Wise, Thomas A.

Thomas A. Wise

Thomas A. Wise (26 March 1855-21 March 1928) was an English-born actor who graduated from California traveling stock theatre to the biggest stages on Broadway. His most famous roles were Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor and Clem Hawley in Don Marquis’ comedy The Old Soak. He was elected to The Lambs in 1899. After serving on Council, he was elected to the position of seventeenth Shepherd in October 1926, succeeding film star Thomas Meighan.

Wise’s 45-year career saw him perform with every major theatre star of the era, from John Barrymore to Edwin Booth, Mrs. Fiske to Constance Collier. He was a beloved member of The Lambs for nearly 30 years. He married English actress Gertrude Whitty (1864–1929) on 11 November 1895 in Cuyahoga, Ohio. She was his co-star in his original play, The Old New Yorker, in 1911.

Wise suffered a stroke in The Fold. He died soon after on 21 March 1928. He was 72. For a time an urn containing Wise’s ashes was kept in The Fold. In what must have been quite an adventure, his friends carried Wise’s cremains to England and sprinkled them onto Shakepeare’s grave site.

From The Lambs’ Script, October 1943 Issue

Thomas A. Wise was born in Faversham, England, on March 26, 1855, but his parents came to the United States when he was so young that he is seldom remembered as anything but the typical American whom he so successfully portrayed in his own play that brought him his greatest triumph on the stage.

His first professional experience occurred when he was 28 years old; when he appeared with a small variety company. They traveled around West Coast towns by means of wagons. His initial performance took place in Dixon, California, on April 5, 1883.

Wise’s early training included the stock, repertory, and roadshow engagements which were part and parcel of the background of every experienced actor of his day. In 1884 he joined the Joseph R. Grismer repertory company; from 1885 to 1887 he was with William Gillette in The Private Secretary. From 1887 to 1889 Tom Wise appeared in a series of popular melodramas of the day, including the ever-present Michael Strogoff and The Paymaster. His services were in steady demand for touring companies of importance by 1890, and for two seasons he was engaged with Charles Frohman’s companies, playing and such offerings as Men and Women, Gloriana, and other favorites.

After a season in a leading role in A War of Wealth in 1894, he joined Stuart Robson‘s company as leading man. In the same capacity he was engaged by William Collier, with whose company he remained until the season of 1899, when he made his first New York appearance in The Last Chapter at Wallach’s Theatre. Wise was at the time an experienced leading man, 44 years of age, with 16 years of various training to his credit.

After his second role at Wallach’s, in The Cuckoo, Wise was engaged for nine months’ run in The Wrong Mr. Wright at the Strand Theatre, London; his only appearance in his native land. In 1901 he was back in New York, and for the next seven years he was seen in such popular comedies as Are You A Mason?, The Prince Chap, The Lady From Lane’s, with Hattie Williams in The Little Cherub, and as the comedian in Miss Hook from Holland. All the experiences and training accumulated in these years of work seem to have built slowly but surely to the triumpth of Tom Wise’s career in 1908, when he made a sensational hit in his own play, The Gentleman From Mississippi. As both author and star, he enjoyed at three years’ run with this vehicle, which established him both artistically and financially.

Thomas Wise
Official Club portrait of Thomas A. Wise

A co-starring engagement with John Barrymore in Uncle Sam, vaudeville tours, and a season in special stock as co-star with Lucille LaVerne occupied several years, then another of his most successful parts, and one he took great delight in playing, that of Clem Hawley in Don Marquis’ well remembered The Old Soak. Wise’s only achievement in the classic drama was another highlight of his career – – his Falstaff in The Merry Wives of Windsor in 1917.

Wise was elected Shepherd of the Lambs in 1926. He had served on the board of directors for a few terms just 10 years earlier, but his first office was that of Shepherd. Many of the present members can recall the reign of this benign ruler of The Fold, but our Annals state merely the lone fact of his election, and his death. Wise’s must have been a comparatively uneventful regime.

Personal memory includes only one performance late in his career; his last professional engagement, in Behold This Dreamer in Chicago in 1927. While serving his second term as Shepherd, Wise collapsed on the stairs of The Fold. He was taken to his rooms in the 44th Street Hotel next-door, where he passed away on March 22, 1928. In five days he would’ve celebrated his 73rd birthday.

Services were held in The Little Church Around The Corner, attended by Lambs as honorary pallbearers. Wise’s ashes were scattered on Shakespeare’s grave at Stratford-on-Avon but his memory surely reposes in a treasured spot in the hearts of those who were privileged to know this genial, kindly, and highly honored Lamb.

From the eulogy which Walter Hampden delivered at the final rites for our deceased Shepherd, these words serve as a most fitting epitaph: “He was a radiant spirit—a comedian in his heart!“