Books: Hamlet in a Greatcoat

PRINCE OF PLAYERS: EDWIN BOOTH (401 pp.)—Eleanor Ruggles—Norton ($4.50).

Everyone agreed that the Booths were eccentric—sometimes majestically. Take old Junius Brutus Booth (1796-1852), first of his line in the U.S., one of the most admired Shakespearean actors of his day. On tour, the family had to lock him in his hotel room to keep him sober enough to go onstage. Old Junius Brutus found a way of getting around that: with the help of a thoughtful waiter, he sucked mint juleps from a tray in the corridor by pushing a straw through the keyhole.

Old Booth had seven sons—Richard, John, Junius, Henry,...

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