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Macauley's Theatre

Barney Macauley, courtesy of University of Louisville Archives and Photographic Archives In this Et Cetera, we lift the drape to focus in on Louisville’s legendary Macauley’s Theatre.

Macauley’s Theatre opened with the comedy "Extremes" in October 1873. The theater stood downtown between Third and Fourth Streets on what is now Muhammad Ali.

The theater was originally owned and operated by Bernard “Barney” Macauley. Macauley was himself an actor and he, along with his wife Rachel, were members of the theater’s resident company.

In 1879, after Barney became plagued with financial troubles, his younger brother, “Colonel” John T. Macauley, took over the theater.

This move caused a permanent rift between the brothers because Barney believed that John deliberately sought to profit from his misfortune.

John Macauley, courtesy of University of Louisville Archives and Photographic Archives With the theater under his management, John Macauley eliminated the resident stock company of actors and replaced them with traveling artists, which was the national trend at the time.

Because of this, many celebrated actors came to Louisville to perform at Macauley’s… making it the city’s premier playhouse.

Famous faces to take the stage included Sarah Bernhardt, Lily Langtry, “Buffalo Bill” Cody and George M. Cohan.

Edwin Booth, brother of John Wilkes Booth (the man who shot Lincoln), was another featured actor.

And an appearance by the renowned Madame Helena Modjeska inspired the creation of a local candy that bears her name.

John Macauley ran the theater until his death in 1915, after which his wife Annie took over.

But the advent of the motion picture led the theater to close its doors a decade later.

Later the building was razed; the Starks Building now stands on the site.

In 1972, after a grand reopening, the Brown Theater on Fourth Street was rededicated as “Macauley Theatre” – without the apostrophe “s.”

This remained in effect until the theater was remodeled in 1997 and renamed in honor of W.L. Lyons Brown, the late board chairman of Brown-Forman Corp.

The University of Louisville houses the Macauley’s extensive collection of photographs, handbills and clippings.

Etc.:

  • According to "The Encyclopedia of Louisville", Barney Macauley changed the spelling of his last name to “McAuley” in the wake of his estrangement from his brother.
  • Helena Modjeska, courtesy of University of Louisville Archives and Photographic ArchivesMadame Helena Modjeska’s appearance at Macauley’s was in the American premiere of A Doll’s House by Henry Ibsen.
  • At just sixteen years-old, Louisville’s own Mary Anderson started her illustrious acting career at Macauley’s Theatre. She starred in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.
  • The final performance at Macauley’s Theatre was "The Naughty Wife". The date was August 29, 1925.

Our special thanks to the University of Louisville Archives and Photographic Archives for the use of their images.

Program 515
"Louisville Life" features profiles of a super-hero sculptor and an equine artist, the curtain goes up on the history of Louisville's legendary Macauley’s Theater, and we interview new Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer. Also in this program, a trip to Bourbon Barrel Foods. (#515)