James A. Herne Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

James A. Herne, born James Ahern, was instrumental, as both actor and playwright, in the transformation of melodramatic spectacles to realistic plays on the late nineteenth century American stage. The son of hardworking Irish emigrants, Patrick and Ann Temple Ahern, Herne was sent to work in a brush factory at age thirteen. The following year, after seeing the famous actor Edwin Forrest, young Ahern set his sights on a stage career as well. In 1859, at the age of twenty, he paid $165 to play a small part in an Albany barnstorming company’s production. Later that year, he landed his first paying job in Troy, New York. Finally established, he changed his name to James A. Herne and spent the next nineteen years as an itinerant actor and stage manager.{$S[A]Ahern, James;Herne, James A.}

Herne moved to Chicago in 1878 and married fellow actor Katherine Corcoran, who encouraged him to collaborate with stage manager David Belasco on an original play. The result, Hearts of Oak, became a popular vehicle for Herne and Corcoran. The couple performed it across the United States for the next seven years and earned enough money to buy a home in Dorchester, Massachusetts, where they raised their three daughters.

Hearts of Oak presented a simple, realistic, though somewhat sentimental story with no clear-cut heroes or villains, unlike the typical melodrama of the period. The change seemed to suit audiences; however, Herne did not have similar success with his next two efforts. The Minute Men of 1774-1775, a didactic melodrama about the American Revolution, lacked the expected bombast and patriotism. Drifting Apart, a social drama exposing alcohol abuse among Gloucester fishermen, was too realistic and depressing for...

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(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Durham, Weldon B. “James A. Herne.” In American Playwrights, 1880-1945: A Research and Production Sourcebook, edited by William W. Demastes. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1995. Includes a biography of Herne and a bibliography of his work.

Edwards, Herbert J., and Julie A. Herne. James A. Herne: The Rise of Realism in the American Drama. Orono: University of Maine Press, 1964. Includes illustrations, a bibliography, and an appendix devoted to Herne’s plays.

Perry, John. James A. Herne: The American Ibsen. Chicago: Nelson-Hall, 1978. Discussion of Herne’s life and works; includes illustrations.