This outstanding romantic actor and one of the most successful managers of his time was born in London on 17 December 1853, the son of Julius and Constantia (née Draper) Beerbohm. He was half brother to Max Beerbohm (1872-1956), the sophisticated writer and caricaturist. Educated in England and Germany, Herbert engaged in amateur theatricals for several years before turning professional in 1878. Adopting the surname of Tree, he made numerous appearances in and around London and the provinces (espcially at the Crystal Palace and at Brighton). He was firmly established by 1883, when he scored a great success as Prince Borowski in “The Glass of Fashion” at the Globe in London on 8 September. Over the next 30 years he was seen in dozens of major leads in London and throughout England, including Petruchio, King John, Bottom, Macbeth, Falstaff (G0820), Cardinal Wolsey, Othello, Antony, Hamlet (G0819), Fagin in “Oliver Twist”, Sir Peter in “The School for Scandal”, Henry Higgins in “Pygmalion” and Zakkuri in “The Darling of the Gods”. His portrayal of Svengali in “Trilby”, which he had produced in Manchester in September 1895 and for the first time in London at the Haymarket on 30 October 1895, was accounted his greatest. The demonic spell that he cast in that role is memorialized in Morrow’s caricature (G0818).
In 1887 Tree became the lessee and manager of the Haymarket Theatre, which he ran for ten years, through 1896. The following year he took over the proprietorship of and rebuilt Her Majesty’s Theatre (later renamed His Majesty’s after King Edward VII). As producer at both theatres he presented numerous fine productions in the Irving tradition, ranging from poetic drama to children’s plays, among the most remarkable being some of the plays of Shakespeare, particularly “Richard III”, “King John”, “Henry VIII” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream”.
In 1904 he founded the Academy of Dramatic Art (later called the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art), which has trained so many important actors and actresses for the profession. He was decorated by the crowned heads of Germany and Italy and in 1909 was knighted by King Edward. He served as President of the Theatrical Managers Association, President of the Actors’ Association, and a Trustee of the Actors’ Benevolent Fund. In 1884 Tree became a member of the Garrick Club. He published his “Thoughts, and Afterthoughts” in 1913. He died in London on 2 July 1917. See Max Beerbohm, “Herbert Beerbohm Tree: Some Memories of Him and His Art” (1920), and Madeleine Bingham, “The Great Lover: The Life and Art of Herbert Beerbohm Tree” (1978). (WWWT, EB)