Born in Hercules Buildings, Lambeth, probably in 1791 (but maybe on 24 August 1795), James William Wallack was the son of the performers William Wallack (c. 1760-1850) and his wife Elizabeth Field Granger (c. 1760-1850), who are noticed in the BDA. James’s elder brother Henry John Wallack (1790-1870) became a leading actor and theatrical manager in England and America; his three children Fanny, Julia and James William Wallack II also became prominent actors.
Our subject, James William Wallack, performed with other members of his family at the Royal Circus by the age of four. In 1807 he appeared as the Negro Boy in the pantomime “Furibond; or, Harlequin Negro” at Drury Lane. After playing three years in Dublin he returned in 1812 to the new Drury Lane Theatre, where he acted until 1818 in such roles as Malcolm in “Macbeth”, Laertes, Axalla in “Tamerlane”, Joseph in “The School for Scandal”, Alcibiades in “Timon of Athens” and Iago. Wallack made his debut in New York at the Park Street Theatre on 7 September 1818 as Macbeth. After appearing in a number of major parts, he returned to London. Subsequently he shuttled between London and New York frequently and became an important manager in the latter city when, with his brother Henry John Wallack, he took over the National Theatre in 1837. He assumed management of the Lyceum Theatre in New York in 1852 and renamed it Wallack’s Lyceum. There he presented for nine seasons successful productions of Shakespeare and some contemporary drama. His son Lester was stage manager and his son Charles treasurer. Wallack, who was from the older Kemble school of acting, gave up performing in 1859 and devoted himself entirely to managing. In 1861 he built a new theatre at Broadway and 13th Street, called Wallack’s Theatre. Wallack died in New York, from complications of gout on 25 December 1864. He had been one of the original members of the Garrick Club in 1831.
Wallack’s son Lester (real name John Johnstone Wallack, 1810-1888) enjoyed a career as a popular actor in America and also managed Wallack’s Theatre; he wrote his “Memories of Fifty Years” (published posthumously in 1889). Lester Wallack married Emily Millais, sister of the artist Sir John Everett Millais. That artist made some sketches of James William Wallack. (DNB, OCT, EB)