From The Lambs’ Script, June-August 1932

Wilton Lackaye has passed. Another Shepherd is gone.

He was not only an Honorary Life Member, but he was for 44 years an active, vital, stimulating, and uplifting force in The Lambs.

He was a man of distinction, a fine mind, a man to be reckoned with, of candid convictions, a hater of shams, a fighter, perhaps too eager at times to take up the gauge of battle, but giving and receiving blows with a zest that indicated the well-known Hibernian joy of conflict. He was very fond of Henley‘s lines: “My head is bloody but unbowed.“ It was not an idle boast. In all the vicissitudes of faith he lifted up his head unconquered. And in the last few years of his life this was a triumph, due not only to his own great will go to the courage of his devoted wife.

He was one of the best actors America has produced, with a quick keen understanding of the values of the part and play; with a compelling personality not to be denied, and easy mastery of his audience with that art which conceals art. His personal triumphs are part of the record of the Theatre of our time. Occasionally he may have picked the wrong quarrel, but it must be said that so long as he lived he fought for clean plays and a clean stage.

His reputation as a wit almost crowded his fame as an actor. In the old days, the golden age of Lambs wits, he traveled in quick company–Maurice Barrymore, Henry Dixey, Augustus Thomas, Nat Goodwin, Clay Greene, Maclyn Arbuckle, DeWolf Hopper, and many others. And he was always ready to meet all comers. Nothing finer is ever been said and his–”The secret of repartee as repertoire.”

Even in his own suffering and pain his sense of humor was close to the surface. He and I were pallbearers at Saint Malachy’s for a Brother Lamb. I stumbled over a prayer bench and got a heavy fall. He afterwards remarked that if I went to church oftener I would learn how to get in and out of the pews.

Wilton Lackaye has passed on to where he shall be known, even as he also is known and where I hope and believe he will meet a goodly fellowship of our boys who have gone before.

–Edwin Milton Royle