Famed 18th-century thespian became first self-publicist through secret media manipulation, new book reveals

Famed 18th-century thespian became first self-publicist through secret media manipulation, new book reveals

He was the legendary 18th-century actor and manager who, as a national icon and one of theatre’s first celebrities, could draw audiences from far and wide.

But, hundreds of years before selfies, instant fame and stars with armies of publicists, David Garrick was also the original self-publicist, secretly manipulating the media, a new book reveals.

Garrick used his part-ownership of newspapers and the Drury Lane Theatre to gain unparalleled media exposure, including self-authored reviews, according to Professor Leslie Ritchie, who has uncovered more than 11,000 mentions of Garrick’s name in London newspapers published between his stage debut in 1741 and his death in 1779. 

Such is the scale of Garrick’s media coverage and “his constant negotiation” of representations of himself and his playhouse that she describes him as “the first actor to exploit the power of the press in the production and mediation of celebrity”.

Ritchie, associate professor of English at Queen’s University, Ontario, Canada, observes that audiences who flocked to Drury Lane could see a play written or adapted by Garrick, with a prologue or epilogue penned by Garrick and a cast that included Garrick: “That playgoer had likely been enticed to go to the play by an advertisement, puff or review written by Garrick, placed in a newspaper partly owned by Garrick.”

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