Not Oscar Wilde: Actor Henry Miller in “The Only Way”

Not Oscar Wilde: Actor Henry Miller in “The Only Way”

This is a portrait of Henry Miller, 1859-1926, an English-born American actordirectortheatrical producer and manager born John Pegge in London. Photographed by Arnold Genthe, he is shown here in the role of Sydney Carton, in the 1899 Freeman Wills stage adaptation of “The Only Way”, based on the 1859 Charles Dickens novel A Tale of Two Cities.

At some point, probably around 1900, the year of the plays debut on American stages, Henry Millers striking resemblance to a youngish looking Oscar Wilde and the fact Wilde died that same year ⎯may have given enough reason for someone to take the liberty of forging Wilde’s signature on this photograph. In 1901, this connection with Henry Miller and Wilde were reinforced for the San Francisco theatre going audience:

“The Importance of Being Earnest,” a trivial comedy by Oscar Wilde, was presented at the Columbia Theater last evening by Henry Miller and his talented company. The audience was keenly alive to the wit and satire of which Wilde was a master and the clever work of Miller and his associates brought out the heartiest approval of those who witnessed the play.” ⎯The San Francisco Call, May 28, 1901 p. 5

Somehow, in 1903 or later, (1903 being the first year Courvoisier was listed as a picture framer in the San Francisco city directory) it ended up in this beautiful quarter-sawn frame made by the eminent San Francisco concern E.B. Courvoisier.

And the falsehoods continue: on the print verso, someone has penciled in that the photograph shows Oscar Wilde in San Francisco in 1882, along with an attribution it was taken by well known Santa Barbara photographer Norman Hull Reed, 1848-1917. Reed’s biography from the Santa Barbara Historical Museum published in 2003 showed the photographer did not even arrive in that city from Pontiac, Illinois until 1887, so it would not have been possible for him to have photographed Oscar Wilde’s 1882 San Francisco lecture. And what a lecture series it was. From John Cooper’s Oscar Wilde in America definitive blog:

“In March 1882, the twenty-seven year old poet and future playwright arrived at the Palace Hotel in San Francisco to deliver several lectures in the city. Wilde’s personality and style brought him through a number of memorable experiences in the City by the Bay, including a visit to the exclusive Bohemian Club on April Fool’s Day where legend has it that Wilde either bested his hosts’ challenges to his learning and scholarly insight, or drank them under the table, or both.”

Publishing Commentary: The Grand Prize Exhibit: Camera Craft: February, 1901: p. 298 A CRITICISM OF THE WORK OF ARNOLD GENTHE. BY OSCAR MAURER: Notable among the many excellent pictures of his collection is the portrait of Henry Miller as Sydney Carton (No. 190). The difficulties that were overcome in this production can only be appreciated by the photographic worker who has tried similar composition.” See copy photograph of this image held by the Library of Congress: LC-G399- 0047-A [P&P]

Published:  Henry Miller. Negative by Arnold Genthe. Full page halftone: Camera Craft, November, 1900 Vol. II, No. 1, p. 32; full page halftone: Plays and the Players: Sunset Magazine, September, 1903, p. 489: Henry Miller As Sydney Carton in “The Only Way”. (In August 1903, Miller was appearing along with Margaret Anglin for 6 weeks at San Francisco’s Columbia Theatre in the George Bernard Shaw play “The Devil’s Disciple”)

Not Oscar Wilde: Actor Henry Miller in “The Only Way”

Image Dimensions22.5 x 13.1 cm unmounted

Support Dimensions31.6 x 22.0 x 2.0 cm shown in original period quarter-sawn oak frame without glass

Print Notes

Recto:  signed in black ink in unknown hand lower right: Oscar Wilde

Verso: in graphite: Oscar Wilde in San Francisco; E.B. Courvoisier; Norman H. Reed; 1882; 425 (frame reference #) Frame Versosmall green sticker along lower margin: E.B. Courvoisier Art Dealer; 425 written in graphite along lower moulding. Born in Indiana, Ephraim Benoit Courvoisier 1860-1931 went on to become a prominent San Francisco art dealer and framer. A 1916 article in California’s Magazine noted his San Francisco frame shop had 2200 different kinds of mouldings available and that his concern had made 17,000 frames in the past year. The earliest reference to EB Courvoisier as a frame maker appears in the 1903 Crocker-Langley San Francisco city directory with his address being 837 Mission St.


Purchased for this archive in September, 2022 from seller in Midland, TX; Unsold: lot #1072: Bonhams/Skinner: Fine Books & Manuscripts online 3311T/Boston: November 17, 2019: from unknown consignor who purchased the photograph in 1969 at John Howell Books, a rare book shop on Bush Street in San Francisco.