Wallack, J. Lester

John Lester Wallack

John Lester Wallack (born John Johnstone Wallack) was an American actor and son of James William Wallack. He joined The Lambs in 1875, which frequently met at Wallack’s Theatre. He served as Shepherd for three terms: 1878-1879, 1880-1882, and 1884-1888. Wallack was one of the founders of The Actors’ Fund of America and served as its president 1882-1883.

Wallack was born Jan. 1, 1820, in New York but at an early age he was taken to his parents’ home in London where he was reared and educated. He had chosen a military career but became discouraged and went to Dublin where he went upon the stage. He remained for two seasons and then went to Edinburgh. Then in 1846, he appeared in London at the Haymarket Theatre under Benjamin Webster’s management. There he was seen by an American manager’s agent who had come over to London to engage actors for the Broadway Theatre, New York. By him he was engaged and brought back to America in 1847.

In the theatrical world he was known primarily as Lester Wallack. When he made his first stage appearance in New York in 1847 it was under the name of John Lester when he appeared as Sir Charles Coldstream, in Boucicault’s adaptation of Used Up. His father’s brother, Henry Wallack, the father of James William Wallack, Jr., was also in the Broadway Theatre’s company. His second appearance was as Viscount de Ligny in Captain of the Guard by James Planché.

Subsequently, he performed at the Bowery Theatre, Burton’s Theatre, Niblo’s Garden, and Brougham’s Lyceum. His first appearance at the Bowery Theatre was in 1849 as Don Caesar de Bazan. Wallack’s greatest successes were in light comedy and romantic parts.

He was a manager of the second Wallack’s Theatre beginning in 1861 (demolished in 1901), and in 1882 he opened the third at 30th Street and Broadway (demolished in 1915). Another Wallack’s Theatre at 254 West 42nd Street in New York was named for him in 1924.

Wallack had three sons, among them: Arthur J. Wallack (1849-1940) was one of the six founders of The Lambs at the December 1874 dinner at Delmonico’s, and Harold Wallack, who was elected as a charter member in 1877.

Wallack’s autobiography is titled Memories of Fifty Years. He died September 6, 1888, in Stamford, Connecticut. Wallack is interred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. His grave is next to the first shepherd of The Lambs, Henry J. Montague. They have matching graves.

For a list of Wallack’s Broadway credits, click here.

—Kevin C. Fitzpatrick, Club Historian