Young Henry Irving

Although Henry Irving's productions at London's Lyceum Theatre earned him a knighthood (the first ever awarded to a thespian) in 1895, his decision to pursue acting (long considered a dodgy profession) drew considerable scorn.

"In his first night in London," Kenneth Branagh once recalled, "Irving had this huge personal success in the Merchant of Venice or Richard the Third or something, and he was going home, driving across Hyde Park in a hansom cab with his [sophisticated] missus. There'd been a standing ovation and it was obvious he had 'arrived'. It was a wonderful, wonderful evening.

"And as they were driving across the park, his wife turned to him and said, 'How long are you going to go on making a fool of yourself like this?' Irving stopped the cab, got out, walked home, collected his things, left -- and never saw her again."

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